Japan’s Figure Skating Junior Championships

By Atsuko Kuryu
Photo © Munenori Hashimoto

At the Shinyokohama Skating Center in Yokohama, Japan, on November 22th and 23rd, 60 junior skaters gathered to compete in Japan’s Figure Skating Junior Championships. In the men’s field, the two favourites Yuzuru Hanyu and Kento Nakamura claimed first and second respectively while in the ladies field, the powerful favorite Kanako Murakami won the title. Reiging silver medalist Mari Suzuki had a hard time to lose to 21st. Since Japan is short in the pairs and ice dance field, we only had one couple competing in the ice dance event.

Day 1

Men's short

Yuzuru Hanyu dominated the men’s short program with an almost perfect performance earning 76.00 points. He opened his The Bait, Bare Island with a huge triple axel earning +2.0 GOE followed by a triple lutz - triple toe combination which gave him 21 points. He also received level 4 for all his spins and level three for the circular step. His only mistake was the take off on the triple flip - from the wrong edge. His score of 76.00 points will allow him to compete on an equal basis with other top senior skaters. He got a standing ovation from the excited crowd and was ahead of Nakamura by more than 11 points.

Kento Nakamura’s graceful skating to Mission by Enrio Morricone was also very impressive but he fell on the triple flip in the middle of the program. He nailed a big triple lutz - triple toe combination and a beautiful triple axel in the earlier part, and received level 3s for both steps and 2 out of 3 spins, but level 1 for the flying sit spin. His score was 64.65.

In third place after the short program was Ryuichi Kihara who had competed at the JGP Minsk and came 9th. He skated to SPEED 2 music by Mancina. His triple salchow - single toe combination gained maximum negative GOE and the triple flip received edge deduction. He had good speed and smooth movement on the ice. He earned 53.20 for his performance.

The surprise of the day was Shoma Uno, who is 11 years old. He won the Japan Novice championships this year and gave a very enjoyable performance to cheerful applause. He opened with a triple toe - double toe combination followed by a double axel, and landed double flip in the later part of the program. He got +GOE for all of his 8 elements. He was so adorable and became the audience favourite in this event.

Takuya Kondo, who competed in the JGP Budapest and came 5th there, was 5th with the score of 52.91. His opening triple lutz - triple toe combination was great, but his triple flip was downgraded. He stumbled a little with the landing of the double axel, though the overall impression was very good.

From left to right:
Yuji Tsuboi, Keiji Tanaka (7th in short, 6th overall), Fumiya Itai (8th in short, 5th overall)

Yuji Tsuboi landed a triple axel but gained –GOE for all other elements so he finished 6th in SP.

Ladies’ SP

Kanako Murakami gave a strong performance which went very well to the music of Nectar Flamenco, received the score of 58.96. She opened with a triple lutz - double toe combination which received an edge deduction and –GOE, but this was the only negative GOE for her elements. She nailed a high triple flip and consistent double axel. She also picked up level 4 for the spiral sequence and combination spin, and level 3 for the straight line steps and layback spin, but her flying sit spin was only a level 1.

Yukiko Fujisawa who was 2nd at the 2008 JGPF in Korea claimed 2nd with 51.20. She was a great spinner so she got level 4 for all of her spins and +GOE which gave her 11.1 points. She also got level 4 for her spiral sequence. As for jumps it was not her day. She stumbled with the opening triple lutz - triple toe combination and stepped out of the double axel. Her triple flip received an edge call.

The reigning champion Haruka Imai’s flamenco was almost a perfect performance except the fall on the attempt of triple loop combination which cost her 3rd place. She collected 49.82 points with her level 4 spins, spiral sequence and level 3 straight line steps.

Another surprising 4th on the day was Satoko Miyahara, also 11 years old. She gained 48.32 in her performance with a triple flip - triple toe - double toe combination and double axel. She picked up level 4 for her flying sit spin and layback spin, and level 3 for spiral sequence and combination spins. Her playful Pink Panther performance was very well accepted by the audience.

From left to right:
Karen Kemanai (14th in SP, 6th overall), Haruka Imai and Riona Kato (11th in SP, 8th overall).

Kako Tomotaki gave a solid performance and moved into 5th place, while Rina Kondo in 6th skated a strong program with good speed. Both of them were obviously tense, but managed to hold the nerves during their performance.

Two hopes from Tokyo, Roanna Sari Oshikawa and Karen Kemanai had a hard day. Both of them were really inconsistent at their jumps and finished 12th and 14th respectively.

Ice dance

Misato Komatsubara & Kokoro Mizutani were the only team to compete in this event. They started to skate together this year so probably need more time to work. Kokoro fell during the compulsory dance. But the original dance to Soran Yosakoi was an enjoyable program. They racked up 60.99 points today.

Day 2

Men's free

Kento Nakamura claimed first place in the free skate, scoring 121.56 points. He put a hand down in the opening triple axel and doubled the planned triple lutz. But after that, he hit triple axel - double toe, double axel - triple toe, triple lutz - double toe combinations and another three triple jumps. He under-rotated the triple lutz and triple salchow. He was awarded level 4 for his flying combination spin and level 3 for other spins and intricate straight line steps. Although you couldn’t say it was his best performance technically, his enthusiastic performance moved the audience who gave him a standing ovation. Even with this strong performance, he couldn’t catch up with Hanyu and came 2nd with an overall score of 186.21.

“I was not satisfied with my performance,” said Kento after his performance. “But after the program was finished the audience gave me standing ovation so I’m proud of myself showing an emotional program despite those mistakes.” He also mentioned the upcoming JGPF. “I was very happy that I could make the JGPF because I made a promise with Yuzuru (Hanyu) to compete at the JGPF during this year’s summer camp and finally I could keep my promise”

Reigning champion Yuzuru Hanyu messed up in his free program. Hanyu put a hand down on the opening triple axel but he couldn’t collect himself after that. He received an edge deduction on his triple flip, stepped out of the triple loop and fell at the second triple axel. He hit triple axel - double toe combination, triple salchow and double axel. He earned level 4 for 2 spins and level 3 for the other one. He scored 118.15 points and claimed 2nd in the free skate and won the men’s field with an overall score of 194.15 to get two consecutive national titles.
“I am happy with my 2 straight wins at the junior championships. But I was shocked with my performance today. After I failed to land the triple axel, I was kind zoned out because I was too focused on executing the perfect program and scoring over 200.” Yuzuru said at the interview in the mixed zone. “I will never ever repeat such kind of mistakes. My goal at the GPF is winning the title”, he declared.

Ryuju Hino, who sat out almost all of the season last year because of injury came back and came 3rd with a score of 96.33. He landed 5 triples and gained level 4 for his 2 spins and level 3 for the flying sit spin and circular steps. Before the injury, he was one of the most promising novice skaters and had just started to make his way to the top. But I felt his performance was a little flat, so I hope he can develop expressing his emotion more. His overall score was 147.36 - and just missed the podium.

Shoma Uno again came 4th with the score of 95.09 in the free skate and made the podium. He was 3rd with the overall score of 148.04. He fell on several triple jumps during the 6 minute warm-up, but didn’t fall in the performance. He attempted 5 triples but most of them were under-rotated. He picked up level 4 for two of his spins and level 3 for the other spin and straight line steps.
Since he was so small (taller skaters could hardly see him during warm-up), some older skaters were about to run over him. You can see how cute and small he is from the picture of the award ceremony.

“Other skaters are big and their jumps seemed huge to me. But I did my best. I’m very happy to make the podium”, said Shoma. He said his goal in the future is winning a gold medal at the Olympic games, and his idol is Daisuke Takahashi.

Surprisingly 5th was Fumiya Itai. His total score was 143.61(91.82/FP 51.79/SP). He landed only 3 triple jumps with one of them under-rotated. He popped 3 jumps but still slid into 5th overall because all the spins were awarded level 4 and relatively good PCS. I think he is a very good skater who knows how to express his image on the ice so I hope he can get consistent jumps in near future.

Other skaters who did well and pulled the crowd’s attention in this event were Jun Suzuki and Eiki Hattori. Hattori skated a very playful performance to Pink Panther and Austin Powers to entertain the audience in the short program, while Suzuki skated an inspiring program to the classical music La Forza del Destino in the free skate to get a standing ovation.

Ladies’ Free

The overnight leader Kanako Murakami won the free skate and also this event. Haruka Imai was second. After Uno’s result, another podium result was expected, but Yukiko Fujisawa beat Satoko Miyahara by 4.28 points and claimed third.

After sighing deeply and loudly, Murakami started her program to win the event. Performing Swan Lake she opened with a high triple lutz which received an edge call. After that she landed 5 triple jumps including 2 sequences and 1 combination. Her speed over the ice was amazing and she gained level 4 for all of her spins. I don’t think she is a graceful skater but her performance is very strong. She earned 106.89 with this performance and 165.85 in total.
“I think I did very well in the SP but the FP was not that good”, said Kanako. “I might try a triple-triple at the GPF. I could land them very well when I was focused on it. I want to have a better result than last year.”

Reigning champion Haruka Imai gave a relatively good performance and claimed second with 143.97 points overall. She landed 5 triples including 2 triple loops and 2 combinations and under-rotated the double axel. She gained 2 level 4s for her spins and level 3 for her flying combination spin. Her straight line step gained level 2 which seemed a little boring while her spins were very beautiful.
Haruka said: “I’m very happy to make the podium. I didn’t want to defend my title but rather tried to forget about it and to do my best. My next competition is the Japan figure skating championships so I want to work on 3F-3T and land it clean there. I was too nervous last year so I hope I can give a better performance.”

Karen Kemanai bounced up into 3rd with 87.30. She seemed to have trouble with her jumps. She could land some beautiful triple jumps such as the opening triple loop and triple flip, though. Some of her technical skills are very impressive but somehow her performance looked too flat. But she is only 15 right now so we can expect more from her. She came 6th with an overall score of 129.42 along with the SP score of 42.12.

The silver medallist at the JGPF 2008, Yukiko Fujisawa fought to win bronze with her Salome routine. As for jumping, it was not her day. She landed 5 triples including triple lutz - double axel sequence and got negative GOE for 3 of them. She also fell on the double axel. She received level 4 for one of her spins and level 3 for other spins and circular steps which made quite a good impression.
“I’m very happy to make the podium” said Yukiko. “Because of the injury of my right knee in spring, I couldn’t prepare very well this summer. So I’d like to train harder from now on till the senior championships and build up my self confidence. I want to try triple loop there.”

Kako Tomotaki who was 5th in the SP came 5th in total with an overall score of 130.58 with consistent performances in both SP and FP. She landed 5 triples with triple toe under-rotated. Her second double toe and third double loop following double axel in the combination were also downgraded. But her major mistakes were these two down-grades. She racked up 83.58 in the free skate. She looked very consistent during this event.

Satoko Miyahara gave a very adorable but high quality performance for her age. She tried 6 triples including a sequence and a combination. Unfortunately she fell on the first triple salchow during the attempted combination jump. She has very beautiful biellmann spin. Her score for the free skate was 82.67, and 130.99 in total led her to 4th place.
“I was very nervous because all the other skaters are older and seemed to skate much better than I can,” the eleven year old said in a very low voice. “My next goal is to skate more and train more to feel confident”.

In this event, 20 female competitors are under 15 including 2 elementary school students. One of them, Satoko Miyahara claimed 4th but the other elementary schooler Riona Kato also gave a lovely and beautiful performance and finished 8th. Could they become another Mirai and Caroline in Japan? Who can tell. What I can tell is that we have so many potential world top figure skaters in our junior field. I want them to grow steadily and to flourish on the international stage in the future as they dream.

Ice dance free dance

Misato Komatubara & Kokoro Mizutani performed Colombus. They need more speed and to improve their unison but their spin looked very nice. They earned 61.62 in the free dance and 122.60 overall.

As you know, most of the junior skaters are not solid yet and the result may change event by event. There were some skaters who have great potential but couldn’t skate to their ability. I don’t know the reason but they will bounce up at the next event and keep trying to improve by learning from others. I hope all of these junior skaters grow successfully to show off how Japan’s junior field of figure skating is rich to the world.

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