The Japanese Nationals 2015

February 05, 2016

By Atsuko Kuryu
Photos © Keiko Kasai

The Makomanai Ice Arena in Sapporo, Hokkaido, hosted this year's competition. As usual the singles dominated with 30 men and 30 ladies competing. Superstar and mega favorite Yuzuru Hanyu drew a crowd, and the ladies' field was strong as always. But amazingly enough, 4 ice dance couples and 5 pairs, including 2 junior pairs, also participated in the event, something that hasn't happened in recent years.

Day 1

Ice Dance, short dance

Kana Muramoto/Chris Reed led the short dance with their fantastic Waltz program featuring a gorgeous rotation lift with high value position changes. They were paid 58.36 for their effort. Their twizzles were fast and in unison as well, and the team looked very beautiful throughout their performance. Emi Hirai/Marien De La Asuncion followed them, only 4.12 points behind. Their performance at the NHK Trophy was very disappointing due to injury, but here they redeemed themselves with twizzles in wonderful unison and a fast step sequence. The dynamic rotation lift was amazing and the audience gave them generous applause as if they were delighted with their strong comeback. Ibuki Mori/Suzuki Kentaro skated solidly and placed third with 43.66. They followed the music very well. Haruno Yajima/Kokoro Mizutani have improved since sectionals.

Junior Pairs, short program

Riku Miura/Shoya Ichihashi displayed a solid performance at their debut at the Japanese Nationals. They seemed to have trouble with the death spiral during warm-ups, but did well in the competition. They piled up consistent elements and got 37.61. Yoshino Sekiguchi/Junsuke Sekiguchi experienced difficulty with their death spiral as well, but managed it during their performance. However, they seemed to struggle with most of their elements except the pair spin. They received 22.75 for their effort.

Senior Pairs, short program

Sumire Suto/Francis Boudreau-Audet gave a wonderful performance. They skated consistently and piled up the points (to 53.31). Their death spiral and pair spins were really amazing. Marin Ono/Wesley Killing made several mistakes in the first half of their program, but managed to pull themselves together. Their throw triple Salchow was amazing as was the level 4 lift. They collected 45.94 points. Miu Suzaki/Ryuichi Kihara landed their opening triple toe cleanly and executed a wonderful step sequence. But they somehow seemed to lack spirit in the rest of the program, which they admitted during the interview after their performance. Still, they got 43.64 and became third.

Men's short program

In this discipline, the top 3 skaters each earned over 50 points on their technical scores. As most people had predicted, Yuzuru Hanyu was in the lead (with 102.63) and Shoma Uno followed him (97.94). Takahito Mura's performance was stunning and he received 93.26 points. Yuzuru fell on his first quad Salchow, but it was his only failure in the short program. He landed a quad toe-triple toe combination and an effortless triple Axel taken off directly from a difficult step. His performance was energetic and musically brilliant, as usual. Shoma also did very well. He received GOE plus 3.0 for his opening triple Axel, and 0.14 for his quad toe with a little shaky landing. He had amazing speed and good flow in his skating. Takahito's short program, Dark Eyes choreographed by Charlie White, was a wonderful program that suited him very well. His gorgeous step sequence (which received level 4) excited the audience and they gave him a standing ovation. Daisuke Murakami landed a clean quad Salchow and a triple Axel, but popped the triple toe in his combination, and stumbled at the landing. His performance was still soft and elegant and pleased the crowd. His score of 83.49 was about 10 point behind Mura's. Although staying 5th with 78.19, Takahiko Kozuka's performance must have been a disappointment to him and to his fans. He barely landed the quad toe, which was under-rotated anyway, he did land a superb triple Axel, but the triple toe after the triple Lutz turned into a double, and with a hand down at that. Keiji Tanaka, who was amazing at the NHK Trophy, was about to repeat that performance. His opening quad toe turned into a double, but other than that he performed wonderfully. He has a very masculine style, but with good flexibility. His score was 74.19. Ryuju Hino, who was in a long slump last season, came back strongly and placed just 0.16 points behind Keiji. The contenders for the World Junior Championships, Shu Nakamura, Daichi Miyata, and Kazuki Tomono were neck to neck. They got 69.47, 66.61, and 62.51 points respectively. They were fighting for the remaining 2 spots while Sota Yamamoto was already sitting pretty.

Day 2

Ladies' short program

Satoko Miyahara really delivered and won the short program. Her performance had everything: consistent jumps, gorgeous spins and steps, musicality and interpretation. All the spectators in the venue stood up to honor her. She received 73.24 points! The runner up was Rika Hongo with 68.39. She nailed all the jumps cleanly and her step sequence was energetic. She also had good interpretation. In a close third was Wakaba Higuchi, the Junior national champion. Her Mambo fantasy program was very powerful, and her step sequence fun to watch because of her amazing speed and joyful movements. She got 67.48 points, just 0.91 behind Rika. Kanako Murakami's performance was also stunning, and she too received a standing ovation, not least because she has struggled since last season. Mao Asada had made her combination jumps easier; however, after landing an under-rotated triple Axel, she stumbled in the landing of the triple flip-double loop. She only received 62.03 points and was in 5th place.

There were fights for spots at Junior Worlds in the ladies' field as well, and it was even fiercer than among the men. Yuna Shiraiwa topped the junior skaters with a score of 61.92. She had a hard time in the Grand Prix, but strengthened her condition for Nationals. Her flawless performance was lovely and the Over The Rainbow music suited her well. She finished 6th. Rin Nitaya got 60.10 for her brilliant short program to Concerto de Aranjuez and became 8th, while Marin Honda was 11th with 58.23 because of a fall on the triple flip. Junior national bronze medalist, Yuhana Yokoi, was 13th with 56.30, and Yuna Aoki, the former Novice champion, was 9th.

Men's Free

Yuzuru Hanyu claimed his 4th consecutive national title with 286.36 overall. Shoma Uno got his second silver medal in seniors. Takahiko Mura was second in the free skate, but stayed third because of the margin in the short program. Most male skaters made one or more mistakes in their free program. Yuzuru seemed perfect in the first half so lots of people expected another perfect performance. But then he failed four jumps in a row. He had two falls while landing the quad toe and triple Axel, and then two minor mistakes on the jumps following. He collected himself after that and showed off a beautiful choreographic sequence and spins. His total score: 286.36 points, which was not low, however, it was a disappointment for Yuzuru, and he expressed his frustration after finishing. He said he was ready to start practicing harder even from the next day. His coach, Brian Orser, acknowledged that Yuzuru was tired because he had had an emotional season so far, and that he would need adequate rest even if he didn't want to. Yuzuru explained that Nationals was very important to him, and that the even more important World Championships were several weeks away, so he would have enough time to rest and then focus on Worlds. Shoma popped the opening quad toe and executed only one combination. Although he earned only 169.21 and was third in the free skate, thanks to the high points from the short program, he remained second overall. Takahito also had several mistakes, but recovered very well through quick thinking, and collected enough points (170.20) for a podium spot.

Keiji Tanaka's performance was really brilliant with only one mistake; a hand down while landing the quad Salchow. Other than that he skated flawlessly to his exciting program La Traviata. He got 167.86 and finished 4th overall (242.05 points total), which was his best rank ever. Takahiko Kozuka skated as smoothly as if someone had poured oil on the ice! Unfortunately he repeated some mistakes on his jumps at the beginning, but came back to show what he's really made of: a beautiful program with a fluid step sequence and choreographic sequence. His score was 150.63 in the free skate and 228.82 overall to place 5th. Sota Yamamoto bounced back from the disappointing 11th place to 4th in the free. His wasn't happy with his 152.23 points, but finished 6th overall, same as last year.

The junior skaters had a close fight again. Shu Nakamura came out on top with 194.83 points, followed by Daichi Miyata with 193.17. The other contenders were Koshiro Shimada, Mituki Sumoto and Kazuki Tomono, who got 188.76, 176.32 and 173.72 respectively.

Day 3

Free Dance

Kana Muramoto/Chris Reed won their first title as National champions at their debut. Their overall score was 147.08. Runners-up were Emi Hirai/Marien De La Asuncion with 141.63. Both couples showed fabulous performances and the margin between them in the free skate was very small. Kana/Chris appeared on the ice while the audience still felt excited about Emi/Marien's performance, but they immediately blew away that mood with their comical actions. Their enjoyable performance really entertained the crowds. Their unity is getting better every time they compete. They received level 4s for all of their lifts and combination spin. Their score for the free dance was 88.72. Emi/Marien delivered their emotional Phantom of Opera next to perfectly. The audience was moved by their performance and gave them generous applause and a standing ovation. (Kana/Chris got this as well.) Their circular steps were followed by a beautiful curve lift. The flow from the straight line lift to the end was dynamic, an amazing performance! They received 87.39 for their free dance, which was only 0.33 behind Kana/Chris. Ibuki Mori/Kentaro Suzuki's Chaplin medley was fresh and vivacious. They got 2 level 4s for their lifts and the crowd gave them generous applause too. The score for the free dance was 66.90, and with 110.56 overall they got a bronze medal.

Junior Pairs

Riku Miura/Shoya Ichihashi claimed the junior pair champion title in their debut at Nationals. They managed not only to execute all the elements, but did some of them very well. They displayed some good team work too, and I believe they have a bright future. Their score was 70.39, 107.50 overall. Yoshino Sekiguchi/Junsuke Sekiguchi fought bravely and placed second. They struggled to execute the backward inside death spiral in the short program, but now changed it to forward inside and managed it well. They need more practice and experience, as do Riku/Shoya, but they could make for some good rivalry in the future of Japanese pair skating.

Senior Pairs

Sumire Suto/Francis Boudreau-Audet became National champions for the first time. They won both the short program and the free skate with an overall score of 149.55. Marin Ono/Wesley Killing and Miu Suzaki/Ryuichi Kihara followed them with 133.22 and 126.12 respectively. All of them are brand new pairs who have teamed up this season. Sumire/Francis showed a decent performance in their romantic free skate to Les Parapluies de Cherbourg. None of them landed clean triple toe/double toe combinations, and Sumire fell in the landing of the throw triple loop. But these were their only major mistakes. Marin/Wesley tried some difficult elements, but got minus GOE for most of them. They did deliver the last three elements well, and still left a good impression. Miu/Ryuichi's free skate looked better than the short program. Ryuichi regretted that they were not able to prove themselves in the short program, but was satisfied with their free program. They look compatible enough, what they really need is more competition experience.

Ladies Free

Overnight leader, Satoko Miyahara, skated another flawless program to claim her second consecutive title, with an overall score of 212.83. The junior champion Wakaba Higuchi finished second with a strong free skate scoring 127.87, while Mao Asada nailed her Madame Butterfly and worked her way up to bronze. Satoko was larger than life on the ice; she really owned her performance moving freely and gracefully. Everything she did looked so easy. She now carries herself like a queen. But she regretted the down-graded double loop in her opening combination, and declared that she will work even harder on her jumps, aiming for a higher score at Worlds. After the short program, Mao said she didn't have any idea what happened during her performance, but she collected herself overnight and portrayed the tragic Madame Butterfly brilliantly. She fell on her triple Axel and turned the attempted triple flip-triple toe combination into just a triple flip. The rest was skated flawlessly and she displayed her elegant and easy style to enchant the crowd. She was second in the free skate. Wakaba made use of her dynamism and power in the free program. The Mask of Zorro suits her very well and her movements matched the music perfectly. She said she was very happy because she skated the best two programs of this season here in Nationals.

Rika Hongo fell on her triple Lutz and made several minor mistakes, so she scored only 124.89. Her overall score was 193.28 and only 0.47 behind Mao, but it was enough to slide off from the podium. Yuna Shiraiwa skated a solid and lovely free program to get 124.41 and a standing ovation. She was 5th overall. To receive a total of 186.33 points at age 14 is not bad. She had some minor mistakes, but looked very consistent. In the interview after her performance, she said she expected higher plus GOE for her spins, so now she must work harder on her spins for Juniors Worlds.

While Kanako Murakami had a strong short program, she collapsed in the free. Somehow she lost her nerves after her combination turned into solo triple flip. She seemed very confused after she had finished her program, and in the mixed zone she told the press several times that she skipped one jump she should have done, where actually she had done all 7 jump elements. The impression of her performance was not so bad though; it was quite powerful. She got 115.56 for her free program and finished 6th overall. As for the fight for the tickets to Junior Worlds; Rin Nitaya was 7th in the free program with her romantic performance of Romeo and Juliet, while Marin Honda had two falls and placed 9th. Their overall ranks were 7th and 9th respectively. Yuhana Yokoi was 10th right after Marin in free skating and finished 11th overall.

The 84th Japanese National Championships were over. There had been many wonderful performances that impressed and inspired us a lot. Not only by world top skaters like Yuzuru, Shoma, Mao, Satoko and Rika or others, but also by local skaters who usually won't be seen at international competitions. They moved us with their heartfelt performance. Many skaters said Nationals is the most important event for them; they dedicate all their strength to this competition as it draws a full house of fans (which cannot be said for many other countries). Such wonderful relationships will hopefully last for a long time.

After three days of exciting skating, the Japanese Skating Federation announced the teams for Worlds, Junior Worlds and Four Continents as follows:

Four Continents Championships in Taipei, Taiwan

Men: Shoma Uno, Takahito Mura, Keiji Tanaka

Ladies: Satoko Miyahara, Mao Asada, Rika Hongo (Mao Asada withdrew, Kanako Murakami will skate in her place - ed.)

Pair: Sumire Suto/Francic Boudereau Audet

Ice Dance: Kana Muramoto/Chris Reed, Emi Hirai/Marien De La Asuncion

World Championships in Boston, USA

Men: Yuzuru Hanyu, Shoma Uno

Ladies: Satoko Miyahara, Mao Asada, Rika Hongo

Pair: Sumire Suto/Francis Boudereau Audet

Ice Dance: TBA (Kana Muramoto/Chris Reed will skate -ed.)

World Junior Championships in Debrecen, Hungary

Men: Sota Yamamoto, Shu Nakamura, Daichi Miyata

Ladies: Wakaba Higuchi, Yuna Shiraiwa, Marin Honda

Ice Dance: Rikako Fukase/Aru Tateno

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