The Japanese National Figure Skating Championships will be held in Hokkaido, Japan, from December 24-27. As with Russian Nationals, the Western Christmas period does not have the same level of importance in Japan, thus Nationals is traditionally held across this time. (For those of us in Western countries, it happily translates to even more skating during the holiday period!)
Japanese Nationals is another highly-anticipated contest, becoming even more so in recent years with the rise of the Japanese superpowers in skating. As Japanese Nationals now contains some of the world’s top skaters in singles, fans can expect tight results and close finishes.
As with all National events, the “home scoring” caveat applies, meaning no new records can be set at this event, no matter how cleanly Hanyu skates…
On the surface, this seems extremely straightforward. Yuzuru Hanyu has smashed the world record for highest short program technical score, highest short program components score, highest short program score, highest long program technical score, highest long program components, highest long program score and highest overall score, breaching the mythical 300 point barrier with his performances at the NHK Trophy and Grand Prix Final. So naturally, it is assumed that he is guaranteed to win this in a cakewalk.
And Shoma Uno has also been in excellent form, finishing second at Skate America, leading the shortened TEB, and finishing third at the Grand Prix Final. His transition from Juniors to Seniors has been almost seamless, and the only skaters who have toppled him this season at the highest level are Hanyu, reigning World Champion Javier Fernandez, and a near-flawless Max Aaron. His performance skills have improved with each outing and he is proving that the hype surrounding him is far from unfounded.
But this is figure skating, and ice is slippery. So though it would be a pretty safe bet to imagine that Hanyu and Uno will finish 1-2 and be the skaters sent to Worlds, it would be foolish and unfair to discount any one of the other talented skaters in the field. Daisuke Murakami also qualified for the Grand Prix Final where he finished a creditable sixth. Takahito Mura is still a vastly capable skater who can put up some seriously high scores. Sota Yamamoto has been tearing up the Junior Grand Prix circuit all season and was third at the Junior Grand Prix Final. Keiji Tanaka, Ryuju Hino: the list goes on and on, and all of them will be equally hungry to earn a spot on the national team.
Predictions: 1. Yuzuru Hanyu, 2. Shoma Uno, 3. Daisuke Murakami
Two months ago, if I said I was betting that Mao Asada would not win Japanese Nationals, I'd probably have been laughed right off the internet - and I would have been laughing right alongside. Mao Asada, an Olympic silver medallist, one of only two current ladies to land the triple Axel, not winning her own Nationals? It does seem like a joke.
But it could all be too real. Asada has struggled with her comeback this season, and under-rotations, edge calls and her inconsistent Lutz have haunted her. But while she has struggled, reigning World silver medallist Satoko Miyahara has thrived. In spite of her undersized jumps, Miyahara has flourished as a performer, and even sprung an upset at NHK by defeating Asada on Japanese soil, something few predicted.
There is depth further down the field too. Rika Hongo won silver at Cup of China and was fifth at Rostelecom, and has shown great improvement this year. Kanako Murakami qualified for the Grand Prix final and has had a generally solid start to the season. Wakaba Higuchi and Yuna Aoki have made a great impression as Juniors and will be looking to prove themselves on the Senior level. And there are many more: a field of thirty all told, ready to fight for the right to represent their country.
Predictions: 1. Satoko Miyahara, 2. Mao Asada, 3. Rika Hongo
Unfortunately, while Japan is arguably one of the strongest nations in the world when it comes to the singles fields, when it comes to pairs and dance they're one of the weakest. There are just three Senior Pairs entered for the National Championships this year.
Ironically, such a small field actually makes any predictions harder, particularly given that these pairs don't seem to compete internationally a lot. But for a victor I will choose Miyu Suzaki and Ryuichi Kihara, primarily because Kihara does have that international pair experience that others are missing. It will be good, however, to watch Marin Ono and Wesley Killing, and Sumire Suto and Francis Boudreau-Audet, and enjoy the improvements that each pair has made.
Predictions: 1. Suzaki/Kihara, 2. Ono/Killing, 3. Suto/Boudreau-Audet
Though dance is a slightly stronger field than pairs - there are four couples - since the retirement of Cathy Reed, it has suffered a setback due to a lack of experienced couples. Chris Reed has now partnered up with Kana Muramoto, and his experience should be enough to see them home, though expectations should be tempered with the reminder that this is a first-year couple.
The Japanese dancers have been working very hard, and it will be a joy to watch Emi Hirai and Marien de la Asuncion, Ibuki Mori and Kentaro Suzuki, Haruno Yajima and Kokoro Mizutani as they improve their skills and expand their love of dance. Seeing skaters improve is a journey that is always a wonderful one to take.
Predictions: 1. Muramoto/Reed, 2. Hirai/de la Asuncion, 3. Mori/Suzuki
All times AEDT.
Short program: Friday 25th December - 7:25pm - 11:15pm
Long program: Saturday 26th December - 7:55pm - 11:45pm
Short program: Saturday 26th December - 4:45pm - 7:35pm
Long program: Sunday 27th December - 5:55pm - 9:30pm
Short program: Friday 25th December - 6:35pm - 7:05pm
Long program: Sunday 27th December - 4:50pm - 5:30pm
Short dance: Friday 25th December - 5:00pm - 5:50pm
Free dance: Sunday 27th December - 3:00pm - 4:00pm