The Japanese National Figure Skating Championships were held in Hokkaido, Japan, from December 24-27. While some predictable results did occur, others were upsets, but the remainder of the season is now clear for those who were chosen to go to the post-National Championship events.
The selections for those Championship events followed the results of Nationals, with no real surprises except for one exclusion from Four Continents that will have the organisers and ticket sellers pulling their hair out in despair…
To the surprise of, well, nobody, Yuzuru Hanyu was the victor here, though his performances were far from convincing. His short program was marred by a fall on the opening quad toe, though at least now we have a really strong example of why Nationals scores don’t count since he still scored over 100 for it. He fell twice in his long program, with the second quad toe and the first triple Axel the culprit on this occasion, and was generally off-colour the whole weekend and frustrated with his performances. Given how the rest of the season has gone, he picked the best possible competition to have his worst performance, and with no trip to Four Continents to tire him, he will be fresh, ready and determined to take the victory in Boston at Worlds.
In another unsurprising result, Shoma Uno came in second. Like Hanyu, he had a few struggles, but held his composure well to stay on his feet. His short program was exceptional, with positive grades of execution on everything and all level four spins and steps. He started his long program by popping his planned quad toe into a double, but regained his countenance quickly to deliver a stirring performance, with only a level three step sequence, an unclear edge on his Lutz and another pop to a double toe causing him trouble. It has been a rapid rise for the reigning Junior World Champion and there is no doubt that he will do well as the leading Japanese man at Four Continents.
Takahito Mura continued his strong resurgence by scooping up the bronze medal here. His jumps were superb in the short program, but some minor spin errors cost him levels and therefore points. His long program was much better, though he popped one Axel to a single and struggled with his flying sit spin again, with the attempt earning a V designation in both programs for not completing the fly properly. Nevertheless, it is a far cry from Mura's first outing at Skate America, and he continues to improve through the season.
Four Continents: Uno, Mura, Tanaka (Alt: Murakami, Kozuka)
Junior Worlds: Yamamoto, Nakamura, Miyata (Alt: Tomono)
Worlds: Hanyu, Uno (Alt: Mura, Murakami)
Satoko Miyahara’s incredible season continued here by taking out her second National title. She opened her competition here with a near-flawless short program, marred only by an unclear edge call on her triple flip. Her long program was also extremely polished, with just the one mistake - a downgrade on the double loop at the end of her three-jump combination - marring it, and her victory here was an absolutely dominant one. She is definitely on an upswing and it will be interesting to see her matchup with her much-more-fancied compatriot in the second half of the season
Junior superstar Wakaba Higuchi proved that the talk about her is not all just hype, securing the silver medal here. She gained level fours on all but one element across both programs, and skated at a generally high quality. Her short program had only one minor error - an unclear takeoff edge from her triple flip. Her long program was just as good, with the only error being that the flip this time earned her a wrong edge call (and the requisite 30% reduction in base value). With her jump difficulty and quality, she will be one to watch.
Veteran Mao Asada’s difficult comeback season continued, struggling here to barely scrape onto the podium. Her short program was littered with errors, including an under-rotation on the triple Axel attempt and a double blow when not only did she pop the second jump of her combination into a double loop, but earned an under-rotation on the preceding triple flip and a downgrade call on the double loop. Her free skate was a little better, but once again she earned an under-rotation call for the triple Axel, which she fell from this time, and another on the back end of the double Axel-triple toe combination. Had she been anyone other Mao Asada, she likely would not have made the podium.
Four Continents: Miyahara, Asada, Hongo (Alt: Murakami, Nagai)
Junior Worlds: Higuchi, Shiraiwa, Honda (Alt: Yokoi)
Worlds: Miyahara, Asada, Hongo (Alt: Murakami, Nagai)
Sumire Suto and Francis Boudreau-Audet were dominant as they claimed their first National title. Their short program was extremely polished, with all level four elements, a clean double twist, side-by-side triple Salchows, with only a slight stumble on the throw triple Salchow. Their long program was more ambitious, with a throw triple loop attempt (Suto fell unfortunately), an attempt at a side-by-side triple toe combination, and a clean throw triple Salchow, showing a great deal of promise for their future.
Marin Ono and Wesley Killing had two solid performances for second. During their short program they had some struggles with the ambitious triple twist and side-by-side double Axels, but landed their throw triple Salchow cleanly. The same struggles were present in the free skate, with their double Axels being called under-rotated and a base level only on the triple twist, but they also attempted to up the ante by attempting a throw triple loop as well, which unfortunately didn't quite work. Nevertheless, they have also shown plenty of improvement.
Miu Suzaki and Ryuichi Kihara struggled in their first Nationals together, coming in third. Though their side-by-side jumps were generally excellent - they landed side-by-side triple toes in the short program and their long program included clean side-by-side triple toe-double toe combinations - their throw jumps were clearly a problem, with a throw double Salchow in both programs and a throw double loop in the long. Though clean, it was a much lower base value than the throws the other teams were attempting, which did hold them back. However, for a first-year pair, they showed plenty of promise.
Four Continents: Suto/Boudreau-Audet (no alternate)
Junior Worlds: N/A (no pair eligible)
Worlds: Suto/Boudreau-Audet (no alternate)
Kana Muramoto and Chris Reed continued an impressive first season together by taking out their first National title. In their short dance, their Ravensburger Waltz pattern was excellent, hitting five out of six keypoints, and earning level fours on two other elements. Their free dance was also very good, with four level four elements and a high grade of execution on everything. For their first year together, they have combined extremely well, and should improve even further in the near future.
Emi Hirai and Marien de la Asuncion were not far behind, however, and showed significant improvement as they took home the silver. They hit four out of six keypoints in the pattern during the short dance, with two other level four elements. In the free dance, they earned five level four elements and all positive grades of execution, finishing the segment only a point behind Muramato and Reed. Though they have the technical minimum for Four Continents, they do not yet have it for Worlds, and it will be interesting to see which team can acquire it in time.
Ibuki Mori and Kentaro Suzuki have also improved, taking out the bronze medal. Unfortunately, they struggled a little during their short dance, hitting only three of the six keypoints in the Ravensburger Waltz pattern and achieving only one level four element. Their free dance was much better, including two level four elements and a positive grade of execution on all elements bar one. It will be fascinating to watch their development over the next few seasons.
Four Continents: Muramoto/Reed, Hirai/de la Asuncion (no alternate)
Junior Worlds: Fukase/Tateno (no alternate)
Worlds: TBA (possibly waiting on minimum TES achievement)