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Murakami surging toward Sochi with style, confidence

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

When you work in this business, there is nothing more rewarding than watching an athlete truly come into their own.

When the point of critical mass is reached, the individual begins to fully realize their full potential with strong performances and their confidence soars, making them able to achieve greatness.

This is what we are witnessing now with Kanako Murakami

It started at the Japan nationals last month in Saitama, where in a high-pressure situation she was absolutely sublime in finishing second behind Akiko Suzuki and ahead of Mao Asada, and continued last weekend when she won the title at the Four Continents Championships in Taipei.

Murakami has always had the ability, but with her belief in herself booming, she has the chance to do something special at the upcoming Winter Olympics.

It’s not just my eye the Nagoya native is catching, but others who follow the sport closely as well.

American skating journalist Peter Murray, who has run the popular website blazingblades.com for several years, was so moved by Murakami’s effort at the Four Continents that he posted the following along with a link to video of her free skate:

“With this performance I believe that Kanako Murakami cemented her claim as successor to Mao Asada as the premier skating star among the Japanese ladies of the ice.

“Her interpretation of the movie ‘Yentl’ song ‘Papa, Can You Hear Me?’ was a seamless telling of the story of Yentl speaking to her late father in heaven of her undying love for him.

“Kanako produced one of those rare moments in skating where music, art and athleticism merge as one magical moment in time that thrills one’s soul. It is a rare moment like this that elevates the sport of figure skating to a level other athletic events cannot match.”

Murray’s observations clearly reflect the vibe going around the skating community now that the 19-year-old Murakami has a powerful combination going for her with a short program and free skate that are set to emotive music and also well-choreographed.

Murakami, the 2010 world junior champion, was athletic and graceful in victory at the Four Continents, clearly capturing the imagination of both the judges and audience.

She hit seven triple jumps in her free skate and received level fours on her spins and step sequence.

Only Mao and Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia have notched higher scores in the free skate this season than Murakami’s 132.18. Her total of 196.91 was more than 10 points better than compatriot Satoko Miyahara, who finished second.

What is even more amazing about Murakami’s showing in Taiwan is that she did it wearing a new pair of boots that have been causing her ankle pain. She changed skates after the nationals, and has had a tough time breaking them in.

Murakami understood the gravity of her victory over the weekend, with it coming so close to the Sochi Games, especially because at one point she was considering withdrawing from the event.

“This is an important competition and winning here means the next step for me,” she said. “I was able to do the best performance that I can at the moment.”

With all that we know now, it makes you wonder what she can achieve with boots that fit and ankles that aren’t sore. Murakami’s ascension promises to make the women’s singles in Sochi that much more compelling.

In a 2010 interview with Ice Time, Murakami credited Mao’s effort at the 2010 Vancouver Games with inspiring her to shoot for the stars.

“Before I watched this year’s Olympics, I had no intention to compete in the Olympics, because my dream is to be a figure skating coach in the future,” she said at the time. “But by watching her (Mao’s) performance in Vancouver, I was so impressed and moved. Then I felt that I wanted to compete on such a big stage in the future and impress many people.”

Now she has her chance.

Bright future: Though she finished a distant second at the Four Continents, Ice Time sees the potential for greatness in the 15-year-old Miyahara.

She was impressive in taking fourth at the nationals, which followed a Grand Prix season with a pair of fifth-place showings (at the NHK Trophy and Cup of Russia) in her first senior campaign.

Miyahara, who hails from Kyoto, displays outstanding skills at this juncture of her career and a poise that is far beyond her years. She exudes an elegance on the ice with her presentation that suggests she can be a very special skater.

She hit seven triple jumps in Taipei on the way to making the podium, and is already looking ahead.

“This event was the most nerve-wracking for me,” she stated. “I know this will be a great start for the next season. Today’s performance made me gain confidence. I didn’t care about my placement. Being second doesn’t really matter to me; the most important thing was to do the best I could.”

It is going to be enjoyable for skating fans to watch Miyahara blossom in the coming years. The feeling here is she will be a factor when the Pyeongchang Games roll around in 2018.

Comprehensive coverage: Ice Time will be on site at the Olympic Games to report on all of the latest developments as Mao and Yuzuru Hanyu make their bids for the glory.

When you consider the different competitors and varying story lines of those slated to take part in Russia, it promises to be a truly spectacular show.

Can Mao upset Kim Yu-na and win the gold medal?

Will Hanyu best three-time world champion Patrick Chan like he did at the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka?

Does Daisuke Takahashi have a shot at a second Olympic medal?

Is national champion Akiko Suzuki going to steal the show?

Could Japan medal in the team competition?

It won’t be long until we find out the answers to all of the above.