The epic 2013-14 season is behind us and it is onward to a new campaign, and in many ways a new era.
The past year in skating saw Yuzuru Hanyu become the first Japanese man to win the Olympic gold medal and second to claim a world title, Yuna Kim robbed of a second gold, and Mao Asada make history as the first Japanese to capture three world titles.
Ice Time was fortunate to be on the scene for all of last season’s major competitions. What should have been the pinnacle of a fantastic campaign descended into farce when Kim was denied a second Olympic title at the Sochi Games.
The sad show brought new meaning to the term “home cooking” as Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova was awarded the gold.
The Korean Skating Union’s understandable protest of the decision by a suspect panel of judges was recently denied by the International Skating Union in another miscarriage of justice. It was yet another example of why figure skating is in desperate need of new leadership and vision.
But move on we must, and the recent announcement of Grand Prix assignments for the coming season brought the news that Sotnikova will be coming to Japan for the NHK Trophy (Nov. 28-30). She will be joined there by Hanyu, who will also skate in the Cup of China (Nov. 7-9) in Shanghai.
Sotnikova, who skipped the worlds in Saitama last season, will also compete in the Cup of Russia (Nov. 14-16) in Moscow in what will be her first competition since Sochi.
With Mao choosing to sit out this season and Akiko Suzuki retired, the Japan Skating Federation will be fielding a much younger and inexperienced lineup in the women’s events.
Kanako Murakami, Japan’s third Olympian in Sochi, will go head-to-head against Sotnikova in both Shanghai and Osaka.
Haruka Imai will take the ice in the season-opening Skate America (Oct. 24-26) in Chicago and the Trophee Bompard (Nov. 21-23) in Bordeaux, France.
Satoko Miyahara, perhaps Japan’s best hope for the future, will pull the boots on at Skate Canada (Oct. 31-Nov. 2) in Kelowna, British Columbia, and the NHK Trophy. The 16-year-old finished fourth at the senior nationals last season.
Rika Hongo will make her senior GP debut when she joins Miyahara at Skate Canada in her only assignment, while Miyabi Oba is entered only in the Cup of Russia in her first contest on the senior circuit.
Japan has not announced its third and final selection for the NHK Trophy at this point, so it is likely that either Hongo or Oba will get the nod.
Other notable entries will see American Mirai Nagasu vie for honors at Skate America and the Cup of Russia, and Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia (who finished fifth in Sochi) in the field at the Cup of China and Trophee Bompard.
Gracie Gold, the top U.S. skater last season who took fourth in Sochi, will start out on home ice at Skate America and then travel to Japan for the NHK Trophy in what should be a treat for skating fans.
Italy’s Carolina Kostner, the bronze medalist in Sochi, has also elected to sit out this season.
On the men’s side, Olympian Tatsuki Machida has drawn Skate America and the Trophee Bompard, while Takahiko Kozuka is down for Skate Canada and the Cup of Russia.
Takahito Mura is scheduled for Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy, while Keiji Tanaka is provisionally entered in just the Cup of China.
Japan has also not decided on its third entrant for the men at the NHK Trophy.
With Sochi silver medalist Patrick Chan of Canada and Daisuke Takahashi taking the season off, it appears that Hanyu’s primary competition is likely to come from Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten, the surprise bronze medalist in Sochi.
Ten is listed for Skate America and Trophee Bompard, but could meet Hanyu in the Grand Prix Final (Dec. 11-14) in Barcelona, Spain.
Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara are entered in pairs for the NHK Trophy, where they will compete against Russia’s Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov. The Russian pair will start their campaign at Skate America.
Ice dancers Cathy and Chris Reed will take part in Skate America and the NHK Trophy.
The world championships (March 23-29) will be held in Shanghai this season, while the world juniors (March 2-8) are slated for Tallinn, Estonia.
Japan will host the World Team Trophy (April 16-19) at a site to be determined, while the Japan nationals (Dec. 25-29) will take place in Nagano.
Japan will get an early start to its skating calendar this season when Nagoya plays host to a Junior GP (Sept. 10-14).
New role: Mao is keeping busy during her first break from skating since she was a young girl. The 23-year-old is working as a reporter for a TBS television program.
The Sankei Shimbun reported that Mao’s first assignment was a journey that took her to Austria, Slovakia and Hungary to trace the origins of skating.
So Mao fans will get to see her on television while keeping their fingers crossed that she returns to competition for the 2015-16 season.