Miyahara rises to occasion, collects first national title

by

Staff Writer

Satoko Miyahara captured her first major crown in the senior ranks with a clutch performance in the free skate at the All-Japan Championships at Big Hat on Sunday night.

The 16-year-old Kyoto native trailed Rika Hongo by just over two points following Saturday’s short program, but put on an outstanding display of technique and grace under incredible pressure win the national title.

With Hongo already in the locker room with a total score of 188.63, Miyahara took the ice last in the final group and rose to the moment in a beautiful red outfit.

Miyahara skated to “Miss Saigon” and didn’t waste any time getting down to business. She opened with a triple lutz/double toe loop/double loop combination jump, which set the tone for the remainder of her program.

Though she did under-rotate three of her jumps, Miyahara received three level-fours on her spins and overtook Hongo in part with higher marks in program components for a total of 195.60. She received a standing ovation from the crowd as she finished her program.

“I was a little nervous,” said Miyahara. “But being the last skater didn’t change anything for me.”

Miyahara, a two-time Japan junior champion, was fourth at last year’s nationals behind Akiko Suzuki, Kanako Murakami and Mao Asada.

“Although I did win, the score was not a big difference,” stated Miyahara. “I must keep practicing and work harder.”

The victory gave Miyahara an automatic berth to her first world championships.

“My confidence is growing after this win,” she commented. “I would like to take that confidence to the worlds.”

Hongo competed to “Carmen” as the first skater in the final group of six and lost the opportunity to put it away when she under-rotated four different triple jumps. She settled for second place, her best finish in three senior nationals.

Despite finishing runnerup, Hongo did not seem disappointed with her result.

“I was able to put out everything that I had practiced for during this competition,” Hongo noted. “I never thought about being an example for younger skaters, but now that I have that chance, I would like to be.”

Wakaba Higuchi, the 13-year-old rising star from Tokyo, held on to her spot after the short program to come in third with 181.82.

Higuchi performed to “Piano Concerto in F” and got off to a rough start when she botched her planned opening triple lutz/triple toe loop combo. She picked up the pace from there, however, hitting five triple jumps with the crowd behind her.

“I regret that I could not reach my objective, which was to go all out with full power,” said Higuchi. “I became very nervous during the six-minute warmup.”

The precocious teen has already nailed down what she needs to work on.

“I have matured as a skater this season,” Higuchi stated. “Now I must learn to control my emotions and build up my physical endurance.”

Yuka Nagai, who took second at the Junior Grand Prix events in Aichi Prefecture and Slovenia this season, was fourth on 168.55.

Murakami, who made the Olympic team for Sochi last season with an impressive effort at the nationals, just didn’t have it this year.

The 20-year-old former world junior champion skated to “Phantom of the Opera”and had a fairly calamitous outing, under-rotating five jumps. She made the majority of her mistakes in the latter half of her program when she appeared to wear down.

Murakami came in fifth at 168.29 and though she was named to the team for the worlds, it appears her career is at a real crossroads.

“I’ve practiced the most in my career,” said Murakami. “The judges say I need to (focus) more on perfecting my jumps more.”

Murakami bemoaned her finish, but is already focusing on the future.

“My results here were unfortunate,” she acknowledged. “I would like to revise my jumps for the worlds. I will try to make the podium there.”

Worlds team set

One hour after the conclusion of the women’s free skate, the Japan Skating Federation announced the teams for the senior and junior world championships and the Four Continents.

The worlds will be held March 23-29 in Shanghai.

Japan’s team is:

Men

Yuzuru Hanyu, Takahiko Kozuka, Takahito Mura

Women

Satoko Miyahara, Rika Hongo, Kanako Murakami

The Four Continents will take place Feb. 9-15 in Seoul.

Japan’s team is:

Men

Shoma Uno, Takahito Mura, Daisuke Murakami

Women

Satoko Miyahara, Rika Hongo, Yuka Nagai

The world juniors will be staged March 23-29 in Tallinn, Estonia.

Japan’s team is:

Men

Shoma Uno, Sota Yamamoto, Hiroaki Sato

Women

Wakaba Higuchi, Yuka Nagai, Kaori Sakamoto

Following the announcement of the teams, Tatsuki Machida spoke to the audience and suddenly announced his retirement from skating. The JSF quickly reacted and named Mura (the first alternate for the worlds) to fill Machida’s spot in Shanghai.

Machida, the world silver medalist last season, finished fourth on Saturday night following a disappointing free skate. Machida said he wanted to move on and was planning to attend graduate school.

Ice Shavings: Olympic and world champion Hanyu, who won his third straight national title here on Saturday night, pulled out of Monday’s Exhibition Gala with abdominal pains. It is unclear at this point if the issue is a muscular one or something else. “I have felt some pain since the Grand Prix Final and spoke to my doctor about it,” Hanyu said in a statement. “I was advised to have an examination to determine the extent of the problem.” He returned to Tokyo to be checked out … Higuchi will turn 14 on Jan. 2 … Faces in the crowd Sunday included Daisuke Murakami, who finished seventh on Saturday. Murakami sat in the third-floor press section to watch the women’s competition … Coach Jason Dungjen, who is based at the Detroit Skating Club, was also in attendance.