|

Miyahara primed for a run at first world title

by

Before the recent Four Continents Championships in Taipei, Satoko Miyahara said she was “tired of finishing second at international events.”

Staying true to her words, the reigning world silver medalist tore off two personal best performances on the way to her first major international victory on Saturday night with a beautiful effort in her free skate. Miyahara was joined on the podium in Taiwan by compatriot Rika Hongo (who was third) and American Mirai Nagasu.

Ice Time stated years ago when Miyahara was still in the junior ranks that she had a real elegance to her skating. As she has progressed as a senior, this trait has become even more pronounced.

She was eye-catching in her flamenco routine to “Firedance” in her short program at the Four Continents and equally impressive in her free skate to “Un Sospiro.”

When you think of Miyahara, you don’t think of powerful skaters like world champions Mao Asada and Miki Ando, but rather someone more in the mold of 1992 Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi of the United States. Miyahara’s forte is her finesse and how she makes her programs look effortless.

“When she first came onto the scene, she was just a little jumper — a good jumper,” said 1998 Nagano gold medalist Tara Lipinski during Miyahara’s free skate on Saturday. “But now she is really adding artistry into her programs. I enjoy watching her. I think she has a very elegant style. She is also so focused. If you watch her go into her jumps, her setups are beautiful. She takes her time and really lets the jump happen for her.”

Universal HD announcer Michael Weiss, a three-time U.S. champion, praised Miyahara, but said he is unsure if she can beat her Russians competitors in international events.

“She just doesn’t quite have enough speed and flow through her programs in order to compete against people like (Evgenia) Medvedeva and (Elena) Radionova . . . Just a little bit more speed,” Weiss said. “Everything else is there — her edges, her knees. Spinning in both directions is so difficult. Dancers do it, but figure skaters don’t.”

Miyahara’s predicament is part of the age old question in skating: What resonates more with the judges — jumping or presentation?

The judging panel ideally wants to see both, but clearly places great weight on Miyhara’s ability as exhibited by her place on the podium last season at the worlds in Shanghai.

Miyahara’s win at the Four Continents will certainly boost her confidence heading into the worlds in Boston next month and reputation is important to judges. They are more comfortable giving marks to a skater with a track record, than an up-and-comer.

“In the first half of the season I was happy with my performances, but I had a lot of second places,” Miyahara was quoted as saying by the ISU website after her victory. “I also twice was silver medalist at Four Continents. So coming into this competition I was aiming to win. I’m pleased I met my goal and it gives me a good feeling heading into worlds.”

But can the 17-year-old from Kyoto join the likes of Midori Ito, Yuka Sato, Shizuka Arakawa, Ando and Mao as a senior world champion?

That is the burning question.

Miyahara has a chance, but Ice Time believes she won’t get there on her effort alone. Much will depend on what happens to the other elite skaters at the worlds. If they falter, Miyahara could well walk away with the gold medal in Boston.

Enjoying a renaissance: One of the surprises of the season has been the resurgence of Nagasu, the Japanese-American from California who was the U.S. champion at the age of 14, but has struggled with consistency over the years.

Nagasu finished fourth at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, but that has been the high point of her international career to this point. She has only qualified for senior worlds once (in 2007), and her second-place finish at the Four Continents was her best result in a significant international competition since she took second at the Cup of China during the 2011-12 season.

Nagasu landed seven triple jumps in her free skate to “The Great Gatsby” and received level-fours for her spins on Saturday.

After placing fourth at the U.S. nationals last month in Minnesota, Nagasu earned the ticket to Taipei and a spot as an alternate for the worlds. She has always had the ability, but her drive has been questioned frequently by coaches and critics alike.

“I think people who love figure skating really relate to me,” Nagasu told icenetwork.com recently. “I’m far from perfect. There’s always something going on, it seems, but I don’t do it on purpose — things just happen.”

Nagasu will turn 23 in April and it appears that maturity has brought with it a fresh perspective on her career.

“I think it’s safe to say that I haven’t skated like this in a long, long time,” Nagasu was quoted as saying by the ISU website after her free skate in Taiwan. “It’s taken a lot to get me back on the podium and I’m so grateful to my team and support group who have gotten me here. I hope to only improve and continue on this track of improvement.”

Tom Zakrajsek, who coaches Nagasu in Colorado Springs, deserves much of the credit for Nagasu’s resurgence.

“A lot of the officials told me at nationals that they had not seen her skate like that since Vancouver,” Zakrajsek commented to icenetwork.com. “I really think that she’s got her mojo back. She has a great foundation, and she is one tough cookie.”

Golden achievement: Japan junior champion Sota Yamamoto won the gold medal at the Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway, last week. The 16-year-old from Nagoya beat Latvia’s Deniss Vasiljevs for the title.

“I was the leader of Team Japan and I was aiming for the gold medal, so I had a lot of pressure. But I’m pretty glad and relieved I got the gold medal,” Yamamoto stated following his triumph.

Yuna Shiraiwa was poised to make it a sweep for Japan after taking the lead following the short program in Lillehammer. Shiraiwa, who has enjoyed a fine season in her junior debut with two Junior Grand Prix wins, faltered in the free skate, however, and ended up in fourth place.

Shiraiwa, a 14-year-old from Kyoto, fell on her very last jump — a triple toe loop at the back end of a combination with a double axel — and it cost her a place on the podium, as she finished just 1.22 points behind third-place Elizabet Tursynbaeva of Kazakhstan.

Next up for Yamamoto and Shiraiwa are the world juniors in Debrecen, Hungary, next month. Yamamoto was third at last year’s world juniors.

Film news: Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu will appear in a motion picture to be released in May called “Tono, Risoku de Gozaru,” the Shochiku Corp. announced earlier this month.

The superstar filmed his scenes last summer for the drama set in his native Miyagi Prefecture some 250 years ago during the Edo Period. Hanyu plays warlord Date Shigemura, lord of the Sendai Domain, in the movie.

“I’m surprised that such a wonderful story came out of my home prefecture Miyagi,” the Asahi Shimbun quoted Hanyu as saying. “I did my best to bridge the gap between the lord’s dignity and kindness in my interpretation of him.”