Sakamoto holds off Shiraiwa, Honda to win Japan Junior Championships

by

Staff Writer

Meta

Kaori Sakamoto captured the women’s singles title on the final day of the Japan Junior Championships at Tsukisamu Gymnasium on Sunday.

Sakamoto gave a refined performance to “The Color Purple” and totaled 191.97 points to improve on her fifth-place finish from last season in this event.

Yuna Shiraiwa competed to “A Little Night Music” and was absolutely fantastic in taking second place for the second straight year. Competing in an aqua-colored outfit, she was the definition of elegance and grace and earned a total of 185.13.

Reigning world junior champion Marin Honda, who was second after the short program, skated to “Romeo and Juliet” and settled for third with 176.23.

Sakamoto, a 16-year-old from Kobe, opened with a booming triple flip/triple toe loop combination jump and was strong throughout. Her only bobble came on her double axel/triple toe combo. She stumbled coming out of the first jump and needed an extra step before trying the second.

“I won the Novice A title before, but that was a while ago and I almost forgot what it felt like to win the championship,” commented Sakamoto. “I feel really happy. This is my first junior title.”

Despite the triumph, Sakamoto was not completely content.

“I made some mistakes,” she said. “The program was not clean. So I can’t feel really great about it. I still have work to do.”

The victory gives Sakamoto an automatic spot at the world junior championships in Taiwan in March.

Shiraiwa began with a nice triple lutz/triple toe combo and went on to win the free skate with a tally of 125.97. She was third entering the free skate, but despite her outstanding effort could not make up a more-than eight-point deficit on Sakamoto.

“I’m happy because I can participate in the senior nationals with this result,” Shiraiwa said. “I’m not sure about the world juniors, but I think I will have a chance to be selected.”

Shiraiwa, a 15-year-old from Kyoto, also said she can do better.

“I would give myself a score of 80 percent on today’s program,” Shiraiwa stated. “I want to skate perfectly next month at the senior nationals.”

Honda, also 15 and from Kyoto, was done in by the beginning and the end of her outing. She botched her planned triple lutz/triple toe combo at the outset, but recovered to skate well, before singling the double axel on her final jump. She was just sixth in the free skate.

Her result was still an improvement on last season here, when she was sixth overall.

“I was just thinking of how to recover during the program after my mistake on the combination jump,” stated Honda, who wept during the interview session with the media. “I just tried to forget the mistake and move on. I need to train more on how to overcome my mistakes.”

Honda, Sakamoto and Shiraiwa are all expected to contend next season for spots on Japan’s Olympic team for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

Rika Kihira (153.73) struggled through her skate to “Rhapsody in Blue” and was 11th for the second year in a row.

She put her hand down on her opening triple axel, then fell on the front end of a planned double axel/triple toe combo, and hit the ice again going into her final jump- a triple lutz.

Despite the disappointing result here, Kihira can look forward to next month’s Junior Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France, where she will be joined by Sakamoto and Honda.

Mako Yamashita (139.81) ended up 16th after an error-filled effort in her free skate.

Kazuki Tomono, the leader after the short program, hung on to win his first junior title in men’s singles. He was the silver medalist here last season.

Despite two-footing the landing on his opening quad salchow, Tomono kept it together the rest of the way to “An American in Paris” and prevailed with a total score of 207.85.

“I felt a lot of pressure for the first time with the other skaters competing,” said Tomono. “I really wanted to succeed on the quad but I could not. I’m very pleased. This is the sixth time I have participated in this competition and now I have finally won.”

Tomono, an 18-year-old from Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, was Japan’s top scorer in the Junior Grand Prix campaign, placing 10th overall. He knows a challenge awaits him when he moves up to the senior ranks next season.

“Next year I will join the seniors and I want to be a real senior skater,” Tomono stated. “Now I can’t win as a senior, so I have to work harder.”

Koshiro Shimada finished second with 198.20. He excelled at his jumps, particularly the triple lutz/triple toe combo, to “Romeo and Juliet.”

Shimada, a 15-year-old from Okayama, improved on his fourth-place finish at last season’s junior nationals.

Mitsuki Sumoto was third on 191.81. His jumps were adequate, but he lacked speed at times in his skate to Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8.

Sumoto, a 15-year-old from Izumi, Osaka Prefecture, earned the bronze medal at the Junior Grand Prix in Dresden, Germany, last month.