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Hino, Tanaka, Shoji begin Junior Grand Prix season with podium finishes


With the first two weeks of the Junior Grand Prix season in the books, Japanese skaters have posted encouraging results so far.

Ryuju Hino started the campaign off on a high note by winning the JGP in Riga, Latvia, while teammate Sei Kawahara finished sixth.

Hino, a 16-year-old from Nagoya, clearly exhibited improved skills over last season, when he finished sixth and 12th in his two JGPs. After placing second in the short program, Hino overtook China’s Zhang He and won the free skate to claim a narrow triumph.

The Chukyo University High School student landed an impressive triple axel/double toe loop combination to open his free skate and followed that with another triple axel on the way to victory.

Hino, who began skating at 6, is coached by veteran mentor Hiroshi Nagakubo, who currently oversees the work of Akiko Suzuki. Nagakubo was a five-time Japanese champion pairs skater, who competed in the 1972 Sapporo Olympics.

This past weekend, Japan’s top two juniors took the ice in Brisbane, Australia, and both finished on the podium.

Keiji Tanaka, the world junior silver medalist last season, placed second behind American Jason Brown, while Risa Shoji, who finished fifth at the world juniors last season, was runnerup to American Courtney Hicks.

Tanaka, a 16-year-old Okayama native coached by Utako Nagamitsu, was second in both the short program and free skate.

Shoji, a 15-year-old from Tokyo, rallied from fourth place after the short to come in second in the free skate and earn a medal.

Shoji was electric in 2011-11, coming in first and second in her two JGPs, winning the Japan junior title, and taking fifth at the Japan senior nationals.

Shoji’s teammate, Haruna Suzuki, finished sixth in Brisbane.

Tanaka’s next JGP is in Innsbruck, Austria, (Sept. 28-Oct. 2), while Shoji will participate in Tallin, Estonia (Oct. 12-16).

In the running: Reigning world champion Miki Ando, who is sitting out the Grand Prix season, is a finalist for the Women’s Sports Foundation Sportswoman of the Year Award. Ando, who was fantastic last season, joins an impressive list of finalists for the honor.

Also in the running are skier Lindsey Vonn, tennis star Caroline Wozniacki and golf’s Yani Tseng. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in New York on Oct. 19.

The WSF was started in 1974 by tennis legend Billie Jean King to advance the lives of women and girls through sports.

Poster girl: Kanako Murakami recently landed a significant endorsement deal. Toshin has signed up the young star to promote its university entrance examination preparation services.

Murakami is splashed on posters in railway stations throughout the country and is also featured skating in television commercials promoting the company. The high school student also appears in a video on the corporation’s website.

Roster complete: The Japan Skating Federation has named Shoko Ishikawa and Tatsuki Machida to fill the third spots for singles at the NHK Trophy in Sapporo in November.

Ishikawa will join Mao Asada and Akiko Suzuki in the event, while Machida will compete alongside Daisuke Takahashi and Takahiko Kozuka.