Hanyu claims third national title by impressive margin

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu overcame a fall on the opening jump of his free skate to capture his third straight national title at the All-Japan Championships at Big Hat on Saturday night.

The 20-year-old star hit the ice on his quadruple salchow, but got up and proceeded to tear through the rest of his program on the way to yet another win.

Hanyu skated to “Phantom of the Opera” and landed a quad toe loop and hit eight triple jumps to triumph by more than 30 points with a total score of 286.86.

Hanyu struggled through the six-minute warmup preceding the free skate, and after falling on the salchow, it looked like his reign might be in jeopardy. But he quickly turned it around by methodically executing jump after jump and element after element to post the comprehensive victory.

“It’s a good feeling to win. I’m glad I could skate until the end,” said Hanyu. “But I need to work harder. I don’t want to dwell on the fact I have won three straight titles.”

The Sendai native pointed out that 2014 has been an epic year for him in many ways.

“It started out with the Olympics,” Hanyu stated. “Then I needed to rest after the season and I learned from that. I also had the accident (collision at the Cup of China with Yan Han).”

Hanyu made it clear that he considered himself fortunate to be the position he is in.

“I have experienced a lot of things that other skaters have not,” he commented.

Shoma Uno, the Junior Grand Prix Final champion, took second place with 251.28.

Uno performed to “Don Juan DeMarco”and fired up the crowd with a big quad toe loop at the outset. He went on to land seven clean triple jumps, before under-rotating a triple lutz on his final combo.

“I was surprised by the score,” said Uno. “I don’t think I was able to put forth my full effort in either the short (program) or free.”

Uno was content with his showing, but is already looking ahead.

“It was a good two days,” he noted. “I have a lot to improve on. The extra 30 seconds in the free for the seniors was strenuous for me.”

Takahiko Kozuka, written off by some after struggling the past few years with inconsistent results, rallied from sixth after the short program to make the podium in third on 245.68.

Kozuka competed to “Lo Ci Saro” and really put on a show for the capacity crowd. He under-rotated both of his quad toe loops, but converted seven triple jumps, then punched the air as his program concluded.

The 2011 world silver medalist says he feel rejuvenated after his showing here.

“I was burned out after last year’s nationals,” Kozuka said. “I was able to rekindle the flame with this competition.”

Tatsuki Machida (242.61) fell on his opening quad toe loop to Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 9″ and made several more errors on the way to finishing fourth.

Takahito Mura settled for fifth with 236.40.

Mura also skated to “Phantom of the Opera” but could not muster the same magic that Hanyu did. Mura touched the ice on his opening quad, recovered to hit a quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo, but then committed several mistakes the rest of the way.

Rika Hongo (66.70) leads the women’s competition heading into Sunday free skate.

Hongo competed to “Le Corsaire” and was smooth as silk throughout her program.

The 18-year-old Sendai native, who won the Cup of Russia last month, opened with a triple toe loop/triple toe loop combo and went on to add a triple flip and double axel. She received level-four scores for three of her spins.

“I’m happy I was able to do what I can do,” said Hongo. “There was not much time between the Grand Prix Final and this competition. I think today shows that I practiced properly in between.”

Hongo isn’t planning to dwell on her success.

“I won’t think about the short program on Sunday,” she stated. “I will just do what I have been doing.”

Hongo has been getting advice from retired star Akiko Suzuki, who was last season’s national champion in Saitama.

“She told me I need to do my routines in practice just like I would in the competitions,” noted Hongo.

Satoko Miyahara gave an elegant performance to “Magic Flute” and is in second place at 64.48 heading into Sunday’s free skate.

Miyahara under-rotated both ends of her triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, but went on to hit a sublime triple flip and a double axel. She received level-fours for three spins and her step sequence.

Wakaba Higuchi performed to “Beloved Czardas” and scored an impressive 64.35 in her senior debut and is third.

The 13-year-old Tokyo native is Japan’s junior champion and was the bronze medalist at the Junior Grand Prix Final earlier this month.

Higuchi began with a double axel, then attempted a triple flip/triple toe loop combo, but under-rotated the latter, before executing a triple lutz.

“I was struggling in the six-minute warmup,” commented Higuchi. “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to jump.”

The youngster admitted that being on the big stage for the first time had given her the jitters.

“This is a big competition and I was very nervous,” Higuchi said. “I consider this a win because I was able to concentrate and keep within myself. I give myself a 90 (out of 100). The missing 10 percent was because I didn’t smile more.”

Miyu Nakashio (58.10), the gold medalist at this season’s Junior Grand Prix in Estonia, is a surprise fourth after a solid showing.

Riona Kato, who was fifth at last month’s NHK Trophy following an outstanding free skate, is fifth on 58.10.

Kato skated to “Flower Duet” and hit all of her jumps to the delight of the crowd.

Kanako Murakami (57.55) had a disappointing effort to “Think of Me” and is ninth. She is going to have to really come on in the free skate to have a shot at the podium.

Murakami, who was 12th in Sochi, under-rotated both ends of her opening triple toe loop/triple toe loop combo, then did the same with a triple flip. She did hit a double axel, but outside of a level-four for her step sequence, had a very uninspiring skate.

The 2010 world junior champion sounded shell-shocked with her result.

“I practiced a lot and thought I could do it,” said Murakami. “I was speechless after my score. I thought the spins would be deducted, and maybe the flip was not perfect, but I felt the combination was good.”