SAPPORO – Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu wasn’t at his impeccable best in the men’s free skate, but still claimed his fourth straight national title on Saturday at the All-Japan Championships with a score of 286.36 points, nearly 20 points ahead of second-placed Shoma Uno.
Hanyu, who made a rare landing mistake Friday on a quad salchow in the short skate, started off brightly but failed to land his second quad toeloop and then fell on an ensuing triple axel to settle for 183.73.
“I’m frustrated, seething even. I wasn’t overawed by the atmosphere or giving into the pressure, but it was definitely a bad performance,” said Hanyu, who collided with Daisuke Murakami during a practice session earlier in the day at the Makomanai Ice Arena.
The 21-year-old’s score was far below his free-skate record of 219.48, and the record total of 330.43 points, he marked at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, Spain, on Dec. 13. But it was enough to ensure victory and a ticket to the world championships in Boston in late March.
“The most important thing is the world championships. I’ll keep going to make sure I don’t put in a performance like this again,” said Hanyu.
Eighteen-year-old Uno, who scored 97.94 in the short skate to sit in second place, could only add 169.21 in the free skate as he under-rotated a quad toeloop for a double. And although he succeeded with his second, his decision to change a late jump to a quad to make up for that earlier failure didn’t pay off as it again became a double.
“I failed in my jumps but kept skating aggressively,” said Uno, last year’s runner-up at the nationals. “I wanted to win as the worlds was at stake, and I just skated without caring too much about other things.”
Uno, who finished third in the Grand Prix Final, is now all but set to join Hanyu in Boston for the world championships, where two places are available for Japan in the men’s field.
Takahito Mura finished third on 263.46, staying where he was after the short program. The 24-year-old touched the rink with his hand when he failed to land his opening quad-toeloop and also had a triple axel turn into a single, but he navigated his way through, altering his late salchow to triple to post 170.20.
“This might be my capability at the moment,” said Mura, who started the day within five points of Uno in second. “I’m happy I could hold on mentally despite the early setbacks.”
In the women’s short program, 17-year-old defending champion Satoko Miyahara has taken a comfortable lead after marking 73.24 points, ahead of Rika Hongo’s 68.39 in second.
Skating to flamenco, Miyahara, who finished second in the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona on Dec. 13, started off landing a triple lutz-triple toeloop combination and added a triple flip and double axel to her list of successful jumps.
“I executed the opening triple combination better than I imagined and I could skate with good feeling,” said Miyahara. “I was aiming to top 70 (points) so I’m a bit relieved.”
Hongo, 19, landed her opening triple flip before nailing both the triple-triple toeloop combination and double axel later in the program. Wakaba Higuchi, 14, came third on 67.48 to complete the top three in exactly the same order as last year’s podium.
“I had a stumble before getting to the first jump but I kept calm and switched my mode,” said Hongo, who has been getting advice from former Olympian Akiko Suzuki, while Higuchi voiced her pleasure at completing her routine with a minimum of mistakes.
Three-time world champion Mao Asada, looking for her seventh national title, stepped out of her opening triple axel and under-rotated the ensuing triple flip in combination to place fifth on 62.03.
Mao, who sat out the 2014-2015 season and failed to reach the podium at the Grand Prix Finals for the first time in seven appearances, opted for a less difficult program components for the nationals.
“My motivation is going down a bit,” said Mao, who won the Cup of China in early November in her return to the Grand Prix series before finishing third at the NHK Trophy later that month. “It hasn’t gone well in recent tournaments and I’m not being able” to feel condident.
The first place finishers in both the men’s and women’s competition in Sapporo are guaranteed places at the world championships in Boston starting in late March. Three places are available for Japanese women in the competition, with the whole team set to be announced on Sunday after the nationals.
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