Japanese skaters began the Junior Grand Prix season with encouraging results at the opening event last weekend in St. Gervais, France. Japan took home half of the six singles medals on offer, with Russia claiming the other three.

Kaori Sakamoto, who has really blossomed from the young skater Ice Time first saw two years ago at the JGP in Aichi Prefecture, placed second in the women’s singles, while Rin Nitaya took third.

Koshiro Shimada, who physically resembles a young Yuzuru Hanyu, made the podium in the men’s singles with a third-place finish.

Sakamoto, a 16-year-old from Kobe, skated to the theme from “The Artist” for her short program and notched a personal best of 64.12 points, surpassing her previous high by more than five points to take second place heading into the free skate.

Ted Barton, the ISU’s announcer on its YouTube feed of the event was impressed with Sakamoto, saying after the short program, “She has fabulous soft knees, carries flow, good height on her jumps, outstanding personality throughout the program,” then added, “she is a powerful jumper with outstanding performance skills as well.”

Sakamoto recorded another personal best in the free skate to “The Color Purple” with 114.74, going more than two points above her previous high score. Though she stumbled on a couple of landings in the free, Sakamoto displayed a real maturity in her skating, especially the flowing movement of her arms throughout the program, and hung on to take second.

On the replay of her jumps, Barton said after Sakamoto’s big triple lutz, “That is reminiscent of (1989 world champion) Midori Ito with the size of the jump.”

Pretty high praise for Sakamoto, who finished second and fourth at her two JGPs last season.

Russia’s Alina Zagitova won by a healthy margin with a total of 194.37.

Nitaya, a 19-year-old from Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, also set personal bests in both the short program (60.94) and free skate (114.07) on her way to coming in third.

The Chukyo University student is coached by Hiroshi Nagakubo and choreographed by his former prize pupil Akiko Suzuki. Perhaps in a nod to her busy schedule with skating and school, Nitaya lists her hobby as “sleeping.”

Nitaya performed to “The Red Violin” in the short program and also earned Barton’s praise for “her calm and controlled landings” on her jumps. She could use some more speed on her donut spin, however.

In the free skate, Nitaya skated to “Legends of the Fall” and impressed with her refined jumping skills. She slipped on one attempt, but was able to retain third place.

Shimada’s podium finish came despite the fact that he fell entering his triple loop in the short program and received no points for it. The 14-year-old Okayama native was fifth heading into the free skate, but still managed to climb up to third with a personal best of 126.86.

Russia’s Roman Savosin (198.28) and Ilia Skirda (190.54) were first and second, respectively. Shimada’s total score was 186.18.

American Tomoki Hiwatashi (180.94) ended up sixth. The bronze medalist at last season’s world juniors fell on his triple axel in the short program, but displayed an outstanding cantilever in both the short and free skate.

“Didn’t do so good overall but I will try my best next time,” Hiwatashi wrote in a message to Ice Time after the event.

Coming up: The next competition on the JGP circuit is this week in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Japan will be represented by Mitsuki Sumoto, Mariko Kihira and Yuna Aoki.

Cause for concern: In the wake of last season’s Trophee Bompard in Bordeaux being canceled after the short program following the terror attacks in Paris, one would think that extra measures would be taken for sporting events held in the country for the foreseeable future.

Apparently that wasn’t the case in St. Gervais, with a skating source who was there telling Ice Time, “It’s like there was no security at all.”

Let’s hope that is not the case when the Grand Prix Final is held in Marseille, France, in December.

Olympic warmup: Nagoya will host the 2017 Grand Prix Final just two months before the Pyeongchang Olympics, Kyodo News reported on Thursday night.

The event is set for Dec. 7-10 at Nippon Gaishi Hall.

This will mark the second straight time that Japan will host the GP Final shortly before the Winter Olympics.

Fukuoka hosted the 2013 GP Final ahead of the Sochi Games.

Clean sweep: Japan swept all four singles titles at the Asian Open Trophy in Manila early last month. The annual warmup event, which is sanctioned by the Asian Skating Union, saw Yura Matsuda (senior women), Keiji Tanaka (senior men), Marin Honda (junior women) and Koshiro Shimada (junior men) all top the podium in their respective categories.

Amazing achievements: Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu was recognized by Guinness World Records recently for his record scores at the Grand Prix Final last season. Hanyu set the all-time marks for the short program (110.95), free skate (219.48) and total score (330.43) in Barcelona, Spain, last December.

Hanyu was presented with framed certificates by Guinness acknowledging his accomplishments at a ceremony in Tokyo on Aug. 21. The three scores remain the best ever.

“Guinness for me is the ‘source of passion’ to renew records. I’ll keep challenging on my own marks,” Hanyu was quoted as saying at the event by Kyodo News.

Know the way: The U.S. Figure Skating Association announced Monday that Ice Time’s hometown of San Jose would host the nationals ahead of the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. This will mark the third time the city has staged the nationals, after holding them in 1996 and 2012.

The SAP Center, home of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, will be the site for the event from Dec. 29, 2017-Jan. 7, 2018. Olympic gold medalists Peggy Fleming, Kristi Yamaguchi and Brian Boitano were on hand for the announcement.


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