Inspired free skates from Mai Mihara and Wakaba Higuchi in women’s singles powered Japan to the World Team Trophy title on Saturday night at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
Both skaters finished their first year on the senior circuits with clean programs before another capacity crowd as the host nation went wire-to-wire to capture its second World Team Trophy crown.
Japan topped the final standings with 109 points, ahead of Russia (105) and the United States (97). Canada (87), China (80) and France (62) rounded out the table.
Japan led the competition heading into the final day with 81 points, ahead of the U.S. (78) and Russia (74).
Mihara, who finished fifth at the world championships last month, set a new Japan record with her score of 146.17, breaking the mark set of 143.69 set by Satoko Miyahara in the free skate at this season’s Grand Prix Final.
The strong showing by Mihara and Higuchi was exactly what Japan needed to hold off Russia and two-time defending world champion Evgenia Medvedeva.
Medvedeva put on quite a show again, smashing her own world record with a tally of 160.46 to “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.” Two nights after establishing a new world mark in the short program, the Moscow native was absolutely sublime once more.
The 17-year-old Mihara skated to “Cinderella” and was smooth from start to finish. Mihara opened with a fine triple lutz/triple toe loop combination jump and never looked back, cleanly landing seven triples in all.
The Kobe native received level-fours for her spins and step sequence and did not have a single negative grade of execution from the nine judges.
“I was nervous just like in the short program at the worlds, but I looked at the team seats and everybody was cheering for me,” stated Mihara. “They gave me the right push to go into my program. I knew all my teammates were doing their best and we were in the top ranks, so I went in with a very strong resolve.”
Mihara took the ice one skater after Higuchi and said she was motivated by her teammate’s high marks.
“I was amazed at Wakaba’s high scores, and I wanted to keep up with her,” said Mihara. “I’m really happy with my score. I didn’t know it was a record. I wanted to surpass 140.”
The 16-year-old Higuchi performed to “Scheherazade” and also set a personal best with 145.30, hitting seven triple jumps and earning level-fours for her step sequence and spins.
“Today’s program will give me good momentum for next season,” commented Higuchi. “If I can skate my new programs like I did today, that would be good. Both Mai and me were able to perform a perfect short and free, so that was great.”
Higuchi was asked about the stress of competing in the worlds three weeks ago compared to this competition.
“I had pressure at the worlds, but this was a team event so there were different types of nerves,” Higuchi said. “I was not aiming for 145 points. I was hoping to go over 130 because I thought that would be a good score for this season. Now I have to renew my goal for next season.”
Medvedeva’s grade of execution scores from the judges were primarily threes (the highest possible) and she received nothing lower than a two from the panel. That in itself was phenomenal for the star, who will enter the Olympic season as a prohibitive favorite to take the gold in Pyeongchang next year.
“I have no words to describe my feeling,” said the 17-year-old. “I could not imagine getting a score of 160 like that.”
The elegant Medvedeva displayed beautiful line and edge this night and said she felt serene on the ice.
“I was totally calm and composed today,” Medvedeva stated. “I am over the moon with my performance.”
In this team event, total scores in the short program and free skate are not calculated as in a normal ISU competition, but if they had been Medvedeva’s total would be 241.31, with Mihara second at 218.28 and Higuchi third on 216.71.
Japan’s bid for the team title was helped by the shaky effort of Medvedeva’s compatriot Elena Radionova. Second after the short program, Radionova under-rotated a triple lutz and a double axel and ended up fifth in the free skate.
France’s Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres won the pairs free skate with 146.87. Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (142.38) were second, with China’s Peng Cheng and Jin Yang (133.13) taking third.
Japan won its first World Team Trophy title in 2012. It has also earned the bronze three times.
The World Team Trophy will conclude on Sunday with the Exhibition Gala.
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