Riko Takino, a 15-year-old from Osaka, gave Japan its first medal of the Junior Grand Prix campaign with a bronze at the season-opener in Brisbane, Australia, over the weekend.
Takino was third after the short program, and maintained that position to earn a spot on the podium with a total of 174.16 points behind winner Alexandra Trusova (197.69) and second-place finisher Anastasiia Guliakova (181.43), both of Russia.
Trusova was impressive in victory. She made a bid for history by opening her free skate with a quad salchow, but under-rotated it, yet still won by a decisive margin.
The event marked Takino’s debut on the JGP circuit. She is another product of Kansai University’s “Rink of Champions,” where she is coached by Noriko Oda and her son, former Olympian Nobunari Oda.
Takino trains on a daily basis with the likes of three-time national champion Satoko Miyahara, former world junior champion Marin Honda, plus rising stars Yuna Shiraiwa, Rika Kihira and Moa Iwano. The amount of talent that takes the ice daily at the rink in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, is nothing short of phenomenal. It has become a laboratory for greatness.
Close behind Takino in fourth place was fellow debutante Akari Matsuoka (168.05), who really turned some heads with her performance. The 13-year-old from Tokyo looks to have great prospects for the future.
ISU announcer Ted Barton, manning the JGP webcasts for the fourth straight season, had high praise for both Takino and Matsuoka.
“In the great tradition of Junior Grand Prix Japanese ladies, a dynamo, once again on the ice. Fast, beautiful spinner, great skating skills,” Barton said while commenting on Takino’s short program to “Poeta.”
Takino cleanly landed six triple jumps in her free skate to “Les Miserables.” She underrotated a triple lutz and singled a planned double axel, but impressed the judges enough to bring home the bronze.
Barton thinks Takino needs to get more height on her jumps, but likes the overall package she presents.
“What a nice program. What a charming girl,” stated Barton. “Charming performance as well. She has a great personality on the ice. Dramatic. She just needs to get a little bit more air on those jumps to make sure they are all the way around.
“She rotates quickly but doesn’t have a lot of time to get out of that jump before coming back to the ice, but that will come,” Barton added. “Just clean those up a little bit and this young lady is going to gain a lot more points because she is a lovely skater — powerful, carries a lot of speed, excellent quality.”
Matsuoka skated to “Passionate” for her short program and created a stir in the crowd at the Iceworld Boondall rink with the speed on her spins. It was the same thing again two days later with her free skate to “Waltz in the Evening Glow.”
Just like the spectators, Barton was moved by Matsuoka’s rotational velocity.
“Great skate by Akari,” Barton noted after Matsuoka’s short program. “I watched her in practice yesterday. What a spinner! So fast. Not a big jumper, but she is a quick rotater.”
As Barton spoke during a replay of Matsuoka’s elements in the short program, he had to remind the viewing audience that the tape was in slow motion. That is how fast Matsuoka’s spins were.
“A highly skilled young skater. Look at the speed of this layback spin,” Barton said. “Beautiful extension with the free leg. This is in slow motion. Look at how fast that is even in slow motion! Brilliantly done.”
Following Matsuoka’s free skate, Barton gave his thoughts on her performance.
“What a beautiful skater coming from Japan,” he stated. “Very emotional. What a wonderful spinner. So fast. Perfectly centered on her spins.”
Barton could see the same potential that Ice Time does in Matsuoka.
“Expressive step sequence. Holds her arms beautifully,” Barton pointed out. “Great edges. Attention to detail. When she gets a little stronger, those jumps will get a little higher. The landings won’t be suspect at all.”
Though Matsuoka under-rotated three of her triple jumps in her free skate, it was what she accomplished with the rest of her elements that people will remember. She had the highest score of any skater for her layback spin.
Japan did not come away with a medal in the men’s competition, where Yuto Kishina (182.48) placed an encouraging fifth in his third season on the JGP circuit behind winner Alexei Krasnozhon (209.37) of the U.S.
The final standings showed Kishina finished less than three points behind bronze medalist Egor Rukhin (185.12) of Russia.
Kishina’s short program was performed to “Danse Macabre” and his fundamentals resonated with Barton.
“Nice jumping skill. Good soft knees,” Barton commented following Kishina’s short program. “Once again you see the strong Japanese skills. They are all trained and taught so well on the basics of skating. Solid foundation.”
Kishina, a 15-year-old from Asakuchi, Okayama Prefecture, fell on his opening triple axel in his free skate to “The Legend of 1900” but recovered to hit six triple jumps and earn the respect of the crowd for his determination.
“Good work by Yuto tonight. Fought all the way through that program,” Barton analyzed. “Got some nice elements done. Didn’t give up. Really well done.”
Barton rightfully noted that the first time out of the box any year is tough for most of the competitors.
“It’s early in the season, and most of the skaters are not in their top shape, they have to fight and work really hard to get through that program,” Barton said. “Get all the elements done. As time goes on in the fall and in the winter there will be more run-throughs, be in better shape. It will be a lot easier.”
Iwano’s junior career to begin
This week the juniors move to Austria for the Salzburg JGP, which promises to be a real treat for skating fans. Mako Yamashita, a two-time bronze medalist last season, and JGP debutante Iwano are both slated to compete.
Yamashita, a 14-year-old from Nagoya, was fourth at the Asian Open Trophy earlier this month in Hong Kong that was won by Kihira.
Iwano, the 13-year-old from Kobe, won in her last trip to Europe when she led a Japanese sweep in the Novice A category at the Bavarian Open in Oberstdorf, Germany, back in February. Many eyes will be on Iwano, whose goal this season is to make the podium at the JGP Final, watching to see if she attempts the quad salchow she has been working on in practice for some time.
Sena Miyake, a 15-year-old from Yakage, Okayama Prefecture, will be Japan’s lone representative in the men’s field. Miyake, heading into his third JGP season, won the junior competition at the Asian Open Trophy.
Decision day looms
With the news on Sunday that Adelina Sotnikova, who has skated in just one GP event in the past three seasons, would not be defending her controversial Olympic gold medal at the upcoming Pyeongchang Games due to injury, one can only wonder where the whole issue of punishment for the doping scandal at the Sochi Games stands.
Sand keeps going through the hourglass and we are now less than six months away from Pyeongchang, yet the IOC has still not decided on what sanctions, if any, Russia will face.
It seems that some type of resolution is going to have to be reached very soon to be fair to the athletes heading to Pyeongchang and those who competed in dubious circumstances in Sochi.
I could not help but see the irony in Sotnikova’s move. Yuna Kim went to Russia in defense of her gold medal and gave as courageous a performance as any Ice Time has ever seen in her free skate before a highly partisan crowd at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
Now, with the tables turned so to speak and the games in South Korea, Sotnikova bows out in August with her coach Evgeni Plushenko not even disclosing what her injury is.