Mako Yamashita’s favorite color appears to be bronze.
Or maybe the number she likes best is three.
It sure seems that way on both counts.
For the third straight Junior Grand Prix in the past two seasons, the 14-year-old earned the bronze medal when she finished third at the JGP in Salzburg, Austria, over the weekend.
Yamashita posted a total score of 181.04 points to finish behind winner Anastasia Tarakanova (196.68) of Russia and South Korea’s Lim Eun-soo (186.34) and stay in contention for a spot at the JGP Final in her hometown of Nagoya in December.
Continuing to blossom under the guidance of Machiko Yamada and Mihoko Higuchi, Yamashita looked polished during both her short program and free skate. She especially impressed with the height on her jumps.
Skating to “Bohemian Rhapsody” in her short program, Yamashita floored ISU announcer Ted Barton with her athleticism and fortitude.
“That was spectacular,” said Barton in his analysis. “This young lady didn’t hold back at all on any step. Full speed. Full of expression. Going for the win. That was really in the zone. Spectacular performance.”
Yamashita’s opening triple flip no doubt caused some in the audience to gasp at the elevation she achieved on it.
“Look at the speed and height of that triple flip,” commented Barton. “That is just huge.”
After her opening triple flip/triple toe loop combination jump in the short program, Yamashita landed a nice triple lutz.
Again, Barton had praise for Yamashita’s execution.
“Launches herself straight up in the air,” Barton noted. “Great speed on the way out. Very solid landing. You don’t see any snow flying on the landing. Just a solid, clean edge.”
Barton made it a point after Yamashita’s short program to mention she is the complete package.
“Full of expression as well,” he said. “It wasn’t just the jumps. It was the detail of the performance. The care for every step and every arm movement. Well designed and well delivered. Great program.”
Yamashita took third in the short program and again in the free skate.
Though she under-rotated a couple of triple jumps and fell on her double axel in her free skate to “Madame Butterfly,” they were footnotes in a pair of fine performances.
Barton even praised Yamashita’s poise for the way she reacted to the fall.
“Her pick caught the ice before she lifted off,” Barton stated. “It really didn’t bother her much. She got right back into the program.”
The much anticipated junior debut of Moa Iwano didn’t disappoint, as the 13-year-old from Kobe placed sixth with a tally of 147.99. Iwano stunned observers with her artistic impression, great line and beautiful outfits to Akiko Suzuki’s fantastic choreography in both programs.
Online commenters were profuse in their praise for Iwano’s performance and potential after witnessing it.
Though she under-rotated several jumps in her free skate and clearly has work to do in that area, her future prospects overrode that by far.
Competing to “Asturias” in the short program, Iwano was doing really well until she under-rotated both ends of her triple flip/triple toe loop combo and had to settle for seventh place going into the free skate.
“Another delightful, powerful skilled skater from Japan,” stated Barton. “She was determined on that jump combination. She was not going to give in to that at all. Aggressive, expressive, powerful, secured.”
Barton admired Iwano’s opening triple lutz in the short program, her step sequence and overall technical skill.
“Look at the flow and speed on the landing,” Barton commented. “Pure quality. Pays attention to the detail of each movement. Patient. Beautiful position there in that Biellmann spin.”
Barton was effusive in his comments following Iwano’s free skate to “The Little Prince.”
“That was special and not because of all the jumps. They weren’t all perfect, but they were darn good,” he said. “What was special is that when the music changed and the emotion music changed, her facial expression changed, her body movement changed. She was patient. She understood all the emotions of that piece of music. It was beautiful. Completely captured me into that performance. Just beautiful.”
Iwano’s spins also resonated with Barton.
“Good tuck, nice and low position,” he said of her flying sit spin in the free skate. “Watch how she changes from back inside edge to forward outside edge right there. Very well done.”
Barton concluded that the sky is the limit for Iwano, who is expected to move overseas to train at some point in the future, going forward.
“There are a number of elements that are under-rotated a little bit,” he stated after her free skate. “There are some little technical issues here that if she cleans up she is going to gain so many points. But from a program component perspective, the performance was completely delightful.”
Sena Miyake did not fare as well in the men’s competition, where he finished a disappointing eighth.
The 15-year-old from Okayama Prefecture, was in position for a medal after taking fourth in the short program, but came undone in the free skate.
Miyake’s total of 172.69 was well behind American winner Camden Pulkinen’s 203.80.
Performing to “Caravan” in the short program, Miyake under-rotated his opening triple axel. Barton felt that Miyake just had an off night.
“He is a pretty good skater who didn’t skate that well tonight,” Barton noted. “A number of little slips here.”
Miyake was 11th in the free skate after falling on his triple lutz/triple toe loop combo.
“Another difficult performance,” Barton commented. “Was in and out of the performance. Had a couple of good elements, but some silly mistakes as well.”
Barton believed fatigue was a factor in the men’s event in Salzburg.
“A lot of the boys seem to be tired. Maybe a little out of shape,” Barton assessed. “It’s early in the season. It’s very demanding what these guys are trying to do. There is no question. It’s not easy at all.
“I’m most certain when we see them on the next competition in the Junior Grand Prix, they will be in better shape and have better performances.”
Gold to take break
Perhaps the bravest move of last week came from American skater Gracie Gold, who announced she was taking time off from skating to “seek professional help.” Gold, who finished fourth at the Sochi Olympics, has been struggling with poor results for the past several months.
In a story broken by USA Today’s Christine Brennan, the 22-year-old Gold admitted that frustration with her performances has spilled into her personal life.
“My passion for skating and training remains strong,” Gold said in a statement. “However, after recent struggles on and off the ice, I realize I need to seek some professional help and will be taking some time off while preparing for my Grand Prix assignments. This time will help me become a stronger person, which I believe will be reflected in my skating performances as well.”
The announcement means that Gold will not skate in the invitational Japan Open next month as planned. Her two GP assignments this season (Cup of China, Internationaux de France) are scheduled for November.
One can’t help but feel for Gold, a two-time U.S. national champion, and her predicament. It would be tough to make a move like this at any time, but to do it with the Olympic season approaching, has to be extremely difficult.
The reality is that when you have been blessed with the skill and beauty Gold has, the expectations grow exponentially. After her showing in Sochi, where she earned a bronze medal in the team event, the stakes really went up.
At times like this, people have to recognize that Gold is a young adult and confronting such crushing pressure must be tough to handle. Ice Time is pulling for Gold and hopes she will bounce back and make the team for the Pyeongchang Games.