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Rino Kasakake earns bronze in debut at Poland JGP

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Rino Kasakake kept Japan’s streak of earning at least one medal at every Junior Grand Prix this season alive by claiming the bronze at the JGP in Gdansk, Poland, on Friday. It was an impressive start for the debutante on the JGP circuit.

Kasakake, a 16-year-old from Nagoya, and Akari Matsubara, who finished sixth, were originally substitutes for the event, but were given the spots by the Japan Skating Federation in place of Moa Iwano and Yuhana Yokoi.

Russia’s Alena Kostornaia (197.91 points) and Daria Panekova (196.55) took the top two places on the podium, with Kasakake (170.90) a distant third.

Despite the margin between Kasakake and the two Russians, the youngster made an impact for sure.

Following her short program to “Moana” ISU announcer Ted Barton was clearly moved by Kasakake’s performance on the webcast of the event.

“Wow, wow and wow,” stated Barton. “I thought the music really worked for her. No fear, just desire in this young lady. She was connected to the story, connected to the music. Boy, was that good. Solid elements all the way through.”

Barton’s assessment was accurate, as even though Kasakake lacks a track record of significant international achievements, she appeared fearless throughout the competition.

Kasakake’s combination jump and double axel in the short program resonated with Barton.

“Good speed coming into the triple flip/triple toe loop,” he commented. “Great height on the second element.

“Look at the speed on the takeoff (of the double axel), through the air, on the landing. No slowing down at all. Beautiful flow all the way through that element.”

Kasakake’s free skate to “Beauty and the Beast” was not without flaws, but Barton said her determination overrode them.

“That was fun to watch because it didn’t start out real strong and how would she cope with that first element going to a double flip (instead of a triple flip)? She responded beautifully. Didn’t back off at all.”

Kasakake, who was fourth at last season’s Japan Junior Championships, received an edge call on her triple lutz but fought on.

“She went fast, but she didn’t lose control at all,” Barton noted. “She just kept pushing, aggressive, powerful, speed.”

Matsubara, a 16-year-old from Tokyo, was also making her JGP debut. She finished with a tally of 154.34 and placed fourth in the free skate after taking seventh in the short program.

Skating to “Tango Jalousie,” Matsubara struggled but displayed considerable ability.

“Good skater. No question of that,” Barton said. “You can see that in her skill level and her warmup. Had a bad skate today with two errors.”

Barton and Ice Time were both amazed by the quality Matsubara’s flying sit spin.

“That flying sit spin was just beautiful,” Barton stated. “Great position. Solid change of edge to the outside right on one spot. Spectacular.”

Matsubara fell on a triple lutz in both programs.

“Little bit too far back. Not all the way around,” Barton commented as he reviewed the replay of her short program. “Little hook on the landing and just caused a problem. Everything got stuck together. The free foot didn’t check out.”

Despite the mishap, Barton had a positive outlook on Matsubara’s talent level.

“This young lady has great quality. There is no question about that,” he said. “Her skill is of the highest level. Competition today, unusual. Perhaps mistakes not normally done in practice, but that is competition.”

Matsubara competed to “Gabriel’s Oboe” in the free skate and moved the judges with her performance.

“What a great skate by Akari. My gosh,” Barton said of Matsubara’s free skate. “Very solid technically. Just one mistake in this program.”

Once again, her flying sit spin was absolutely textbook. Ice Time has been searching his mind for the last time he saw a junior skater who executed this element so nicely.

“Perfect tuck sit position in the air,” Barton stated. “Changes to the outside edge. Stretch the free leg. Right centered. That was lovely.”

Barton also cited Matsubara’s use of the three-combination jump late in her free skate.

“Right at the end of the program. She’s fit, she’s strong and she’s determined,” he analyzed.

Shimada struggles

A week after coming in fifth at the Zagreb JGP, Koshiro Shimada labored to a seventh-place showing in Poland. The 16-year-old from Okayama Prefecture did not have coach Stephane Lambiel with him in Gdansk.

Shimada had a calamitous short program, placing 12th, but rallied to take fourth in the free skate at the competition won by Russia’s Alexey Erokhov with a total of 221.89.

Now in his third season in the JGP, Shimada seemed a bit listless and lacked speed in both programs, Ice Time felt, on the way to a score of 190.46.

Barton chose to focus on the positives which Shimada displayed.

“He has a lot of facial expression and detailed movement,” he stated about Shimada’s short program. “Crisp movement and very good transitions. Very much like his coach Stephane Lambiel had.”

Shimada’s improvement in the free skate was marked.

“He was into the program emotionally,” Barton commented. “So important, it sometimes gets lost in going up and down the ice between the jumps. Moments in time, you need to really show you that are also connected to the theme, the meaning of the program. He was committed.”

Takino, Iwano advance

Rino Takino and Moa Iwano took first and second at the Kinki Block junior competition over the weekend in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture. Both skaters will advance to the Western Japan regionals in Fukuoka next month.

Takino’s winning total score with 173.94, with Iwano registering 152.54.

Takino was the bronze medalist at the season-opening JGP in Brisbane, Australia, in August, while Iwano finished sixth at the JGP in Salzburg, Austria, in September.

Shiraiwa finishes seventh

Yuna Shiraiwa was seventh at the Finlandia Trophy on Sunday in Espoo, Finland. The Challenger Series competition was won by Russia’s Maria Sotskova with 205.30, while Carolina Kostner took second on 193.76.

Shiraiwa, who finished with 172.25, was eighth after the short program before taking sixth in the free skate.

When Ice Time snapped her photo at last season’s Japan Junior Championships in Sapporo, the Kyoto native came across as a sweet, young girl. Nearly a year later, Shiraiwa and her skating have both matured and her elegance on the ice is profound.

Shiraiwa under-rotated the back end of her opening triple lutz/triple toe loop combination in her short program to “The Girl with the Flaxen Hair” and doubled her planned triple flip, but her command on the ice was sublime.

Her significant error in her free skate to “Pictures at an Exhibition” came late in the program when she doubled the back end of a planned double axel/triple toe loop combo, but she still landed six triples.

There is something absolutely mesmerizing about Shiraiwa’s skating. It is almost hard to describe.

Miyahara tuning up

Three-time national champion Satoko Miyahara is continuing her preparations for the Grand Prix season as she progresses in her comeback from a fractured hip last season, she said at the NHK Trophy press conference on Sunday.

“I’m gradually increasing the amount of practice,” she was quoted as saying in a translation posted on tinyqueensatoko.tumblr.com. “I still have to improve my condition in order to compete but I’m mostly feeling fine and I’m not experiencing any pain at all. I’m also gradually increasing the amount of jumps.

“This season’s theme is following the original plan. I’ve been through many more experiences than before and I’ve had all kinds of thoughts but I would like to persevere no matter what happens. I want to deliver the best programs at nationals in order to go to the Olympics.”

JGP moves to Italy next

Rika Kihira and Nana Araki will lead the charge for Japan at the final regular JGP of the season this week in Egna and Bolzano, Italy. Spots in the JGP Final in Nagoya in December will be on the line for both skaters.

Kihira and Araki both placed second in their first JGPs of the season and need podium finishes to have a realistic chance at making the JGP Final.

Last week was a big one for the triple axeling Kihira, who signed with the Avex agency and debuted her own website at rika-kihira.amebaownd.com.

Tatsuya Tsuboi, who was fifth at the Belarus JGP, will be the lone male entrant for the Hinomaru in Italy.