MAEBASHI, GUNMA PREF. – With Kaori Sakamoto, Marin Honda and Yuna Shiraiwa having moved on to the senior ranks, Japan will crown a new junior women’s queen this weekend at the Japan Junior Championships at Gunma Ice Arena.
Honda and Shiraiwa’s training partner Rika Kihira, one of only eight women in history to land a triple axel in international competition, is the prohibitive favorite entering the event.
The 15-year-old Kihira from Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, has already qualified for next month’s Junior Grand Prix Final in Nagoya after placing second (in Latvia) and third (in Italy) at her two JGPs this season.
“I’m in good condition and looking forward to tomorrow,” Kihira stated following Friday night’s draw. “I’m going to give it my best.”
The singles competition will get underway on Saturday, with the free skate set for Sunday.
Among Kihira’s challengers for the title will be Mako Yamashita, a 14-year-old from Nagoya, who also earned two JGP medals this season. Yamashita finished second in Croatia and third in Austria, and is the first alternate for the JGP Final.
“I have been practicing hard and am ready for this event,” Yamashita commented. “I hope to do well.”
Yamashita also claimed two medals on the JGP circuit last season.
Riko Takino, a 15-year-old from Osaka, is also in the running for the championship, having placed third (Australia) and fifth (Belarus) in her two JGPs this season.
Takino has wowed observers this season with the speed on her layback spins.
When asked the secret to her technique, Takino smiled and said, “Lots and lots of practice.”
Kihira will skate 14th in the short program, while Takino drew 21st and Yamashita 30th.
Sakamoto was the junior champion last season, with Shiraiwa taking the silver medal and Honda the bronze.
Takino placed sixth in this event in 2016, while Kihira came in 11th and Yamashita 16th.
The top contender for the men’s title is Mitsuki Sumoto, who won the Latvia JGP this season. Koshiro Shimada, who was second last season, has withdrawn.
Almost all of the top names in the history of Japanese women’s skating have won the Japan junior title. They include Midori Ito (1983), Yuka Sato (1988, 1989), Shizuka Arakawa (1995, 1996, 1997), Yukari Nakano (2000), Miki Ando (2002, 2003, 2004), Mao Asada (2005), Kanako Murakami (2010) and Satoko Miyahara (2012, 2013).
Japanese men who have worn the junior crown include Takeshi Honda (1995), Daisuke Takahashi (2001), Takahiko Kozuka (2005), Tatsuki Machida (2006), Yuzuru Hanyu (2008, 2009) and Shoma Uno (2014).