Figure Skating

Reigning champion Shoma Uno takes control at nationals

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Shoma Uno is halfway to his second straight national title after taking a comfortable lead following the short program at the All-Japan Championships on Friday night.

Keiji Tanaka is second with 91.34, while Takahito Mura is third on 85.53.

Uno skated to “Winter” and received a score of 96.83 points despite not executing a combination jump. He opened with a huge quadruple flip, but only did the front end of his planned quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo before landing a nice triple axel.

The 20-year-old world silver medalist received level-fours for his spins and step sequence.

With considerably less drama than the women’s event, and in the wake of the injured Yuzuru Hanyu’s absence, Uno easily seized control. The Nagoya native was sharp with the exception of the one miscue.

“The Japan nationals are always tough for me,” stated Uno. “I thought I was focused, but I could not concentrate and perform like I wanted to. I made the same mistake as last year.”

The combination issue left Uno feeling a bit perplexed.

“Usually if I overturn on the quad toe, I can still add on a triple toe,” Uno said. “I do it often in practice, but could not tonight.”

Tanaka, who is in the running for the third Olympic spot behind Hanyu and Uno, came through with a clutch effort to help aid his cause.

Dressed in all black, Tanaka opened with a big quad salchow to “Memories,” then hit a triple flip/triple toe loop combo and a triple axel. He looked very confident from beginning to end.

Tanaka credited his training regimen for making the difference in the short program.

“Before the competition I have been training very intensively, to the point of exhaustion,” Tanaka stated. “Sometimes I felt like I could not walk at the end. But the reason I did it was so that I would feel the event was easier. I felt very relaxed tonight.”

Mura, who has struggled this season, did not help his bid for the team for the Pyeongchang Games this night. He received poor grades of execution on his opening quad toe loop and triple lutz/triple toe loop combo.

Daisuke Murakami (80.99) is in fourth place, with Kazuki Tomono, last season’s junior champion, in fifth (78.16).

Mitsuki Sumoto, this season’s junior champion and the bronze medalist at the Junior Grand Prix Final, is seventh (72.93).

Sota Yamamoto, the 2016 Youth Olympic Games champion, is in eighth (72.88), while continuing his comeback from two serious ankle injuries. The crowd gave him a huge ovation when he finished his program.

The women’s free skate is set for Saturday evening, with Kaori Sakamoto holding a slim lead over three-time national champion Satoko Miyahara, as the epic battle for the two women’s spots on the team for Pyeongchang comes to a climactic conclusion.

The men’s free skate will take place Sunday night, with the Olympic team members being announced afterward.