Figure Skating

Drama on ice: Satoko Miyahara captures fourth consecutive national title

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Satoko Miyahara showed her mettle when the chips were down on Saturday night, coming from second place after the short program to capture her fourth straight national title at the All-Japan Championships at Musashino Forest Sports Centre.

Miyahara racked up a total score of 220.39 points to overtake second-place finisher Kaori Sakamoto, who led after the short program. Sakamoto’s tally was 213.51.

Japan junior champion Rika Kihira was third with 208.03, moving up from fifth after the short program to make the podium.

Wakaba Higuchi came in fourth at 206.96, while Mai Mihara (204.67) rallied to take fifth place.

Miyahara was absolutely sublime to “Madame Butterfly” in an enchanting performance. Her line and edge were exquisite and her double axel/triple toe loop combo late in her program was excellent.

Wearing a light blue costume, Miyahara’s maturity shone through as she moved through her elements while landing six triple jumps. She began with a triple loop, but under-rotated the front half of her triple lutz/triple toe loop combo that followed. That was the only significant miscue in a dramatic showing..

Miyahara, who overcame a fractured hip that caused her to miss nearly 11 months of competition to win the title, received level-fours for her spins and step sequence.

“I’ve done my best until now,” Miyahara stated. “I’ve worked hard toward this competition. I’m happy I could do it when I had to.”

Miyahara and coach Mie Hamada both wept when they embraced at the edge of the rink.

“I’m happy I was able to repay my coach,” Miyahara commented. “We both cried. I can’t remember what we said.”

The 19-year-old Kyoto native said she is ready for her first trip to the Olympics.

“I’m looking forward to the Olympics,” Miyahara admitted. “I will probably be under more pressure there than I ever have before, but I will be happy.”

Sakamoto skated last with a chance to win the title outright and the automatic ticket to the Pyeongchang Games, but was unable to pull it off despite landing six triples.

Performing to “Amelie” in a burgundy outfit, Sakamoto under-rotated the back end of her opening triple flip/triple toe combo and received an edge call on her triple lutz, but was strong enough throughout to stake her claim for one of the two spots for South Korea.

Sakamoto, a 17-year-old from Kobe, received level-fours for her spins and step sequence, but was fourth in the free skate.

“It didn’t really hit me right away that I was first after the short program,” Sakamoto stated. “I tried my best tonight. At the start of the season I knew that because this was an Olympic year it would be very tough.”

Kihira skated to “La Strada” and put on a show, cleanly landing two triple axels at the outset of the program. She opened with a triple axel/triple toe loop combo and followed that with another triple axel to the delight of the crowd.

The 15-year-old from Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, was trying to become just the second female junior ever to win the senior title. Chisato Shiina won both the Japan senior and junior titles in 1999.

“I was a little nervous, but skating in this big competition gives me confidence for the future,” Kihira confessed. “I wasn’t really concentrating on the triple axels (going into the free skate), but I thought it was good that I could do them.”

Higuchi, who was sixth at the Grand Prix Final earlier this month, put forth a spirited performance to “Skyfall.” She had two significant mistakes, doubling her planned triple salchow midway through the program, then under-rotated the back end of her triple lutz/triple toe loop combo.

The 16-year-old Tokyo native, who was fourth after the short program, didn’t help her cause this night, coming in fifth in the free skate when she really needed a big performance. She was credited with level-fours on her spins and step sequence, but there was something missing.

After finishing sixth at the Grand Prix Final two weeks ago, Higuchi’s bid for one of the Olympic berths appears in serious jeopardy. She really needed to make the podium here to burnish her case.

Mihara, who was seventh after the short program, put forth an outstanding effort to “Gabriel’s Oboe.” She took third in the free skate with six clean triples.

Rika Hongo (197.62) performed to “Frida” and fell on a triple toe loop and came in sixth.

Marin Honda (193.37) competed to “Turandot” and doubled two of her planned triple jumps. She was seventh.

Yuna Shiraiwa (191.69) came in ninth despite hitting seven triples. Shiraiwa skated to “Pictures at an Exhibition” and was solid until she fell on the back end of her double axel/triple toe loop combo near the end of her program.

The women’s drama will continue for an additional 24 hours, as the Olympic team members will not be announced until after the men’s free skate on Sunday night.

Defending champion Shoma Uno leads the after the short program, with Keiji Tanaka in second and Takahito Mura third.

With Yuzuru Hanyu and Uno locks to make the team, the only question revolves around who will be the third man selected.