Figure Skating

Kaori Sakamoto looking for further improvement ahead of Pyeongchang Games

Kyodo

Kaori Sakamoto said Monday she still has room to improve, a day after she was handed one of Japan’s two spots for the women’s figure skating competition at February’s Pyeongchang Olympics.

“I’m really happy,” said Sakamoto, who is still in her first year on the senior circuit. “I’m going to maintain stability in my jumps and do better with my expression.”

A Japan Skating Federation official said Sunday they chose Sakamoto over fellow high schooler Wakaba Higuchi in a “difficult decision.”

“Because she’s (Sakamoto) getting high marks for execution of her jumps, she still has room for growth,” federation director Yoshiko Kobayashi said. “We had a difficult time choosing.”

While the 16-year-old Higuchi has posted better results internationally, Sakamoto, runner-up at the nationals on Saturday, will compete at the Olympics along with four-time national champion Satoko Miyahara.

Because Higuchi ranks higher in various standings, the 17-year-old Sakamoto was considered an underdog before she began her campaign at the four-day national championships.

However, Sakamoto won the nationals short program by 0.36 point and finished the weekend with 6.55 more points than Higuchi. In addition, Sakamoto won the silver at November’s Skate America with 210.56 points, where Miyahara claimed the gold medal with 214.03.

The federation announced in June that the first women’s berth would be granted to the national champion and the second skater would be named after “a general judgment.”

The Pyeongchang women’s short program will be held on Feb. 21 and the free skate two days later.