GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA – Japan settled for fifth place in the figure skating team event on Monday at Gangneung Ice Arena with a final score of 50 points.
Canada (73) won the gold medal, the Olympic Athletes from Russia (66) took the silver and the United States (62) claimed the bronze.
Italy (56) was fourth.
Canada had the gold clinched before the free dance even took place.
Russia won the inaugural team in Sochi four years ago, with Canada placing second and the U.S. third.
Japan was also fifth in Sochi. Japan was undone here by the absence of Yuzuru Hanyu in the men’s free skate and its lack of strength in pairs and ice dance.
Kaori Sakamoto competed for Japan in women’s the free skate but finished fifth with 131.91 points.
Sakamoto under-rotated her opening triple flip to “Amelie,” but picked up steam from there and did a respectable job in her Olympic debut.
Sakamoto had planned to open with a triple flip/triple toe loop combination but was unable to execute it. She added the triple toe loop on to a double axel later in the program.
The 17-year-old from Kobe landed five clean triples and had an edge call on another (a triple lutz).
“My timing was a bit off today,” Sakamoto stated. “I rushed the first jump and that is why I could not do the combination. I did my best to recover after the opening mistake.”
Mirai Nagasu (137.53) gave an inspired performance to “Miss Saigon” to place second behind OAR winner Alina Zagitova (158.08).
Nagasu, who was fourth in singles at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, started with a booming triple axel and went on to hit eight triples.
She became only the third woman in history to land a triple axel at the Olympics, joining Japanese greats Midori Ito and Mao Asada.
“Four years ago when I was left off the team, I wanted to make another Olympic team, and I knew I would really have to be something special,” Nagasu commented. “So to become the first American (woman) to land a triple axel at the Olympic Games is historical, and no one can take that away from me.”
Canada’s Gabrielle Daleman (137.14) was third, with Italy’s Carolina Kostner (134.00) taking fourth.
Zagitova was absolutely sublime in victory to “Don Quixote.” The 15-year-old will have a real shot at the gold in singles next week.
“Today I got my best score, a season’s best, and I am pleased with that,” Zagitova stated.
Zagitova and training partner Evgenia Medvedeva will now return to Japan to practice for the singles.
“We return to Niigata to train for three, four days and then we come back here,” Zagitova said.
Despite her elegant performance, the Moscow native still found room for improvement.
“I would give myself a four-plus (out of five),” Zagitova commented. “There were some imperfections, but they are easy to fix.”
Patrick Chan topped the men’s free skate with 179.75. Chan competed to “Hallelujah” and landed a beautiful quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo at the outset of his program.
Chan, the 2014 silver medalist in singles, followed the combo with a quad toe loop and added five triples. He struggled midway through his skate when he under-rotated a triple axel and got poor grades of execution on his triple loop.
“We had the determination this time around,” Chan said. “We saw the potential we had in Sochi and didn’t capitalize on it. This time we really wanted to nail it and win this thing.”
OAR’s Mikhail Kolyada (173.57) was second, while American Adam Rippon (156.11) came in third.
Italy’s Matteo Rizzo (156.11) was fourth.
Keiji Tanaka’s (148.36) was a distant fifth.
Tanaka skated to a medley from Federico Fellini movies and struggled mightily. He popped two quads he had planned at the beginning of his free skate and never regained his momentum.
“I made big mistakes and I feel like I let down my team,” Tanaka said. “I did not feel extra pressure because of the team event, but I am disappointed that I could not do better.”
Tanaka, who did land six triples, promised to try and work out his issues before the singles begin on Friday.
“I will analyze my mistakes and I hope I will do better in the individual competition,” he said.
Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the free dance with 118.10.
Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani (112.01) were second, with OAR’s Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (110.43)
Italy’s Anna Capppellini and Luca Lanotte (107.00) came in fourth, with Kana Muramoto and Chris Reed (87.88) taking fifth.
The men’s singles will begin on Friday with the short program.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5