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Mako Yamashita’s bronze at world juniors impressive

by Jack Gallagher

Lost in the glare of Alexandra Trusova’s phenomenal performance in landing two quadruple jumps on the way to victory at the world junior championships in Sofia on Saturday was the fact that Mako Yamashita picked up another medal for her growing collection.

Trusova’s clean execution of a quad salchow and a quad toe loop was historic. The 13-year-old from Riazan, Russia, matched Miki Ando with the first jump, then bested her with the toe loop to become the first woman in history to land two quads in one program.

Ando hit her quad salchow at the 2002 Junior Grand Prix Final in The Hague when she was just a few days short of her 15th birthday. It took 15 years and 3 months for another woman to match it.

After landing the two quads, Trusova proceeded to hit six triple jumps in her free skate to “Four Seasons” for a total score of 225.52 points.

“I am very happy to have won, but I’m even happier to have landed the two quads. I prepared for that and I did it,” Trusova was quoted as saying by the ISU website.

The teenager is another skater in the stable of star coach Eteri Tutberidze, which also includes Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva.

“After I landed the quads, I was very happy, but I still had the rest of the program to do,” Trusova noted. “There were still three difficult combinations to come and I had to pull myself together.”

Yamashita added to her already impressive resume by claiming the bronze medal behind Trusova and Alena Kostornaia (207.39). The 15-year-old from Nagoya continues to display consistency and steady growth with each season.

Yamashita landed seven clean triples, while earning level-fours for her spins and step sequence, in her free skate to “Madame Butterfly” to make the podium with the two Russians.

Third after her short program to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” Yamashita hung tough to prevent a Russian sweep of the medals, with Stanislava Konstantinova coming in fourth. Yamashita established new personal bests in the short (66.79), free (128.38) and total score (195.17) in Bulgaria.

Ice Time has been impressed with Yamashita, much like he was several years ago with Kaori Sakamoto, since first seeing her compete. Yamashita not only has the ability to be an elite skater, but also the temperament.

In the same way that Sakamoto is energetic and fearless, Yamashita is calm and collected. Two different people, two different paths, both leading to success.

“I enjoyed skating today,” Yamashita was quoted as saying after the free skate. “That I was able to get the bronze medal is the result of hard work. I wasn’t thinking about the result or the score, I just focused on what I had to do and I think that led to the result.”

Last season, in her first tour of the Junior Grand Prix circuit, Yamashita finished third in both of her assignments (Yokohama, Estonia). This season, the young star repeated the feat with a second-placing showing at the Croatia JGP and a third-place result in Austria.

Yamashita followed up her fine JGP campaign by taking the silver medal at the Japan Junior Championships in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture, in November. Yamashita led after the short program, but was overtaken by Rika Kihira and her two triple axels in the free skate.

The bottom line is that Sofia was another podium placement for Yamashita. You can see a pattern that has developed — four JGPs in the last two seasons and four medals, second at the Japan juniors this season, and now third at the world juniors.

Yamashita is mentored by the same team that directed Shoma Uno to the silver medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics — coaching legend Machiko Yamada and Mihoko Higuchi. It’s pretty obvious that the tandem can take young skaters and help them grow both technically and artistically.

Questioned after the short program in Sofia as to who moved her the most in Pyeongchang, Yamashita displayed her loyalty to the team.

“I was very impressed by Shoma and I am grateful to our coaches,” Yamashita stated.

Earlier this season I asked one of Yamashita’s young competitors about her.

“Is Mako a nice girl?” I said.

“She is a really nice girl,” came the reply from the skater.

My experience has been the same with Yamashita. She has been very accommodating whenever I encounter her at events, whether she is competing or not. Always friendly and patient, and sporting a bright smile.

Yamashita is also gaining attention in the international skating community. When Ice Time asked ISU announcer Ted Barton at the Grand Prix Final in December which Japanese junior skaters impressed him besides Rika Kihira, he said, “Mako — she is going places.”

Kihira struggles to eighth

Yuhana Yokoi (184.78) climbed from eight to sixth in the final standings with a strong free skate to “Burlesque” that saw her hit seven triples, while Kihira (175.25) struggled through two disappointing programs and wound up eighth.

Kihira, who was third at the Japan senior nationals this season, fell on the back end of her triple flip/triple toe loop combo in her short program to “Kung Fu Piano,” then singled both of her triple axels and fell again on a double toe loop in her second combo to “La Strada” in the free skate.

With so much riding on her triple axels, it is feast or famine for Kihira. She hit them both this season at the Japan juniors and senior nationals, but ended up ninth in the free skate (111.51) in Sofia.

Disappointment for Sumoto

Mitsuki Sumoto also ended on a down note at the world juniors. The 17-year-old Japan junior champion was in third place after the short program and in good position for a medal, before a meltdown in the free skate.

Sumoto, the bronze medalist at the JGP Final, made several errors to “Les Miserables” and dropped all the way to ninth in the final results.

Sena Miyake encountered a similar fate to Sumoto. He was 10th after the short program, but a calamitous free skate saw him plummet and end up 18th.

After watching his teammate and prohibitive favorite Alexei Krasnozhon get injured in the free skate, American Tomoki Hiwatashi helped the U.S. secure three spots for next season’s world juniors by coming in seventh.

Krasnozhon led after the short program, but hurt his right leg on his opening quad salchow and was unable to continue. This meant that Hiwatashi and teammate Camden Pulkinen had to finish a combined 13th or better to lock up the slots.

They did exactly that, with Pulkinen taking sixth and Hiwatashi seventh. Hiwatashi, whose parents are from Kobe, edged Ivan Pavlov of Ukraine by just 0.30 of a point to get seventh.

Ice Time communicated with Hiwatashi both before and after the event, and he said he was looking forward to not having to skate with any expectations with Krasnozhon and Pulkinen nearly certain to post high finishes.

“To be honest, I didn’t come as ready as the world junior two years ago,” Hiwatashi wrote early last week. “I had an injury (tendinitis in his knee) at nationals which didn’t heal as I wanted and my jumps were shaky. But since America has Alexei and Camden here in Bulgaria with me, I don’t have to worry about getting medals or getting three spots for next year because they will do that for sure. I think I will be able to skate without pressure thanks to them.”

After the competition, a relieved Hiwatashi was glad that he could come through under pressure.

“Camden and I were able to get the three spots so I’m pretty satisfied,” Hiwatashi remarked. “But, I do not think what I did was the best I could do, so I would like to improve my consistency in jumps and get better skating skills for next season!”

Inspired by Hanyu, Uno

Hiwatashi also gave Ice Time his thoughts about watching Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno take the gold and silver at the Pyeongchang Games.

“I was watching Shoma and Hanyu live that day and they just looked ready from the beginning,” wrote Hiwatashi, who trains in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “They did an amazing job and it was a great skate that would probably be remembered forever.”

It was clear from his comments that Hiwatashi was inspired by the skaters from his ancestral homeland.

“I consider both an inspiration,” Hiwatashi remarked. “They have amazing jumps, skating, and spins (meaning everything is amazing), which amazes everyone and I would like to be able to skate like them in the near future if possible.”

Coupe de Printemps

Japan will send a strong team to this week’s Coupe de Printemps in Luxembourg. Sakamoto, Yuna Shiraiwa and Mai Mihara will comprise the women’s squad, while Hiroaki Sato, Kazuki Tomono and Sota Yamamoto will make up the men’s roster.

Sakamoto, fresh off her sixth-place showing in Pyeongchang, will be looking to end her season on a high note, while many eyes will be on the talented Yamamoto, who continues his comeback from a serious ankle injury two seasons ago.

Japan is not sending any junior women to the event, but Kazuki Hasegawa and Tatsuyua Tsuboi are entered in the junior men’s competition.

Mao book giveaway

The Japan Times is offering several readers the chance to win an autographed copy of the recently released Japanese book “Mao Asada: My Skating Life.”

Mao, a three-time world champion and the 2010 Olympic silver medalist, talks about her trademark triple axel, participating in two Olympics, bringing her competitive skating days to an end, and other subjects in the book.

The 160-page tome was published by Shinshokan.

Mao, one of the most famous skaters ever to pull on boots, retired last April following an illustrious career that included many historic achievements. The Nagoya native discusses how positive thinking helped her during her years as a competitor.

Several color photos of Mao at events and in shows are included in the text.

To enter the drawing for the books, please send an email with your name and address to: icetime@japantimes.co.jp with “Mao Asada: My Skating Life” entered in the subject line.

The contest is open to both domestic and overseas readers.