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Koshiro Shimada, Shiika Yoshioka shine at Austria JGP

by Jack Gallagher

Koshiro Shimada and Shiika Yoshioka combined to make last week a successful one for Japan on the Junior Grand Prix circuit with podium finishes in Linz, Austria.

Shimada claimed the silver medal in the men’s competition won by American Camden Pulkinen, while Yoshioka brought home the bronze in the women’s event behind Russia’s two Alenas (Kostornaia and Kanysheva).

Pulkinen won with a total of 223.95 points, with Shimada second on 220.45.

Kostornaia triumphed with 203.50, with Kanysheva tallying 191.84 and Yoshioka at 169.82.

Shimada turned heads with his inspired performances in both the short program and free skate, while Yoshioka impressed with her poise in her JGP debut.

Shimada, a 16-year-old from Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, is coached by two-time world champion Stephane Lambiel. Shimada skated to “Adios” in his short program and was absolutely electric.

“Wow. I love the intensity of this young man’s skating,” stated ISU announcer Ted Barton on the YouTube webcast. “He skates with the same intensity as the music has. Something very different about this young man. Very connected to the pulse and rhythm of this program.

“He is an exciting young performer and great athlete as well,” Barton continued. “There is something special, something different, still yet to be developed further.”

Barton liked Shimada’s triple axel in his short program.

“Good speed coming in, lifts way up in the air. Nicely done,” Barton commented. “Could be a little more tighter in the air, a little more efficient. That will come as he gets a bit stronger.”

Barton was effusive in his praise of Shimada.

“The very top skaters not only have all the elements but they have something unique about their personality or performance,” Barton noted. “It takes some years to develop that. This young man has got something internal and he is connected very well with the music.”

Shimada competed to “Winter in Buenos Aires” for his free skate and again earned Barton’s admiration with a strong showing.

“He skated a near perfect program for himself, just a falter on one of the elements (the landing of his triple lutz),” Barton said. “He also has personality and style. Lots yet to grow into and mature. My gosh, it will be a great future for Japanese men’s skating.

“It will be a number of years before he moves up into the top ranks of senior. But he is certainly demonstrating all of the qualities required.”

Shimada was clearly pleased with his free skate, as he punched the air with his right hand after he finished.

Yoshioka impresses in debut

Yoshioka, a 15-year-old from Chiba, was one of the revelations of the competition. She finished fourth at the Asian Open Trophy in Bangkok last month, but this was her real coming out party.

She performed to “Loud” in her short program and was in third place going into the free skate.

“Like all the good Japanese skaters, this young lady has good speed, powerful and secure edges,” Barton noted. “Good energy throughout the program with some nice elements as well.”

Yoshioka did under-rotate the back end of her triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, but exhibited great poise throughout her short program.

“You never worry about balance with these Japanese skaters,” Barton said. “They are so well taught in the basic skating skills.”

Yoshioka competed to “Mission Cleopatra” in her free skate and showed great fortitude, taking the ice last after the two Russians, but was not rattled. She landed six triples on the way to securing the bronze.

“She should be extremely proud. That was not an easy position to skate to,” Barton stated. “Lovely competitors from Russia had performed beautifully, you’re skating last. The ice is a little rough. You had to bear down, fight and you did all of that. What a wonderful competitor and beautiful skater.”

Letdown for Takino

It was a disappointing showing for Riko Takino, a 16-year-old from Osaka, who ended up in seventh place. She was third and fifth in her two JGPs last season, but looked tentative in both programs in Austria.

Takino skated to “Ave Maria” in her short program but fell on her triple flip.

“A lovely program. Unfortunately a few little mistakes and one big one,” Barton analyzed. “She was already on the lean on the takeoff (of the triple flip). Feet were not right underneath her and not all the way around.”

Ice Time thought Takino might bounce back in her free skate to “Carmen” but it was not meant to be.

She under-rotated a triple toe loop, fell on her triple flip, then doubled her planned triple flip after her toe pick slipped.

Touch of class

The organizers of the JGP in Linz went above and beyond during the event. For the first time I can remember, they played music from each skater’s country as they waited for their scores in the kiss and cry area.

It was something nice that clearly took some thought and time and was very considerate. It was really nice to see the extra effort put out for the young skaters.

Lithuania JGP up next

The JGP travels to Kaunas, Lithuania, this week for the third stop on the eight-city tour. Moa Iwano and Kinayu Yokoi will represent Japan in the women’s event, while Yuto Kishina will skate in the men’s competition.

Iwano, a 14-year-old from Kobe, was sixth at the JGP in Salzburg, Austria, last season.

Yokoi, a 13-year-old from Nagoya, will be making her JGP debut in Lithuania in place of Nana Araki, who withdrew due to illness. Kinayu is the younger sister of Yuhana Yokoi.

Kishina, a 16-year-old from Asakuchi, Okayama Prefecture, is in his fourth year on the JGP circuit. He was fifth and seventh in his two JGPs last season.

Takahashi provides insight

Daisuke Takahashi spoke with the Olympic Channel recently about his comeback in a video interview that was posted last week.

“Thinking about it, I wanted to continue to perform, so to do that I need to regain my skating skills,” Takahashi commented. “As a professional skater, I don’t want to be half-hearted about my return.

“Returning to active competition, it’s really important to me to pay attention to detail and take the necessary time,” Takahashi added.

The 2010 world champion was asked about the reaction of people to his return.

“The fans were really happy about it,” Takahashi stated. “There are also those people who became fans after Sochi who have not seen me skate so they are happy to have the chance to see me for the first time.”

Takahashi was questioned about his feelings about seeing compatriots Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno finish 1-2 at the Pyeongchang Games.

“There are two things I felt about this,” Takahashi remarked. “As a Japanese, and a Japanese figure skater, and to see Japan win first and second place, and do it twice and this was something no one dreamed was possible, I was truly happy.

“So there is the happy me and the me who only won a bronze medal,” Takahashi contiuned. “I really wanted a silver or gold medal. So I was really frustrated that I didn’t win but was happy that we did it.”

The 2010 Olympic bronze medalist was queried about his mental strength now.

“What I feel now is, when I injured my leg, I kept feeling that I had to do more but I couldn’t do my best even if I wanted to. It was really exhausting,” Takahashi said.

“So now, even if I can’t control my feelings 100 percent, I am able to not feel like I need to rush and do my best when I can’t.”

Takahashi is training again with his former coach Utako Nagamitsu and was questioned about their relationship.

“First, normally there is a coach and student relationship that we never had. It was more like a family, so that hasn’t changed,” Takahashi noted. “But between us, since I stepped away, and did my own thing and then came back, rather than being really close, she is just there for support. That part has changed.”

Takahashi admitted that it has been an adjustment trying to regain his competitive endurance.

“From the beginning, I didn’t have stamina since I hadn’t trained like this for a while,” Takahashi commented. “So if I tried to fit in a lot in my training, I could only do it once. Or if I had two training activities, I couldn’t do it. So for me, to build stamina was really difficult.”

Takahashi discussed the choreography (done by David Wilson) for his short program “The Sheltering Sky.”

“For the short program, it is something that allows me to imagine myself,” Takahashi said. “Free, strong, a song that takes you over. I haven’t used that kind of song before, so for me and my skating this is something new for me.”

Takahashi made it clear that his comeback is not just for one year.

“I didn’t decide to come back for just a year,” Takahashi stated. “I want to take it one year at a time. For now, since this is the start, I will look at one year. I might decide next year to continue.

“I am trying to be flexible. I want to decide as I go on. I’m not sure what would make me stop or continue, but if I feel satisfied with my own performance at some point, I may still step away, even it if is mid-competition.”