Figure Skating | ICE TIME

Mai Mihara impresses as runner-up while unveiling new short program at Nebelhorn Trophy

by Jack Gallagher

Mai Mihara earned the silver medal in her season debut at the Nebelhorn Trophy on Saturday with two solid performances.

The 19-year-old was runner-up to Olympic champion Alina Zagitova at the Challenger Series event in Oberstdorf, Germany. Zagitova won with a total of 238.43 points, while Mihara tallied 209.22 as she tried out her new short program in competition for the first time.

Mihara moved up from third place after the short program to come in second. Looking lovely in a pink and white outfit, the Kobe native received positive grades of execution from all seven judges on all her elements to “It’s Magic.” The new piece was choreographed by David Wilson.

Though she only received level threes on her step sequence and layback spin, it was still a good showing for the first time out.

Mihara landed six clean triple jumps in her free skate to “The Mission” while earning level fours on two of her three spins and step sequence. She also had a nice spiral. Her only miscue came on her final jump when she doubled a planned triple salchow.

The judges again did not give her a single negative GOE for the free skate.

This is an important season for Mihara as she tries to return to the form of two years ago which took her to a fifth-place finish at the world championships. Though she missed out on the Pyeongchang Olympics and worlds last season, if she can continue to improve upon her form at Nebelhorn she can become a factor again on the world stage.

The week before she departed for Germany, Mihara and teammate Kaori Sakamoto did follow-up work with Wilson on their new programs in Nagano.

Honda humbled in debut

Marin Honda (178.89) showed she still has work to do after coming in sixth at Nebelhorn. This was her first event since moving to train with coach Rafael Arutunian in Southern California.

Honda skated to “Seven Nation Army” in her short program and had jump issues. The 17-year-old fell on her double axel and badly under-rotated her triple flip. She did get level fours on two of her spins, but just a level three on her step sequence.

Jumps were again an issue in her free skate to “Lovers.” She was only able to land four clean triples, while under-rotating a triple toe loop on the back end of a combination and a triple flip on the front end of another.

Arutunian is one of the best coaches in the world, but he has a real challenge on his hands with Honda. A coach can only do so much for a skater. The athlete has to be the real catalyst in the final analysis.

“You are still not trusting yet. It wasn’t that bad. It was OK,” Arutunian told Honda with encouragement after her free skate. “You still don’t trust technique yet, but you will. I can see it.”

The Kyoto native has been blessed with beauty and elegance, and certainly has the requisite talent, but whether she has the necessary drive is another matter.

Ice Time has always felt that Honda lacks what in sports is known as the “killer instinct.” Yuzuru Hanyu has it. Yuna Kim had it. To them, skating is more important than life. It’s everything. That is why they are legendary champions.

Too often Honda comes across as emotionless or indifferent. This is going to have to change if she is going to achieve glory in the senior ranks.

Araki settles for fifth

Japan’s medal streak in this season’s Junior Grand Prix ended in Ostrava, Czech Republic, in the fifth stop of the eight-competition series. Nana Araki (176.14) placed fifth and Shiika Yoshioka (175.19) sixth in the women’s event won by Russia’s Alena Kostornaia (198.38).

“She had great choreography and she moved her body very well. Full range of movement, pure speed,” stated ISU announcer Ted Barton after Araki’s short program to “Bei Mir Bist du Schoen” on the YouTube webcast of the event.

“She does all the choreography extremely well, but there is not a lot of expression on the face,” Barton continued. “That music has expression. It’s got personality. Technically she was so good and so solid. The only thing missing was a little bit of expression. Great quality on those jumps.”

The 16-year-old from Higashiura, Aichi Prefecture, was awarded level fours on two of her spins, but just a level three on her step sequence.

Araki, who came in second and fourth in her two JGPs last season, had her debut this campaign delayed a couple of weeks due to illness.

In her free skate to “Once Upon a Dream,” Araki received a low GOE on her opening triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, then doubled her planned triple salchow. From there on she skated very well, with level fours on all of her spins and step sequence, but the damage was done.

Sumoto misses out on JGP Final

Mitsuki Sumoto (201.55) was fifth in the men’s competition won by Russia’s Andrei Mozalev (217.12) in Ostrava and saw his shot at the JGP Final in Vancouver, British Columbia, in December disappear.

Sumoto placed second at the season-opening JGP in Bratislava, Slovakia, in August, and needed a top-two finish in the Czech Republic to qualify for the JGP Final.

The 17-year-old under-rotated his opening triple axel in his short program to “Tosca” and received a low GOE on his following triple lutz/triple toe loop combo.

Barton praised Sumoto’s three-combo jump in his free skate.

“Beautiful ice coverage with nice flowing edges in between,” commented Barton.

Sumoto hit seven triple jumps in his free skate but fell on his final jump (a planned triple lutz) and lost any shot at making the JGP Final.

“He looked confident tonight until that last element. The mistake was costly,” Barton correctly analyzed.

Trio headed to Slovenia

The JGP moves to Ljubljana, Slovenia, this week for stop six on the circuit. Tomoe Kawabata and Rion Sumiyoshi will represent Japan in the women’s lineup.

Koshiro Shimada will pull on the boots in the men’s competition.

Sumiyoshi came in third in her JGP debut in Richmond, British Columbia, two weeks ago. Shimada was second at the Austria JGP last month.

Yamamoto off to Finland

The Challenger Series travels to Espoo, Finland, for the Finlandia Trophy this week for the seventh of 10 stops.

Sota Yamamoto and Ryuju Hino will represent the Hinomaru in the men’s event.

Rika Hongo will be Japan’s lone entrant in the women’s field.