Daisuke Takahashi shows heart of champion in return to competitive skating

by Jack Gallagher

The jumps need to be a little higher and the spins a bit faster, but the return to competition after a four-year absence of 2010 world champion Daisuke Takahashi over the holiday weekend has to be labeled a success.

Takahashi finished third with a total of 195.82 points at the Kinki Block regionals on Monday in Hyogo Prefecture. By doing so the Vancouver Olympic bronze medalist advanced to the West Japan sectionals next month in Nagoya, the next step in his goal of skating at the All-Japan Championships in Osaka in December.

Kazuki Tomono won the qualifying event with a tally of 206.80.

Takahashi has work to do for sure, but he has taken the initial plunge and now knows what lies ahead — more practice and more hard work.

Takahashi began his free skate to “Pale Green Ghosts” with a nice triple flip/triple toe loop combination jump, but then fell on two triple axels, doubled a couple of planned triples (salchow, flip) and had his triple lutz and triple loop downgraded.

The five-time Japan champion evaluated his performance in a TV interview afterward.

“For the free skate compared to the short program I was much lighter-footed,” Takahashi stated. “Because of nervousness I couldn’t perform very well and made many mistakes. Nonetheless I learned many things from the performance. I want to utilize my finding for the next (competition).”

Takahashi said the flaws in his skating were unexpected.

“I didn’t make so many mistakes in my practice so I was surprised,” Takahashi commented. “Especially in the second half I could have packed my performance better. The free was the worst maybe in my life. I’m sorry I ended up showing that kind of performance to the audience. This is the bottom. I can only go up. I hope the audience will see that.”

Takahashi, who led the event after the short program with a score of 77.28, admitted he was flustered when he took the ice on Monday.

“At the start I got the choreography wrong. I made a mistake. I almost laughed at my mistake,” Takahashi said. “I’m tired. Usually I could be better. I will try to do better.”

Takahashi looked sharper in his short program to “The Sheltering Sky” on Sunday, but stamina was definitely an issue in his free skate and the legend confirmed he is looking to turn back the clock as quickly as possible.

“Up to four years ago I was an active skater. Through my performance I feel I am far, far from that,” Takahashi claimed. “I really felt that in this tournament. As soon as possible I want to get back to four years ago. I was reminded strongly of that in this Kinki tournament. I renewed my resolve.”

The bottom line is that after being off the competitive ice for four years, Takahashi made the podium at an event where the winner (Tomono) came in fifth in the world championships last year.

Though the technical elements are clearly not there yet, Takahashi’s program components are still sublime.

Ice Time’s contention is that true greatness, regardless of the profession, is always there. Sometimes is just needs to be rejuvenated and brought back to the surface if it has been on the shelf for a while.

What is most noteworthy is that this champion has followed through on his promise to return. By taking the risk of putting himself into competition again, Takahashi has opened himself up for criticism, but by doing so he has also illustrated that he still has the heart and guts that helped make him great in the first place.

Shimada brings home bronze

Koshiro Shimada earned the bronze medal at the Junior Grand Prix in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on Friday. It was the second podium finish of the JGP season for the 17-year-old from Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, who was second at the Austria JGP in August.

The result gives Shimada an outside chance at making the JGP Final in December in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Shimada’s total score of 212.95 edged out Canada’s Conrad Orzel (212.94) by just .01 of a point for third place.

“He executed the character, the detail just beautifully. I think the way it was choreographed,” ISU announcer Ted Barton commented on the YouTube webcast of the event.

“I would think that Stephane Lambiel would look at that and say, ‘OK. That’s good. It’s getting close to where I want it to be. Something unique, something innovative, something to grab your attention.’ ”

Barton’s praise for Shimada was profuse as he reviewed his elements.

“He’s not only skating it (the choreography), he’s acting it,” Barton noted. “That’s the perfect combination for a skater.”

Following Shimada’s free skate to “Winter in Buenos Aires,” Barton summed up his feelings about the young skater.

“A really good skater. A good personality. Passionate about the sport,” Barton stated.

Hiwatashi makes JGP Final

American Tomoki Hiwatashi (215.16) took second place in Slovenia behind Russia’s Petr Gumennik and qualified for the JGP Final in the process.

Hiwatashi, an 18-year-old from Hoffman Estates, Illinois, told Ice Time in an email that he was satisfied with his effort.

“In Slovenia, I was actually pretty intimidated by the other skaters because they are all great skaters,” Hiwatashi wrote. “But I was able to skate like I do in practice.

“I think overall, there are many things I can still fix, but it was a great program that I could have done.”

Kawabata falls short of medal

Tomoe Kawabata led after the short program in Slovenia and looked poised to collect her first JGP medal, but came undone in the free skate and placed fifth with a total of 167.49, behind compatriot Rion Sumiyoshi (171.65), who was fourth.

Kawabata, a 16-year-old from Nisshin, Aichi Prefecture, fell on her opening triple lutz in her free skate to “Piano Concerto in F” and hit the ice again on her step sequence.

Kawabata was ninth in the free skate, despite getting level fours on all of her spins, due to jump issues and the falls.

Barton admired Kawabata’s ability despite the miscues in her free skate.

“Look at the height. But too far back on the heel,” Barton analyzed on Kawabata’s opening triple lutz. “Couldn’t get the free leg back. It was a huge jump, but she overjumped it.”

Barton singled out Kawabata’s demeanor on the ice as a positive.

“She’s such a beautiful skater. Has always a calm appearance on her face with the program,” Barton commented.

“She makes me feel comfortable even when she is making mistakes. But tonight there were too many.”

The result is a pity, because had Kawabata won she could have had a chance at making the JGP Final. Russia’s Anastasia Tarakanova was the winner with 190.05.

Kishina still in with a chance

The JGP circuit moves to Yerevan, Armenia, this week for the final stop of the regular season before the JGP Final. Yuto Kishina, who was third at the Lithuania JGP last month, and Yuma Kagiyama will represent Japan in the men’s field, while Nana Araki and Yuhana Yokoi will be on the women’s roster.

Kishina, who hails from Asakuchi, Okayama Prefecture, has an outside chance to make the JGP Final if he wins in Armenia. He will turn 17 next week.