Figure Skating | ICE TIME

Shoma Uno, Mako Yamashita stake claims for GP Final spots

by Jack Gallagher

Shoma Uno looked in midseason form as he rallied to victory at Skate Canada on Saturday in Laval, Quebec.

The Olympic and world silver medalist was second after the short program, but came back to win the event for the second straight year with a total of 277.25 points, ahead of Canada’s Keegan Messing (265.17).

Uno was amazing while landing four quadruple jumps in his free skate to “Moonlight Sonata” before running out of gas near the end of his program. Nevertheless his performance was enough to top the podium and put him in good position to make the Grand Prix Final.

The 20-year-old took a hard fall on his triple axel in his short program to “Stairway to Heaven” but still impressed observers with his effort.

“He was second in the Olympics, second in the worlds, yet I can still see that despite the mistakes here there have been obvious improvements and strides forward,” stated Eurosport analyst Mark Hanretty after Uno’s short program. “The spins look a little faster. Stylistically it just continues to develop and improve. He makes the most beautiful line on the ice.”

Hanretty’s partner Chris Howarth was equally moved by what he saw from Uno.

“I love that focus. Every single movement in that program has meaning,” Howarth noted.

It was more of the same after Uno’s free skate from the analysts, despite Uno under-rotating his opening quad salchow and falling on a triple flip and triple toe loop.

“For 3½ minutes there he was as good as he has ever been. As good as almost anyone has ever been,” Eurosport’s Simon Reed commented. “All four quads perfectly landed.”

“It was a masterful performance,” Howarth added. “I think he just ran out of steam at the end.”

NBC analyst Tara Lipinski didn’t hold back in her assessment of Uno following his free skate.

“What a brilliant start to this Grand Prix season for him. Four quads. I love this program,” Lipinski remarked. “He’s known for his deep edges. I think it accentuates that, the deep sweeping long lines and edges he creates in this program.”

“I was able to put in all the frustration from yesterday and I was able to perform the program,” Uno was quoted by the ISU website. “I thought I’ll go all out from the beginning, so I went at 100 percent from the start. That’s probably why I did get a bit tired at the end. I made mistakes on the last two jumps, so this is something I’ll take as a task for the next competition.”

Uno’s next GP assignment will be the NHK Trophy in Hiroshima next week, where he will try to lock up a spot in the GP Final.

Mako stuns in senior debut

Mako Yamashita (203.06) was fantastic in her senior GP debut, finishing a close second to Russia’s Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (203.32). The 15-year-old from Nagoya wowed onlookers with her mature performances.

Third after the short program, Yamashita was sublime in her skate to “Madame Butterfly.” She landed six clean triples and received level fours on her spins. Only an under-rotation on her triple loop cost her the victory.

Despite that, Yamashita still finished ahead of two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva (197.91), who was third.

“I didn’t expect to win a medal today,” Yamashita commented. “I did the best I could and this led to me winning a medal. I learned a lot and I need to improve a lot.”

Ice Time has been covering Yamashita since she was a young girl, so I was especially happy to see her debut on the world stage go so well. Mako’s strengths are her consistency and technical prowess. She is a fundamentally sound skater.

This young lady has a charm and calm way about her that resonates on the ice. Her record over the past three years in international competitions is nothing short of amazing.

Mako has medaled in eight of nine events during that span. The one time she didn’t, she was fourth. So you can see that she is no flash in the pan. You don’t make the podium time after time on just luck.

What Kaori Sakamoto possesses in personality and guts, Mako has in calmness and poise. She never gets rattled.

“Fantastic running edge throughout three jumps,” Lipinski stated. “She was on today. Almost every jumping pass was so technically perfect. She is a great technician.

“She has such a great rhythm,” added Lipinski. “She felt so relaxed out there.”

Lipinski’s partner Johnny Weir joined in the praise for Yamashita while analyzing a replay of her free skate.

“Through this choreo sequence you can really see that she has a nice touch to the ice. She moves very easily,” Weir said. “There is a very refined quality to her skating at only 15.”

After Yamashita’s final score was posted, Weir noted the historical nature of the result.

“That’s incredible. Only four ladies competing right now have beaten Evgenia Medvedeva, and Mako Yamashita is one of them,” Weir pointed out.

Ice Time spoke on the phone with ISU announcer Ted Barton on Monday, who attended Skate Canada last week, for his take on Yamashita’s performance.

“She was really wonderful,” Barton commented. “Mako has always been a technically solid skater, but what she has really improved in is the emotion of her performance.”

Barton saw all four of Yamashita’s medal-winning events on the JGP circuit over the past two years, so he is very familiar with the young star’s work.

“Many of the young Japanese skaters are technically equal or superior to their Russian counterparts, but the Russians do a better job of emoting while they skate,” Barton remarked. “Mako was delightful at Skate Canada, because she not only skated well, but she also communicated with her facial expressions.”

Higuchi settles for sixth

Wakaba Higuchi, who has been nursing an injury to her right foot, finished a disappointing sixth with 181.29. Virtually eliminating her from contention for the GP Final.

Higuchi, last season’s world silver medalist, was second after the short program, but came undone in her free skate to “Four Seasons.”

The 17-year-old doubled her planned opening triple salchow, under-rotated two triple toe loops and had her triple loop downgraded. The highly emotional Higuchi shrugged off her result after seeing her scores, which was a relief.

“For the first Grand Prix after an Olympic season I think it wasn’t that bad,” Lipinski commented. “A few under-rotations and technical mistakes.”

Hanyu set for Helsinki

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu will open his GP season this week in Finland at the site of perhaps the greatest single skate in history.

The superstar’s masterpiece to “Hope and Legacy” in his free skate at the 2017 world championships stands atop Mount Olympus as the pinnacle of skating greatness. Not only was it technically brilliant, but it was how Hanyu looked so effortless in executing it.

Skating fans have told Ice Time that even now, some 18 months later, watching replays of the monumental moment still brings them to tears.

Hanyu’s primary competition in Helsinki will likely come from China’s Jin Boyang, Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada and South Korea’s Cha Jun-hwan. Pyeongchang Olympian Keiji Tanaka will also be in the field.

The women’s event promises to be dynamite as well, with Olympic champion Alina Zagitova headlining the roster along with Sakamoto. Yuna Shiraiwa and Rika Hongo will both be making their lone GP appearance of the season in Finland.

Hope for Hongo

Hongo recently relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia, where she has begun training under Megumu Seki, formerly the coach of Yuka Nagai.

Seki told Ice Time in a phone conversation on Monday that he is hoping the change of environment will help revive Hongo’s career. The 22-year-old was sixth at the 2015 worlds, but tumbled to 16th two years later, and did not qualify for them last season.

“Rika has only been here for a couple of weeks, so right now we are just trying to get her acclimated to a new environment,” Seki said. “She has to get used to a new language, new training conditions, new food, etc.”

Seki, who also coaches junior Rinka Watanabe, noted that Hongo’s focus isn’t on the Helsinki GP, but rather looking further ahead.

“She has been improving technically since she began working with us, but it has only been a short time,” Seki stated. “We are hoping to have her in good form for the Japan championships in December.”

Seki told Ice Time he and Hongo would depart for Finland on Tuesday.