Yuhana Yokoi, Tatsuya Tsuboi take golds at Japan Junior Championships

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Yuhana Yokoi retained her lead after the short program to win the Japan Junior Championships on Sunday night with an impressive free skate.

The 18-year-old from Nagoya took to the ice as the final skater and put on a smooth performance to “The Phantom of the Opera.” Yokoi earned a total score of 181.84 points in the victory.

Fellow Chukyo University High School student Nana Araki was second with 170.90, while Tomoe Kawabata took third at 158.16.

Rinka Watanabe (157.70) came in fourth, moving up from sixth place after the short program.

Moa Iwano (153.60) slipped from third place after the short program and wound up seventh, despite earning a standing ovation from the audience for a second straight night after her skate to “Jeux d’Eaux.”

Yokoi, who claimed the bronze medal at the Junior Grand Prix in Armenia last month, looked confident from start to finish on this night.

“I’m so very happy to win the title,” Yokoi said. “I could perform what I have practiced despite the pressure. I told myself if I win here, I should not take it for granted.”

Yokoi prevailed despite under-rotating a triple salchow and a triple toe loop. She did, however, receive level fours on all of her spins.

Araki, who was third in this event last season, was content to be on the podium once again after her free skate to “Once Upon a Dream.”

“It’s nice that I could get a medal two years in a row and also do it with my classmate Yuhana,” Araki commented.

Araki fell on the back end of her double axel/triple toe loop combo, but like Yokoi received level fours on all of her spins.

With the top six skaters qualifying to participate in next month’s Japan championships in Osaka, Araki knows she must put on a good showing there to achieve her next goal.

“To make the team for the world junior championships, I will have to skate cleanly for both the short program and free skate at nationals,” Araki said. “So that’s what I will be working toward.”

Tatsuya Tsuboi was the surprise winner in the men’s competition after cleanly landing eight triple jumps. Tsuboi came from second place after the short program to claim the title ahead of Shun Sato.

Tsuboi displayed good line and edge along with excellent speed and tallied a total score of 222.79, to narrowly edge Sato who had 222.30.

Koshiro Shimada, who led after the short program, settled for third with 210.03.

For the second straight day, Tsuboi delivered a fine effort that moved the audience. His victory is quite a story, as he was not even selected to participate in the Junior Grand Prix this season.

The 17-year-old Chukyo University High School student said he practiced hard, especially on his triple axel, after not making the cut for the JGP. Tsuboi’s work was evident, as he confidently skated both programs with good technique and significant flair.

“I’m happy to win here, especially after not making the Junior Grand Prix this season,” Tsuboi commented. “Now I have a month to train for the Japan championships and I would like to do well there.”

Sato, a 14-year-old from Saitama, impressed with his jumping ability as he hit six clean triples. He put his hand down on his opening quadruple toe loop/triple toe loop combo, but bounced back to cleanly hit a quad toe loop on his next jump.

The crowd gave him a big roar of appreciation after he completed his free skate.

Yuto Kishina (198.84) was fourth, while Mitsuki Sumoto, last year’s champion, wound up seventh on 192.88.