Figure Skating

Shoma Uno builds sizable lead at nationals; Daisuke Takahashi second in short program

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Shoma Uno took a commanding lead at the Japan championships on Saturday night with an effective short program.

The Olympic and world silver medalist skated to “Stairway to Heaven” and earned a total score of 102.06 points. Uno opened with a nice quad flip, before hitting a quad toe loop/double toe loop combination and a triple axel. His spins and steps were exquisite as were his line and edge.

The result puts 21-year-old Uno halfway to his third straight Japan title.

Daisuke Takahashi, skating in this event for the first time since 2013, is in second place with 88.52, while Junior Grand Prix Final bronze medalist Koshiro Shimada is a surprise in third on 80.46.

Keiji Tanaka, who was on the Pyeongchang Olympic team with Yuzuru Hanyu and Uno, is in fourth with 79.32.

Uno implied that he may be nursing an injury, but said he did not want to comment until after Monday’s free skate. He did not perform any jumps during the six-minute warmup.

“I did what I wanted to do today in my present condition. My speed wasn’t good enough,” Uno stated. “I don’t want to make any excuses. I battled through mentally.”

Uno was the first skater in the fourth group this night, which means he came on immediately after the warmup had finished.

“It was good that I was in that position today, because I did not have to wait to skate,” Uno noted.

Kazuki Tomono, who was fifth at the world championships last year, had a poor outing and is in seventh place after posting a mark of 73.09.

Takahashi put on a sublime show to the “The Sheltering Sky” before an audience that was absolutely spellbound. It’s one thing to skate at the Kinki regionals or the West Japan sectionals, quite another to compete on the biggest annual domestic stage in Japan. But the Okayama native did it with his usual passion and flair.

When Takahashi announced his return back in July, his stated goal was to make the final six at the nationals. That mission has now been accomplished.

The 32-year-old began with a triple axel, before executing a triple flip/triple toe loop combo and a triple lutz. He received level fours on just one spin, while notching level threes on the other two and his step sequence.

“I made some small mistakes, but this was my best performance of the season,” Takahashi remarked. “My goal was to make the final six at nationals and that is what I was thinking about before I skated.”

The Vancouver Olympic bronze medalist said he was buoyed by the raucous reception he received from the crowd.

“I was happy with the support tonight and the atmosphere made it very comfortable for me,” Takahashi added.

The Okayama native admitted that his burden was far less than Uno’s.

“Shoma had pressure on him because he needs to win before the world championships,” Takahashi said. “It was a different feeling for me as I was really skating for myself.”

Asked about Takahashi, Uno said he had respect for the 2010 world champion and his comeback.

“I admire him, but I also don’t want to lose to him,” Uno commented. “All the focus was on him during the warmup, so it meant less pressure for me.”

Shimada skated to “Adios” as the second skater of the 29 on the night. The 17-year-old from Matsuyama, Ehime Prefecture, began his program with a fine triple axel, then landed a triple flip, before hitting a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo.

Shimada posted level fours on two of his spins, while getting a level three on the other spin and step sequence.

“Having competed at the Junior Grand Prix Final this month gave me confidence,” Shimada said. “I’m thinking about moving up to seniors, but I’m not sure when I will do it at this point.”

Tomono competed to “Tema d’Amore” and went down hard on his opening quad salchow.

“I was in good condition tonight but I just betrayed myself,” Tomono commented. “I’m at the bottom with this effort, I need to go up. I just didn’t believe in myself tonight.”

The women’s free skate is set for Sunday night, when four-time national champion Satoko Miyahara, the leader after the short program, will try to extend her reign to a fifth consecutive year.