Figure Skating

Shoma Uno smashes competition to win third straight national title; Daisuke Takahashi finishes second

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

An injured Shoma Uno captured his third straight title in decisive fashion at the Japan championships on Monday night.

The Olympic and world silver medalist, who has won all three of his senior Japan crowns in the absence of Yuzuru Hanyu, started slowly in his free skate to “Moonlight Sonata” but picked up the pace as his program progressed to triumph by nearly 50 points over Daisuke Takahashi.

Uno’s winning total score was 289.10 points, with Takahashi well back at 239.62 in second. Keiji Tanaka was third with 236.45.

Kazuki Tomono (227.46) bounced back from a poor short program to take fourth, while junior Koshiro Shimada (219.78) came in fifth.

Uno landed his opening quadruple flip, but followed with a triple salchow instead of a planned quad, before stepping out on a quad toe loop.

The Nagoya native then cleanly hit a quad toe loop/double toe loop combination jump and cruised home the rest of the way. The final tally for the 21-year-old Uno in the victory was two clean quads and five triples, along with level fours on his spins and step sequence.

“I twisted my right leg on Friday while warming up for the official practice, which made it painful to wear my boot,” Uno stated. “Despite the injury I was able to believe in myself in both the short program and free skate.”

Uno rejected the advice of coaches Machiko Yamada and Mihoko Higuchi who wanted him to pull out of the event.

“My coaches wanted me to withdraw from the competition, but I told them, ‘This is my way. This is the way Shoma Uno is,” Uno recalled. “I debated (withdrawing) but I wanted to skate. I guess it was pride.”

The silver was Takahashi’s ninth medal at the Japan championships (including five golds) and first since 2012, when he finished second behind Hanyu, who won his first senior title.

Takahashi skated to “Pale Green Ghosts” and struggled with his jumps, but still showed the judges enough to retain his position in second following the short program before a crowd that was overjoyed to watch him in action.

The 32-year-old opened with a triple toe loop, before landing a triple axel/double toe loop combo. He was credited with six triples, but also under-rotated his triple salchow at the back end of a three-combo jump.

The Okayama Prefecture native earned level fours on his step sequence and one spin. He received level threes on the other two spins.

“I never imagined that I could take a medal at nationals, so I’m happy,” Takahashi commented. “I have not decided my future yet. I need to talk to my coach (Utako Nagamitsu).”

Whether he continues competing or just skating in shows, Takahashi wants to keep getting better.

“I want to keep improving and be able to land a quad no matter what I am skating in,” Takahashi added.

Even though he competed for years at the highest level, the 2010 world champion admitted that he had a case of the jitters on this night.

“The nerves almost made me want to run away before the free skate,” Takahashi confessed.

Uno admitted his injury made it difficult to enjoy competing with Takahashi.

“I could not enjoy it due to the injury, so I want him to compete in this event again next year,” Uno said.

Tanaka performed to the “William Tell Overture” and had a less-than-inspiring performance, but was still able to climb onto the podium based on the efforts of the other skaters.

Tanaka started with a quad salchow/double toe loop combo, but then doubled a second planned quad salchow, and was hit with an invalid element when he did a triple flip/double toe loop combo instead of a triple toe loop.

Tanaka, who was on the Pyeongchang Olympic team with Hanyu and Uno, did record level fours on all of his spins, while getting a level three on his step sequence.

“This season I struggled so much at each competition, but Daisuke said he wanted to compete with me, so I’m really inspired by him,” Tanaka said. “I enjoyed these nationals because Daisuke is here, but yet it was hard and almost painful for me.”

Tomono began with a nice quad salchow/double toe loop combo, but then under-rotated his second quad salchow and a triple toe loop. He received just a level two on his step sequence and a level three on one of his spins.

“This nationals was different from last year (when he also finished fourth),” Tomono remarked. “I’ve been doing well the past two or three years and I want to challenge more and more moving forward.”

Shimada, who was third after the short program, competed to “Winter in Buenos Aires” as the final skater of the evening, but doubled his planned opening quad toe loop and had several more errors on his jumps. He ended up 11th in the free skate.

Fan-favorite Sota Yamamoto was ninth with 212.69 and took time afterward to reflect on his season to this point.

“Tonight was better than the short program, my body moved well,” Yamamoto noted. “I experienced so many new things this year, my first in the senior Grand Prix series. Many skaters of the same age are doing well in international competitions, so I do feel I am behind. I want to improve to compete with them.”

The Japan Skating Federation announced its teams for the world championships following the event.

Hanyu, Uno and Tanaka will comprise the men’s squad for the worlds next March in Saitama, while Japan champion Kaori Sakamoto, Rika Kihira and Satoko Miyahara will make up the women’s squad.

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