It was a banner weekend for Japan on the ice, with Rika Kihira and Shoma Uno taking the gold medals at the Four Continents Championships and Satoko Miyahara and Koshiro Shimada doing the same at the Bavarian Open.
Kihira bounced back from her second-place finish at the Japan Championships in December to re-establish herself as the favorite for the world title next month in Saitama. Despite landing just one triple axel, the 16-year-old still scored a comfortable victory over Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva, who came in second.
Kihira, who landed eight triple jumps in her free skate to “A Beautiful Storm,” posted a total score of 221.99 in the victory as she vaulted from fifth place after the short program to win.
“As for the triple axel, I decided in the warm up whether I would do one or two,” Kihira was quoted as saying by the ISU website. “I had not had enough practice at the main rink and I decided to play it safe in the program and did only one triple axel.
“In the practice rink this morning I tried as many triple axels as possible,” Kihira added. “In the six-minute warm up I felt I need to focus, concentrate and just do it. The most important thing I learned from this competition is — no matter what happens never give up, keep going.”
“She was just really smart with her approach,” Ashley Wagner, commentating for NBC Sports Network, remarked about Kihira not choosing to do two triple axels in her free skate. “She really just had to go out and get the job done. She did not need that second triple axel today.”
Wagner thinks Kihira will need her full arsenal, however, to win the big prize.
“Going into worlds, I think it will be important for her to be able to have all three axels there,” Wagner stated.
“The amount of ice she covers so quickly is really impressive,” Wagner added.
Three-time U.S. champion Michael Weiss, also on the NBCSN broadcast, was wowed by Kihira’s speed in her free skate.
“I noticed the speed going into the triple lutz/triple toe. Just huge speed,” Weiss said.
Joining Kihira on the podium was Mai Mihara, who placed third behind Tursynbaeva (207.46), with 207.12. The result for Mihara, who moved up from eighth place after the short program, was a boost after a fourth-place finish at nationals.
Mihara put on a fantastic show in her free skate to “The Mission,” landing six triples and earning a standing ovation from the audience. She received level fours on two of her spins and step sequence.
“After my mistakes on the jumps in the short, I got confused, I wanted to show a good performance to the audience,” Mihara stated. “I could not sleep well last night. But a competition is just a competition. I must show my best performance every time, so I switched to a positive mind-set after the practice.”
Wagner noted Mihara’s steady showing in her free skate.
“She’s a reliable athlete,” Wagner commented. “She went out today and just ticked off one jump after the next, and everything was such high quality that it pulled her right on through to the podium. It was a great night for her.”
Kaori Sakamoto, who was second after the short program, suffered a rare stumble in her free skate to “The Piano” and came in fourth at 206.79. She singled a planned double axel at the start of a three-combination jump and didn’t do the other two, resulting in a big loss of points.
The good news is that Sakamoto has several weeks to get it back together before the worlds.
Uno establishes new record
Uno captured the men’s title for the first time on his fifth try at the Four Continents. Most amazing is the fact that beginning in 2015, Uno placed in order, fifth, fourth, third and second, before triumphing in Anaheim on Saturday.
The Olympic and world silver medalist was in fourth place after the short program, but stormed back to win with an impressive performance in his free skate to “Moonlight Sonata.” Uno (289.12) landed three quads and five clean triples to easily best Jin Boyang, who was second with 273.51.
Uno’s score in the free skate of 197.36 is the highest recorded under the new system instituted this season.
The victory in California has the Nagoya native thinking big. Very big.
“I don’t want to be caught up with rankings, but I am very happy with how I did with the program and to score first place,” Uno commented. “It was my first big medal at the senior level. For worlds, I want to practice more and win the world title.”
Hiwatashi earns plaudits
American Tomoki Hiwatashi, who was fourth at the U.S. nationals last month, finished eighth but was happy with his effort. His free skate to “Fate of the Gods” brought him a standing ovation from the crowd.
One of Hiwatashi’s favorite moves is a Russian split, which goes all the way back to the days of the legendary Dick Button, and always earns a big roar from the fans.
“I think I skated great!” Hiwatashi wrote in an email to Ice Time on Sunday night. “It was the best performance I’ve done this season and I’m glad I was able to do this program at the Four Continents. My goal for world juniors is to just try and skate like what I did at this competition.”
Hiwatashi is a busy man these days. With the Four Continents concluded, he heads next to a U.S. junior training camp, before going to Zagreb for the world junior championships early in March where he will compete against Shimada.
Miyahara cruises to victory
Miyahara traveled to Oberstdorf, Germany, for the Bavarian Open and topped a mediocre field. Miyahara, who was second after the short program behind compatriot Yuna Aoki, claimed the title with a less than stellar free skate to “Invierno Porteno.”
Miyahara scored 204.56 for the victory, but two-footed the landing on her opening triple salchow and under-rotated a double loop at the end of a three- combo jump, but still beat Aoki, who placed second with 182.90.
Shimada takes senior crown
Shimada, who made the short trip from his training base in Champery, Switzerland, for the competition, captured the title in his senior international debut with a tally of 210.80 also against a less than stellar lineup.
The 17-year-old landed his opening quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo in his free skate to “Winter in Buenos Aires,” but fell on his next jump (a triple axel).
Canada’s Conrad Orzel (200.51) was second, while Shimada’s compatriot Yuto Kishina (185.88) came in fourth.
Meanwhile, Yuna Shiraiwa prevailed in one of the two junior women’s events in Oberstdorf. Shiraiwa (188.45) was there to earn a qualifying score ahead of the world juniors in Croatia.
Wakana Naganawa, who was sixth at the Japan Junior Championships in November, came in second behind South Korea’s Young You in the other junior women’s competition. Young’s winning mark was 195.50, while Naganawa recorded 165.27
Hanyu nominated for award
Yuzuru Hanyu’s recovery from injury to win his second straight Olympic gold medal at the Pyeongchang Games last February has earned him a nomination for the Laureus Comeback of the Year award.
The 24-year-old superstar is one of six nominees for the honor along with Tiger Woods, skier Lindsey Vonn, snowboarders Mark McMorris and Bibian Mentel- Spee, and wrestler Vinesh Phogat. The winner will be announced on Feb. 18 at a gala ceremony in Monte Carlo, Monaco.