Figure Skating | ICE TIME

Yuzuru Hanyu tops best efforts by Japan skaters this season

by Jack Gallagher

With the long season now over, Ice Time has collated a top 10 list of the best performances by Japanese skaters during the 2018-19 campaign.

The list places a priority on results in major competitions like the world championships, Grand Prix Final and national championships, while taking into account mitigating factors like injury, record scores and big moves up the standings.

1. Yuzuru Hanyu — Cup of Russia (Short Program)

This was the skate of the year, with Hanyu establishing a world record of 110.53 points to “Otonal” under the new +5/-5 grade of execution system. He was exquisite from start to finish while thrilling the crowd in Moscow. Unfortunately, it was his last skate of the season in full health, as he reinjured his right ankle at practice the following day.

2. Yuzuru Hanyu — World Championships (Free Skate)

This was a close runner-up for top honors, with Hanyu still not fully recovered from his ankle injury but gamely participating in the event for the host nation. He would hit an incredible quadruple toe loop/triple axel combination to “Origin” to help claim Japan’s lone medal in Saitama while garnering a thunderous ovation from the capacity crowd.

3. Yuzuru Hanyu — Helsinki Grand Prix (Short Program)

This was Hanyu’s first Grand Prix event since injuring his right ankle during practice at the 2017 NHK Trophy in Osaka. He demonstrated that he was fully recovered with a strong showing that illustrated the majestic qualities of the two-time Olympic champion. Despite only receiving a level three on his step sequence, Hanyu gave a commanding performance in the city where he won the 2017 world crown.

4. Rika Kihira — NHK Trophy (Free Skate)

Kihira was on top of her game here with her best free skate of the season to “A Beautiful Storm” in Hiroshima. She landed two titanic triple axels on the way to victory and served notice that she was going to be a force this season. She went on to win her next GP (the Internationaux de France) and the GP Final in the weeks that followed.

5. Kaori Sakamoto — Japan Championships (Free Skate)

In second place behind Satoko Miyahara after the short program, and with Kihira ready to unleash her two triple axels in the free skate, Sakamoto rose to the occasion to win her first senior national title with a beautiful performance to “The Piano” in Osaka. Her combination of power and artistry were on full display in a spell-binding showing that was properly scored by the judges.

6. Kaori Sakamoto — World Championships (Short Program)

Skating in front of a sellout crowd of nearly 18,000 fans at Saitama Super Arena, Sakamoto showed her grit with a nearly flawless effort to “From My First Moment” to take second place behind Olympic champion Alina Zagitova. Sakamoto was in good position to claim a medal in the free skate by virtue of her result, but ended up falling to fifth in the final standings.

7. Shoma Uno — Four Continents (Free Skate)

This was Uno’s breakthrough moment, where he finally won an ISU championship event, after taking second so many times. He moved up from fourth place after the short program to top the podium with his impressive skate to “Moonlight Sonata” in Anaheim, California. Uno landed three quads and earned level fours on his spins and step sequence.

8. Rika Kihira — World Team Trophy (Short Program)

Kihira landed a beautiful triple axel in her short program to “Clair de Lune” on the way to a world-record score in Fukuoka. It was one of the best she has landed in competition. Her achievement in this event would have been placed higher, but for the liberal scoring by the judges in Kyushu.

9. Mai Mihara — Japan Championships (Free Skate)

Mihara put on an electric performance in Osaka to “The Mission” that brought fans to their feet in a standing ovation. Mihara looked to have locked up a place on the podium, before Satoko Miyahara skated next and was controversially placed ahead of her. Mihara ended up fourth, with a noticeable murmur from the crowd after Miyahara’s score moved her in front of Mihara.

10. Ayaka Hosoda — Japan Championships (Free Skate)

After landing a triple axel in her short program, Hosoda wowed the crowd with two more in her free skate on a magical night. The then 23-year-old showed that even with a technically difficult jump, it is mind over matter.

It was an incredible achievement in the biggest domestic competition of the season and one that will be long remembered for a skater who had posted mostly mediocre results in her long career.

Honorable mention

Tatsuya Tsuboi — Japan Junior Championships (Free Skate)

In second place behind Koshiro Shimada after the short program, and with quadster Shun Sato lurking, Tsuboi put on the skate of his life in the free skate to become Japan’s junior champion in Fukuoka. It was a wonderful moment for one of the country’s most popular juniors.

Zagitova tabbed for gold again

Skating legend Evgeni Plushenko had some interesting comments on Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova in a recent interview with the Russian website sport-express.ru that was translated into English and posted on fs-gossips.com.

Plushenko was asked about Zagitova and retirement.

“There is a specific athlete who must make decisions; this is their career and their life,” Plushenko was quoted as saying. “Alina has already become an Olympic champion, perhaps she wants to become a multiple Olympic champion. Who can forbid her?

“To finish a career is the easiest way. This can be done at any time,” Plushenko continued. “Especially since she has already written her name in history. But to go and prove that you still can (do it), as Alina did at the world championships, that is really difficult and hard. If she learns quadruple jumps, then it will be very cool.”

Plushenko was then asked if it was possible for Zagitova to do quads.

“Looking at her skating, it is clear that yes, I’m not just saying this,” Plushenko commented. “I believe that Zagitova can skate until the next Olympics and win there.”

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