Figure Skating | ICE TIME

Satoko Miyahara's move to Toronto the right decision at this stage of her career

by Jack Gallagher

Coming off a disappointing season, Satoko Miyahara is looking to get back on the right track.

The four-time national champion got off to a good start on Saturday by winning her first event of the season at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City. The victory came just days after Miyahara announced that she had made a major decision by moving to Toronto to train with jump coach Lee Barkell.

After years of working under Mie Hamada at the Kansai University rink, the decision by Miyahara was an acknowledgment that to continue being competitive with the younger generation coming up, she is going to have to solidify and expand her array of jumps.

Miyahara won in Utah with a total score of 204.30 points ahead of South Korea’s Young You (199.29). Miyahara had a comfortable lead after the short program (74.16) where she skated to “Egyptian Disco” choreographed by Benoit Richaud for the first time in competition.

The Kyoto native had her first triple lutz downgraded and under-rotated another, along with a triple toe loop in her free skate to the theme from “Schindler’s List.”

“My first event I thought I was having a great experience while I was skating,” Miyahara stated after her free skate. “I tried to show what I had practiced. I want to get the hang of it.”

The 21-year-old talked about her mindset going into the competition.

“Regarding how I go into events compared to last year, today I was a little tense,” Miyahara noted. “Usually I try to be more relaxed. I think I am getting the feel of being more relaxed.”

Miyahara spoke about her move to Canada.

“To grow up, I chose to go to Toronto,” she said. “As the season progresses, I want to continue. I don’t think results will come through straightaway, but I hope to be able to show a performance I want to show. I will work for that.”

Tanaka soars in Salt Lake City

Keiji Tanaka took the men’s title in Salt Lake City to give Japan a sweep of the singles crowns. The triumph was the first for Tanaka in an international event since he won the Asian Open Trophy in Hong Kong in 2017.

Tanaka (249.96) combined with Sota Yamamoto (240.11) for a 1-2 finish in Utah. The Okayama native attempted three quads in his free skate, falling on a quad toe loop and receiving a negative grade of execution for his first quad salchow.

The 22-year-old Tanaka did shine in his spins and step sequence, however, earning level fours for all of them. He talked about his ambitions going into the competition.

“I set challenges for myself and because it was the first event, I wanted to see how many of them I could achieve,” Tanaka noted. “Rather than my position, I was focusing more on the substance. I did well and that led to a medal.”

Tanaka attributed his fall on the quad toe loop to a couple of factors.

“My physical fitness and this place is a little high in altitude,” Tanaka said about Salt Lake City, which stands at 1,288 meters. I got 70 percent done in challenges I could show, with 30 percent I could do more. These are the challenges for the next event.”

Tanaka addressed his free skate with a Sherlock Holmes theme and what he want to improve.

“If I have more physical fitness I can think more about facial expressions and body movements,” Tanaka stated.

“The one I play comes from what I see in movies. I have not fully interpreted what I see. I need to finalize the concrete image of what I want to perform.”

Tanaka discussed the upcoming Grand Prix series, in which he has two assignments (Skate Canada, Cup of China), and his vision of himself.

“Toward the GP series, I want to look at the challenges from this event. I want to grow more and more, in (my) program as well,” Tanaka commented. “I’m a skater, I’m an athlete. I’m battling on as such, I need to produce results.

“In skating I have new programs each year. I enjoy performing a new self. I want to keep that feeling. I try to make a program my own each season. I want to enjoy myself. I practice and bring the level of perfection up.”

Yamamoto makes podium

Yamamoto fell on two of his jumps (quad salchow, triple lutz) in his free skate and rued his mistakes afterward.

“It was tough. That is my frank opinion after my performance,” Yamamoto said.

“At altitude sometimes I cannot perform all the way through. It was tough from the first half. I could not really get the speed. I preserved my energy somewhat.

“During the performance I think I kept my concentration. I was determined not to run out of energy like the short program.”

Yamamoto will skate next at the Finlandia Trophy next month.

“As usual I will try to skate through. I want to be extra careful of the jumps I failed on this time,” Yamato remarked. “The order of jumps and spins will be changed so I can change the levels.

“I want to have results this season. I will be happy to be on the podium. That is the kind of results I want in abundance. I will try to perform so I can produce results.”

Sakamoto second in Slovakia

In Slovakia, Kaori Sakamoto (194.42) took second place at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial in Bratislava on Saturday in her season debut behind Russia’s Alexandra Trusova (238.69).

Sakamoto was fourth after the short program after going down on her opening triple flip, but had a relatively clean free skate to climb onto the podium.

Trusova, in her international senior competitive debut, was nothing short of spectacular. She landed three quads in her free skate and had level fours on her spins and step sequence.

If she skates like this during the GP season, it is hard to see how anybody is going to beat her.

Mako Yamashita, who finished third behind Trusova at the world junior championships in 2018, came in sixth with 163.54.

Mitsuki Sumoto (209.15) was fifth in the men’s event won by Russia’s Dmitri Aliev (255.32).

Kagiyama makes JGP Final

Yuma Kagiyama (245.35) claimed second place at the Junior Grand Prix in Gdansk, Poland, on Saturday. The result qualified him for the JGP Final in Turin, Italy, in December.

Kagiyama, who won the season-opening JGP in Courchevel, France, finished behind Russia’s Daniil Samsonov (250.51) in the final standings.

The 16-year-old was sublime in his free skate to songs from the movie “Tucker.”

“That was just ridiculously good. This is the next big Japanese star,” commented ISU announcer Ted Barton on the livestream of the event. “He has something very special. He is a performer. He doesn’t forget the judging panel. He makes sure that he serves them up some nice edges and nice looks and presentation as well as the elements.”

Barton cited Kagiyama’s step sequence for special praise in the free skate.

“His steps are so smooth, it’s just incredible,” Barton said. “It’s as if his skates had motors on them.”

Kawabata fifth once again

Tomoe Kawabata, who was second after the short program in Poland, wound up fifth for the fourth straight JGP she has skated in as American Alysa Liu won to make the JGP Final.

Liu’s winning total was (203.10), while Kawabata posted a mark of 177.86.

Kawabata wowed the audience with her short program to “The Blue Danube” and looked poised to earn her first JGP medal.

“That’s the performance we have been looking for from this young lady. She is so delightful,” Barton stated. “She’s beautiful, confident. Pleasant performance. Just overall wonderful quality.

“I’ve always loved this young lady’s skating,” added Barton. “I’m so pleased that she delivered all the goods tonight. She has such a pleasant look on her face. Calm and fun and loving the music.”

Kawabata came undone in her free skate to “Yumeji’s Theme,” popping the back end of her planned opening triple lutz/triple toe combination.

Barton said Kawabata is going to have to summon more fortitude if she wants to make the podium.

“She has not yet found her inner will to survive a fight,” Barton commented. “It’s in there, but it’s hidden at the moment.”

Impressive artistry

Moa Iwano (157.51) finished ninth in her season debut in Poland with new programs choreographed by Richaud. Her artistry was incredible and drew raves from Barton and online, but she was hindered by under-rotations on her jumps.

Iwano’s short program to “I Put A Spell On You” and “Sinnerman” stunned Barton.

“Wow. This young lady is full of expression,” Barton stated. “Use of full body movement, especially in the step sequence. Wow. Great performance, beautifully delivered.”

Barton raved again about Iwano’s free skate to “Papa, Can You Hear Me.”

“This is a special performer. She’s convincing with the emotion she pours into her performance,” Barton declared. “She drew me in and kept me there. Just beautiful.”

Iwano’s step sequence resonated again with Barton.

“Look at that upper body movement, and the reaching and the brackets and the counters and the rockers, all the turns,” Barton said. “A level four, not often seen on the junior circuit, but this was superb.”

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