The senior Grand Prix season gets underway on Friday with Skate America in the glitz and glamour of Las Vegas, which is hosting its first-ever GP event.
Japan will be looking for multiple medals in the women’s competition, with a strong team of Kaori Sakamoto, Wakaba Higuchi and Mako Yamashita making the journey to Nevada.
The Japanese trio will take on a field that includes the Russian contingent of Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Anna Shcherbakova and Stanislava Konstantinova and South Korea’s Lim Eun-soo.
Shcherbakova won the Lombardia Trophy in Italy last month, defeating Tuktamysheva with a high score, and is a good bet to make the podium.
The Hinomaru’s hopes will likely ride with Sakamoto and Yamashita, as Higuchi is still being bothered by a foot injury from last season that is making it difficult for her to land triple jumps.
The prospects for medals on the men’s side are not as good, with Kazuki Tomono and Koshiro Shimada going up against a field that includes world champion Nathan Chen, Jin Boyang, Cha Jun-hwan and Jason Brown.
The 20-year-old Chen will go into the competition as the prohibitive favorite and should come out on top, barring something highly unusual. The battle for second and third place should be an interesting one.
Chen, who is a sophomore at Yale University now, spoke with the media on a conference call on Monday ahead of Skate America, and had some interesting comments on several subjects.
(On the Grand Prix season)
“The Grand Prix season I consider to be the start of the regular season. We are all trying to qualify for the Grand Prix Final,” Chen stated. “I think all the skaters prioritize the Grand Prix season as a really great opportunity to continue learning, to continue growing. To put our new programs out there, to basically get better.”
(On how he maintains his fitness)
“I work with a trainer at the U.S. Olympic Committee. He has been helping me with recovery off the ice,” Chen commented. “I work in the gym a couple of days a week. It changes up depending upon if it is offseason, preseason or regular season. In terms of legitimate recovery methods, there are a lot of different resources that I have — physical therapy, massage therapy, general stretching.
“I’m a huge fan of Normatec and Hyper-Ice, massage technology, contraction technology.”
(On how he remains motivated)
“The sport continues to evolve. These guys I’m competing against the past few years continue to get better, continue to try new things, and I don’t want to fall behind,” Chen noted. “I think all of the skaters right now are extremely competitive people, not even necessarily on the ice, but just in general. Their personalities, their characters, are very competitive. It’s really good to have that drive from the other skaters, which helps you push yourself.”
(On balancing school and skating)
“It’s a little tough. It’s a lot more work than it was last year,” Chen said. “The classes involve a lot more of my attention. Right now, I’m trying to find that balance again between school and skating.”
(On working with choreographer Marie-France Dubreuil for his free skate to “Rocketman”)
“I love working with ice dance coaches for choreography,” Chen remarked. “I feel like they really understand the artistic side of skating. They really understand edge quality. They really understand all the different nuances of performance.”
Chen said he especially enjoyed training with ice dancers while he was in Montreal working with Dubreuil.
“Being able to spend time with the best of the best ice dancers, like Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron, Jean-Luc Baker, Kaitlin Hawayek. All of these amazing skaters,” Chen stated. “It’s really nice to see how they train, how they use their edges, how they perform, how they do all of these different things. Which I think really elevates my skating.”
Shoma victorious in Finland
Shoma Uno won the Finlandia Trophy in Espoo, Finland, on Saturday, scoring a comfortable victory over teammate Sota Yamamoto with a total of 255.23 points.
Uno tripled his planned opening quad salchow and fell on a quad toe loop in his free skate, but still showed the judges enough to win. The crowd roared for Uno’s cantilever in both of his programs.
The strangest sight came in the Kiss and Cry after his free skate, as Uno, who is competing without a full-time coach this season, sat there alone waiting for his scores.
Yamamoto (223.24) actually led Uno after his short program to “East of Eden,” but came undone in his free skate to “In This Shirt” with four falls, but still managed to come in second.
Yokoi brings home bronze
Last season’s Japan junior champion Yuhana Yokoi picked up her first senior international medal with a third-place finish at the Finlandia Trophy with a fine performance.
Yokoi (191.90) shared the podium with Russia’s Alena Kostornaia (234.84) and Tuktamysheva (212.53).
The 19-year-old Yokoi’s short program to “Black Ten Woman” was well received by the audience, though she did under-rotate the back end of her opening triple lutz/triple toe loop combination jump.
Yokoi doubled a planned triple lutz early in her free skate to “The Phantom of the Opera,” but held on the rest of the way to come home with a medal.
Ice Time has been covering Yokoi for many years, and has noted her ability to summon a good program and shine. She is the kind of skater that an audience finds engaging and wants to get behind.
Yokoi sent her thoughts to Ice Time in an email from Finland after the competition.
“Thank you for your support,” the Chukyo University student wrote. “I feel very happy to have been able to win my first medal in a senior international competition! I have not quite reached the international level, so I will practice more so that I can compete well internationally!”
An interesting note that most skating fans probably are unaware of is that Yokoi’s cousin is boxer Kosei Tanaka, the World Boxing Organization’s reigning flyweight champion. The 24-year-old Gifu native has also previously held the junior flyweight and minimumweight title belts.
A fresh perspective
Ice Time came across a new skating writer recently that is worth checking out.
Faith Bonds is a sophomore at the University of Southern California (Ice Time’s alma mater) and a member of the school’s figure skating club. She also writes for the school newspaper and website (www.uscannenbergmedia.com).
Each week the Chicago native pens a column on skating entitled “Inside Edge.” Her most recent piece was on the obstacles facing former U.S. champion Gracie Gold as she attempts to return to form after her recent personal struggles.
With the popularity of skating in the United States at an ebb now, it is refreshing to see a fresh face on the media scene who has passion for the sport.