Figure Skating | ICE TIME

Japan skaters struggle at Skate America

by Jack Gallagher

The senior Grand Prix season began in disappointing fashion last weekend with Japan being shut out of the medals.

The Hinomaru’s best showing was Kaori Sakamoto’s fourth-place finish in the women’s singles at Skate America.

Russia’s Anna Shcherbakova won in impressive fashion with a total of 227.76 points, landing two quadruple lutzes in her free skate and somehow making her costume change from blue to red in the process

Sakamoto (202.47) was second after the short program behind American Bradie Tennell but struggled in her free skate to “Matrix,” doubling a planned triple flip and triple salchow and having trouble with a couple of her spins.

“I felt like lack of training affected my performance today,” Sakamoto stated.

The Kobe native was then asked about her jumping troubles.

“In order to jump successfully, I need to lose weight and need to improve my stamina,” Sakamoto commented.

Sakamoto is hoping to work on her free skate more ahead of her next GP assignment at the Internationaux de France next month.

“The choreography by Benoit (Richaud) is somewhat complicated, and the contents are designed well before the jumps, so I feel like I need to brush up more and need to be confident in it before the event in France,” Sakamato said. “This coming week I would like to practice hard as much as possible and be familiar to the part as soon as possible.”

Sakamoto admitted that watching Shcherbakova easily land the quads was disheartening.

“If somebody lands a quad, I feel like there is no space that I can win, so partially I have given up,” Sakamoto remarked. “All I could do was to do my performance. I tried not to care about her and I tried to perform for myself.”

Higuchi settles for sixth

Wakaba Higuchi (181.32) came in sixth after being in third place after the short program. Higuchi was also troubled by jumps in her free skate to “Poeta.” She fell on a triple lutz, then doubled a planned triple loop and singled a double axel.

Higuchi was not happy after her free skate.

“I’m frustrated in my result as I could do well in training yesterday and focused well,” Higuchi said. “As I made a mistake at the beginning, I was impatient.”

Higuchi was asked directly about competing with the young Russians.

“I regret that I could not show what I did at the training,” Higuchi stated. “So I need to have a stronger mind and I should not make consecutive errors. I should show relaxed facial expressions even if I make mistakes. Those skills will make me be able to actually compete with others.”

Higuchi refused to blame injury for her performance.

“Today, I didn’t feel the pain in my legs. I want to skate without the pain from now on,” Higuchi commented.

Tough time for Yamashita

Mako Yamashita (142.40), who nearly won her first GP assignment last season, was last in the field of 12 skaters. The 16-year-old also had multiple issues in her free skate to “Scent of a Woman,” falling on her opening triple flip and under-rotating a triple lutz and triple salchow.

“Until yesterday I tried to keep calm in my mind, but I thought I needed to do something new in order to improve my performance,” Yamashita said. “I concentrated more today, so that was beneficial.”

Yamashita was boosted by the number of fans she saw supporting her at Orleans Arena.

“During the six-minute warmup (before the free skate) I saw a lot of people who support me and I realized that so many people were cheering for me. I thought I should not lose myself, otherwise I won’t have the next time. I thought that the fact I could not jump in the morning (practice) would not be an excuse, so I switched my mind.”

Tomono winds up fifth

The results in the men’s singles were equally uninspiring, as Kazuki Tomono was fifth, while Koshiro Shimada, in his senior GP debut, ended up 10th.

World champion Nathan Chen won Skate America for the third straight year with a big score of 299.09.

Tomono (229.72) moved up from eighth place after the short program with a solid effort in his free skate to songs from “Moulin Rouge.” Tomono landed a fine quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo, before falling on a quad salchow.

“I’m glad that the toe loop was as good as I wanted,” Tomono stated. “I felt confidence about this competition even though the result was not good enough.”

Tomono was upbeat despite finishing off the podium in Nevada.

“After this competition, I felt good and the most comfortable I ever had,” Tomono noted.

Tomono noted a contradiction with his jumps from practice.

“When I practice, I often make mistakes on the toe loop, but the salchow is usually landed correctly,” Tomono remarked. “However, for this competition, I could not perform the salchow well.”

The 21-year-old received level fours on his spins and step sequence in the free skate and cited his work at practice for those marks.

“I focused in practice on my steps with expression and technique, so that it led to my good score,” Tomono stated.

Shimada encouraged by debut

Shimada (216.22) was reflective in his comments after his free skate to music from “The Artist.” The 18-year-old fell on his opening quad toe loop.

“I had a great experience here and I felt that I want to practice more and get better as a figure skater,” Shimada said. “In both the short and free I missed the first jump, but after that I could jump aggressively, even though my steps and performance were not good.”

Shimada acknowledged that his first senior GP made him anxious.

“I was very nervous. My body did not move well and that led to some of the jump mistakes,” Shimada commented.

The Matsuyama native talked about what he needs to work on moving forward.

“I need to make my jumps more stable with confidence. I want the axel to connect smoothly to the next move,” Shimada said. “I don’t have enough skill yet, so that I need to pursue it more. I know that today’s experience will lead to the NHK Trophy (his next assignment) in a good way.”

Hanyu set for Skate Canada

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu will make his GP debut this week at Skate Canada in Kelowna, British Columbia. Hanyu will be joined by teammate Keiji Tanaka in the men’s field.

Hanyu should win the event in a walk, with Italy’s Matteo Rizzo his likely biggest challenger.

The women’s competition should be a real treat, with Grand Prix Final champion Rika Kihira taking on the likes of two-time world titlist Evgenia Medvedeva and two-time world junior queen Alexandra Trusova, who will be making her senior GP debut.

Marin Honda, Bradie Tennell and South Korea’s You Young are also slated to compete. Honda is replacing Mai Mihara, who withdrew due to health reasons and has also pulled out of the Cup of China.

Mihara posted a message last week on her sponsor Sysmex’s website saying she was focused on regaining her health and thanking fans for their support.

Zhou out of Grand Prix series

World bronze medalist Vincent Zhou announced his withdrawal from the GP series in a surprise move on Tuesday. The freshman at Brown University cited his academic duties as being responsible for the decision.

Zhou had been scheduled to compete at the Cup of China and Cup of Russia this season.

“It is really difficult to balance classes and training at the same time,” Zhou said in a statement posted on the U.S. Figure Skating website. “I want to perform at the highest level on the ice and in the classroom, and I have not been able to dedicate the necessary time to my skating with my rigorous class schedule. Unfortunately, the timing of my midterms has fallen right in the middle of an important training period for me this fall. This was a tough decision because I love to perform in front of the fans, but this is the best decision for me right now.”

Ice Time respects Zhou’s decision and hopes it won’t negatively impact his sponsorship by the Kinoshita Group.

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