Figure Skating | ICE TIME

Tomoki Hiwatashi shines in senior Grand Prix debut in France

by Jack Gallagher

Tomoki Hiwatashi had a very respectable showing in his senior Grand Prix debut last weekend with a fifth-place finish at the Internationaux de France in Grenoble.

Last season’s world junior champion roared back from a poor short program that saw him in 10th place, to jump up to fifth in the final standings.

The 19-year-old Hiwatashi put it all together in his free skate to “Petrushka,” landing two quad toe loops (one in combination), seven triples, and earning level fours on two of his three spins, while also performing his favorite Russian split and a cantilever.

It was an encouraging performance for the teen whose parents hail from Kobe. Hiwatashi came in fourth in the free skate, behind winner Nathan Chen (297.16 total points) and fellow podium finishers Kevin Aymoz (254.64) of France and Alexander Samarin (265.10) of Russia.

The difference in Hiwatashi’s short program and free skate was striking.

He was off balance on his opening quad toe loop to “Love Runs Out” in his short program, then singled his planned triple axel for no points, and had the base value on one of his spins marked down.

It was looking pretty grim for Hiwatashi before he took the ice on Saturday for the free skate, but he rose to the occasion with a strong showing that still has room for improvement.

“I was not very happy with the short because of how I did,” Hiwatashi wrote in an email to Ice Time. “After the short, I thought over and over about why it went that way.”

Hiwatashi decided to stop obsessing about what went wrong in the short program and focus on his free skate.

“On the day of the long program, I just stopped thinking and concentrated on the positive things that I can do and that change really helped me,” Hiwatashi wrote. “There were several mistakes in the long though, so I would like to fix those before the NHK Trophy and nationals.”

Hiwatashi, who trains in Colorado Springs with coaches Christy Krall and Damon Allen, then wowed the crowd with his exhibition program on Sunday in which he performs as the anime character Lupin the Third, which he debuted at “The Ice” during the summer.

Canadians Mary-Margaret and Alicia Mirtsos, who host the skating podcast “Flutzes and Waxels” had high praise for Hiwatashi after his showing in France and bemoaned the low program component scores given him by the judges.

“He is a fantastic skater,” said Alicia. “His jumps are usually pretty good. . . . He can do nice one-foot skating into jumps and not lose speed.”

Alicia’s sister cited Hiwatashi’s short program for special praise.

“I really think the short program has the potential to be a star vehicle for him,” Mary-Margaret noted. “He was one of the guys to go basically clean (in the free skate),” Mary-Margaret remarked. “He commits to every second of his program.”

Mary-Margaret felt Hiwatashi was penalized because he was not in the final group of skaters in the free skate in Grenoble.

“He skated in the first flight,” she pointed out. “Skating in the first flight is not a PCS category.”

Alicia cited Hiwatashi’s transitions as being given the short shrift by the judges.

“Where are his 10s for composition?” Alicia mused. “That Russian split jump into the triple salchow, on the music (for example)?”

The next two seasons are going to be crucial for Hiwatashi, as he tries to position himself for a spot on the U.S. team for the 2022 Beijing Games. With two-time world champion Nathan Chen and fellow Pyeongchang Olympian Vincent Zhou being the prime candidates for two of the spots, the race for the final place is wide open.

In addition to Hiwatashi, other candidates include his training partners at Broadmoor World Arena, Camden Pulkinen and Andrew Torgashev, and Jason Brown.

Tears for Shoma

Shoma Uno struggled to his worst finish ever as a senior, coming in eighth after being fourth following the short program. Uno fell five times in total over his two programs and showed that something is clearly not right with his skating at this time.

His free skate was a full-on meltdown, with three falls, and saw him receive only level twos on two of his spins and his step sequence. The real drama came after he was done in the Kiss and Cry as he waited for his scores.

Uno broke down and wept. While the initial reaction was that this was the result of his poor performance, a closer listen to the video revealed that his emotions bubbled over as the supportive crowd chanted “Shoma, Shoma, Shoma.”

It was a moving show of consideration for a skater who is currently on a journey of self-discovery. Shoma’s decision to break away from longtime coaches Machiko Yamada and Mihoko Higuchi was a courageous one. But sometime with courage comes pain.

“There are no words to express what those tears meant,” Uno was quoted as saying. “I didn’t give up no matter how many mistakes I made.”

The result in Grenoble means that Uno, who turns 22 next month, will not qualify for next month’s GP Final in Turin, Italy. He had medaled at the event the past four years.

Following the Internationaux de France, Shoma was scheduled to go and train with Stephane Lambiel in Switzerland before the Cup of Russia. Koshiro Shimada is a member of Lambiel’s group, which should provide Shoma with someone he can communicate well with during his time there.

No medals for Japan women

Kaori Sakamoto was Japan’s highest-placed finisher at fourth in France in a competition won by Russia’s Alena Kostornaia (236.00). Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova (216.06) was second, with American Mariah Bell (212.89) taking third.

Sakamoto (199.24) was well behind Bell in total score, while Wakaba Higuchi (174.12) came in sixth and Yuna Shiraiwa (161.71) was ninth.

With the GP season half over, it is looking increasingly likely that Rika Kihira may be Japan’s only female qualifier for the GP Final this season.

Kostornaia’s role models

In an interview this week posted in Japanese on the website jp.sputniknews.com, Kostornaia was asked about foreign skaters she admired.

The question was, “You are often following Italy’s Carolina Kostner. Are there other skaters who you model after?”

Kostornaia’s reply was: “I often see the performances of Mao Asada and Kim Yuna. They both give me inspiration, but basically I’m looking for my own path. . .”

Cup of China up next

The GP circuit travels to Chongqing, China, this week for the Cup of China. This will be the first time in two years that the event has been held, after the nation chose to give up its right to host it last season and Helsinki took its place.

Keiji Tanaka, who was third at Skate Canada, will be the Hinomaru’s lone male representative in China. The men’s roster will include home favorite Jin Boyang, South Korea’s Cha Jun-hwan and Italy’s Matteo Rizzo.

A victory by Tanaka would put him in good position to qualify for the GP Final.

Four-time national champion Satoko Miyahara and Marin Honda will compete in the women’s field that will feature the Russian trio of Anna Shcherbakova, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Sofia Samodurova and South Korea’s You Young.

Nishi-Nihon sectionals

The West Japan sectionals were held last week in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture. Spots in the Japan Junior Championships were on the line for the participants.

Mana Kawabe (179.09) won the women’s event, with Nana Araki (174.10) taking second and Hana Yoshida (169.41) finishing third.

Sena Miyake (203.76) took the title in the men’s competition, Lucas Honda (191.19) placed second, while Tatsuya Tsuboi (184.79) came in third.

The top 15 finishers in both disciplines qualified for this month’s junior nationals in Yokohama.

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