Figure Skating | ICE TIME

Satoko Miyahara still formidable, but can she win in future?

by Jack Gallagher

Satoko Miyahara earned the silver medal in her Grand Prix season debut at the Cup of China on Saturday, finishing behind Russian teen Anna Shcherbakova.

The 21-year-old Miyahara put on another classic performance, displaying beautiful line and edge, but was well behind Shcherbakova, who won with a total of 226.04 points. Miyahara’s tally was 211.18, which put her just ahead of Russia’s Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (209.10), who came in third.

Miyahara has struggled with under-rotations on her jumps in recent years, but otherwise represents everything an elite skater should be — elegant, poised, formidable.

“Today I felt my body very good, better than yesterday,” Miyahara stated after her free skate to “Schindler’s List.” “But I was still trying too hard at the end of the program.”

Miyahara then mentioned the upcoming challenge that awaits her.

“My next Grand Prix is in Russia next week,” Miyahara commented. “This is the first time for me to do two Grand Prix in a row and I am excited about that, but also need to take care of my body.”

Tara Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic champion, talked about Miyahara’s jumping on the NBC telecast of the Cup of China during her free skate.

“She knew she needed to up her technical game,” Lipinski said. “She made the move to coach Lee Barkell to work on her technique. He coaches Gabby Daleman from Canada. That’s a perfect example of someone who jumps with great height and that’s exactly what Satoko needs — more height to finish that rotation.”

Three-time U.S. champion Johnny Weir, working alongside Lipinski on NBC, provided some insight on Miyahara’s attempt to improve her collection of jumps.

“Satoko was working on the triple axel this summer,” noted Weir. “She was quite close many times that I saw it. Liza Tuktamysheva was actually cheering her on for those attempts.”

Weir then detailed what a skater feels when they have an under-rotation.

“A skater absolutely knows when they do have an under-rotation,” Weir commented. “It isn’t a shock for them. What it actually feels like on your foot, it’s almost as if somebody kicks your foot out of the way if you’re in their way.”

Lipinski and Weir were united in their praise of Miyahara’s skills.

“She is the master of the component score,” Lipinski stated. “Impeccable skating quality, edges, artistry, interpretation of music. It was like an angel on the ice.”

“Like all of her performances, every note is accentuated,” Weir remarked. “This is a skater whose program components carry her through the competition.”

Lipinski summarized her view of the beauty of Miyahara’s skating.

“For a comparison between her and the other skaters, it’s as if the other skaters are skating in black and white and she is skating in color,” Lipinski said.

Athleticism vs. artistry

With Miyahara making the podium but finishing well behind Shcherbakova in Chongqing, the issue of the future direction of skating comes into focus again.

Miyahara did have under-rotations, that is irrefutable. But going forward, will skaters like Miyahara have a chance to win with the way the rules now favor the youngsters who can land quadruple jumps?

It is a fair question.

Shcherbakova was the third Russian teen to win a GP event this season, and there is a very good chance that her she and her female compatriots will sweep all six GP titles this campaign.

The way the Eteri Tutberidze is churning out young star after star, like cars on an assembly line, it makes you wonder how other nations are going to be able to compete with her stable anytime soon.

All credit to Tutberidze for creating a program that sees her skaters maximize their scores while racking up victory after victory.

But is this really good for the future of skating?

Some observers believe the rules should be changed so that the age limit is raised for skaters to be able to compete in the senior ranks.

I don’t see much inertia for that happening.

There has also been talk that the ISU is going to make big changes after the 2022 Beijing Olympics, perhaps creating an athletic and an artistic program to replace the current short program and free skate.

If this comes to pass, it will be interesting to see how the scoring in the two programs is weighted.

Will it be 50 percent of the total score for each program?

Or will the artistic program be worth 70 percent?

Skating legend Dick Button is not confident that an equitable solution will be arrived at.

“The ISU has no idea of what it is doing,” wrote Button in an email to Ice Time on Monday. “It will get it wrong no matter which way it goes.

“It should be either athletic or artistic . . . don’t mix. That’s where it runs into trouble.”

ISU announcer Ted Barton offered some firm thoughts on the issue.

“We should never lower the technical standards because some have not yet reached them,” Barton wrote in an email to Ice Time on Monday. “If we did then we should not allow the Japanese skaters to skate so fast because many others do not.”

Barton continued with this: “An athletic program and artistic program would level the playing field to a degree.”

Barton believes what we are seeing now is the cyclical nature of skating.

“The rest of the world must now try and catch the Russians,” he wrote. “In a few years someone will surpass them and we all will have to chase the new leaders in skating. That is simply put . . . sport.”

The ISU will certainly be facing some difficult decisions in a couple of years.

Will it seek to counterbalance the current Russian domination of women’s skating with rules changes or allow the status quo to continue?

Only time will tell.

Tanaka misses chance

Keiji Tanaka went into the Cup of China with a legitimate shot at locking up a spot in the GP Final, but lost it by coming in fifth behind winner Jin Boyang (261.53) of China. Tanaka (233.62) had taken the bronze at Skate Canada in his first GP this season.

Tanaka’s mistakes in the short program, where he was seventh, were costly. He tripled the front end of his planned quad toe loop/double toe loop combination, and earned only a level two on his step sequence.

Tanaka’s result in China was a pity, but was representative of how he has struggled with consistency throughout his career.

Cup of Russia next up

The GP circuit moves to Moscow this week for the Cup or Russia. Miyahara, Yuna Shiraiwa and Yuhana Yokoi will represent the Hinomaru in the women’s event, while Shoma Uno and Kazuki Tomono will take the ice for Japan in the men’s competition.

With her second-place finish in China, Miyahara will be looking to lock up a spot in the GP Final with another podium placement. It won’t be easy, however, as the field in Russia will include Alexandra Trusova, two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva and American Mariah Bell.

Uno will be looking to get back on track after his senior career-worst eighth-place showing at the Internationaux de France two weeks ago. Tomono was fifth at Skate America last month.

The lineup in France will also feature Russia’s Alexander Samarin, who was second in France, and Dmitri Aliev, third at Skate America, as well as Canada’s Nam Nguyen, who took the silver at Skate Canada.

Japan Junior Championships

The junior nationals begin this Friday at the Shin-Yokohama Skate Center and will showcase the country’s top young skaters.

Yuma Kagiyama and Shun Sato, who have both qualified for next month’s Junior GP Final, will top the men’s roster, along with Kao Miura and last year’s champion Tatsuya Tsuboi.

The battle for the women’s title should be interesting and will include Mana Kawabe, Nana Araki, Hana Yoshida and Rino Matsuike.

This year’s event has special relevance, as the winner of both competitions will receive a trip to represent Japan at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland, in January.