Figure Skating

Top young skaters back in the spotlight at Japan Junior Championships

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Yuma Kagiyama and Shun Sato will be in the spotlight this weekend at the Japan Junior Championships at Shin-Yokohama Skate Center. Both skaters have qualified for next month’s prestigious Junior Grand Prix Final in Italy.

Kagiyama, a 16-year-old from Yokohama, finished first and second in his two JGP assignments this season and comes into the event as the favorite. He is the son of two-time Olympian Masakazu Kagiyama.

Sato, a 15-year-old from Sendai, placed first and third in his two JGPs this campaign and is known for his jumping prowess. Sato took second place at this event last year.

Kagiyama and Sato will not only be battling for the title, but also an automatic berth at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland, in January.

The singles competition starts on Saturday with the short program, while the free skate will be held on Sunday.

Kagiyama, who will skate fifth in the short program, has targeted the Youth Olympics as one of his goals since before the season began.

“I hope to win here and make the Youth Olympics,” Kagiyama stated on Friday evening at the draw. “Shun is my main rival, so I will have to beat him to win.”

Sato, who will take the ice 18th, made his desire very clear.

“I going for the title here and the spot at the Youth Olympics,” Sato told The Japan Times. “My recent training has been going well.”

Other contenders for the men’s title include defending champion Tatsuya Tsuboi and rising star Kao Miura.

The women’s event this year has multiple contenders for the top spot, with last season’s titlist Yuhana Yokoi having moved on to the senior ranks.

Mana Kawabe, who won the West Japan sectionals two weeks ago, is the favorite based on her recent performances. Kawabe, a 15-year-old from Nagoya who trains under Mie Hamada, came in fourth and fifth at her two JGPs this season.

Nana Araki, who was second last year, and Tomoe Kawabata, who took third, are both back and will be in the running to make the podium again.

Kawabe will skate eighth in the short program, while Kawabata will be 19th and Araki 23rd of the 30 skaters entered.

Other skaters with a shot at a medal include Rino Matsuike, who was third in her lone JGP assignment, Hana Yoshida and Chisato Uramatsu.

The top six finishers in both the men’s and women’s field will qualify to skate in next month’s Japan championships in Tokyo.

The top names in Japan skating history have won the men’s junior crown, including Takeshi Honda (1995), Daisuke Takahashi (2001), Takahiko Kozuka (2005), Tatsuki Machida (2006), Yuzuru Hanyu (2008, 2009) and Shoma Uno (2014).

Women’s champions through the years have been Midori Ito (1983), Yuka Sato (1988, 1989), Shizuka Arakawa (1995, 1996, 1997), Yukari Nakano (2000), Miki Ando (2002, 2003, 2004), Mao Asada (2005), Satoko Miyahara (2012, 2013) and Rika Kihira (2017).