Figure Skating

Yuma Kagiyama, Mana Kawabe leave rivals in dust to win at Japan Junior Championships

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Yuma Kagiyama continued his surge toward the elite of the skating world with a dominating victory at the Japan Junior Championships on Sunday night.

The 16-year-old from Yokohama put on an amazing show of power and grace in his free skate to win the title going away with a score of 251.01 points at Shin-Yokohama Skate Center.

Kagiyama beat rival Shun Sato (213.20), who took second place, by more than 37 points in front of a packed house in the city he trains in.

Lucas Honda (194.75) was third, with last year’s champion Tatsuya Tsuboi (192.77) settling for fourth.

Mana Kawabe won the women’s crown earlier Sunday, with last year’s bronze medalist Tomoe Kawabata taking the silver. Hana Yoshida came in third.

Skating to the music from “Tucker,” the 158-cm Kagiyama opened with a quadruple toe loop/double toe loop combination and never looked back. He added another quad toe loop and cleanly landed seven triple jumps in an electric performance.

Kagiyama received a level three on one of his spins and a level two on his step sequence.

“When I look at just the score, it’s great,” Kagiyama stated. “But I had some mistakes and some level threes, so I think I could be better.”

Kagiyama, the son of two-time Olympian Masakazu Kagiyama, is already plotting to add more content to his programs.

“I want to try a quad flip and quad loop at senior nationals,” Kagiyama commented.

“I’m going to include a quad in my short program there. My goal is to get a medal at the senior nationals. I can see a medal there.”

Sato came into the free skate in third place, but just didn’t have it on this night. His opening quad lutz was downgraded, he received a low grade of execution on one of his triple axels and had trouble with two of his spins.

“Before the free skate I was very nervous,” Sato said. “I have not felt like that before. I regret the first part (of my program), but the second part was good. I felt my growth.

“I need to fix some mistakes before the senior nationals,” Sato added. “I haven’t done a no-miss program yet this season and I want to do it.”

Masakazu Kagiyama, who coaches his son, was pleased with the result.

“Compared to Shun and Tatsuya (Tsuboi), Yuma didn’t have any domestic titles,” Kagiyama remarked. “With this result he can be a rival to them.”

Yuma Kagiyama and Sato have a mutual admiration.

“Shun is my good rival on the ice and also my good friend off the ice,” Kagiyama commented.

“Yuma is my good rival,” Sato stated. “We want to grow together.”

Kawabe took the women’s title in dramatic fashion with a scintillating free skate that gave her a total score of 193.57.

The 15-year-old from Nagoya was the final skater of the competition and held a narrow lead over Kawabata, who finished second with 178.95, after the short program.

Kawabata competed two skaters before Kawabe and brought the house down with her performance to “Yumeji’s Theme,” and there was no doubt that Kawabe heard the thunderous cheers, yet on the biggest stage of her career she was unshaken.

Kawabe opened with a triple axel to “Black Swan” and that set the tone for her entire program. She landed eight triples and earned level fours on all of her spins and step sequence on the way to victory.

“This is unbelievable. I didn’t think I could win,” stated a euphoric Kawabe after the triumph. “It was my first time ever to land a triple axel at the competition. Good speed and imagination from my training made it possible.”

Kawabe, who did receive edge calls on both of her triple flips, is already looking ahead to future competitions.

“I need two triple axels to compete at the world level,” Kawabe said. “I will try it in the short program at senior nationals.”

Kawabata had three under-rotations and an edge call on her scoresheet, which contributed to the disparity in total points between her and Kawabe in the final standings.

“I was nervous during the six-minute warmup,” Kawabata noted. “But it was nice to have two good programs. I want to continue to perform like that.”

The 17-year-old, who trains under Yutaka Higuchi and Yukina Ota was asked about her future.

“I’m still not sure if I will go to seniors next season,” Kawabata commented. “I have to talk it over with my coaches.”

Yoshida (167.86) also landed a triple axel in her free skate, which helped her vault from 10th after the short program to finish third.

Momoka Hatasaki (164.95) was fourth, while Shiika Yoshioka (163.63) came in fifth.