Yuzuru Hanyu returned to the Japan Championships in stirring fashion on Friday night after a four-year absence, seizing the lead after the short program with another sublime performance.
It was a night of spectacular skating at Yoyogi National Gymnasium, and it was only fitting that the two-time Olympic champion emerged on top with a score of 110.72. Shoma Uno, the silver medalist behind Hanyu at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, is in second place with 105.21, while junior Shun Sato is third at 82.68.
Keiji Tanaka (80.90) is in fourth, while Koshiro Shimada (80.59) is fifth.
Daisuke Takahashi, who finished second last year, is far off the pace in 14th place on 65.95.
Hanyu skated to “Otonal” and mesmerized the crowd with his jumps, while displaying great line and edge. The 25-year-old didn’t miss a beat on the way to racking up the big score, opening with a beautiful quadruple salchow, then landing a quad toe loop/triple toe loop combination, before hitting a triple axel.
“I felt satisfied with the performance. I did feel pressure coming to nationals,” Hanyu stated. “I turned the pressure into power and energy. I was nervous before I skated.”
Hanyu said he was startled when he was introduced.
“It was the first time in four years (at nationals),” Hanyu noted. “I was confused when I only heard the announcement in Japanese. It has been that long.”
The four-time national champion moved his combination to the first half of the program and explained why.
“I put the combination in the first half because I wanted more GOE (grade of execution),” Hanyu said. “As long as I can land it well, it should be good. I changed the layout about one week ago.”
Hanyu received level fours for all of his spins and step sequence, but was not pleased with his triple axel which had a slightly awkward landing.
“The triple axel was a mistake for me,” Hanyu remarked. “I feel regret about that.”
Uno, who turned 22 this week, competed to “Great Spirit” and had his best outing of an uneven season. He opened with a big quad flip, then landed a quad toe loop/double toe loop combo and a triple axel with flourish, while new coach Stephane Lambiel cheered him on from rinkside.
“I’m very, very happy tonight,” Uno stated. “Last season I could not always do what I had done in training in competition. After the last Grand Prix I felt that I started to do well in training. I’m happy I could show a satisfying performance.”
Uno said his quad flip was not going well in practice.
“The flip was not 100 percent in practice, but I told myself that even if I make a mistake it will be OK,” Uno noted. “I did not want to make a mistake on the combination, so I made it a quad double instead of a quad triple.”
Uno, who earned level fours for his spins and step sequence, is looking forward to Sunday’s free skate.
“I want to do everything right and with detail in the free skate,” Uno said. “I won’t worry too much about mistakes. There is always success and failure. I used to get really upset with mistakes, but when you train 100 percent you should not be disappointed.”
Sato, the Junior Grand Prix Final champion, put on a rousing performance to “Arrivee des Comionneurs” that had the crowd standing when he finished. The 15-year-old from Sendai landed all of his jumps cleanly, topped off by a quad toe loop.
“I didn’t include the quad toe loop in my training in Saitama, but once we came to here Yoyogi, we changed it,” Sato stated. “We need it to get a higher score.”
Sato was pleased that he surpassed the 80-point mark.
“I had not reached 80 points yet, while overseas junior skaters have,” Sato noted. “So I really wanted to reach it.”
Sato is planning to include another quad in his free skate.
“I have confidence in the quad lutz, so I want to try it in the free skate and get a medal.”
Yuma Kagiyama, this season’s Japan junior champion, botched his opening triple axel to “Fate” an is in seventh with 77.41. The 16-year-old, who was sixth in this event last year, recovered to hit a quad toe loop and a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo.
Takahashi, competing in his final event as a singles skater at 33, performed to “The Phoenix” and had a rough go of it.
The five-time national champion under-rotated the back end of his opening triple flip/triple toe loop combo, had his triple axel downgraded, then fell on his triple lutz. He also had trouble on his spins and received just a level two on his step sequence.
“I felt very uncertain because I was injured a while ago. I wish I had another week or two to train,” Takahashi commented. “To be able to stand on this stage of the nationals is a luxury. I just wanted to enjoy the skate.”
Takahashi, the 2010 world champion, felt he expended too much energy early in his program.
“The music is powerful and tense, and I wanted to skate that way,” Takahashi stated. “But I used too much energy and felt tired in the second half of the program. I wish that I could be 10 years younger.”
Last season’s junior champion Tatsuya Tsuboi withdrew shortly before the short program Friday with an injury to his right ankle.
The nationals continue with the women’s free skate on Saturday. Rika Kihira leads, with Satoko Miyahara in second and last year’s champion Kaori Sakamoto in third.
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