Even living legends can have an off night, and that is what happened at the Japan Championships on Sunday, as Yuzuru Hanyu struggled through an error-filled free skate that helped hand Shoma Uno his fourth straight national title.
Uno had a few miscues of his own, but nothing like his more famous rival this evening. The 22-year-old took home the crown with a total of 290.57 points, with Hanyu placing second at 282.77 and junior Yuma Kagiyama finishing third on 257.99.
Keiji Tanaka (252.44), last year’s runner-up, was fourth, with junior Shun Sato (246.50) coming in fifth.
Daisuke Takahashi, in his final competition as a singles skater, ended up 12th with 204.31.
Uno skated to “Dancing on my Own” and landed three quadruple jumps on the way to victory. He received level fours for all of his spins and step sequence.
“It was not my best skate, but I feel like I really enjoyed it,” Uno commented. “I have had a really hard time this season and finally could enjoy the training and competition for the first time in a while,” Uno stated. “If everyone skates their best, the result should be different.”
Uno, who took the title at nationals the past three years while Hanyu was absent due to illness and injury, tempered expectations for the world championships after his win here.
“I will not set the goal as a gold medal like last year, but I want to enjoy the training and competition,” Uno commented.
Hanyu competed to “Origin” and attempted four quads, but was only able to land one — a salchow — cleanly. The two-time Olympic champion stepped out on the landing of his opening quad loop, double a planned triple lutz and under-rotated three jumps including a fall on a triple axel.
Hanyu did earn level fours for all of his spins, but that was not enough to offset the errors he made.
“There is no good point at all from today’s performance,” Hanyu noted. “I tried to recover using my brain, but I could not control my brain and body at the same time.”
Hanyu paid tribute to Uno, the silver medalist at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
“With this result, Shoma can finally say he is the Japanese champion,” Hanyu said. “I congratulate him on the victory.”
Kagiyama, who was seventh after the short program, had the best skate of the night from start to finish. The 16-year-old, who will represent Japan at the Youth Olympic Games next month in Lausanne, Switzerland, was absolutely fantastic to “Tucker,” clinically landing every jump while exhibiting good line and edge.
Kagiyama’s father Masakazu, a two-time Olympian who coaches his son, looked on from rinkside as his prodigy ticked off his elements with precision. Kagiyama landed two quads and posted level fours on all of his spins to make the podium.
“Because the short program was bad, I felt there was nothing to lose, so I could do my best,” Kagiyama stated. “It was a good experience to compete with talented senior skaters.”
Sato, who was third after the short program, skated to “Romeo and Juliet” and fell on his opening quad lutz. He recovered to land a quad toe loop/double toe loop combination and another quad toe loop,
Tanaka skated to “Sherlock Holmes” and landed two quads, but confessed that the pressure got to him.
“I was really, really nervous, so I barely remember what I did,” Tanaka admitted. “I will look back tomorrow and check my mistakes, so I can improve more. I can’t make a big jump in improvement at once, I need to go step-by-step.”
Takahashi competed to “Pale Green Ghosts” and gave it his all. He had a few issues with his jumps, but it hardly mattered on this night. The five-time national champion was given a rapturous sendoff by the capacity crowd when he finished, with a long standing ovation, followed by chants of “Dai-chan, Dai-chan, Dai-chan!”
“I feel refreshed as if I have graduated from singles skating,” Takahashi remarked. “I have many regrets because it wasn’t my best skate at all. I feel it is my limit to be a singles skater.”
Takahashi spoke about his transition to ice dance starting next month.
“I will need to start from the bottom as a beginner in ice dance,” Takahashi said. “I was thinking about the next step of ice dance, which made it difficult to concentrate on singles. I will continue skating, so I didn’t feel as if this was the end.”
One hour after the conclusion of the men’s free skate, the Japan Skating Federation announced the teams for the senior and junior world championships and the Four Continents.
The worlds will be held March 16-22 in Montreal. Japan’s team is:
Shoma Uno, Yuzuru Hanyu, Keiji Tanaka
Rika Kihira, Wakaba Higuchi, Satoko Miyahara
The Four Continents will take place Feb. 4-9 in Seoul. Japan’s team is:
Shoma Uno, Yuzuru Hanyu, Yuma Kagiyama
Rika Kihira, Wakaba Higuchi, Kaori Sakamoto
The world juniors will be staged March 2-8 in Tallinn, Estonia. Japan’s team is:
Yuma Kagiyama, Shun Sato
Mana Kawabe, Tomoe Kawabata
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