Hanyu looks to continue strong start by Japan men
Often the campaign following an Olympic season can be a letdown.
Some skaters retire (Daisuke Takahashi, Akiko Suzuki), others chose to sit out (Mao Asada, Patrick Chan), and some don’t quite have the same motivation that drives them when the quadrennial event is on the calendar.
But any thoughts of a malaise in Japan were quickly dispatched after Tatsuki Machida (Skate America) and Takahito Mura (Skate Canada) won the first two Grand Prix events of the season. Both victories were impressive in their own right, with Machida winning by nearly 35 points in Illinois, and Mura overtaking Spain’s Javier Fernandez for the title in British Columbia.
Machida and Mura’s triumphs were inspiring, but only serve as the undercard to the highly anticipated return to the ice of Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu in Shanghai this week at the Cup of China.
Hanyu’s spectacular 2013-14 season saw him win the Grand Prix Final, Japan national crown, Olympic gold medal and world title. Pretty hard to top that.
The 19-year-old Sendai native will begin the long road to the 2018 Pyeongchang Games after a busy offseason that saw him in great demand for both shows and commercial endorsements. Such are the spoils of glory.
Hanyu was originally scheduled to compete in the Finlandia Trophy in early October, but pulled out with a back injury.
Now it is back to business and the first goal will be qualifying for this season’s GP Final in Barcelona, Spain, next month, where he could well be joined by both Machida and Mura.
Machida came into his own last season, winning both of his GP events (Skate America, Cup of Russia), finishing fourth at the GP Final, fifth at the Olympics and second behind Hanyu at both the worlds and nationals. Even though the 24-year-old is a late bloomer in skating terms, he has shown that he has every intention of pushing Hanyu just as hard as he did last season.
Machida’s free skate to “The Firebird” last season moved just about everybody who saw it, including fans, judges and fellow skaters. Machida seemed to think he was enjoying his one and only shot at the brass ring during the Olympic campaign, but it looks like he may have spoken too soon.
If he maintains his current form, he will definitely be in contention for a spot on Japan’s Olympic team in 2018. He was so fast on his spins at Skate America that they looked like they could have been clocked with a speed gun. His huge margin of victory was the largest on the GP circuit since 2006.
The Kansai University student will compete next at the Trophee Bompard in Bordeaux, France, in two weeks.
Mura’s victory at Skate Canada was a welcome one for him following an inconsistent season. He did win the Four Continents last season, but finished sixth at nationals and off the podium in both of his GP events. With Takahashi and Nobunari Oda retired, the 23-year-old Mura now has a chance to really put himself into the conversation as an elite skater.
Mura, who was born in Chiba but now lives in Nagoya, will skate next at the Cup of Russia later this month.
Overlooked in the wake of Mura’s surprise win at Skate Canada was the third-place finish of young Satoko Miyahara, one of Japan’s bright hopes for the future. The result marked the first time the 16-year-old Miyahara, who hails from Kyoto, has made the podium at a senior GP event.
The petite Miyahara, who stands just 147 cm, displays a real elegance in her skating. She showed last season that she can compete on the big stage, when she took fourth at nationals behind Suzuki, Kanako Murakami and Mao.
Looking good: Japan’s junior contingent concluded a fine GP season by securing five of the 12 berths in the JGP Final next month. Shoma Uno was the second overall qualifier (behind China’s Jin Boyang) for the men, while Sota Yamamoto came in fifth in the standings.
After finishing second in the Aichi JGP in September, Uno qualified with a victory in the Croatia JGP. Yamamoto clinched his ticket with second-place showing in the France and Estonia competitions.
The outlook was even brighter on the women’s side, where three of the six skaters in Barcelona will be Japanese. Wakaba Higuchi was third in the final standings after taking second place in the Czech Republic and winning in Germany.
Higuchi will be joined by Yuka Nagai, who was second at both Slovenia and Aichi. Miyu Nakashio earned her spot via a fourth-place finish in France and a victory in Estonia.
The results prove that Japan has several promising prospects in the coming years.
Interesting: Two-time world champion Miki Ando was back in the news recently after weekly Japanese magazine Josei Jishin ran a photo of her kissing Fernandez on the lips at Shin-Yokohama Station. Fernandez, 23, had been in the country to compete in the Japan Open.
I can recall Ando complaining to me a few years back about how she was constantly being followed by photographers. “These guys follow me and try to hide,” she said with disgust.
Not sure what to make of this, but it is worth noting that the Spanish usually bid farewell to friends with a kiss on both cheeks. So you will have to be the judge of what it means.
It is worth noting that under “relationship status” on her Facebook page the 26-year-old Ando, who has an 18-month-old daughter, lists “It’s complicated.”
I’m sure that many can relate to that.