There’s nothing like watching a handful of performances from this past weekend’s Japan Nationals to remind you just how freakin’ deep their pool of talent goes right now when it comes to singles skating.
And as you start to think that maybe there’s a loophole that will open up this year and allow the top 4 or 5 to come to worlds – they are that good—you sigh with the knowledge that 3 is the max for any country, even the best ones.
With regards to the men, Takahiko Kozuka proved that his outscore of Daisuke Takahashi at the GP Final was no fluke. While his FS was way off his season best—he fell on both the 4T and a 3sal near the end, to name the biggest flaws—Kozuka built up a strong enough lead in the SP to hold on for gold. Nobunari Oda was 0-for-2 on quad attempts at this event, taking falls in both the SP and FS (plus a splat during his footwork in the SP), but he was 2nd overall. It was a very slim margin between Oda and Dice-K, though, with component scores likely saving the latter when he flipped out of the back end of his 3/3 jump in the SP, had a weird delayed flip out of the 3axel, and flipped out of yet another jump in the FS. Dice-K took the bronze over Yuzuru Hanyu, Takahito Mura, Tatsuki Machida, and Daisuke Murakami—all of whom competed the GP circuit this season, but are just going to have to wait another year (or until one of these 3 outstanding men blinks) to make it into the top 3.
The ladies event was a bittersweet one for me to watch. Miki Ando was back to her consistent-yet-dull self; she attempted no 3/3’s but perhaps that was for the best as she ended up winning for the first time in a number of years. Kanako Murakami continued her breakout season with two clean and admittedly pretty good skates, and won another bronze medal—this time the kind of bronze that gets you a ticket to Worlds. (She just won one at the GP Final too.)
These ladies weren’t the wild cards though… that role was left to Mao Asada, who lately has looked like she might not even land a waltz jump properly anymore, let alone a triple axel. But Asada has once again proven to thrive on pressure. When a world team slot was on the line, she skated cleaner than we’ve seen all season; a clean triple axel in the SP, another attempt in the FS (underrotated), with all the other triples appeared clean and complete. It was good enough for second, and that appeared good enough for both a relieved Asada and the wildly supportive crowd. (Here it is as the Clip of the Day in case you’re interested.)
Unfortunately, Asada’s gain (or re-gain) to podium-quality skating was Akiko Suzuki’s loss. Not that she skated her best by any stretch—she had a cross-footed landing on her triple lutz in the SP, a flip out of the back end of her double axel/triple toe loop, and another cross-foot mess on a triple flip. Both cross-foots were uncharacteristic and looked like concentration breaks, but whatever they were, they were mistakes she could ill afford amidst so much talent. She finished the championships in 4th place, which means Four Continents (to which she’ll surely be assigned) might be her last hurrah… unless she can be convinced to stick around another year. But as long as she’s been at this, who could blame her if she decides to let the youngsters—the Kanako Murakamis and Risa Shojis of Japan—duke it out?
Russian Nationals are in progress now, so I’ll share those results as the week progresses.