2011 Nationals Japan: Changing of the Guard

Elina Paasonen
Takahiko Kozuka

The 2011 Japanese national championships, which were held in Nagano in late December, were one of the most anticipated events of the season.

With the World Championships set to take place in Tokyo in late March there was a lot on the line. The results at nationals were the determining factor for who would represent Japan at the global event.

It has been a breakout season for Takahiko Kozuka, who defeated his Olympic teammates Nobunari Oda and Daisuke Takahashi to capture his first national crown.

Kozuka won the short program by a comfortable margin, and despite technical issues in the long earned a combined score of 251.93 which gave him a solid 14-point lead over Oda, the runner-up.

“I was so thrilled to stand on the top of the podium. I think I’ve grown as a skater after experiencing a lot of things this year,” Kozuka told the Japanese press.

He is the first man in his nation’s skating history to follow in his father’s footsteps as a national champion. His father, Tsuguhiko, claimed the national title three times (1966-68).

It has been a silver season for Oda, who skated into second at both of his Grand Prix assignments, the final and again at nationals. His score in Nagano was 237.48.

Takahashi did not fare well at the last two events he contested. He failed to medal at the final, and after placing fourth in the short at nationals, had to put down a solid free skate to land on the podium. He captured the bronze with 236.79 points.

Miki Ando claimed the ladies title with Mao Asada and Kanako Murakami skating into second and third, respectively.

Ando, second after the short, put down a clean free skate and collected 202.34 points. It was her first national victory in six years. “I was so happy to win. This was the biggest meet in Japan and the most nerve-racking this season,” she admitted.

The highlight of the event was the resurgence of Mao Asada, who won the short and placed second overall with 193.69 points.

Prior to the competition the 20-year-old Nagoya native confessed she had doubts about her future following a disastrous start to the season.

“Since I began taking lessons from my coach, I’ve been having sore muscles,” said the four-time national champion who now trains under Nobuo Sato.

Murakami, the 2010 World Junior champion, claimed the bronze medal with 187.52 points.

It was a disappointing competition for Akiko Suzuki, 25, who landed in seventh after the short and placed fourth overall with 175.96. Risa Shoji, 14, was fifth.

Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran, the reigning junior Grand Prix Final champions who call Canada home, were the only team in the pairs discipline. They captured their second senior title with a score of 172.05 points.

Two couples contested the ice dance event. Cathy Reed and Chris Reed, who live and train in the U.S., claimed their third national crown with 127.71 points.

The Japanese World singles team will comprise Kozuka, Oda, Takahashi, Ando, Asada and Murakami.

Originally published in April 2011