Hiro Yoshida and Seán Gillis are in Sapporo covering Japanese nationals for IFS this weekend. Hiro reports on the opening reception and draw.


The first thing I did when I got here was buy a pair of shoes to wear in the snow. I am glad to report that I had no falls today!

Official practices are run a little bit differently than at most competitions. Warm-up groups have seven or eight skaters each and for each skater their music is played, but cut off at two and a half minutes. Even for skaters who practiced their short, the music cut out in the middle of the last spin sometimes. And before one warm-up group was done with their bows, the next group of skaters was on the ice. Practices will take place as per ISU rules starting tomorrow.

An opening ceremony and draw at the press conference room was held today and every skater competing here was in attendance. Mao Asada was the last skater to arrive although she still made it on time — she checked her phone to confirm she wasn’t late. The male skaters all sat together on one side and all the female skaters on the other. None of the skaters wanted to sit in the first row, so some things are the same the world over.

Given that many of the competitors are still in junior and senior high school, a number of them showed up in their school uniforms. It was sometimes difficult to tell who was who. I didn’t have a school uniform when I was in high school so I wonder what I would have worn. Maybe a suit, like some of the older skaters? It certainly was a contrast with the draw at Russian nationals and there was definitely no cleavage on show in Sapporo.

An oath on behalf of all the skaters was taken by Jun Suzuki, a student from Hokkaido University who is competing in the men’s event. The defending champions from men and ladies, Yuzuru Hanyu and Satoko Miyahara, handed back the trophies and received replicas.

This is the 84th time the Japan Figure Skating Championships have been held and the third time they have come to Sapporo. The Sekisui Heim Ice Arena, known previously as the Makomanai Ice Arena, hosted some figure skating events, ice hockey games and the closing ceremony of the 1972 Winter Olympics.

The 1984 World Junior Figure Skating Championships were also held here in December 1983 in lieu of that year’s NHK Trophy. Four skaters from that event would go on to become World champions and Olympic medalists: Viktor Petrenko, Midori Ito, Evgeni Platov and Ingo Steuer.

The Mikaho Gymnasium, the practice rink for the competition, was another venue for figure skating at the 1972 Winter Olympics and it was there Janet Lynn had her famous fall on a flying sit spin that endeared her to the Japanese public.

The press center is a five-minute walk from the Sekisui Heim Arena and is housed in a small gymnasium. The weather has been OK today — a little cold — but blizzards are forecast for the weekend. I hope I won’t get lost! I am trying to cope with the jet lag so I hope to get over that first before the snow comes. At least with my new shoes I won’t slip.