When I arrived at Makomanai subway station on my way to the second day of Japanese Nationals at the Sekisui Heim Ice Arena, there were several young women standing outside in the freezing cold holding signs looking for spare tickets for today’s session.
With both the ladies short program and the men’s free skating taking place, trying to obtain a ticket looked like it was proving to be more difficult than a quadruple Salchow. I had seen online auctions where tickets were being offered for more than $1000 and, even at prices like that, there were takers.
The overriding atmosphere during the men’s free this evening was one of sheer tension. Fittingly enough, the current star of Japanese skating, Yuzuru Hanyu, closed the show even if it wasn’t with one of his vintage performances. He began his “Seimei” program really well with a stunning quad Salchow and a terrific quad toe loop. He looked on course to repeat his feats at NHK Trophy and the Grand Prix Final, but midway through things unraveled. The Olympic champion fell on a second quad toe and then on a triple Axel, proving that he is actually human after all.
Even with the errors, it was still far and away the best performance of the night, and a free score of 183.73 gave him a total of 286.36 and a fourth consecutive national title.
After a superb skate yesterday, Shoma Uno was under pressure to hold onto second place and a possible spot at the World Championships. Unfortunately, he started and finished his “Nessun Dorma” routine with a double toe, which lost him valuable points. A score of 169.21 was only good enough for third in the free, but his combined marks of 267.15 kept him in second place. He will find out tomorrow evening if he has made the cut for the Japanese team for senior Worlds for the first time.
Takahito Mura had to fight hard through his program, which he performed to “O” from Cirque de Soleil. He put a hand down to save his opening quad toe and singled a triple Axel. Mura also battled with the landing of the second part of a triple Axel-triple toe, but he did enough to take second in the free with a score of 170.20, and secured the bronze with a total of 263.46.
In the ladies short program, the best was saved till last. Satoko Miyahara calmly and quietly took to the ice as the final skater of the segment and then electrified the entire arena with her interpretation of “Fire Dance” to finish things off with a bang. The 2015 World silver medalist landed a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, a triple flip and a double Axel and had all her spins and her step sequence graded Level 4 to score 73.24, putting her firmly on course to retain her national title. We’ll have to see tomorrow if her outstanding consistency holds true.
Rika Hongo leapt into second with a clean short to “Incantation” that included a triple flip, a triple toe-triple toe combination and a double Axel that gave her 68.39 points. The Sendai native is now based in Nagoya and the influence of Akiko Suzuki, who choreographed her short, really showed.
Wakaba Higuchi has all three of her jumping passes in the second half of her short to reap the points bonus and that strategy worked well for her today. Skating to “Mambo Fantasy”, the two-time Japanese Junior national champion nailed a triple Lutz-triple toe combination midway through her routine. She had to step out of a triple flip, but came back with a nice double Axel. A score of 67.48 put her in third place.
The comeback of Mao Asada to Japanese nationals after a break last season did not get off to the greatest start. The three-time World champion stepped out of an under rotated triple Axel and then had to put a hand down on what was deemed to be an under rotated triple flip. The double loop she tacked on to the flip was downgraded to a single.
Everyone in the building breathed a sigh of relief when she landed a good triple loop. She closed out her “Bei Mir Mist Du Schoen” program well, but it was too little too late. A score of 62.03 has her in fifth place. She will be aiming to move up tomorrow in the free.