Japanese Nationals: All Hail Queen Mao and King Daisuke~!

The Grand Prix series are over but that means that a slew of national competitions are a-coming. For the more avid figure skating fans, we know that national competitions are not created equal. Some of them are a lot more exciting to watch than others, while some national competitions are only worth watch because of one event. For Japan, they have one of the best national competitions because of their singles field. The top 3 contenders in ladies and men are competitors who have the potential to clinch a medal at Worlds – either this season or in a future season.

In terms of the podium, the rankings were pretty predictable once Papa Oda withdrew from injury. With that note, let’s start with the men.

Daisuke obviously won gold at Nationals but not without his fair share of mistakes. His SP was mesmerizing and complete with a lovely 4T-3T that was – finally – clean. His flow and expression are absolutely gorgeous and I think this is the best he’s ever skated this SP so far.

His LP, however, was not as great. From the outset, you could tell that this was not going to be his best skate. He was leaning too forward in the air in his 4T at the beginning of his program but at least he recovered well for his lovely 3A. What I love about Daisuke is that he always sells his program because of his wonderful musicality and expression. In comparison, I think the only time I’ve seen Chan really relate to his music was with Phantom of the Opera at 2011 Worlds and even then, he can’t quite compare to Daisuke. Then again, it’s the judges opinions (sadly) that matter. Unfortunately, this performance was also marred with a fall on the second 3A and a 3Lz. Not his best but we know that he can do better.

On the bright side, this is the first time that I actually *got* the choreography. Maybe I’m just dense or I wasn’t watching closely enough but the movements are choreographed very precisely to the music. I’m very impressed that Daisuke managed to keep up with it with all those mistakes. In any case, ganbare Daisuke, even though you won’t win Worlds. Even if you skate clean and Chan falls. At least we’ll have another beautiful gem to add to the figure skating library.

In second was the shy and understated, Takahiko Kozuka.What was impressive about his SP was that there were interesting intricacies and his jumps were so fast and tight in the air. What did not impress me was 1) his penchant for skating to elevator music 2) the fact that the song is called “Inner Urge” but there was no sexiness to it and 3) he had just as much expression as PChan in his “Take 5” program which in other words, means not a lot. It’s such a pity because this kid has wonderful edges and great flow but I’m not quite feeling his pointing and head nodding and large arm movements. I think there was more expression in his face when he did that fist pump after his program ended. Sigh. Come on kid, take some acting classes. Anything. Please.

Takahiko’s long program went pretty smoothly even though he fell on his second 3A. However, I thought that the bigger problem was again his inability to emote. Joe Hisaishi is a genius and a lot of the Japanese crowd have watched Nausicaa and the Valley of Wind. It’s not a boring movie/manga. It’s actually quite deep and if you read the comic, the characters are absolutely fascinating. This program, however, is not. I can’t get over how boring it is to be able to appreciate the finer points of the choreography. It’s such a pity because I love the music (even though I don’t love the film – the comic was so much better) and I think the skater is talented but he’s just not working it.

My darling boy, Yuzuru Hanyu took the bronze without shoving Oda off the podium. Oda was off with injury and Yuzuru naturally took his place. The youngster did encounter problems in his SP, however, he tripled his quad and 2-footed it and ended up in 4th place. The good news? At least he knew how to count and understood the zayak rule and doubled his 3T at the end of his combination. In that respect, we can confirm that he’s better than Oda. His 3As are seriously impressive as well. He always makes the entrance into them difficult but he lands them beautifully. For a youngin, he sells his programs the way that Takahiko can’t and even though this wasn’t his best performance, I have to say that it was mesmerizing to watch. Like Daisuke, this kid has really good flow and expression.

Yuzuru did recover in the LP with my absolute most favourite program of the season. He singled the last salchow – there’s always some sort of problem with that salchow – and was clearly slower in the 2nd half but he gave that program his all. His passion clearly shone through and I think what makes this program so amazing is that Yuzuru really does portray Romeo. As much as I hate the play, I love the music and Yuzuru is that young, impulsive, passionate Romeo we see in the story. He’s convincing and sells the program like no one else. The music is overused but I think this kid has really made it his own. If Yuzuru improves his stamina, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him run past Takahiko on the podium next year. This kid already has a lot more fans.

Mao, our darling trooper, competed at Nationals despite her personal tragedy. She was second in both portions of the competition but managed to scrape a win. Her SP was clean but no 3A. The choreography wasn’t exactly the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen but Mao’s athleticism and speed shows through. Strangely enough, she was only second to Kanako by 0.16.

Mao skated a lovely program but lost steam in the last part of her program. She doubled a 3S and a 3Lp (she also stepped out of this) and didn’t do the 3A. Nonetheless, this is a good skate for her and the smile and the teary look she had said it all. This girl is so brave. She never gave up even when her career looked like it was in shambles after a successful Olympic season and now she’s skating through the hurt of her personal tragedy. You go, Mao-chan!

Akiko Suzuki came in second place – not unexpected but this girl is also a trooper but in a different way. Being perennially in second place is tough because let’s face it – the worst demon you ever have to face is yourself. The feeling of always being second place brings about thoughts of giving up. Then there was Akiko’s disastrous season last year when she was beaten by the young Kanako Murakami. Akiko’s return to the Japanese podium is definitely a triumphant one and she should be seeing it as an all-around victory, rather than another silver medal. Akiko still has a lot to work on but the way she’s holding herself with more confidence this season marks a change for the better.

You can actually see this so clearly in her short. Akiko started her program badly by singling the 3T at the end of her 3T-3T combination. However, from the outset, there was a commitment and passion in her. This girl wants to win and she’s not giving up. The best quality to Akiko’s skating is that she never lets any of her mistakes affect the rest of her performance. She seemed to skate with an even bigger determination after her botched combination. Don’t be upset with yourself, Akiko, you can do better next time!

There were quite a few mistakes in Akiko’s LP and she didn’t quite skate with as much gusto as she did her SP but she still managed to win that portion of the competition somehow.

Kanako Murakami had to settle with the bronze this year, though this is not unexpected since her season hasn’t been as successful this year as it was last year. Some of this could be attributed to boot problems. However, Kanako still managed to win the SP but placed 6th in the LP. Still, she managed to scrape a bronze medal. I’m not sure if I should be losing hope for Kanako at this point in her career. On one hand, she’s young but on the other, she’s always lacked consistency in her LP. I guess this is another one of these “time will tell” things.

From the results of Japanese Nationals, I think that public sympathy and clean skates should be able to propel Mao back to her World title while Akiko should definitely try her best to get on the World podium this year. Some of her competitors will have to make mistakes but she’s definitely within reach of the top 5. As for the men, I think that Daisuke will be able to give us some spectacular performances at Worlds but ultimately lose against Chan, who could fall numerous times and still win.

What are your thoughts on the strong Japanese singles field?

~The Rinkside Cafe


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. andanta
    Jan 05, 2012 @ 02:45:16

    The best quality to Akiko’s skating is that she never lets any of her mistakes affect the rest of her performance. She seemed to skate with an even bigger determination after her botched combination.
    I said almost the same words after her Skate Canada. I remember seeing the skaters before her. When they made mistakes they just gave up and went through the motions with such pain that they became a pain to watch. Then came Akiko. She made a mistake too. I thought.. Shit! Not another unhappy girl… But no, she looked delightful, passionate and concentrated, still fighting. I just fell for her right away.


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