|Mao Asada appears positively thrilled upon successfully defending her National Title|
This weekend the All-Japan Figure Skating Championships took place in Sapporo. They are easily one of the most hotly contested, if not the most hotly contested, National Championships around the globe. This year there were much-anticipated match ups between Akiko Suzuki and Mao Asada in the ladies' event and Daisuke Takahashi and Yuzuru Hanyu in the men' event.
Yuzuru Hanyu opened the competition by skating a 'blinder' of a short program that scored 97.68 points despite receiving lower components scores than Daisuke Takahashi. Hanyu has been benefitting from the new rules that allow a bonus for placing jumping passes in the second half of the short program. He executes both his Triple Axel and his Triple Lutz+Triple Toe competition in the second half, which is a big advantage.
An underrotated Quad Toe may very well have cost Daisuke Takahashi this championship. He lost 6.50 points to Hanyu on this element and could not overcome that deficit.
For the second time this season, a Japanese skater has performed the long program of their life only to be unable to make up the deficit after the short program. This is rather interesting, as many in skating applauded the way the new rules allows skaters outside of the top three to win the overall event with an incredible free skate. This season, we have found that the long program often isn't enough. Instinctively, fans react questioning whether a particular skater was robbed. For Daisuke Takahashi, it was his turn to receive the short end of the stick. One could certainly award him huge marks for interpretation and be justified. The level of command her has over the ice and the performance far exceeds Hanyu, yet it is not rewarded by the judges. That is something that is absolutely wrong with how the sport is judged.
Yuzuru Hanyu was said to be suffering from a virus prior to the event. Hanyu has struggled with skating two clean programs all season and has had noticeable stamina issues. While Orser appears to be pacing him and improving his performances with each outing, the sloppy landings of the first quads are questionable. Is it good for the sport for Hanyu to win by receiving such a dramatic lead in the short? It remains open for debate. He is certainly a talent that is improving. Will he be able to execute in Sochi?
Takahito Mura claimed the bronze.
In case anyone cares, the Reeds actually beat three other couples this year.
In practice sessions prior to the event, Mao Asada executed Triple Axels with ease. While she did not attempt them in the competition, the clips provided a glimmer of hope that the old Mao will return to competition.
Akiko Suzuki doubled her second jump in a planned Triple Toe+Triple Toe combination. Performing the Triple Toe+Triple Toe is a big risk points-wise if the second jump is doubled, but Akiko still found herself in first place after the short due to the mistakes of the rest of the field. Does sexy Akiko work for you?
The 'new Mao' returned in the short, as a popped Triple Loop is just something that we never saw from Mao as she came up through the ranks. It is a mistake that she cannot afford to make at Four Continents or the World Championships.
Kananko Muranko was lucky to be in fifth place without a jump combination. These mistakes are shocking in one of the strongest fields in the world.
Mao Asada earned another title despite a loss of concentration and a mistake on her Triple Flip late in the program. Despite a win at the the Grand Prix Final, it remains to be seen whether Mao can mentally compete with the best in the World. Her win at the Grand Prix Final benefitted from major uncharacteristic mistakes by Ashley Wagner. Mao is capable of finishing anywhere from first to sixth based on her performances this year. Without a consistent Triple Axel, Mao is going to need to earn points with her Triple Flips. She has made several errors on her second Triple Flip all year. While Mao's skating seems to be more inspired that is was during the last two seasons, some of the spark is still missing.
A fantastic fall season was almost all for nought for Akiko Suzuki in America, as mistakes on her Triple Flips left her in fourth place at the conclusion of the event. Akiko certainly proved that peacocks cannot fly with this performance. One has to wonder if she peaked too early at the NHK Trophy. Akiko has not been the same skater since giving the performance of her life. Unfortunately, this is the story of her career. She is easily one of the top five skaters in the world, but she will only earn a trip to worlds based on the fact that a skater ahead of her is too young.
Kanako Murakami has some busted, funky toe-jump technique, but it seems to be working for her lately. While Kanako has charisma, she breaks out of her performance when approaching into jumps. It is very characteristic of the students of her jumps-crazed coach. Despite her talent, the lack of maturity on the ice will continue to leave her fighting to break out of the penultimate flight of skaters in international competitions.
With a strong season, Satoko Miyahara is serving notice that she is the Japanese star of the future.
With her performances this weekend, Haruka Imai's career may be the latest from the Detroit Skating Club to be left for dead. A fourteenth place finish is devastating at this point in her career.