The Japan National Championships 2013

January 13, 2014

By Atsuko Kuryu
Photos © Keiko Kasai

The 2013 Japan Nationals, held from December 21st through 24th at Saitama Super Arena, was the hottest battle in Japanese figure skating history. In the men’s field, there were four of the top 10 skaters in world ranking, four of the five season’s best score holders and in ladies singles, there were two World Champions and two of the five were season’s best score holders. Nineteen year old super star, Yuzuru Hanyu, declared his second back to back title, while 27 year old veteran, Akiko Suzuki, claimed her first crown. Cathy and Chris Reed defended their title in Ice Dance and the only competitors in Senior Pairs, Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara, showed improvement.

The Japanese Olympic team members were decided:

Men – Yuzuru Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida, Daisuke Takahashi
Ladies – Akiko Suzuki, Kanako Murakami, Mao Asada
Ice Dance – Cathy Reed/Chris Reed
Pair (Team match only) – Narumi Takahashi/Ryuichi Kihara
Let’s review how they fought for their dreams.


Yuzuru Hanyu nailed two fantastic performances and earned 297.80 points overall. His score for the short program included 30.76 for three perfect jump elements; quad toe, triple Axel and triple Lutz-triple toe combination, three level 4 spins and a step sequence to earn 103.10 for the short program. The following night, he skated another fabulous free skate where he landed a quad toe and 8 triples including two triple Axel combinations. He proved he is not only a great skater, but also has charisma. The audience was riveted by both of his performances and gave huge standing ovations.“This is my first Olympic Games so I’m so nervous,” Yuzuru confessed, “but I will do my best with pride and sense of commitment as a Japan Olympic team member.”

Tatsuki Machida, who was expected to fight for an Olympic berth with the other men, grabbed the silver medal, delivering two flawless performances and easily won a ticket for Sochi. He landed three perfect quad toes in total. Skating wonderful programs, he showed strong spirit at the final moment, which meant he well deserved to be chosen for the Olympics. His total score was 277.04. “I made the worst mistakes of my life last season,” Tatsuki reflected then reviewed this season. “I checked my basics thoroughly. That brought me the best season ever. This is the condensed season of 20 years of my skating life.”

Takahiko Kozuka had a tough season so far, but did great at Nationals. Even though he couldn’t land a perfect quad toe, he added many points with his other jumps and high level elements such as four level 4 spins and levels 4 and 3 step sequences. On top of the elements, his amazing skating skills were really impressive and highly appreciated. He was fourth in the free skate and the large margin in the short program kept him third overall with a score of 264.81. “I hate to admit it, but the decision was made,” Takahiko said after he knew he didn’t get a ticket to Sochi, “But I’m happy that I was able to get into good enough shape to have this feeling of regret.”

Nobunari Oda, who was second in this season’s world ranking, lost the Olympic berth after finishing fourth in this competition. He popped his attempted quad toe to a triple in the opening of the short program, which decided everything. He scored only 77.72 in the short program and finished fifth after Daisuke Takahashi. However, his free program to the William Tell Overture, his very last performance as a competitive skater, was fantastic and left a strong impression on the audience. His total score was 256.47 and he ranked fourth overall. “I thought I had nothing to lose before this competition,” Nobu said after his performance and showed a bright countenance, “I had done all that I could.”

Daisuke Takahashi wasn’t able to show the potential of his talent due to injury. He attempted the quad toe three times during the competition, but didn’t land any cleanly. He had trouble with other jumps as well and finished only fifth overall with a score of 252.81. But his full-hearted performance reached the audience (and also the judges) and showed he was clearly an unparalleled skater. He was selected as the third member of Japanese Olympic team in the Men’s category. He said with tears, “I was so frustrated when I thought this was my last performance,” when he didn’t know he would join the Japanese Olympic team. After he found himself as an Olympic member, he showed a complex look on his face, “I was really happy because I already gave up. I swear I will do the best performance to my name as an Olympic member.”

Takahito Mura, who was expected to be one of the contenders, made several mistakes in both programs. He surprisingly finished eight after the short program because he fell on the quad toe and couldn’t complete any combination jumps. Even in free skate he made several mistakes, but managed to climb to sixth overall with the score of 216.72. He was selected to compete at the Four Continent Championships instead of retired Oda and I hope he proves his potential there.

Shoma Uno, 16 years old, scored 216.49 and ranked seventh overall. He has improved in many ways since last year. He had attempted the triple Axel throughout this season, but has not yet landed it. Other than that, he executed almost all other elements perfectly. His expressive ability was outstanding for his age.

Keiji Tanaka, the Junior National champion, finished 10th in the Free Skate mainly because he fell on his quad toe, which was downgraded. His total score was 211.52 and finished eighth overall. He and Shoma were selected for Junior Worlds and let’s cross our fingers for Keiji’s second medal or Shoma’s first one.

Yoji Tsuboi who landed two triple Axels and five other triples in his free skate achieved ninth overall, which was his best finish. Daisuke Murakami landed the quad Salchow in the Free Skate, but it was regarded as under-rotated. He was disappointedly 10th overall with the score of 205.86. Unfortunately, Kento Nakamura and Akio Sasaki, who were sixth and eighth respectively last year, finished 11th and 13th. Kento fully showed his gracefulness and Sasaki danced to the music through his programs, but couldn’t land many of his jumps cleanly.

Let me mention some other skaters who are not ranked highly. Sota Yamamoto is the one. He is just 13 now but has great potential. His speed was great and his jumps are all so high. Daisuke Isozaki finished only 18th mainly because he had problems on his jumps. However, his sensitive expression and brilliant choreography (he choreographed his free skate by himself) are very notable. Hopefully he will improve in his jumping ability.


Akiko Suzuki involved the entire crowd in her extraordinary performance to Phantom of the Opera in her free skate and claimed first place. She was second after short program, but gained 144.99 in free skate to take over the top spot with a total score of 215.18. She nailed seven triples, three level 4 spins and a level 4 step-sequence, but it wasn’t just that. You must have felt like a very lucky person if you were there at that special moment. “I can’t believe it!” Akiko said with smile and she was grateful to her supporters. “Actually I had not been able to jump well just before this competition, but all the people around me supported me and helped me do such a performance and I want to skate as my usual self in the coming event.”

Surprisingly second was Kanako Murakami. She was totally off in the early season but came back with a powerful performance. Right after finishing both of her performances, she burst into tears on the ice and it showed how tough it was for her this season. When her face full of tears was on the Jumbotron in the venue, the applause turned into warm laughter. In her two programs, there was only one minor error: An edge call for her triple Lutz. All of her other elements were done perfectly and received +GOEs. Her total score was 202.52 and she finished second after the free program.

To our surprise, overnight leader Mao Asada crashed in her free program. As the last performer of the 2013 Nationals, she entered the ice and began her performance to Piano Concert No. 2 by Rachmaninov. Just after this masterpiece started, she two-footed her opening triple Axel and popped the following one into a single. The stands were dead calm as though filled with a silent sigh of disappointment from the audience. Mao made more mistakes and slipped to third overall with the score of 199.50. It was the first time in this season that she didn’t reach 200 in her overall score. “I’m so frustrated because I couldn’t deliver what I aimed for,” Mao let her regret into her voice, “and I will keep this frustration in my mind and make use of it for a good performance in my next competition.”

Satoko Miyahara, who was regarded as one of the possible contenders for Olympics, put up a good fight for the spot. She nailed a flawless short program but was under-rotated on two of her jumps in the free program which was the big issue for her. She was 7 points beneath third place (191.58) and couldn’t get the ticket to Sochi. She has graceful expression and solid technique, so I would say she could be the one to create a new era of Japanese figure skating.

Haruka Imai had been suffering from a long lasting slump but finally came back to top stage. She skated two solid programs and stayed 6th overall with the score of 186.16. Her second jump of triple Salchow-triple toe combination in the short program was regarded as under-rotated and she touched down on the landing of the double Axel in the free skate but they were the only mistakes from her. She skated with amazing speed and gave a brilliant performance. Another new youngster Rika Hongo did pretty well too. Her amazing speed and dynamism gave Japanese figure skating fans huge hopes for her future. She got 176.31 and ranked 6th overall.

Miki Ando delivered a beautiful short program and earned 64.87 - just 3.55 behind 3rd place. Lots of people expected her to get the Olympic place but finally she dropped to 7th overall after placing 9th in the free skate. She popped some of her jumps and lost speed finally. Even though she couldn ’ t go to Sochi, her spirit moved the audience and they gave her a standing ovation. They knew it was her very last performance in the national championships and the applause didn ’ t stop for a while. “ I decided to choose the harder elements in my program because I wanted to keep my usual style, ” she explained. “ I have no regrets now and I ’ m very happy to skate in the Nationals again. I am so grateful.”

Mariko Kihara, who had been suffering from a slipped capital femoral epiphysis, skated a flawless short program and a good free skate to place 8th overall. In her short program to Cotton Club she was vivid and sexy and it showed her talent was superior. She is sixteen now and is almost the same age as Satoko and Rika. I am very happy for the future of Japanese figure skating as there are so many wonderful young talents in this field.

Ninth ranked Yura Matsuda who is also 16 years old did pretty well too. She was 14th in the short program but bounced back to 7th in the free skate. She was 9th overall. Following her by a small margin of 1.12 was Miyabi Oba. What we have to know about her is her brave attempt at the triple Axel. She had it at the beginning of her free skate, but unfortunately she fell on the landing and it was regarded as under-rotated. I watched her in the practice on the morning of the event and she landed it cleanly several times. I hope she keeps trying and includes it in her repertoire very soon. She earned 157.17 for her effort and stayed 10th.

There are so many skaters who I want to mention, especially in the ladies’ field, but I will just choose 4 young skaters. Kaori Sakamoto, 13 years old, and Mai Mihara, 14 years old, are very young but have wonderful technique. Don’t forget Riona Kato and Risa Shouji, who were reviewing their jumps to achieve a higher level. So please remember these names as well as Satoko, Rika and Yura.

Go to part 2.


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