The Japan Open 2017

Oct 19 , 2017
By Atsuko Kuryu
Photos © Keiko Kasai

The Japan Open was an important event since some famous skaters debuted their new free programs for the season. Thanks to the Challenger series, we can watch many skaters' new programs early in the season, but the Japan Open still remains interesting because of its unique style: 1. It is a team event covering three regions of the world (Team Europe, Team USA, and Team Japan). 2. It is an invitational event including pro-skaters. 3. The final rankings of the teams are decided by the total scores of all the team members. And it provides prize money (US $80,000, 60,000, and 40,000 for the best team, second best, and third best team respectively).

Many of the top eligible skaters competed here, like Javier Fernandez, Nathan Chen, Evgenia Medvedeva, Alina Zagitova, Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen. Top Japanese stars such as Shoma Uno, Mai Mihara, and Marin Honda also participated, as did "old" stars like Jeremy Abbott and Nobunari Oda. Jeremy and Nobunari were both top contenders of international figure skating during the same era. We had also hoped to see Tomas Verner, but unfortunately he had to withdraw from the event because of injury. Just imagine if he had joined, it would have been a replay of the Vancouver Olympic season! But don't worry, instead of Tomas, Alexei Bychenko from Israel, who has climbed to the world top, came and joined Team Europe.

The event started at noon on October 7th, 2017 at the Saitama Super Arena in Japan. The Ladies were up first and offered us a heated and exciting competition. Mirai Nagasu (below left) delivered a flawless performance, except for an under-rotated and stepped out of triple Axel. She got 134.69 points which was her personal best. She is very classy and mature on the ice, and she looked especially beautiful and expressive during her choreographic step sequence at the end.

Showing outstanding musicality and expressiveness, Marin Honda (above right) received 133.41 points. All her jump take-offs looked effortless and she moved very gracefully on the ice, pulling the audience into her world of Turandot. Adorable Alina Zagitova (below left) nailed her performance which included no -GOE. The first part of her program was very much balletic, but the true value of it came later when all the jumps were executed very solidly. Her score was 145.28.
Karen Chen (below right) was elegant and beautiful in her role as Carmen, although you might say it lacked the passion. She skated seemingly flawlessly except on the second triple Lutz, but it turned out she had many under-rotated jumps and an edge call for her triple flip. So the score was unexpectedly low and surprised the audience. She only got 116.32 points.

Mai Mihara (below left) was super-excellent in her free program and scored 147.83. In the press interview the day before, she said she wanted to level up her second mark by moving more extendedly and deliver her expressions even to the backrow. She surely moved both bigger and much more expressively. She was told by David Wilson, the choreographers, to skate like an angel during the step sequence, so she skated praying for peace in the world.
The world champion and true one-and-only of ladies' figure skating, Evgenia Medvedeva (below right), performed an excellently theatrical program to the music from Anna Karenina. She moved very elegantly and gracefully, but was still highly athletic. When we saw her score, 152.08 points, which was outstandingly high, we all felt it wasn't high enough. She said she enjoyed this event very much and was happy with her performance, but not satisfied. She felt she could improve the program even more and make it more dramatic so that the audience would feel like watching the play or the movie.

After the ladies competition, the score of each team was as follows:
  1. Team Europe - 297.36
  2. Team Japan - 281.24
  3. Team USA - 251.01

During the intermission, gorgeous guest skaters entertained with wonderful performances. Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (below left) were first on the ice and performed a very beautiful and romantic exhibition program to music from Ghost. The next skater was Tatsuki Machida (below right), who was introduced as a philosopher on the ice. He showed a very unique and remarkable 9-minute program he had choreographed by himself, inspired by the ballet Don Quixote. All the eyes of the audience were glued to his unusual program because it was not only rara avis, but very interesting as well.

All the men, except Jeremy Abbott, included multiple quadruples in their planned program contents. In spite of that, the men's competition was a little disappointing compared to the ladies'. All the skaters made some mistakes in their performances. Alexei Bychenko popped his opening quad toe and it turned into a triple, but landed the quad toe-triple toe beautifully. He then had two more popped jump elements. As he mentioned, it was not his expected outcome, and there is still lots to improve since this event was so early in the season. But this program, set to the legendary skating music Bolero will be very enjoyable and fitting for the Olympic season. Alexei received 128.52 points for his effort.
Jeremy skated amazingly in the first half of his program to the not so unusual song My way. He landed wonderful triples, including a clean triple Lutz-double loop. Even though some jumps in the latter half were less than stellar, his performance was excellent with wonderful skating skills and expression.
Nobunari Oda (below left),who set a new personal best at last year's Japanese Open, again went for a record attempting two quadruples in his program. He landed these two elements beautifully, (a quad toe and a quad toe-triple toe combination), but had trouble with the next two triple Axels. Unfortunately he didn't get high levels on his spins and step sequences, still his performance peaked with a fantastic choreo step sequence at the end. He was noted because of his beautiful posture and skating skills.
Javier Fernandez (below right) included only two quads in his plan, but went on to land them perfectly. He was solid and very consistent throughout his performance. He said his coach Brian Orser chose this music, Man of La Mancha, since it had been on his mind for a long time, and now Javier felt it would perfectly fit an Olympic program. He also said it needs some improvement and I'm sure it will get even better. Javier earned 189.47 points for his solid performance and became the winner of the men's event.

Nathan Chen (below left) attempted all the quads but popped the Salchow into a double and fell at the landing of the quad flip. But all of his spins were level 4. He was very consistent and second best among the men for both TEC and PCS. He got 178.46 points. After delivering all the jumps he showed off a stunning choreographic step sequence to prove that he can be expressive when unleashed from the pressure of difficult jumps.
Shoma Uno (below right) had an off-day as he mentioned later. It was one of the worst performances ever for him, including the run-through in practice. He received only 175.45 points, which was indeed 39.52 less than at the Lombardia Trophy only three weeks earlier. Even though this was not his best day, he still nailed two level 4 spins and step sequences, and his expressiveness was impressive.

When all was said and done Team Europe won the event, but only with the slim margin of 0.42 points over Team Japan.
The final score of each team was as follows:
 1. Team Europe - 615.35
 2. Team Japan - 614.93
 3. Team USA - 572.95

After this event, the Grand Prix series will begin. This special Olympic season has started for sure, and from here on time will literally fly. What will happen to the skaters joining now? Time will tell. Let's look forward to an exciting season full of moving struggles and stories.
Best wishes to all the skaters this Olympic season!


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