JAPANESE FIGURE SKATERS: MIKI ANDO, MIDORI ITO, SHIZUKA ARAKAWA AND A FRESH CROP OF MEN'S SKATERS

JAPANESE FIGURE SKATING

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Miki Ando
In Olympic women’s figure skating, Ito Midori won the silver medal at the 1992 Albertville Games and Arakawa Shizuka won the gold medal at the 2006 Torino Games, while at the Vancouver Games Asada Mao won a silver medal in women’s figure skating and Takahashi Daisuke won a bronze medal in men’s figure skating.

These days Japan is deep in figure skaters. At the Olympics in 2006 several medal hopefuls didn’t even make the team. Mao Asada was too young, Yukari Nakano, who was third in the Grand Prix final, and Yoshie Onda, who made seven triples in the Japanese nationals were among those who didn’t make it.Japan’s depth in women’s figure skating is surprising because there are not all that many skating rinks in Japan and some of the ones that existed a few years ago have been shut down. According to the Japanese government the number of rinks shrunk from 127 in 1996 to 94 in 2002. More have closed down since then. Most of those that closed were privately owned, done in by high energy costs and other expenses.

Aspiring skaters often have to live away from home because there isn’t a skating rink near their home. Olympic gold medalist Shizuka Arakawa told the Yomiuri Shimbun, “The skating rink in Sendai where I used to practice has been shut down, and young skaters have a hard time finding a place to practice. “Even for me, it’s difficult to find a good time to practice in Japan because too many people come to skate at one rink.”

Good Websites and Sources: Japan Skating Federation skatingjapan.jp ; Time Magazine on Mao Asada Versus Yuna Kim time.com/time/specials ; Mao Asada Official Site maomaiasada.com ; Mao Asada Fan Site maoasadafanwebsite.com ; Mao Asada Vancouver Olympics Profile ctvolympics.ca/countries ; Wikipedia article on Mao Asada Wikipedia ; Mao Asada Fan Forum Portal maoasada.logu2.com

Links in this Website: SPORTS IN JAPAN (Click Sports, Recreation, Pets ) Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; OLYMPICS AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE OLYMPIC ATHLETES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE MARATHON RUNNERS AND TRACK ATHLETES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE OLYMPIC SWIMMERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE OLYMPIC GYMNASTS AND WRESTLERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JUDO, JAPAN AND THE OLYMPICS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; WINTER OLYMPICS AND JAPANESE ATHLETES Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPANESE FIGURE SKATERS Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; BOXING AND PRO WRESTLING IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Good Websites and Sources on the Olympics and Japan: Wikipedia article on Japan at the Olympics Wikipedia ; Medal Winners in Olympics.org olympic.org/en ; Japanese Olympic Committee joc.or.jp/english ; Essay on Japan’s Rebirth at the 1964 Olympics aboutjapan.japansociety.org ; Database on Olympic Athletes databaseolympics.com

Japanese Figure Skating Scandals

In 2006, Katsuichiro Hisanaga, the head of Japan Skating Federation---the organizing body for figure skating---was charged with embezzling about $1.3 million from funds taken from international skating events that the federation organized. There were also reports of money being skimmed from the payment of overpriced rents and the resale of gifts to events and shady ties to a health food company. Hisanaga was given a suspended three-year prison term for bilking the figure skating body of nearly ¥20 million, which he used for stock trading and to strengthen his position in the organization.

In 2008, 56-year-old Yasuji Sakai, a well-known figure skating coach in Aichi Prefecture, was arrested on suspicion of raping and assaulting a 13-year-old girl he was training. Sakai, who trained a renowned skater, raped the girl when she was staying at his house before an early morning training session The girl’s mother and sister were also at the house but were asleep in a different room.

Famous Japanese Figure Skaters

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Shizuka Arakawa
In the mid 2000s, Japan had a good crop of female figure skaters. Among them was Fumie Suguri, who won a gold medal in the women’s figure skating Grand Prix in December 2003. She was the first Japanese woman to win such an event. Suguri often finishes in the top ten in international events. She competed at the world championships in 2009 with a broken rib, skating while on painkillers and finishing eighth. Yukina Ota, who couldn’t even make the Japanese team for the world championships, won the Four Continents Competition in 2004.

Japan also has some good male figure skaters. Takeshi Honda, a Japanese skater who trains in Canada, won a bronze at the world championships in 2003, where he landed two quadruple jumps. Daisuke Takahashi fell on a quadruple attempt and finished forth in the world championships in Gotheborg, Sweden in 2008. He was third after the short program and seem poised for a podium finish. Takahiko Kozuka took third in men’s figure skating in the Four Continents Championship in Vancouver in February 2009.

Yuka Sato was the world champion in 1994.

Japan’s Yuko Kawaguchi skated with Russian Alexander Smirnov at the world figure skating championship in 2007. She was the first foreign skater to represent Russia in a major international competition.

Japanese women had won four figure skating world championships and an Olympics gold medal.

The future of figure skating looks bright in Japan. In 2010, Yuzuru Hanyu was the male world junior champion and Kanako Murakami was the female world junior champion.

Midori Ito

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Ito
One of Japan's most beloved athletes in Japan is Midori Ito, a tiny 145-centimeter-tall figure skater who is known for her extraordinary jumps. She carried the Japanese flag at the Olympics in Nagano in 1998 and won a silver medal at the 1992 Winter Olympics at Albertville, France. She had been expected to win the gold medal which was won by Japanese-American Kristi Yamaguchi. Janet Lynn, an American skater who won a bronze medal at Sapporo I 1972 was very popular in Japan for a while.

Ito was a world champion in 1989. She was the first female skater to do a tripe axel---a jump that requires 3½ revolutions---and the first woman to land a triple/triple jump combination in a competition. She is also the first woman to land seven triple jumps in a free program, which she did at the 1988 Calgary Olympics. in a competition . She was also the first world champion from Asia. Ito came from a poor single-mother family. She was only able to pursue a career in skating because she showed extraordinary talent as a child. Her coach more or less coached her for free, her mother sewed many of her costumes by hand.

In May 2011, at the age of 41, Ito said she would retrurn to competition by competing in the International Adult Figure Skating Competition in Oberstdorf, Germany in June. She entered in the Masters Elite section for 30- to 50-year- olds. [Source: Kyodo]

Shizuka Arakawa


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Japan’s only medal in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin was a the gold medal won by Shizuka Arakawa in the women’s figure skating. Arakawa kept her nerve and skated a solid but conservative performance in the long programs and completed all of her triple jumps without falling and won in part because her main rivals Sasha Cohen of the United States and favorite Russian Irina Slutskaya wilted under the pressure and fell in their long program performances. No Japanese figure skater had ever won an Olympic gold.

Arakawa’s gold was Japan’s first Olympic medal in figure skating since Midori Ito’s silver in 1992 and the second gold won by a Japanese woman and the ninth Japanese winter gold. Arakawa said afterwards, “I was able to have fun while I skated and that was good, I thought it would be good just to enjoy the Olympic atmosphere, I was able to skate with a cool head.”

Arakawa had just managed to qualify for the Olympics with a third at the Japanese championships. After the short program, she was third after Cohen and Slutskaya. She skated to Puccini’s Turandot and wowed crowds more with her spirals and back-arching Ina Bauer move than her five triple jumps which she landed successfully. Cohen held on win the silver. Slutskaya won the bronze.

Arakawa was 24 when she won the gold medal. A native of Sendai in Miyagi prefecture, she started skating at age five and and was regarded as a jumping prodigy. She mastered a triple jump when she in the third grade of elementary school. She won the national championship in 1997-98 and was on the 1998 Olympic team, finishing 13th. After that her career faltered. She didn’t make the Olympic team in 2002. She finished 8th at the world’s in 2003 and said she going to retire after the 2004 season.

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doing an Ina Bauer
Arawaka was the surprise winner at the world figure skating championships held in Dortmund, Germany in March 2004. She executed seven triple jumps and received a 6.0 for technical merit. She nailed a triple-triple and did the first triple lutz, double toe loop combination ever performed at a world championship. She defeated Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen of the United States. The victory was a complete surprise. She only ranked third in Japan. A few weeks later she graduated from Waseda University, one of Japan’s top universities, and worked part time at convenience store and fast-food restaurant.

Arakawa had a disastrous season in 2005 after being urged not to retire by the Japanese Skating Federation. Her poor showing at the world’s that year (she was ninth) seemed to fire here up to do better. She changed her coach and began practicing n Connecticut. She seemed to rediscover her jumping ability and was able to complete triple-double combinations with ease, occasionally upgrading them to triple-triple combinations.

A few months after the Olympics Arakawa turned pro and chose to devote her time to ice shows and televison journalism and did a few televison commercials. The rink where Arakawa trained in Sendai reopened in March 2007 in part due to pleas by Arakawa for help and response by government officials to find a new sponsor for the rink. Asahi Brewer tried to get a patent on the “Ina Bauer” name for one of its drinks but their request was denied,

Miki Ando

Miki Ando won the World Figure Skating Championship in 2007, edging compatriot Mao Asada by less than one point and South Korea’s Kim Yu Na, with a strong performance in the long program. Ando was the forth Japanese woman to win a world title. Mao and Ando battled each other all season. Mao defeated Ando earlier in the season in Japan national championship.

Ando, like Asada, is from Nagoya. She has performed the first and only quadruple jump by a woman in a competition. (at the Junior Grand Prix Final in 2002).

At the Olympics in Turin in 2006, Ando went for broke and started her long program with a quadruple jump. Unfortunately she failed in her attempt to do a quadruple jump and fell apart after that, falling several times and failed in her triple jump attempts, and finished in 15th place. If she had made the quad she would have been the first woman to do it

Ando was the 2004 world junior champion and a two-time national champion. She is the only woman who has landed a quadruple jump in competition. In 2004, she placed forth at the 2004 world figure skating championships and was ranked No. 1 in Japan. At 14, she landed a quadruple Salchowat at the Junior Grand Prix.

Ando practices in Hackensack New Jersey and has performed with the “Dreams on Ice” ice show. In March 2008, at the World Figure Skating Championship in Gothenburg, Sweden. Ando faltered in the short program, placing eight. In the long program she missed a combination and fell on a triple lutz and quit with tears streaming down her face. She had a severe muscle strain in her left leg and insisted it was “important for me to try.”

Miki Ando Wins the World Figure Skating Championship in 2011

Miki Ando won the World Figure Skating Championship in 2011. Kyodo reported; “Ando wrapped up the best season of her career with a come-from-behind victory over Olympic champion Kim Yu Na of South Korea at the world championships. Ando received 130.21 points in the free skate to finish with a total of 195.79 for her first world title in four years and second overall.”

“Ando, second in the short program, under-rotated one of her triple jumps in an otherwise flawless performance. "I had a strong determination on the rink," the 23-year-old said. "I was hoping to finish anywhere on the podium this time, but I'm thrilled I ended up with the gold medal."

In the 2010-11 season Ando won five of her six events, while earning the highest free skate score in all six. "I skated for my country," Ando said, referring to the March 11 earthquake that devastated northeastern Japan and forced the relocation of the championships from Tokyo to Moscow. "I hope my performance here encourages people back home and helps bring back their smiles. It wasn't a perfect performance, but I came close to my season best score."

Kim made mistakes on her early jumps and finished 1.79 points behind Ando for the silver, in her first competition in more than a year. Carolina Kostner of Italy claimed the bronze with 184.68. "My practice was perfect here, " Kim said. "But I hadn't competed for so long. That's why. I've been training such a long time. I spent the hardest time in my life mentally. I'm just glad I finished."

Miki Ando in 2012

In October 2012, icenetwork.com reported: “Miki Ando, the two-time world champion from Japan, has once again put off her return to competition, saying she will miss the 2012 Grand Prix Series because she is still without a coach. The skater made the announcement on her official Facebook page. "It was a tough decision," wrote Ando, who was scheduled to compete at the Cup of China and Trophée Eric Bompard. [Source: icenetwork.com, October 9, 2012]

While she has been maintaining a daily practice regimen, Ando has been unable to find a permanent coach. She most recently trained under Nikoli Morozov, with whom she parted ways earlier this year. "I feel very sorry for my decision to not take part in the LEXUS Cup of China and Trophée Eric Bompard," Ando wrote. [Ibid]

Ando said she still intends to compete this season, declaring, "I will do my best as an active athlete." The last time Ando stepped on the ice in a competitive setting was April 2011, when she won her second world championship, in Moscow. [Ibid]

Akiko Suzuki Take a Bronze at the 2012 World Championship

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Akiko Suzuki gave herself the perfect birthday present---her first-ever medal at a world figure skating championships. Having turned 27 three days earlier, she knows she doesn’t have many chances left. “I believed that you can make progress from any age, and that’s what led to this medal,” Suzuki said after becoming the oldest world medalist in Japan figure skating history. “And I still believe I can get even better.” [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun , April 3, 2012]

Suzuki, who was fifth after the short program, leapfrogged young compatriots Mao Asada and Kanako Murakami to finish third behind Italy’s Carolina Kostner and Russian Alena Leonova. Suzuki, despite a minor muff on a jump in the second half, made up for it with speed and emotion to score the second-highest in the free skate behind Kostner. [Ibid]

While Suzuki would not comment on her prospects for the 2014 Sochi Olympics, it would seem the perfect place to close a career that has had more than its share of ups and downs. Suzuki struggled with an eating disorder early in her career, missing the entire 2003-04 season. It took several years to get back to a competitive level, but she did made Japan’s team for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where she placed eighth.

Akiko Suzuki: Late-Blooming Figure Skater

In 2001, Tatjana Flade wrote in Golden Skate, “Suzuki was an up-and-coming junior skater. She came in seventh at the 2001 World Junior Championships, won two Junior Grand Prix events, and was a bronze medallist at the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final in 2002. Then her ascent stopped. Suzuki had less impressive results and didn’t compete in the 2003-04 season. When she finally came back on to the international scene, she revealed that she had been suffering from an eating disorder. [Source: Tatjana Flade, Golden Skate, April 18, 2010 ]

“I couldn’t skate for a year,” Suzuki said now about this difficult time, “but when I wasn’t able to skate, I realized how important it was to me. When I came back, I was skating with Miki (Ando) and Yukari (Nakano), and I just enjoyed it. I wanted to be like they were and I grew confident that I could do that.”

The Japanese mostly credits her coaches Hiroshi Nagakubo and Yoriko Naruse for helping her to get back on track. “My coaches and other people around me encouraged me and brought me to where I am right now,” she explained. “Obviously, I want a result in each competition I enter, but it is my love for skating that makes me strong.”

Suzuki started her international comeback with a win at the Winter Universiade in 2007, then went on to win some other internationals such as the Golden Spin, the Aegon Challenge Cup, and the Finlandia Trophy in 2007 and 2008 before being selected for the NHK Trophy in fall 2008. Now she has established herself as one of the top Japanese Ladies, but is still in the shadow of super stars Asada and Ando. [Ibid]

Mirai Nagasu and Kanako Murakami

Japanese- American Mirai Nagasu finished fourth in the Vancouver Olympics in 2010. She Nagasu had ups and downs and confidence problem in the 2010-2011 season. For example, she lead the 2010 World Championship after the short program but dropped to seventh after botching four jumps.

Nagasu, who faced great expectations after finishing fourth in the Olympics, skated after all the main medal contenders, raising the pressure. She showed signs of cracking on the first jump, a sloppy lutz that was supposed to lead into a three-jump combination. She two-footed the landing on another triple lutz, fell on a double axel and under-rotated a triple toe loop. “I am really disappointed with myself because I always do this, I always go from first to like seventh,” Nagasu said, sniffing through tears. “Except at the Olympics. I didn’t drop there.”

Sixteen-year-old Kanako Murakami won the Skate America competition in Portland, Oregon in November 2010. She impressed the audience with her rock 'n’ roll short program and beat European champion Caroline Kostner of Italy and American champion Rachel Flatt. She placed third at the Grand Prix final, the best of any Japanese skater. She was third at the Japan nationals.

Murakami was eighth in her first world championships. "I feel bad because I didn't do well enough as a representative of Japan," Murakami said. "I want to learn from this experience and bounce back next season."

Japanese- Americans Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani pulled off a surprise in capturing the bronze in their debut in ice dancing at the worlds.

Japanese Men’s Skaters

Takahiro Kozuka won the silver medal in the men’s event at World Figure Skating Championship in 2011. The 22-year-old was sixth after the short program and scored a personal best of 258.41 for his total score for his first medal in four world championship appearances, Canada’s Patrick Chan won the event by a large margin after landing two quadruple jumps.

In the men’s figure skating at the the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver Japanese skater Nobunari Oda, the decedent of a famous Japanese warlord, was forth after the short program and was skating brilliantly in the long program when suddenly he was forced to stop in mid program because the shoelaces in his skates broke while doing a triple jump. He ended up in seventh place.

Nobunari Oda was second after the short program the in the men’s event at World Figure Skating Championship in 2011 but botched his long program and finished sixth.

Sixteen-year-old Yuzuru Hanyu was the 2010 junior world champion in 2010. For the 2010-2011 season he added a quadruple jump to his repertoire.

Daisuke Takahashi

Daisuke Takahashi won Japan’s first medal (a bronze) ever in the men’s figure skating at the the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver . He fell trying a quadruple jump early in the long program but otherwise skated precisely with flair and drama, winning points for his strong footwork and jump sequences. He finished behind Evgeni Plushenko of Russia and Evan Lysacek who won silver and gold respectively,

A former world junior champion and silver medalist at the 2007 world championships, Takahashi made a phenomenal come back from knee surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2008-2009 season and made up for a disappointing eight place finish at the Olympics in Turin in 2006. His routines are full of drama and expression. Many thinks he has the best footwork of any skater in the world. In 2008 he achieved an overall score of 264.41 at the Four Continents competition, a record at that time. To come back after that he endured a grueling rehabilitation regimen that followed surgery on torn ligaments in his right knee.

In the long program Takahashi dressed like a court jester and skated to music from Fellini’s film La Strada and held on to third places, where he stood after the short program.

After the event 23-year-old Takahashi said, “I’m not done...I’m not completely satisfied with my performance this time and have some regrets. I thought I’d be able to perform better, and I want to compete on the front lines.” A month of so later he won the gold medal in men’s figure skating at the world championships, becoming the first Japanese man to claim that title, in a competition that Plushenko and Lysacek skipped. In that competition Takahashi two-footed a gardruple jump, but nailed a huge triple axel. Despite his peformance he said he was not where he was before his surgery when he nailed many quadruples and was able to try two of them in a single competition.

Takahashi was fifth in the men’s event at World Figure Skating Championship in 2011. He was third after the short program but had to stop in the middle of the long program after his skate broke. In May 2011, e had a bolt removed from his knee that had been placed there three years after surgery for a torn ligament. He said without the bolt he felt lighter.

Takahashi Claims Gold at the 2012 Gran Prix Final

Daisuke Takahashi made more history in early December 2012 in Sochi, Russia when he became the first Japanese man to win the ISU figure skating Grand Prix Final. AFP reported: “Takahashi, already the first Japanese man to win an Olympic figure skating medal and world title, finally won gold in the elite six-skater event after finishing on the podium four times. "I'm really happy after this result but my skating wasn't good today," said the 2010 Olympic bronze medal winner and 2010 world champion. [Source: AFP, December 9, 2012]

The 26-year-old held his overnight lead from the short programme despite a fall on his opening quad toe jump which saw him finish third in his free skate to "I Pagliacci" by Ruggero Leoncavallo. He recovered with a second quad toe and added five more clean triples to finish top with 269.40 points, leading a Japanese 1-2 ahead of Yuzuru Hanyu at the new 12,000-seater Iceberg arena in the Black Sea resort city. [Ibid]

Hanyu, 18, opened with a quad toe and landed seven triples to take the silver with 264.29 as defending two-time champion Patrick Chan fell on his opening quad toe to take bronze with 258.66 "To be honest, I'm pretty disappointed with my performance today. I did an extra combo. ... Now I know not to do it again," said Chan, who had his final jump invalidated because he exceeded the number of jump combinations that can be done in the free skate. Spaniard Javier Fernandez, who won the free skating section with his new season's best 178.43, was fourth overall with 258.62, ahead of another Japanese pair, Takahiko Kozuka and Tatsuki Machida. [Ibid]

Takahashi to Quit after Sochi

In January 2012, Reuters reported: “Takahashi plans to hang up his skates after the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Takahashi, the 2010 world champion and Olympic bronze medalist at Vancouver the same year, told local media: "I think my career will finish with Sochi. "I want to enjoy the little time I have left and leave without any regrets," added Takahashi, the reigning Grand Prix Final champion. [Ibid]

Takahashi has first set his sights on capturing a second world title in London, Ontario, in March. "My quad jumps are getting sharper," said the 26-year-old, world runner-up behind Canada's Patrick Chan in Nice last year. "I want to keep working to get them as tight as possible." [Source: Reuters, January 4, 2012]

Yuzuru Hanyu takes First National Crown

In December 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan won his first national title after he showed breathtaking performances in both of his programs at the Japan National Championships in Sapporo. Before the free skating program Hanyu had a big margin over his main rival Daisuke Takahashi. In the end the difference in points was too large for defending champion to bridge in the men’s free skate as the 18-year-old Yuzuru Hanyu scored a total of 285.23 points for an unofficial world record to claim the first place. Takahashi finished second with 280.40 points showing very beautiful and strong skating. Takahito Mura captured the bronze medal with 242.70 points. Japan Championships, results of all disciplines. [Source: World Figure Skating, December 23, 2012]

Takahashi and Hanyu, Second and Third at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships in April 2012

In April 2012, AFP reported: “Daisuke Takahashi admitted that rapidly improving young teammate Yuzuru Hanyu had helped inspire him towards silver at the world figure skating championships. National champion Takahashi, 26, finished runner-up behind two-time winner Patrick Chan of Canada on the final day of competition with 17-year-old Hanyu taking a surprise third. It was the first time that Japan have had two skaters on the men's podium, and Takahashi, the first Japanese man to win an Olympic medal with bronze in Vancouver and a world title in 2010, said that he had not wanted to be overshadowed by Hanyu. [Source: AFP, April 1, 2012]

"I heard the crowd cheering and knew Yuzuru had been perfect. I said 'ok I have to do well. I can't let him beat me'," said Takahashi. "It's like a race trying not to be left out. Yuzuru and the other skaters can still improve in the future. "Practising with Yuzuru in this competition I really feel he's going to be a real strong rival."

Takahashi, who skated cleanly to the music "Blues for Klook" by Eddy Louis, finished second overall but was third in the free skate by a fractional 0.05 points behind Hanyu. "He scored higher in the free programme, which frustrated me a bit," said the skater from Agamasaki, who paid tribute to the teenager's nerves."It's the first time to have two (Japanese) men on the podium, and especially to have a young skater on the podium. "When I competed at the worlds for the first time I didn't think I would finish on the podium. I think it's amazing what he has done."

Takahashi, however, remains confident he can keep up with the youngsters. "I'm the oldest man on the team and when I look to the future of Japanese figure skating I think it's very important to have these two medals," he said. "I didn't expect to win the silver medal here, the long-time goal being Sochi (Winter Games), but I have improved so much. "There's still two years to go to Sochi so I have to find out what I need to do. I'm very surprised that I've improved so much this season. I've proved to myself I can still improve."

Hanyu said he was surprised after he jumped from seventh after the short programme to take a medal on his world debut despite a tumble on a step sequence during his Romeo and Juliet free skate. "I didn't expect to be on the podium at my first world championships. I watched world championships on the television in the past," he said. "It was my dream to participate and to win a medal. Being here for the first time and to win a medal is amazing."

Competing has also been a battle for the skater from Sendai whose home and ice rink were damaged during the earthquake and tsunami catastrophe just over a year ago. He trained in Yokohama before the ice rink reopened last July. "It's been a really tough season for me, but winning a medal here I feel I've overcome the difficulties of the past season."

Champion Chan paid tribute to the Japanese skaters. "Daisuke and I've competed quite a lot together. We're really good friends. Yuzuru is a new addition. Things shift, it's unfamiliar having two Japanese flags in between mine. "I give him (Hanyu) the award for the most energetic skater. He got the crowd going better than any other skater other than Brian (Joubert of France). He's got better each competition this season."

Hanyu Sets World Record in the Short Program and Breaks It a Month Later

In October 2012, Yuzuru Hanyu dominated the short program at Skate America in Kent, Washington, setting a world record by earning 95.07 points for his flawless and thrilling routine. He skated last and received the loudest cheers, then broke into a big smile when his score was announced. "Ninety-five is an extremely high score and I really was not expecting it," Hanyu said through a translator. "I want to say I was very surprised. But I want to compete to the final competition. I still have the free to skate...I want to control my emotions to the very end." In the end he had some troubles in his long program and finished second. [Source: AP, October 21, 2012]

AP reported: “Hanyu landed a quad toe loop early in his routine and later completed a triple axel. "I put two difficult jumps in at the end," Hanyu said. "This is my first Grand Prix and I don't want to get too excited." Hanyu had a technical score of 51.71 and 43.36 for the artistic. "I was actually focused on the technical and that it was over 50 I was very surprised," he said. "I was not paying attention to the components (artistic). "But I've been practicing quite well and hope to carry it over to the free program." Hanyu switched coaches last spring and now works with Canadian Brian Orser, the two-time Olympic silver medalist. [Ibid]

In November 2012, AP reported: “Hanyu improved his own world record in the short program on Friday to take the lead in the men's competition at the NHK Trophy, the sixth event of the International Skating Union's Grand Prix series, in Sendai. The 17-year-old Hanyu, a native of Sendai, hit all his jumps for a score of 95.32 points to finish first ahead of compatriot Daisuke Takahashi who had 87.47 and Spain's Javier Fernandez, who received 86.23 points. [Source: AP, November 23, 2012]

Skating to "Parisian Walkways," Hanyu opened with a quad toeloop and executed a flawless triple axel. He also had a triple lutz, triple toeloop combination en route to besting his world mark of 95.07 set at Skate America last month. "I performed very well today," Hanyu said. "It's very satisfying to show these kinds of results for two competitions in a row." And this time he performed well enough in the long program to claim the title. Jack Gallagher wrote in the Japan Times, Yuzuru Hanyu gave the hometown fans what they wanted most on Saturday---a victory by their hero at the NHK Trophy. Hanyu, who broke his own world record with a mark of 95.32 in the short program, carried the momentum into Saturday's free skate and captured the men's singles title with a solid showing. [Ibid]

The 17-year-old opened with a quadruple toe loop and hit six triple jumps on the way to victory with a score of 261.03 points. He was unable to land the second quad---a salchow---he attempted, and fell on his final jump (a triple lutz), but did enough to beat second-place finisher Daisuke Takahashi by nearly 10 points. [Ibid]

Hanyu skated to "Notre Dame de Paris" and labored near the end of his program (also falling on a sit spin), but had racked up sufficient points by then for a decisive win. "I'm very happy to make the Grand Prix Final," said Hanyu. "Despite my mistakes in the free skate, I was able to score more than 160 points, so my training has paid off." The 2010 world junior champion, who is coached by Brian Orser, says the triumph here will give him motivation going forward. "I want to do well at the final and also at the world championships, so this gives me something to aim for," Hanyu stated. "Regardless of my scores, the important thing is to continue to show people that I can grow."

Takahito Mura Wins Trophee Bompard

In the 2012-2013 Season Japan was very deep in men’s figure skating. In November 2012,Takahito Mura of Japan had a strong free program and won the Trophee Bompard in France. Mura rallied past the overnight leader American Jeremy Abbott. [Source: Jerome Pugmire, Associated Press, November 17, 2012]

Jerome Pugmire of Associated Press wrote: “Mura, who finished eighth at Skate Canada last month, was second overnight and started his free skate confidently with clean landings on his quad toeloop and his triple lutz-triple toeloop. "A year ago I couldn't even imagine I could win the competition here. I'm very surprised," said Mura, whose parents were competitive figure skaters. "The challenge for me is to keep the consistency and keep at a certain level. Even if I fail on the quad, I have to nail the triple axel for sure ... keep the quality high overall."

Although Mura pulled out of a triple flip toward the end of his program he scored enough to beat Abbott, 230.68 points to 227.63. The American expressed reservations about how well his sore back would react to the longer free exercise. He appeared to be slightly restricted in his movement. [Ibid]

Takahashi, Tran Win Japan's 1st Pairs Medal

Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran took the bronze after the free skate on March 30 at the World Championships in Nice, France to become the first skaters representing Japan to medal in an international senior pairs competition.Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy won the pairs gold with a total of 201.49 points, 0.11 point ahead of Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. [Source: Taisuke Goto, Asahi Shimbun, March 31, 2012]

"I was satisfied with our third-place finish after the short program," 20-year-old Takahashi said. "We were still third after the free skate. I was happiest when we celebrated with hugs." After the short program on March 28, the pair scored 124.32 points in the free program for a total of 189.69. Because Tran is a Canadian, the pair cannot represent Japan at the 2014 Sochi Olympics unless the 21-year-old obtains Japanese citizenship. [Ibid]

Japanese-American Ice Dancers Compete for Japan, Their Sister Skates for Georgia

Cathy and Chris Reed---a 22-year-old and 20-year-old brother and sister team from New Jersey’skated for Japan at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver the ice dancing event. Their younger sister Allison skated for the country of Georgia. “I know it sounds a little crazy and confusing but we’re so happy to be at the Olympics together, no matter what country we’re representing,” Cathy Reed said of the three-Olympian family. “To be honest with you, this whole experience has been a little crazy.” [Source: Juliet Macur, New York Times, February 19, 2010]

Juliet Macur wrote in the New York Times, “The Reed children were born in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Their mother, Noriko Reed, is from Japan. Their father, Robert Reed, was born and raised in Nebraska. While Chris and Cathy have obvious ties to Japan, Allison did not have any connection to Georgia before becoming one of its athletes, but she has been trying hard to learn more about the country, particularly because she received a Georgian passport last year.” [Ibid]

“Allison Reed, 15, is an ice dancer from Warren, N.J., but is competing in the Olympics for the Republic of Georgia. In a move that is not unusual for a sport in which compatible partners are hard to find, she and the Georgian ice dancer Otar Japaridze paired up last May. Four months later, they unexpectedly qualified for these Winter Games. By November she had a Georgian passport. Now she is a dual citizen.” [Ibid]

“Noriko Reed estimated that it costs more than $70,000 a year for Chris and Cathy’s training, and that the Japanese Figure Skating Federation has only begun to contribute financing this year. When Allison moved closer to her rink last summer, renting an apartment, the cost of the family hobby increased sharply.” Noriko Reed said. “I never planned for this, but my children are competing in the highest event every athlete dreams of, so why not do everything you can to help them?” Noriko Reed said. [Ibid]

“After falling short of mastering the jumps and spins of singles skating, Cathy began ice dancing when she was 13,” Macur wrote. “Chris joined her when he was 11. He was too weak and short to lift her when they started, but they improved as he grew. In 2006 they won the United States novice championships. At the time, though, there was too much depth at the top of ice dancing in the United States. (Two United States teams are favorites to win medals at these Games.) So their coach, Nikolai Morozov, had a solution: try to compete for Japan. There, singles skating is the priority, so there is room at the top in dance.” [Ibid]

“As athletes with dual citizenship, they soon became Japan’s top ice dancers, winning three consecutive national championships. They competed at the world championships twice, finishing 16th both times. While they grew up speaking a little Japanese, communication with their skating federation is still difficult, so their mother is often around to translate.” “It is a little bittersweet to compete for Japan because we did compete for the U.S. for a long time, so it was a hard decision,” Cathy Reed told the New York Times. “But I don’t regret the decision. I love skating for Japan. We consider ourselves Japanese.” [Ibid]

Japanese Pairs Skater Changes Country, Name in Quest of Olympic Dream

Lawrence Yee of Reuters wrote: “The road to Vancouver has been a long one for Russian skater Yuko Kavaguti. It’s taken the 28-year-old across three continents, three skating partners, and one name change. You see, Yuko Kavaguti was born Yuko Kawaguchi. She started as a singles skater in her native Japan, but switched to pairs after watching Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze skate at the 1998 Nagano Games. [Source: Lawrence Yee, Reuters, February 14, 2010

Unable to find a suitable Japanese partner, Yuko paired up with Russian skater Alexander Markuntsov in 1999. The duo represented Japan with moderate success, but dissolved their partnership in 2003 when it proved too difficult to obtain Japanese citizenship for Markuntsov (a requirement for the Olympics). Yuko then moved to the United States and competed with Devin Patrick for two seasons, but their relationship was rocky and it showed in their results. In spring of 2006, she paired up with another Russian, Alexander Smirnov, for one last shot at the Olympics.

In December 2008, Yuko made the difficult decision to relinquish her Japanese citizenship in order to compete for Russia. (Japan doesn’t allow dual citizenship.) Some in her native country branded her a traitor. Some in her adopted country resented that a foreign-born skater would represent Russia in its most dominant discipline. (Russia has won every pairs gold since 1964.) Along with her new citizenship came a new, more “Russian-sounding last name---Kavaguti.

"People who follow sports understand that I'm not a traitor. I still consider myself Japanese. I chose to compete for Russia because I didn't have a [good] partner in Japan," Kavaguti explained to Reuters. She’s right. As the 2009 World bronze medalists and the 2010 European champions, Kavaguti and Smirnov are now Russia’s top pair in Vancouver. She’ll be called onto Olympic ice by a name she wasn’t born with, but that doesn’t matter. "Since I was a little girl I wanted to compete in the Olympics, so in the end I had to make that choice in order for me to fulfill my childhood dream."

Image Sources: Wikipedia, Japan Figure Skating Association, Olympic.org

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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