Team Japan Triumphs at the Japan Open


Team Japan takes another victory at the Japan Open; Shoma Uno, Sotoko Miyahara, Evgenia Medvedeva, and Javier Fernandez especially impress.

Even though every year it occurs in a ridiculously crowded weekend and isn’t a competition where anyone cares about the results that much, eyes are always on the Japan Open. After all, it’s an early look, usually the first we get for most of them, at twelve elite skaters and their free programs. The format is simple. There are three teams: Team Japan, Team Europe, and Team North America. Each team has two men and two ladies. Everyone skates their free programs. The scores are added up, and whichever team has the most points wins. The Japan Open is also just about the last remaining “Pro-Am” competition, which means retired skaters can compete alongside the Olympic eligible “amateurs.” Typically each team will have one retiree.

As the home team, Team Japan wins more years than not, and they did so this year. Team Europe came in second, and Team North America third.

Team Japan

The home team won largely on the scores of their two men, but also on those of Satoko Miyahara. All three showed great promise in how high they scored here, although they might have gotten higher because of the event’s location. Shoma Uno especially impressed, topping the men’s leaderboard with nearly 200 points. Part of this was his landing his quadruple flip jump.  Another part was him also landing his quad toe loop-double toe loop combination, as well as his triple axel-triple toe combination, and in fact all of his triples. He did fall on a solo quad attempt, which was the only reason he didn’t break 200. This time. Miyahara’s skate was equally promising for the upcoming season. She was completely flawless, without even any underrotations. With full credit for six triples including a triple lutz-triple toe combination, she broke 140, and placed second among the ladies.

Not skating for the upcoming season was retiree Nobunari Oda. But despite being retired for longer than the other two retirees competing, he trounced both of them in a third-place skate that even included a spectacular quad toe-triple toe. A program of feeling and delicacy, it wasn’t quite clean, but it was close enough. It left the audience on its feet. The fourth team member, Wakaba Higuchi, is just up from juniors with a bronze medal from last year’s World Junior Championships. She is not yet up to the level of everyone else who skated here, but did respectably in her fifth-place skate with a lovely triple lutz-triple toe, even if she doubled one jump and singled another.

Team Europe

The highlight of Team Europe were the reigning World Champions. If Russian breakout girls are all supposed to crash and burn the year after, someone failed to inform Evgenia Medvedeva, at least so far. Even when her long program has a corny beginning and ending and sound effects thought by some to be in poor taste, she is as brilliant as ever in most of what she does on the ice. Landing everything in her program, including her triple flip-triple toe, helped too. She came close to 150 to top the ladies’ leaderboard. Meanwhile, Javier Fernandez’s long program looks nothing but perfect for him. He happily flirted and flew and jumped through his Elvis music. He also had a quad toe and two quad salchows, including one in combination with a triple toe. Even with a couple of late mistakes, he was second on the leaderboard, not far behind Uno.

World bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya also did her part to secure second, generally skating well in her fourth-place free. Her free program started with an unclean triple lutz-triple toe and a singled axel, but she made up for it as best as she could with the rest of the program. The newly retired Florent Amodio struggled a little more, landing only two clean triples, rotating a single triple axel but stepping out of it, and also doing only two combinations and in fact only six jumping passes, even though men are allowed to do eight. This lack of content left the Frenchman a distant sixth to the other men.

Team North America

Team North America might have simply been called Team America; all four skaters this year were from the States. None of them had the standout skates of the other teams. Ashley Wagner skated the best of them. She came in third on the leaderboard with a decent performance of her dramatic Exogenesis free, which she sold the anguish of for all it was worth. But even she failed to rotate her triple flip-triple toe, or even her triple loop-loop-triple salchow combination, and she singled the second jump of her third combination as well. Skating not dissimilarly was her friend Adam Rippon. He went for the quad lutz, underrotated it badly enough to see it downgraded to a triple before falling, singled the second jump of his axel combination, and wasn’t at his best in his other elements either. It left him fifth, .14 behind Jeremy Abbott.

Abbott stood in for the retired skater. He recently confirmed he would not be competing this season, but still said he was not ruling out making a last run at the Olympics next year. He probably won’t, but his performance and score this week can’t have discouraged him. It was a lovely program, even with a couple of singles in combinations. Retirement has done nothing to his artistry. However, he attempted no quads, which was probably the reason there was nothing that disrupted its mood.

Going the other way was Gracie Gold. Coming in speaking of having more maturity and sophistication than her younger competitors, she skated a Daphnis and Chloe free for which that might not have even been ideal. This week, however, that mattered little, because she also fell twice, including on an underrotated triple lutz-triple toe, doubled and singles an intended triple-double combination, and lost one of her jumping passes completely. Naturally she came in last.

Full results can be viewed here.