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Battle for Spots on Worlds Team Highlights Japan Championships

A day before the start of the Japan Championships, Shoma Uno ran through his short program and looked sharp while landing all of his jumps without issues.

Two-time world champion Shoma Uno took the ice on Wednesday, December 20 at Big Hat Ice Arena in Nagano for the official practice ahead of the start of the Japan Championships. At this prestigious four-day event, Uno and the rest of the country's elite figure skaters will vie for national honors and spots on the team for the 2024 world championships.

The action will get underway with the men's short program on Thursday afternoon at the venue that hosted ice hockey during the 1998 Nagano Olympics. That will be followed by the women's short program on Friday.

Uno, who turned 26 on December 17, ran through his short program to "I Love You Kung Fu" and looked sharp while landing all of his jumps without issues during the session, according to observers. A victory will give Uno a sixth national crown, equaling the number won by Yuzuru Hanyu.

"I don't know what kind of jumps it will be during the event," Uno was quoted as saying. "Everyone's jumps seemed to be in good condition and I think it will be a tough battle. I will be happy if everyone does their best and gets good results."

Japan Championships
Yuma Kagiyama (KYODO)

Kagiyama Going for First Senior Japan Title

Beijing Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama skated to his short program of "Believer" and hit a quad salchow and quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo, but did not land his triple axel cleanly.

Kagiyama seemed energized to have all of his domestic competitors skating together.

"Today everyone at the top gathered for the first time in a long time," Kagiyama commented. "I think I was able to practice very well."

This event was the only one an injured Kagiyama skated in during the 2022-23 season (he finished eighth). The 20-year-old was third at the Grand Prix Final in Beijing and is likely to give Uno a run for his money this week.

"I think the most important thing is to have a solid short program and free skate," Kagiyama remarked.

Japan Championships
Kao Miura runs through his rendition of "Attack on Titan." (KYODO)

Miura Sets Goal of Podium Finish

World junior champion Kao Miura worked on his free skate to "Attack on Titan" and hit a quad loop at the outset and then a quad toe loop/triple toe loop combination jump.

The 18-year-old Miura, who suffered a bout of gastroenteritis during the Grand Prix Final, which was held two weeks ago, sounded a confident tone after he finished training.

"I definitely want to be on the podium," Miura stated. "My level is high, so I don't have to worry about the rankings right now, I just want to do what I can. I've been preparing and I've practiced to the fullest. All that's left is to believe in myself."

Japan Championships
Kaori Sakamoto gets ready for the Japan Championships. (KYODO)

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Sakamoto Likely to Get Strong Challenge from Shimada

Two-time world champion Kaori Sakamoto trained to her short program of "Baby, God Bless You" and landed her jumps as the music played but fell on a spin.

The 23-year-old Sakamoto revealed that she was ill this past weekend but is hoping to be fully fit by Friday's short program.

"My condition has dropped, but I hope I can make a full comeback by the start of the event," Sakamoto said. "It is important to return your physical condition to 100 percent day by day, and to have a body that can move while adjusting the condition."

Sakamoto will be seeking her fourth national title in Nagano and could find her biggest challenge in the form of 15-year-old world junior champion Mao Shimada, who came in third in 2022.

Japan Championships
Mao Shimada has won eight consecutive international events. (KYODO)

Shimada ran through her free skate to "Benedictus" and cleanly landed her triple axel but did not fully execute her quad toe loop. She fell on a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo. But she got up and then landed the quad toe loop after a few tries.

The young phenom won her second straight Junior GP Final earlier this month, which extended her winning streak in international competitions to eight.

"I don't think I can be the queen of the Japan Championships yet, but I hope I can skate like I want so that I can get a little closer," Shimada commented. "Last year I could not do it, so I will try to enjoy it this year and do my best."


Author: Jack Gallagher

The author is a veteran sports journalist and one of the world's foremost figure skating experts. Find articles and podcasts by Jack on his author page, and find him on X (formerly Twitter) @sportsjapan.


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