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[ICE TIME] After Triumph at Four Continents, Yuma Kagiyama Poised for Shot at First World Title

Yuma Kagiyama dominated at the Four Continents and he appears to be peaking at just the right time to challenge Shoma Uno and Ilia Malinin in Montreal.

To say Yuma Kagiyama's win at the Four Continents Championships in Shanghai on Saturday, February 3 was impressive would be a massive understatement. The 20-year-star confirmed he is all the way back from the ankle injury that cost him almost the entire 2022-23 season.

Kagiyama's margin of victory over compatriot Shun Sato, the second-place finisher, was nearly 33 points and totaled 307.58 points. That number was not far off Kagiyama's personal best of 310.05, established when he claimed the silver medal behind Nathan Chen at the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

More importantly, Kagiyama was able to attempt three different kinds of quadruple jumps (flip, salchow, toe loop) in his free skate to "Rain, In Your Black Eyes." He will need those if he is to challenge Shoma Uno and American Ilia Malinin for the world title in March.

When Kagiyama took the silver at the Olympics, he landed two quad toe loops, a quad salchow, and was a quarter rotation short on a quad loop in his free skate. 

Since his injury, he has relied on just the toe loop and salchow, which were the only two quads he tried in the free skate at this season's Japan Championships in December 2023. He was second behind Uno there.

"I scored more than 300 points for the first time since the Olympics," Kagiyama stated after the win in Shanghai. "Last year I was unable to participate at the Four Continents as I was injured. Coming back, I made progress step by step."

Four Continents
Four Continents men's gold medalist Yuma Kagiyama (KYODO)

Success at Four Continents Motivates Kagiyama to Keep Improving

Kagiyama noted that he has to continue raising his game going forward.

"At this Four Continents, I successfully executed three different quadruple jumps," he commented. "This performance has motivated me to aim for even higher scores and technical proficiency in the upcoming seasons.

"However, whether I can win the championship next time with a score of 300 remains to be seen. I understand the importance of continuously improving my technical skills."

Despite his highly successful career, it is interesting to note that the win at the Four Continents was Kagiyama's first ever in an ISU Championship event. He had previously finished second four times ― once at junior worlds, twice at senior worlds, and third at the 2020 Four Continents.

With this season's world championships in Montreal set to get underway on March 20, Kagiyama appears to be peaking at just the right time and should give both Uno and Malinin a real challenge for the gold there.

Four Continents
At the Four Continents, Shun Sato had his best showing ever at an ISU Championship event. (KYODO)

Sato Solid on Way to Silver in Shanghai

Sato continued his fine season with a second-place showing behind Kagiyama in Shanghai. The young skater, who turned 20 on February 6, landed three clean quads and four triples on his way to getting the silver with 274.59. He earned level fours on two of his spins and a level three on another and his step sequence.

"I did the quad lutz in both the short and free program," Sato remarked before adding, "I had some errors, therefore I am not fully satisfied with my performance. This is a good championship for me going into next season."

The finish at the Four Continents was Sato's best showing ever at an ISU Championship event. He was third at the 2023 Four Continents and sixth at the junior worlds in 2020.

Ice Time has been watching Sato for years, and his raw talent has always been evident. What he really needs is more polish on the non-jumping elements of his programs. The view here is that he would really benefit by working overseas under a foreign coach for an extended period of time, somebody like Brian Orser or Rafael Arutunian.

It seems as if Sato is at a plateau and needs an extra boost to get to the next level.

Four Continents
Mone Chiba displays winning form in the women's free skate at the Four Continents on February 2. (KYODO)

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Chiba Shines in the Four Continents

Mone Chiba was outstanding on her way to the gold in the women's event at the Four Continents. The rising star seems to get better with each competition. She won going away in Shanghai on Friday, February 2 by more than 10 points over South Korea's Chaeyeon Kim with a total of 214.98. The 19-year-old Chiba is clearly a budding star and will continue to improve.

A native of Sendai, Chiba exhibited beautiful line and edge during her skates. She looks like a real natural on the ice, which she lights up with a bright smile.

"I was able to do a satisfying performance without any mistakes, which I think gave me confidence," Chiba stated. 

"My goal for the world championships is to have even more confidence compared to the Four Continents and do a performance without any mistakes. I can't say about the rankings, so I don't have it as one of my goals."

Four Continents
Rinka Watanabe (KYODO)

Watanabe Looking to Boost Jump Arsenal

Rinka Watanabe took home the bronze behind Chiba and Kim at 202.17 after landing a triple axel in her free skate to "Brotsjor" and "Goliath." She also indicated in her post-skate comments that she is eyeing an even bigger jump for next season.

"I am happy I landed my triple axel, but then I popped my triple lutz," Watanabe said.

She added, "I am working on a quad loop and will focus on this in the offseason."

Watanabe's podium finish in China was also the first of her career and an ISU Championship. She was 10th at the junior worlds in 2022, fifth at 2023's Four Continents and 10th at last year's worlds.

The 21-year-old Watanabe, who trained in Vancouver, British Columbia, for several years, really needs to improve her consistency. She certainly has the ability, but her results are all over the place when taking a look at her track record.

Taira Shinohara in a file photo from 2022. (Jay Adeff/US FIGURE SKATING)

Shinohara Wins Bavarian Open

Fresh off taking the silver medal at the US Junior Championships in January in Columbus, Ohio, 17-year-old Taira Shinohara won the junior title at the Bavarian Open in Oberstdorf, Germany, on January 31 with a tally of 193.87.

The teen from Schaumburg, Illinois, is continuing to improve under coaches Denise Myers and Jeremy Allen, and choreographer Tommy Steenberg, who he works with at the Twin Rinks Ice Pavilion in Buffalo Grove, Illinois.

After missing out on a Junior Grand Prix assignment this season, Shinohara has come on strong and is now the second alternate for the 2024 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, which get underway on February 28, in Taipei.

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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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