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[ICE TIME] For Kaori Sakamoto, Sublime Skating Sets Her Apart

Three-time world champ Kaori Sakamoto is on a different level than her peers, and what has always set her apart is her strength, speed and mental fortitude.

Kaori Sakamoto made history when she won her third straight world title on March 22 in Montreal, Canada. 

In doing so, the 23-year-old star became the first woman to claim three consecutive world crowns in 56 years, since American Peggy Fleming did it from 1966-68.

Ice Time has been covering Sakamoto since early in her days as a junior and what has always set her apart from her competitors is her strength, speed and mental fortitude. She is a powerful jumper, who is faster than the other skaters, and tougher.

Kaori Sakamoto
Kaori Sakamoto (Eric Bolte/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Kaori Sakamoto Never Lost Her Composure

The Kobe native didn't let her result in the short program at the world championships, where she finished fourth, affect her drive for a third gold.

"I felt a bit anxious before my short program, and unfortunately, that manifested in my performance," Sakamoto noted. "Although I experienced a range of emotions before my free program, I'm happy that I maintained my composure and completed my skate."

Sakamoto, who was the bronze medalist at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, said keeping her cool on the ice during her free skate was crucial to her victory.

"Despite the excitement that arose from the audience's enthusiasm after the triple combo, I made sure I didn't get carried away and skated with composure," Sakamoto stated. "I skated well from the beginning of the season and I feel like I gained confidence going into next season."

Sakamoto's big jumps and blazing speed were on full display in her win. Watching Sakamoto's skating and comparing it to those of many of her competitors made it seem as if they were skating in slow motion.

It is clear that at this time Sakamoto is on a different level than the other skaters. She took the title in Canada by more than 10 points and with a stronger short program the margin could have been even greater. Unless and until a strong challenger emerges, it's Kaori's world.

Mone Chiba made her World Figure Skating Championships debut in Montreal. (KYODO)

Chiba, Yoshida Solid in World Debuts

Mone Chiba and Hana Yoshida both turned in respectable showings in their first senior worlds. Chiba came in seventh, while Yoshida placed eighth. At 18, both skaters have bright futures ahead of them.

"No matter which jump I missed today, I was determined to finish it," Chiba remarked after her free skate. "From now on, I would like to continue to improve my musical expressiveness."

Added Chiba, "I was able to participate in a big competition in my first year as a senior, so I want to aim for more consistent performances in my second senior year."

Shoma Uno has not yet announced if he'll continue his skating career in the 2024-25 season. (Eric Bolte/USA TODAY SPORTS)

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Uno's Competitive Future Uncertain

The results in the men's event in Montreal were a bit of a surprise, as it seemed a near certainty that Japan would emerge with two medals based on the results during the 2023-24 season.

Shoma Uno entered as the two-time world champion, looking to become the first man to win three world titles in a row since Canada's Patrick Chan did it from 2011-13. A strong short program put Uno halfway to that goal, before he came undone in his free skate.

The 26-year-old Uno wound up finishing fourth on March 23, behind champion Ilia Malinin of the United States, compatriot Yuma Kagiyama and France's Adam Siao Him Fa.

Uno was clearly disappointed in his comments after the free skate, and hinted that he may retire from competition with a cryptic quote.

"I didn't make a decision yet if I will continue skating for another season or not," Uno stated in the mixed zone. "This free skate I [will] never, ever rewatch in 10 years."

Uno can't be blamed for considering retirement, especially after watching Malinin's mind-blowing performance in the free skate in which he landed six clean quadruple jumps. Shoma knows that beating the 19-year-old Malinin now will be a daunting task.

If Uno does decide to retire, Japan will have a young group of outstanding skaters in Kagiyama, Kao Miura, 18, and Shun Sato, 20, moving toward the 2026 Olympics.

Yuma Kagiyama (KYODO)

Kagiyama Gave It His All on Way to Silver

With the exception of a fall on his second triple axel in his free skate, the 20-year-old Kagiyama put together two fantastic programs. He is clearly all the way back from the ankle injury that caused him to miss nearly all of the 2022-23 campaign.

The Beijing Olympic silver medalist, who now has two senior world medals in his trophy case, acknowledged that challenging Malinin will be next to impossible.

"I saw the second half of Ilia's performance," Kagiyama commented before adding, "I don't think I can win against him."

He then said, "I want to improve in every way, in order to catch up with him, [and] I want to get two new programs and also improve my technical [skills]."

Kao Miura (Eric Bolte/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Miura Not Content with Result at Worlds

The 18-year-old Miura, who was eighth, was unhappy following his free skate and already looking toward next season.

"Although I had planned to start the performance with a successful quad loop, I fell during the attempt, which affected the rest of my routine," Miura noted. "It was surprising because I had been successfully landing it in practice."

Added Miura, "I couldn't deliver the performance I had in mind. Despite this being my first world championships, I understand the need to practice hard and aim to win in the next season, especially with the Olympics approaching."

At the 2023 World Junior Championships in Calgary, Canada, where Miura won by a huge margin, he told Ice Time that his goal was to win the gold medal at the 2026 Winter Games. Based on Malinin's ascension and youth, I think Miura likely has the best chance to challenge him in the long term.

Adam Siao Him Fa rallies to earn a bronze medal at the world championships. (©ISU)

Siao Him Fa Shines in Record Comeback

Siao Him Fa energized the crowd at the Bell Centre with his sensational free skate that vaulted him all the way from 19th after the short program to the podium and the bronze medal.

"This competition has a lot of ups and downs and so many emotions," the 23-year-old Siao Him Fa stated. "I didn't expect to win a medal. It gives me a lot of motivation going into next season."

Siao Him Fa's free skate was highlighted by a backflip, an illegal move that resulted in a two-point penalty.

"It did cross my mind that maybe two points would matter after all in the end," Siao Him Fa revealed. "I didn't actually think of the chance of winning a medal, just realized it when Shoma's score came up."

Benoit Richaud, the coach and choreographer for Siao Him Fa, was asked about his skater's extreme move in the free skate afterward.

"I love it, because I think we need to bring new elements," Richaud commented. "We need to be allowed to give a little bit of freedom to the skater. To give them more space to create new things. 

"I want to see more crazy spins, I want to see new creativity."

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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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