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[ICE TIME] Japan Favored for Multiple Medals at the Grand Prix Final

Following an impressive Grand Prix Final medal haul in December 2022 in Turin, Italy, Japanese skaters look poised for another banner showing.

After a short break following the NHK Trophy, the elite of Japanese skating are on their way to Beijing this week to participate in the Grand Prix Final competitions (junior and senior) from Thursday through Sunday, December 7-10. 

The Hinomaru will have an impressive 10 singles skaters (six seniors, four juniors) participating in the prestigious event that features the top six finishers in each discipline during the 2023-24 Grand Prix season.

In December 2022, Japan came away from the Junior Grand Prix Final and Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, with a total of five singles medals, but could top that this time around.

Two-time world champions Shoma Uno and Kaori Sakamoto lead the Japan team that also includes the 2022-23 season's world junior titlists Mao Shimada and Kao Miura.

The action is slated to get underway on Thursday, December 7 at the National Indoor Stadium in the Chinese capital.

Uno, who came in second at both of his GP competitions this season, will be going up against the likes of France's Adam Siao Him Fa, who won both his GPs, world bronze medalist Ilia Malinin of the United States, as well as teammates Yuma Kagiyama and Miura.

The 25-year-old Uno is the defending champion in the event. But he will have to battle to retain his title this year after receiving multiple rotation calls on his jumps at the recent NHK Trophy in Osaka and considering the emergence of Siao Him Fa this season.


Yuma Kagiyama (KYODO)

Kagiyama Praises Kostner's Impact on His Skating

Kagiyama, who is coming off a powerful victory at the NHK Trophy, will be a strong contender for a medal as will Miura, who won the GP in Finland in November. The 20-year-old Kagiyama paid tribute to Carolina Kostner, who coaches him along with his father Masakazu, in an interview following his triumph in Kansai.

"I have learned intricate details of understanding music and the meanings behind choreographic movements from Carolina-san," Kagiyama told Sports Graphic Number's Yoshie Noguchi. "By giving meaning to each movement, a story emerges."

Kaori Sakamoto is the two-time defending women's world champion. (ISU/GETTY IMAGES/via KYODO)

Sakamoto Favored for First GP Final Crown

Sakamoto finished a disappointing fifth at the GP Final won by training partner Mai Mihara last season. However, she comes in as the favorite in 2023 in the wake of her victories at Skate Canada and GP Espoo. Joining Sakamoto in the field will be compatriots Hana Yoshida and Rion Sumiyoshi.

The 23-year-old Sakamoto's prime challengers are likely to be Isabeau Levito of the US and two-time world medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium.

Mao Shimada
Mao Shimada is the reigning world junior champion. (KYODO)

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Shimada, Shin to Vie for Junior Women's Gold

In the junior women's category, there will be a battle of Japan vs South Korea, as both countries have three skaters who have qualified. Mao Shimada will be defending the title she won in 2022 and will join forces with last season's world junior bronze medalist Ami Nakai and young phenom Rena Uezono in the lineup.

The 15-year-old Shimada, who won both of her JGPs this season as well as her third straight Japan junior crown, will likely be in for a strong fight for the gold from South Korea's Jia Shin, who also was victorious in both of her JGPs and was the world junior silver medalist each of the last two years.

Shin's teammates Yuseong Kim and Minsol Kwon could also factor into the medal equation.

Rio Nakata in an August 2023 file photo. (KYODO)

Nakata Carries Japan's Hopes in Junior Men's Contest

Japan has just one qualifier in the junior men's discipline, but Rio Nakata enters as the top scorer this season based on his win and a second-place finish in his two JGPs. The 15-year-old Nakata came in second behind Shunsuke Nakamura at November's Japan Junior Championships in Otsu, Shiga Prefecture.

South Korea will have two entries in Juheon Lim and Hyungyeom Kim.

Also slated to pull on the boots are France's Francois Pitot, Daniel Martynov of the US, and Slovakia's Adam Hagara.

Japan will have no entries in pairs or ice dance in both the junior and senior events.

Brian Joubert in a December 2017 file photo. (Thomas Bresson/CC BY-SA 4.0/via WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Former World Champion Joubert Sanctioned for Conduct

France's Brian Joubert, the 2007 world champion, has been disciplined for his behavior, according to a report in ouest-france.fr on November 25. The 39-year-old Joubert was issued a one-year ban with a two-year suspended sentence by the disciplinary committee of the French Ice Sports Federation (FFSG) on November 24.

Joubert, who teaches at a rink in his hometown of Poitiers, is appealing the sanction, as is the FFSG, which could levy a heavier sentence should it prevail.

The allegations against Joubert are disturbing and include public drunkenness, verbal and physical violence against young skaters, and suspicion of sexual relations with a minor over 15 years old, according to L'Equipe.

Joubert contends that the charges are fabricated and a result of his clashes with FFSG president Gwenaelle Noury, who has reportedly excluded the star from becoming part of the executive branch of the organization three different times.

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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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