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[ICE TIME] Japan Sending a Young Team to Season-Opening Skate America

Mana Kawabe, Hana Yoshida and Mone Chiba are Japan's Skate America women's entrants. Shun Sato, Tatsuya Tsuboi and Nozomu Yoshioka are the men's entrants.

Six Japanese skaters will take the ice when the Grand Prix season kicks off on Friday, October 20 at Skate America in Allen, Texas. Mana Kawabe, Hana Yoshida and Mone Chiba will represent Japan in the women's competition, while Shun Sato, Tatsuya Tsuboi and world junior bronze medalist Nozomu Yoshioka will skate for the Hinomaru in the men's event.

Of the six singles skaters, Tsuboi is the oldest at age 20. The others are 18 or 19.

Pairs world champions Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara were scheduled to compete at Skate America. But they were forced to pull out due to a back injury that Kihara has been dealing with.

Japan's female trio will be going up against two-time world medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium and United States national champion Isabeau Levito, who won the Challenger Series Nebelhorn Trophy in September, in Germany.

Ilia Malinin (KYODO)

On the men's side, Japan will battle world bronze medalist and jumping sensation Ilia Malinin of the US, France's Kevin Aymoz, who was fourth at the world championships in the 2022-23 season, and Canada's Stephen Gogolev.

Once again Russian and Belarussian skaters will be absent as the ISU has continued its ban on them due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

Hiwatashi Medals at Budapest Trophy

Japan did not have any skaters entered in the Challenger Series Budapest Trophy over the October 14-15 weekend. However, American Tomoki Hiwatashi, who trains in Kyoto with Mie Hamada, took home the bronze medal there.

The 23-year-old Hiwatashi posted a total score of 223.79 points to make the podium behind winner Nikolaj Memola (250.37) of Italy and second-place finisher Lukas Britschgi (246.12) of Switzerland.

Hiwatashi rallied from seventh place after the short program to get the bronze with a strong free skate to "Finlandia," landing a clean quadruple toe loop and six triple jumps while earning level fours on two of his spins.

Kaori Sakamoto competes at the Japan Open on October 7 at Saitama Super Arena. (KYODO)

Sakamoto Talks About Goals for This Season

Two-time world champion Kaori Sakamoto, who will start her Grand Prix season next week (October 27-29) at Skate Canada in Vancouver, British Columbia, discussed the upcoming campaign after the recent Japan Open in Saitama.

"This season I aim to progressively improve and compete against my past self in each competition, including the upcoming Japan nationals and subsequent world championships," Sakamoto was quoted as saying in comments that were translated from website Sportiva and posted on fs-gossips.com. "I hope to cherish each competition and strive for better results."

Sakamoto recalled that she did not get off to a good start in the GP last year.

"Last season the Grand Prix series didn't go smoothly for me, and I managed to return to top form only from the All-Japan Championships," Sakamoto noted. "This season I hope to maintain my best condition and deliver my best performance in both Grand Prix Series events and the Grand Prix Final."

Sakamoto talked about her new free skate to "Wild Is The Wing" and "Feeling Good" by Lauryn Hill.

"It's a genre I haven't explored before, so I'm still struggling with the artistic aspect," Sakamoto commented. "But as the season progresses, I hope to get better and better. This program is all about making a strong initial impression, so I'm consciously focusing on not diverting my gaze from the judges and I'm being mindful of how I use my free leg and arms."

Yuma Kagiyama in an August 2023 file photo. (KYODO)

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Kagiyama Details Continuing Evolution as a Skater

Beijing Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama, who missed almost all of last season with an ankle injury, spoke recently with veteran skating writer Yoshie Noguchi about the progress he has made in his comeback.

"On the technical side, I've learned the finer details of jumps and spins from my father (coach Masakazu) all along," Kagiyama remarked in the story translated from Sports Graphic Number magazine and posted on fs-gossips.com. "On the other hand, in terms of skating and artistic expression, Carolina Kostner has been my coach, and she has taught me a lot about expression and skating during training in Italy."

Noguchi asked Kagiyama, who will start his GP season at the Grand Prix de France in Angers next month (November 3-5), if he could cite some specific advice Kostner had given him.

"When you place your next foot, feel like it's growing from inside your body," Kagiyama stated. "Imagine putting 10 percent of your body weight on it, and start gliding without haste. If you rush, it won't lead to better speed."

Regarding upper body movements, Kostner told Kagiyama, "If you try to move only your arms, your glide will come to a halt. First, let yourself glide, and move your arms as if they are being pulled by the flow."

Update on the Russian Grand Prix Series

Adeliia Petrosian won the season-opening Russian Grand Prix series on Sunday, October 15 with a score of 234.74 points in Ufa.

The 16-year-old Petrosian, who was victorious at the Russian Grand Prix Final last season, fell on two of the three quads she attempted, but did land a quad toe loop/double axel combination. She hit six triple jumps and earned level fours on all of her spins and a level three on her step sequence in the victory.

Anna Frolova was second with 210.88, while Elizaveta Kulikova took third on 199.21.

Evgeni Semenenko won the men's event with 289.37, ahead of Roman Savosin (277.66) and Andrei Mozalev (259.47).

The Russian GP series will travel to Omsk this week (October 20-23) for the second installment of the six-stop competition.

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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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