It was a banner weekend for Japan at Skate Canada with the Hinomaru taking four of the six singles medals on offer in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Saturday, October 28.
In her GP season debut, the 23-year-old Sakamoto was impressive, winning by nearly 25 points over South Korea's Chaeyeon Kim on Saturday. Sakamoto's winning total score was 226.13 points. Kim was second with 201.15, with Rino Matsuike coming in third at 198.62.
Sakamoto landed seven clean triples in her free skate to "Wild Is the Wing" and "Feeling Good" and earned level fours on two of her spins and step sequence in a sublime performance. She exuded confidence from start to finish while exhibiting her years of experience on the ice.
"I feel very much relieved and serene about the performance," Sakamoto stated.
She added, "I was very calm, I had good tension and felt really comfortable out there. It's a great feeling seeing this score."
The Kobe native is striving to achieve more moving forward.
"This is my seventh season, but so far I have won only four Grand Prix events, so I still have a long way to go," Sakamoto noted. "I was able to score 151 points (in the free skate) and I went to look at the score and figured that I left some points on the table in my spins and in the GOE (Grade of Execution)."
Matsuike Displays Graceful Form at Skate Canada
Matsuike's showing signified a renaissance of sorts, as the 19-year-old was a favorite to make Japan's team for the 2022 Beijing Olympics a couple of seasons ago before being sidetracked by injury. She was a replacement for Rika Kihira in Vancouver and the medal was her first in a GP since 2020.
Matsuike competed to "Nella Fantasia" in her free skate and put forth a lovely effort. Though Matsuike had four jumps judged to be a quarter rotation short, she won the audience over with the fluidity and grace of her skating. She posted level fours on two of her spins and step sequence.
"I can't believe I am here and won a medal," Matsuike commented before adding, "I was very nervous, but after the first (triple) loop I felt comfortable."
She continued by saying, "I wasn't even supposed to be at an event like this and I was just happy to be here and be in good health."
Rinka Watanabe, who won Skate Canada last season, struggled this time around and finished sixth at 182.08.
Yamamoto Collects Elusive First Senior GP Title
Yamamoto edged compatriot Kao Miura for the first gold of his senior GP career on Saturday night. The 23-year-old Yamamoto triumphed with a score of 258.42, with Miura taking second at 257.89. Italy's Matteo Rizzo was third with 246.01, while Kazuki Tomono was fourth on 245.12.
Once seen as the heir apparent to Yuzuru Hanyu before injuries impacted his career, Yamamoto led after the short program and held off a hard charge by world junior champion Miura to top the podium.
Yamamoto hit three quads and four triples in his free skate to "Exogenesis Symphony Part 3" and notched level fours on all of his spins in the win. He did fall on a triple axel and received an edged call on a triple lutz.
"I knew this competition would be very important as it leads to the Grand Prix Final," Yamamoto remarked.
The Osaka Prefecture native added, "I was nervous, but once I got on the ice and during the performance, I was able to enjoy the skating and I think that led to the result today."
Advice Helps Miura Earn the Silver Medal
The 18-year-old Miura was fourth after the short program. But he stormed back in his free skate to the "Attack On Titan" soundtrack with three clean quads and five triples. His fall on a triple axel, however, helped cost him the title.
"I was able to put together a pretty good performance and I am satisfied with second place," Miura stated. "Coming back from fourth in the short program I was able to recover. The Grand Prix of Finland (November 17-19) in Espoo is my next event. I skated at that venue one month ago at Finlandia Trophy and I know how the ice feels like."
He added, "I want to use it to my advantage and win there to get to the Grand Prix Final."
Miura complained about the quality of the ice at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre after the short program and said he received a phone call from a friend, junior skater Seigo Tauchi, earlier Saturday offering encouragement.
During the conversation, Tauchi handed the phone to his coach and two-time world champion Miki Ando, who gave Miura some tips about dealing with the ice.
"She (Ando) had great advice for me," Miura commented. "I took that to heart and I think it paid off. It's great when friends reach out to me with help."
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Yamashita, Oda Prevail at the Western Japan Sectionals
Mako Yamashita won the women's event at the Western Japan Sectionals in Hiroshima on Saturday, October 28 to qualify to compete in the Japan Championships in Nagano in December. The 20-year-old Yamashita was victorious with a score of 181.60, ahead of Saki Miyake, who was second (179.03), and Sae Shimizu, who placed third (161.89).
Nobunari Oda, now 36, was the victor in the men's battle with a tally of 216.76. The veteran, who returned to competition in 2022 after a retirement of several years, came from seventh place after the short program to win.
Sena Miyake (213.61) finished second, while Takumi Sugiyama (207.00) was third in the men's battle.
Oda revealed in an Instagram post later Sunday that he will not be able to compete in the Japan Championships due to not submitting the required documentation in time to the World Anti-Doping Agency and Japan Anti-Doping Agency to be officially reinstated.
The Eastern Japan Sectionals will be contested this week (November 2-5) in Hachinohe, Aomori Prefecture.
Frolova, Aliev Capture Crowns at Third Russian Grand Prix
Anna Frolova won the women's event at the third stage of the Russian Grand Prix series in Krasnoyarsk on Sunday.
The 18-year-old Frolova scored 215.55 in the win. Veronika Yametova took second with 211.29, while Maria Agayeva placed third on 208.91.
Dmitri Aliev claimed the men's title with 260.07, with Alexander Samarin coming in second (256.99). Petr Gumennik finished third (242.77).
Tarasova Says Trusova Should Have Never Left Tutberidze
Trusova was quoted as saying, "I don't consider it betrayal. You combine two different approaches and become stronger."
Tarasova then chimed in with her views in a different interview.
"It's not fair to say that when an athlete leaves a coach, they betray them," Tarasova told Sport24 in comments that were translated into English and posted on fs-gossips.com. "But, at the same time, you can't say that they don't. On one hand, you shouldn't forget the many years of work and the coach's efforts to turn the athlete into a champion.
"On the other hand, athletes all around the world change coaches when they want to make changes in their work, work with different specialists, improve themselves, create new programs and simply explore different approaches."
Tarasova then said she believed Trusova leaving Eteri Tutberidze was a mistake.
"When Trusova left Tutberidze for (Evgeni) Plushenko and then returned, Eteri handled it exceptionally well. She accepted her back without saying a word, which is a rare occurrence. I was amazed at how she managed to do it!
"It was the action of a great, intelligent coach," Tarasova continued. "The girl is just wandering around. I think Trusova should have stayed with Tutberidze. It's a shame she couldn't find the strength within herself to come back. She emerged out of nowhere and disappeared into nothing."
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.