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[ICE TIME] Kaori Sakamoto, Yuma Kagiyama Headline Grand Prix Series

In their first Grand Prix Series events of the season, Sakamoto is set to compete in Skate Canada in October and Kagiyama in November's NHK Trophy.

The beginning of the 2024-25 skating season is officially underway following the release of the Grand Prix Series assignments by the International Skating Union on Sunday, June 9.

Once again, the campaign will feature new faces and see the absence of Russian skaters for a third consecutive season. It will also not include some familiar names like retired two-time world champion Shoma Uno

Finland will be the host of a GP in place of Russia in the 2024 season for the third year in a row.

Three-time world champion Kaori Sakamoto will start her season at Skate Canada (October 25-27) and continue it at the NHK Trophy (November 8-10). Sakamoto will be the favorite in each event she enters.

Hana Yoshida in a March 2024 file photo. (KYODO)

She will be joined in Halifax, Nova Scotia, by compatriots Hana Yoshida (the bronze medalist at the GP Final last season) and Rino Matsuike, in a lineup that will see the return of former world bronze medalist Alysa Liu of the United States to the GP series.

Sakamoto will battle with Mone Chiba in Tokyo, where 2023 world silver medalist Haein Lee of South Korea and Liu are also entered.

Two-time Japan champion Rika Kihira, who has missed much of the past three seasons due to an ankle injury, did not receive an assignment this time around. She could be added to the NHK Trophy if she can prove her fitness at early Challenger Series events or as a replacement in the event of an injury.

Grand Prix Series
Wakaba Higuchi is seen competing at the Grand Prix de France on November 3, 2023. (REUTERS/via KYODO)

Additional Info on Japan Women's Grand Prix Series Assignments

Despite producing poor results last season, Wakaba Higuchi received two assignments this fall. She will take the ice at Skate America (October 18-20) and the Grand Prix de France (November 1-3).

Rinka Watanabe and Yuna Aoki will also be in the lineup in Allen, Texas, as will Lee and world silver medalist Isabeau Levito of the US.

In Angers, France, Mai Mihara and Rion Sumiyoshi will also pull on the boots along with two-time world medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium and US champion Amber Glenn.

Yoshida, Mihara and Matsuike are scheduled to compete at the Finlandia Trophy (November 15-17) against Levito and Hendrickx.

Chiba, Rion Sumiyoshi and Watanabe are confirmed for the Cup of China (November 22-24). Also skating in Chongqing will be Glenn and teammate Ava Marie Ziegler, who won the NHK Trophy last season.

Grand Prix Series
Yuma Kagiyama (KYODO)

An Overview of Japan Men's Grand Prix Series Assignments

The competition in the men's field will be fierce this season with the likes of Yuma Kagiyama, Kao Miura and Shun Sato battling world champion Ilia Malinin of the US and European titlist Adam Siao Him Fa of France.

Kagiyama will skate in back-to-back weeks at the NHK Trophy and Finlandia Trophy. Miura will join Kagiyama in Tokyo where the field will include Jason Brown and Tomoki Hiwatashi of the US.

In Helsinki, Kagiyama will have teammates Kazuki Tomono and Sota Yamamoto in the mix, along with South Korea's Jun Hwan Cha, the 2023 world silver medalist, and Italy's Daniel Grassl.

Grand Prix Series
Kazuki Tomono (KYODO)

Miura will start his GP season at Skate America, along with Koshiro Shimada and Nozomu Yoshioka. Malinin will present a formidable foe in Texas.

Sato is marked down for Skate Canada and the Cup of China. In Halifax, Sato will skate against Yamamoto and Malinin, Cha and Brown. Sato will take on Jin and Siao Him Fa in China as Japan's lone male skater.

Shimada and Tomono will make the trip to Angers for the Grand Prix de France, where Siao Him Fa and China's Boyang Jin are entered.

Grand Prix Series
Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara (KYODO)

It's just a shoe!

Japan's Pairs and Ice Dance Assignments

Last season's pairs world silver medalists Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara have been tapped for Skate America and the NHK Trophy. Yuna Nagaoka and Sumitada Moriguchi will also take the ice in Tokyo.

World pairs winners Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps have drawn Skate Canada and the Finlandia Trophy.

Japan's ice dance teams ― Utana Yoshida/Masaya Morita and Azusa Takana/Shingo Nishiyama ― will make their lone appearances this campaign at the NHK Trophy.

World champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the US will compete at Skate America and the NHK Trophy.

Four Continents
Four Continents men's gold medalist Yuma Kagiyama in February 2024. (KYODO)

Kagiyama Reveals Thoughts About New Image

In recent interviews with Sports Hochi and Nikkan Sports, translated into English and posted on fs-gossips.com, Kagiyama spoke about the retirement of Uno and his thoughts about being seen as Japan's top male skater.

"I was surprised when I heard it," Kagiyama said of Uno's retirement. "I'm really looking forward to watching his skating as a professional."

He then said, "I would also like to practice with him again."

About being seen as Japan's new No 1 skater, Kagiyama had an interesting take.

"I have my own goals, so I want to keep those in mind and pursue them," Kagiyama commented.

He added, "I don't think I give the same sense of security that people had when they entrusted Japan to [Yuzuru] Hanyu and Uno. [And] I want to gain more aura and stature through gaining more and more experience in competitions."

Russian Grand Prix Series Schedule

With Russian skaters still banned from international competitions by the ISU over the war in Ukraine, the Figure Skating Federation of Russia will hold a domestic series of Grand Prix events for the third straight year.

The schedule for the six competitions, which will include junior events, is as follows:

Moscow (juniors only) – October 13-16; Magnitogorsk – October 23-27; Kazan – October 30-November 3; Krasnoyarsk – November 6-10; Moscow – November 13-17; St Petersburg – November 20-24.

The Russian Federation will hold the Grand Prix Final in Novosibirsk from February 13-16, while the Junior GP Final will take place in Kaluga from March 12-16.

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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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