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[ICE TIME] Mao Shimada Captures JGP in Armenia, Clinches Place in the JGP Final

Aiming to repeat as JGP Final champ, Mao Shimada booked a spot in the prestigious event with a strong performance in the Armenian capital.

World junior champion Mao Shimada secured her ticket to this season's Junior Grand Prix Final with a big victory in the JGP in Yerevan, Armenia, on Friday, October 6. The 14-year-old star, who won the 2022 JGP Final in Turin, Italy, will aim to defend her title in Beijing in December.

Shimada will be one of three Japanese women competing in the 2023 JGP Final. This marquee competition features the top six finishers in each discipline during the JGP campaign, including Ami Nakai and Rena Uezono. Yo Takagi will be the first female alternate in case of injury.

Shimada won in Armenia by a decisive margin, outscoring runner-up Elyce Lin-Gracey of the United States by more than 30 points. For Shimada, her winning total score was 209.81 points, while Lin-Gracey notched 176.11. Sherry Zhang, also of the US, took third with 175.18.

Ikura Kushida, Shimada's training partner, finished fourth on 173.71.

Shimada was victorious in Yerevan despite under-rotating her opening triple axel and falling on her quadruple toe loop in her free skate to "Benedictus." She picked it up from there, going on to land seven clean triples and earning level fours on all of her spins.

"I am happy, but a little bit sad because I made a mistake on the quad toe," Shimada stated. 

She added, "I want to land the triple axel and the quad [in the JGP Final]."

Mao Shimada
Armenia JGP women's winner Mao Shimada (center), runner-up Elyce Lin-Gracey (left) and third-place finisher Sherry Zhang display their medals on October 6 in Yerevan, Armenia. (ⒸISU)

Broadcasters' Comments on Mao Shimada

ISU YouTube announcer Ted Barton was effusive in his analysis of Shimada's free skate on the webcast of the event.

"She is so centered on all her jumps when she takes off," Barton commented before adding, "She has got such consistency. Look how quick she is into rotation. How strong her back is on landing."

ISU analyst Mark Hanretty also praised Shimada's performance in her free skate.

"Not many skaters globally, senior or junior, can carry off ‘Benedictus' by Karl Jenkins, that hauntingly beautiful music, but her maturity completely defies her age," Hanretty noted.

Ikura Kushida is seen competing at the Osaka Junior Grand Prix on September 15. (KYODO)

Kushida Struggles, but Impresses Analysts

The 15-year-old Kushida fell twice in her free skate to "The Little Prince," going down on a double axel and a triple lutz. But she earned plaudits from Hanretty and Barton for her presentation and skating skills.

"What a storyteller and one of the most elegant necklines, just gorgeous top line," Hanretty remarked.

"This performer, this performance, is simple ice royalty in my mind," added Barton. 

"There's some mistakes from a sport perspective, but with that stance, with that presence on the ice, with that story, with that music, you are watching someone who is already a small star and is going to shine and become a big star."

Shunsuke Nakamura glides across the ice in the men's competition at the Junior Grand Prix meet in Yerevan, Armenia, on October 7. (ⒸISU)

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Nakamura Claims Silver in the Men's Event

Shunsuke Nakamura (214.67) came in second in the men's competition in Armenia on Saturday, behind American Daniel Martynov (220.09). Latvia's Fedir Kulish took third place on 205.23.

For Nakamura, the result was good news since he was a disappointing eighth at the Osaka JGP in September. The 18-year-old competed to "Child of Nazareth" in his free skate and opened with a nice quad toe loop and hit five clean triples. He singled a planned triple axel, and still needs work on his spins, as he was only able to record one level four on them.

"A powerful skater. So quick off the ice and into rotation," Barton said in his review of Nakamura's free skate. "This saves a lot. A much better performance than in Osaka."

Nakamura, who qualified for the JGP Final last season, did not make the cut this time due to his poor result in the Osaka JGP.

Kao Miura in a June 2023 file photo. (KYODO)

Miura, Sato Finish 1-2 at Finlandia Trophy

World junior champion Kao Miura won the men's competition at the Challenger Series Finlandia Trophy in Espoo, Finland, on Saturday, October 7 ahead of compatriot Shun Sato. Miura's winning tally was 267.81, while Sato scored 261.23. Aleksandr Selevko of Estonia was third at 238.25.

Miura under-rotated his opening quad loop in his free skate to the "Attack On Titan" soundtrack and fell on a quad toe loop. But he landed a nice quad toe/triple toe loop combo and a quad salchow. He hit five triples on his way to victory.

"Despite making quite a lot of mistakes, I was able to get 176 points [in the free skate]," Miura noted. "I feel that's something which will have more growth as we go further into the season."

Miura said Sato's presence in the same event was helpful.

"I had Shun right beside me, so having a rival close by was a boost," Miura stated. "Personally, I thought it was quite good, considering I was able to compete not nationally but at an overseas competition."

Sato landed three clean quads and six triples in his free skate to "Four Seasons," but was unable to get high marks on all of his spins and step sequence.

"Although I couldn't do a perfect performance, I was glad to have pushed through until the end," Sato commented. "I thought the quad lutz at the beginning was slightly under-rotated. After that, I was able to skate it all at once. I think I had a good competition before the Grand Prix [season]."

Rinka Watanabe in a November 2022 file photo. (KYODO)

Watanabe Takes Second Place in Finland

Rinka Watanabe was second in the women's competition in Espoo on Sunday, October 8. The 21-year-old Watanabe (180.36) placed second behind South Korea's Yelim Kim (187.91). Georgia's Anastasiia Gubanova came in third with 179.61.

Watanabe had a couple of under-rotations (triple toe loop, triple lutz) and singled a planned triple flip in her free skate to "Brotsjor." She was also hit with a one-point deduction for a time violation.

"This was much better than at my first competition this season," Watanabe was quoted as saying. "In this long program I am telling my story as a figure skater."

The Challenger Series moves to Hungary this week for the Budapest Trophy (October 13-15). Japan won't have any skaters entered there, but Tomoki Hiwatashi of the US, who now trains in Kyoto with Mie Hamada, is set to pull on the boots in the men's battle.

Two-time world champions Shoma Uno (left) and Kaori Sakamoto attend a news conference on October 8 in Tokyo. (KYODO)

World Champion Uno Reveals Theme for This Season

Shoma Uno said his theme for the upcoming campaign is "self-satisfaction," according to an English translation of an article from Sports Hochi that was posted on fs-gossips.com.

The two-time world champion revealed this interesting detail at a press conference on Sunday, October 8 in Tokyo ahead of the start of the senior Grand Prix season. 

"In the past two years, I have been truly satisfied with my results," Uno remarked. "However, when it comes to my own performances, I haven't been able to create something that I can be completely satisfied with or that I want to watch again. This is my impression. 

Uno continued: "This year, I want to focus on my expressive abilities and put my efforts into it, so I chose this theme."

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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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