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[ICE TIME] Mone Chiba and Rena Uezono Lit Up Japan Championships with Their Performances

Superstars Uno and Sakamoto delivered the expected results at the Japan Championships. In addition, rising stars Chiba and Uezono shined in Nagano.

Two-time world champions Shoma Uno and Kaori Sakamoto came away from the Japan Championships over the weekend of December 22-24 with anticipated victories in Nagano. 

The favorites both performed as expected as their fellow competitors battled for spots on the Hinomaru's team for the 2024 World Figure Skating Championships in Montreal in March.

What was not expected, was the emergence of Mone Chiba, who put together two outstanding programs to finish second behind Sakamoto and clinch a spot on the worlds team with a total score of 209.27 points.

The 18-year-old from Sendai, who grew up skating at the same rink where Yuzuru Hanyu honed his skills, was a two-time medalist at the Japan Junior Championships before moving up to the senior ranks earlier this year.

Mone Chiba
Mone Chiba (ⒸSANKEI)

She claimed the bronze medal at the Four Continents in Colorado in February 2023 in her first senior international event and then won the Coupe du Printemps in Luxembourg in March.

But this fall Chiba struggled with her results, placing sixth at the Challenger Series Autumn Classic in Montreal, then coming in sixth and ninth in her two Grand Prix assignments.

It seemed as if the transition to seniors was not going as smoothly as it initially appeared. But Chiba, who moved to train under Mie Hamada at the Kinoshita Academy in Kyoto in May, reversed her fortunes after coming home with disappointing results at the Grand Prix de France (where she was ninth) in November.

"Since the France Grand Prix, I felt a little unwell, but I tried to recover to come here and I had very good training," Chiba stated after placing third in the short program on Friday, December 22 in Nagano.

Japan Championships
Mone Chiba in action in the women's short program at the Japan Championships on December 22 in Nagano. (KYODO)

Chiba Reflects on Her Performance at the Japan Championships

Chiba, a third-year high school student, has always had good skating skills to go along with the endearing smile that she flashed at the press conference after the victory ceremony on Sunday night.

"I'm very happy to be selected for the world championships for the first time," Chiba stated. "The world championship is my dream stage."

She acknowledged that being named to the world's team comes with expectations.

"I hope I can skate comfortably as a first-year senior," Chiba commented. "If I can bring out my best and give a perfect performance that I'm satisfied with, I think the results will follow."

Japan Championships
Mone Chiba trains under coach Mie Hamada in Kyoto. (KYODO)

After leaving her hometown for Kyoto with some trepidation, Chiba expressed satisfaction with Kinoshita's setup in an interview with FNN Prime Online.

"It is very fulfilling here overall," Chiba noted. "I couldn't do ballet [in Sendai] because I didn't have much time. But I think it's wonderful that it's incorporated into the program and can be done on a daily basis. You can practice on the ice as much as you want, and I'm grateful that I'm skating in a good environment."

In the same interview, Chiba revealed that she has a health condition to deal with.

"I have a little sports asthma," Chiba said. "Now I'm starting treatment to take medicine, and I'm feeling good with practice. I have to be able to practice 100 percent and 120 percent more and more from now on."

Rena Uezono
Rena Uezono (KYODO)

Uezono Leaves Big Impression in Japan Championships Debut

Chiba was not the only skater who wowed the crowd at Big Hat last week. Rena Uezono, a 13-year-old junior from Nagoya, was unfazed by the bright lights and pressure that come along with competing at the Japan Championships. 

The youngster finished an impressive fourth with a tally of  200.69 behind Sakamoto, Chiba and fellow junior Mao Shimada and earned a trip to the world juniors.

Uezono, last season's Novice A champion, had a smashing debut on the Junior Grand Prix circuit this season, winning one of her assignments and coming in second in the other. 

Japan Championships
Rena Uezono dazzles in the women's free skate at the Japan Championships on December 24. (KYODO)

The results qualified her for the JGP Final, where she captured the bronze behind Shimada and South Korea's Jia Shin as the youngest skater in the competition.

Uezono, who began skating at age 5, made the podium again in her first Japan Junior Championships in November, taking home another bronze. Then she finished less than two points behind star Shimada in Nagano.

"Today I was able to concentrate on the choreography and program, and my jumps followed," Uezono remarked after her free skate on Sunday. "I'm glad I was able to do what I can now and get a personal best."

Added Uezono, "I'm happy, I want to make the most of this experience."

Japan Championships
Shoma Uno (KYODO)

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Skaters Named for Worlds, Four Continents and World Juniors

The Japan Skating Federation announced the squad selections for the World Figure Skating Championships, Four Continents Championships and World Junior Championships late Sunday night in Nagano.

The teams are as follows:

World Championships (Montreal – March 18-24)

Men

Shoma Uno, Yuma Kagiyama, Kao Miura

Alternates: Sota Yamamoto, Shun Sato, Kazuki Tomono

Women

Kaori Sakamoto, Mone Chiba, Hana Yoshida

Alternates: Mai Mihara, Rinka Watanabe, Rion Sumiyoshi

Pairs

Riku Miura/Ryuichi Kihara, Yuna Nagaoka/Sumitada Moriguchi

Four Continents Championships (Salt Lake City – January 19-21)

Men

Yuma Kagiyama, Sota Yamamoto, Shun Sato

Alternates: Kazuki Tomono, Tatsuya Tsuboi, Nozomu Yoshioka

Women

Mone Chiba, Mai Mihara, Rinka Watanabe

Alternates: Hana Yoshida, Yuna Aoki, Rion Sumiyoshi

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

World Junior Championships (Taipei – February 26–March 3)

Men

Shunsuke Nakamura, Rio Nakata, Haru Kakiuchi

Alternates: Daiya Ebihara, Seigo Tauchi

Women

Mao Shimada, Rena Uezono, Ikura Kushida

Alternates: Yo Takagi, Ayumi Shibayama

Pairs

Sae Shimizu/Lucas Tsuyoshi Honda

Valieva Third at Russian Championships

Kamila Valieva took home the bronze medal at the Russian Championships in Chelyabinsk behind Adeliia Petrosian and Sofia Muravieva on December 23. The 17-year-old Valieva led after the short program but dropped to third following the free skate to finish with a total of 237.99 points.

Petrosian was victorious with 246.53, while Muravieva was the runner-up at 239.40.

Evgeni Semenenko won the men's title in Chelyabinsk with 294.75. Vladislav Dikidzhi was second on 293.74 and Petr Gumennik third at 292.42.

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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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