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[ICE TIME] Rising Star Hana Yoshida Impresses with Victory at Cup of China

Competing in just her second senior Grand Prix, Hana Yoshida vaulted from third place after the short program to take the gold with a strong free skate.

Hana Yoshida led the way with a victory in the women's competition as Japan pocketed half of the singles medals up for grabs at the Cup of China in Chongqing on the weekend of November 10-12. 

Yoshida, competing in just her second senior Grand Prix, vaulted from third place after the short program to take the gold with a strong free skate on Saturday, November 11.

The 18-year-old Yoshida edged compatriot Rinka Watanabe for the title by less than one point.

Yoshida's winning total score was 203.97 points, with Watanabe registering 203.22. Two-time world medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium, who led after the short program but struggled in her free skate, finished third with 201.49.

Hana Yoshida
Cup of China women's winner Hana Yoshida (right) and runner-up Rinka Watanabe display their medals after the competition. (KYODO)

In the men's event, two-time world champion Shoma Uno picked up the silver after a fantastic performance by France's Adam Siao Him Fa in the free skate gave him the win. Uno was in first place after the short program with a lead of 14 points, but had jump issues in his free skate and slid to second.

Siao Him Fa's winning tally was 298.38, while Uno had 279.98. Kazakhstan's Mikhail Shaidorov was a revelation in placing third with 264.46.

Hana Yoshida
Hana Yoshida competes in the women's free skate at the Cup of China. (KYODO)

Hana Yoshida in Contention for a GP Final Berth

Yoshida, a two-time medalist at the Japan Junior Championships, has been one of Japan's brightest young prospects for several years. She won both of her Junior Grand Prix events in the 2022-23 season to qualify for the JGP Final, where she was sixth.

Her win in China puts her in contention to gain a spot in the 2023-24 season's GP Final (December 7-10 in Beijing). After coming in fourth at Skate America (good for nine points), Yoshida now has a total of 24 points in the GP standings and will have to wait for the outcome of the final two GPs to see if she has made the cut.

Yoshida under-rotated her opening triple axel in her free skate to "Shakuhachi" and "La Terre Vue Du Ciel." But she landed six clean triples and earned level fours on her spins and step sequence in Chongqing.

"I'm really surprised that I won today," Yoshida stated before commenting, "I have lots of things to work on."

She added, "I want to be able to aim for higher points."

Yoshida said she didn't let the miscue on the triple axel sidetrack her performance.

"After my triple axel I was a little disappointed," Yoshida commented. "I wanted to land it clean, but after that, I was able to concentrate on the elements after and forget about the axel. That was good."

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Rinka Watanabe dazzles in the women's free skate at the Cup of China. (Tingshu Wang/REUTERS)

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Watanabe Shows Signs of Progress

The 21-year-old Watanabe came up just short in her bid for the second GP crown of her career. Watanabe chose not to attempt a triple axel in her free skate. But she did hit six clean triples and notched level fours on her spins in a solid showing.

"Since Skate Canada two weeks have passed," Watanabe noted. "I feel very regretful for my performance at Skate Canada (where she came in sixth) and I trained very hard to improve."

After her encouraging outing, Watanabe is already looking ahead.

"For today I feel better because I worked so hard," Watanabe remarked on Saturday. "Now I want to keep improving and work hard for the Japanese nationals (December 20-24). I want to include the triple axel in my program."

Shoma Uno competes in the Cup of China men's free skate. (Tingshu Wang/REUTERS)

Uno Settles for Second in GP Season Debut

Uno skated a sublime short program on Friday, racking up 105.25 points, to establish a big advantage over Siao Him Fa, who was second with 91.21. It appeared Uno was on the way to another victory, but Siao Him Fa uncorked a fantastic free skate to overtake him.

On Saturday, Uno competed to "Timelapse" and "Spiegel im Spiegel" in his free skate and fell on his opening quadruple loop, then doubled a planned quad flip. He did land a clean quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo and had another quad toe loop judged a quarter rotation short, but could not measure up to the 22-year-old Siao Him Fa, who was brilliant in hitting four quads and five triples while receiving level fours on his spins and step sequence.

"I did not do my job after the short program," Uno confessed. "Adam showed more besides jumps in the competition. I have to concentrate on my jumps, but I want to show more in my presentation."

Uno remains confident in his outlook for this campaign despite his result in China.

"I think I have got very good programs for this season," Uno said, "[and] I know what to improve and what I have to do."

He then said, "I think I will get better as the season progresses."

Kazuki Tomono came in fourth with 251.95, while Sota Yamamoto was sixth on 245.58.

Kaori Sakamoto (KYODO)

Grand Prix Espoo up Next on the Calendar

The GP circuit travels to Espoo, Finland, this week (November 17-19) for the fourth stop of the season. Two-time world champion Kaori Sakamoto will lead Japan's women's squad, which will include Rion Sumiyoshi and Mana Kawabe. World junior champion Kao Miura headlines the men's team for the Hinomaru, which will also feature Shun Sato and Koshiro Shimada.

Sakamoto, Sumiyoshi, Miura and Sato will all look to bolster their chances of qualifying for the GP Final in Espoo. Sakamoto won Skate Canada in October, while Sumiyoshi landed a quad toe loop while taking third at the Grand Prix de France in early November.

Miura, who triumphed at the Challenger Series event in Espoo in October, was second at Skate Canada. Sato came in third at Skate America.

Kamila Valieva in a February 2022 file photo. (Phil Noble/REUTERS)

Update on Valieva Doping Case

The latest Court of Arbitration for Sport hearing on Kamila Valieva's doping case concluded on Friday, November 10 in Lausanne, Switzerland, following a two-day hearing. 

What's next? The three-member CAS panel will now contemplate its decision before rendering a judgment on the saga that has dragged on for nearly two years.

In a press release, the CAS announced: "The parties have been informed that the CAS Panel in charge of the matter will now deliberate and prepare the Arbitral Award containing its decision and grounds which is expected to be notified to the parties by the end of January 2024." 

If Valieva is judged to be guilty of doping, it could alter the results of the team event at the Beijing Olympics where Russia won, the United States placed second, and Japan took third.

Russian Sports Official Shares Viewpoints on the Scandal 

Sambo-70 president Renat Laishev, who oversees coach Eteri Tutberidze's group, expressed his views on the scandal in a recent interview with tatar-inform.ru that was translated into English and posted on fs-gossips.com.

"So much time has passed that Tutberidze and Valieva can be said to have already won," Laishev was quoted as saying. "Since the case has been delayed so much, it means the other side doesn't know what else to come up with or how to punish Valieva.

"Her talent, which they tarnished in Beijing by mistreating the young athlete, is undeniable," Laishev continued. "As for the announcement of the decision, everyone is already used to the fact that Valieva won the team event, and our figure skater is one of the best in the world, along with [Anna] Shcherbakova. They were, are, and will be Olympic champions for us."

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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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