Shun Sato finished third at Skate America on Saturday, October 21 in Allen, Texas, to give a youthful Japan team its only medal of the season-opening Grand Prix event.
Sato, who qualified for the GP Final in the 2022-23 season, will be in the running to make the prestigious competition again in December after his podium finish.
The 19-year-old Sato held on to third place after the short program on Friday to make the podium with winner Ilia Malinin of the United States and runner-up Kevin Aymoz of France. Malinin's winning total score was a whopping 310.47 points. Aymoz tallied 279.09, while Sato posted 247.50.
Sato put a hand down on the landing of his opening quadruple lutz in his free skate to "The Four Seasons," but recovered to hit a nice quad toe loop/double toe loop combination jump and five clean triples.
Sato Needs to Improve Spins and Steps
The Sendai native struggled on his spins and step sequence, however. Sato earned just a level two on one spin and a level three on another, while managing only a level two on his step sequence. His jumping prowess has always been evident, but if he is going to compete with the elite going forward, he is going to have to improve his spins and steps.
"I was glad to come in third," Sato stated. "But in my free skate from start to end I was looking really tired. For my next competition in Finland, I hope to be in great shape."
Sato discussed the background of how his free skate came together this season.
"I worked with Guillaume Cizeron in Canada on the choreography," Sato commented. "At first, I was nervous about it, but he was very kind and we built a beautiful program."
Malinin Excels at Skate America
Malinin was sublime in victory, recording a personal best in both the free skate (206.41) and total score. The 18-year-old had a clean scoresheet to the "Succession" soundtrack in his free skate that included four quads, six triples and level fours on all of his spins and step sequence.
"I was really not expecting this outcome," Malinin remarked before adding, "I'm still speechless."
Malinin, who was the world bronze medalist in the 2022-23 season, was at a loss for words after his triumph.
"I have no words to explain how I really feel," Malinin said. "It's just a mix of emotions. I have put in so many hours, and I think that it really paid off that I took a lot of time to focus on everything, to try to improve everything, to have the least possible amount of mistakes in the program. Overall, I'm really happy with how I did today."
Nozomu Yoshioka, last season's world junior bronze medalist, came in sixth with 233.56. The 19-year-old dropped from fourth place after the short program.
Tatsuya Tsuboi was eighth at 216.98 after a rough short program saw him in ninth place.
Yoshida Vaults to Fourth Place in Final Standings
Hana Yoshida rallied from ninth after the short program to come in fourth in the event won by two-time world medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium on Sunday, October 22. Hendrickx's winning score was 221.28. Isabeau Levito of the US was second with 208.15. Meanwhile, Niina Petrokina rounded out the podium in third on 194.55, giving Estonia its first GP medal ever.
The 18-year-old Yoshida (190.98) performed to "Shakuhachi" and "La Terre Vue Du Ciel" in her free skate and was judged a quarter rotation short on her opening triple axel. But she came back to land seven triples and register level fours on her spins and step sequence.
"I am a bit sad about the triple axel, but I could concentrate well after that and I am happy about that," Yoshida said. "In the long term I aim for an even bigger score."
Yoshida also spoke about the details of her free skate.
"(Choreographer) Lori Nichol chose this song for me. I represent the Japanese crane. She said no one else can skate this program but me, so it's a very special program for me."
Chiba Places Fifth in Senior GP Debut
Mone Chiba came in sixth at 177.79 in her senior GP debut after falling twice in her free skate to a medley of songs by Ennio Morricone.
"I was actually in good condition but overall, I was so nervous," the 18-year-old Chiba admitted. "The great competition and the high-level athletes I competed with here made me even more nervous.
Chiba then said, "I wasn't myself, I wasn't mentally ready for this competition."
Beijing Olympian Mana Kawabe finished a disappointing eighth with 168.98, also hitting the ice twice in her free skate to "Bolero."
"I have no idea what happened with my jumps," the 19-year-old Kawabe stated.
She added, "I was actually confident with my lutz, [and] I need to know how to recover after the falls. The jump I was actually most insecure with was the loop and I am glad to have landed it."
Sakamoto, Miura Lead Japan Team for Skate Canada
This week (October 27-29) the GP circuit travels to Vancouver, British Columbia, for Skate Canada. Two-time world champion Kaori Sakamoto, Rinka Watanabe and Rino Matsuike will represent Japan in the women's competition, while world junior champion Kao Miura, Kazuki Tomono and Sota Yamamoto will skate for the Hinomaru in the men's event.
Watanabe, who trained in Vancouver for several years under coach Megumu Seki, won Skate Canada last season in Ontario.
Tuktamysheva to Take Time Off From Competing
Former world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva announced on Instagram that she was skipping the Russian Grand Prix this season to take a break.
"The last two years have been challenging, and I've tried not to feel sorry for myself, to compete, to perform, and not to be disheartened," the 26-year-old Tuktamysheva wrote on October 22. "But now I've listened to myself and realized that I need a break."
Tuktamysheva then explained the reason for the respite.
"I'm taking a pause to take care of myself," Tuktamysheva wrote. "To spend more time with loved ones, to develop, to get enough sleep, to relax, to work on my psychology, charity, and other personal projects."
Tuktamysheva added that she would continue performing in shows and would compete in the Russian jumping championship in the winter.
Russian Federation Chief Speaks About Status of Its Skaters
Alexander Kogan, the general director of the Figure Skating Federation of Russia, gave his thoughts about the circumstances created by the ongoing ban on Russian skaters from international events at a press conference on October 20. It was covered by the website RSport. His comments were translated into English and posted on fs-gossips.com.
"Comparison of scores from All-Russian and international competitions allows for the conclusion that in terms of technique, Russian figure skaters outperform their foreign competitors in almost all disciplines," Kogan stated.
"The fact that our athletes are not participating in international tournaments is not a plus for either our athletes or foreign figure skaters," Kogan commented. "Competition in the world of figure skating has decreased, and this is recognized by all."
Kogan then cited Eteri Tutberidze's appearance at Skate America as the coach of Georgia's Nika Egadze in his remarks.
"Today, the first stage of the ISU Grand Prix 'Skate America' begins, in which our athletes are not participating, but coaches with Russian passports are," Kogan noted. "We need to create our opportunities, expand the calendar of All-Russian competitions, and we currently have 89 of them. The number of titled athletes in the country has increased."
Kogan went on to add, "We must create conditions for our athletes to return to international competitions fully prepared at any time."
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.