The final event of the skating season will get underway on Thursday, April 14 when the World Junior Figure Skating Championships begin in Tallinn, Estonia. The postponed competition was originally scheduled to be held in Sofia, Bulgaria, but was relocated due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in the country.
The world juniors will mark the third major competition Estonia has staged this season, along with the European Championships and the Four Continents. Whenever another country has blinked at staging an event, the Estonian Skating Union has answered the call.
The world juniors will begin with the men’s short program on Thursday afternoon.
Japan’s best hope in the men’s field is Kao Miura, the 16-year-old Japan junior champion. Miura showed his chops on the senior circuit in January, when he earned the bronze medal at the Four Continents behind compatriot Kazuki Tomono, who took the silver.
Miura’s participation at the world juniors had been in question after he suffered an injury to his left quadriceps last month and was forced to withdraw from the world championships in France. However, in a text to Ice Time on Sunday night, Miura confirmed that he would be competing in Tallinn.
Miura, who was fourth at the Japan Championships this season, will attempt to become the sixth Japanese man to win the world junior crown after Daisuke Takahashi (2002), Nobunari Oda (2005), Takahiko Kozuka (2006), Yuzuru Hanyu (2010) and Shoma Uno (2015).
Miura will be joined in Estonia by Tatsuya Tsuboi, the 2018 Japan junior champion, who has been enjoying a renaissance this season. Tsuboi, who is 19, finished second behind Miura at this season’s Japan Junior Championships in Nagoya. Tsuboi is the best bet for a second medal for the Hinomaru.
The third member of the men’s team will be Lucas Tsuyoshi Honda, also 19, who was the Japan junior champion last season.
Miura will have a formidable foe in Ilia Malinin of the United States, who finished ninth at last month’s worlds. The 17-year-old Malinin, who won both of his Junior Grand Prix events this season, comes with an arsenal that includes multiple quadruple jumps. Miura has two quads (salchow, toe loop) that he can land at this point.
Both Miura and Malinin can be inconsistent at times, so it will come down to who can put together two solid programs on the day. In what could be a good omen for Miura, Uno won his world junior title in Tallinn seven years ago.
Surveying the Women’s Field
Rinka Watanabe and Rion Sumiyoshi are Japan’s two entrants in the women’s field which, in the absence of Russian skaters, is truly up for grabs. Watanabe, 19, came in sixth at the Japan Championships this season and won the Coupe du Printemps last month in Luxembourg.
The 18-year-old Sumiyoshi was second at the Japan Junior Championships this season behind young phenom Mao Shimada.
Isabeau Levito of the US will be one of the favorites for a medal in the women’s field. The 15-year-old won one of her JGPs this season and came in second in the other.
Nao Kida and Masaya Morita will represent Japan in ice dance.
Japan does not have a pairs team entered at the world juniors this season.
Author: Jack Gallagher