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Figure Skating

Rio Nakata in 5th Place After Short Program at the World Junior Championships

The 15-year-old JGP Final winner is less than three points behind South Korea's Minkyu Seo in the men's competition at the World Junior Championships in Taipei.

Despite skating to a personal-best score, Rio Nakata is in fifth place after the short program at the World Junior Championships at Taipei Arena on Thursday night, February 29. 

The 15-year-old, who won this season's Junior Grand Prix Final in December 2023, is within striking distance, however, as he trails leader Minkyu Seo of South Korea by less than three points.

Seo is on top with a score of 80.58 points, while France's Francois Pitot is second at 78.79. Slovakia's Adam Hagara is third on 78.02, while Canada's Aleksa Rakic is fourth with 77.74.

Nakata tallied 77.60 and will enter Saturday's free skate in Taipei with a good shot at a medal after a disappointing fifth-place finish at January's Winter Youth Olympics.

Shunsuke Nakamura is in 10th with 72.85, while Haru Kakiuchi stands in 16th at 65.49.

World Junior Championships
Minkyu Seo reacts after his short program routine at the World Junior Championships. (©ISU)

Successful Start for Seo at World Junior Championships

Seo skated to "Flower Dance" and put on a sublime show. He opened with a nice triple axel, then landed a triple lutz (with an edge call), and hit a superb triple flip/triple toe loop combination jump near the end of his program.

The 15-year-old Seo earned level fours on all of his spins and step sequence in recording a new personal best. He was technically solid while showing real flair in his skating.

"I am very happy with my clean skate and the personal best today," Seo stated. "At the beginning of the season, I only jumped the double axel in the short program, but I included the triple axel today to be more competitive."

Added Seo, "From a young age on I wanted to always focus more on the performance and the choreography. This is more important to me than the technical content."

Nakata Pleased with Return to Form

Nakata, who has been a bit inconsistent since his JGP Final triumph, looked back on track in his skate to "God Particle." He began with a fine triple axel, then landed a triple flip/triple toe loop combo, and went on to hit a strong triple lutz.

Nakata received level fours on two of his spins and a level three on the other and his step sequence.

"The Youth Olympics gave me a big shock, and I was pretty scared of the short program today in many ways," Nakata admitted. "I'm glad it went much better than that time. Although there are still things that I hope to fix, I thought it was good."

Added Nakata, "After the painful memories from the Youth Olympics, I really wanted to do a good performance. I want to have a clean free program and definitely win."

World Junior Championships
Shunsuke Nakamura competes in the men's short program. (KYODO)

It's just a shoe!

Early Fall Impacts Nakamura's Score

Nakamura competed to "El Conquistador" and went down hard on his opening triple axel. The 18-year-old bounced back quickly to hit a triple flip/triple toe loop combo and went on to land a good triple lutz.

Japan's 2023-24 season men's junior champion, Nakamura registered level fours on two of his spins and a level three on the other and his step sequence.

"I feel really frustrated about the axel," Nakamura commented. "My practice was the best one I had up until now so that only happened in the actual performance. At tomorrow's practice, I will practice my own way and hope it will contribute to the free program."

World Junior Championships
Haru Kakiuchi in action in the men's short program at the World Junior Championships. (KYODO)

Kakiuchi Far Back After Jump Struggles

Skating to "Caruso," Kakiuchi and got off to a rough start by doubling his planned triple axel. He landed his triple lutz without any trouble. But he was unable to execute a triple/triple combo, settling for a triple flip (with an edge call) and a double toe loop.

The 17-year-old Kakiuchi did register level fours on all of his spins and a level three on his step sequence, but is well out of medal contention.

"I was feeling really upset about making a mistake with my flip and toe loop," Kakiuchi remarked. "But I'm really surprised about getting 65 as my score despite that. I was glad that I was able to give it my all to my spins and such, so that maybe increased my score."

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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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