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Figure Skating

Rio Nakata Rallies to Win Junior Grand Prix Final with Fantastic Free Skate

En route to victory in the Junior Grand Prix Final, Nakata was spectacular from the start, landing a beautiful quadruple toe loop on his first jump.

Rio Nakata stormed back from fourth place after the short program to win the gold medal in dramatic fashion at the Junior Grand Prix Final in Beijing on Saturday night, December 9. 

The 15-year-old came through with a stunning show of power and presentation to vault to the top of the final standings at National Indoor Stadium.

Nakata, who will represent Japan in the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics in January in South Korea, won with a total score of 227.77 points, overcoming a nearly 10-point deficit to leader Hyungyeom Kim of South Korea for the victory.

Kim took the silver with 223.61, while Slovakia's Adam Hagara picked up the bronze at 213.26.

Junior Grand Prix Final
Rio Nakata in action during the men's free skate in the Junior Grand Prix Final. (KYODO)

Kim's compatriot Juheon Lim finished fourth with 209.99. France's Francois Pitot came in fifth at 197.31, while Daniel Martynov of the United States finished sixth on 183.47.

Nakata, who needed a near-perfect free skate to win, competed to a James Bond medley and was spectacular from the start, landing a beautiful quadruple toe loop on his first jump. He went on to land seven clean triples (including two outstanding triple axels) and earned level fours on two of his spins.

Junior Grand Prix Final
Rio Nakata (KYODO)

Nakata's Junior Grand Prix Final Masterpiece

It was an absolutely incredible display of technical prowess under pressure by Nakata that had ISU announcers Ted Barton and Mark Hanretty effusive in their praise of Nakata on the livestream of the event.

"I am so happy. Today is my mother's birthday," Nakata stated. "It is a nice present for her."

Added Nakata, "Today's result was a great achievement for me. In the near future, there are so many other competitions ahead for this season. I cannot relax, I need to work harder."

Nakata noted his quad toe loop was less than exemplary in the run-up to the free skate.

"The quad wasn't really good (in the practices), but the rest of the jumps were quite good," Nakata commented. "So I was looking forward to doing the quad in the actual performance."

Nakata, who was the youngest competitor in the discipline, is coached by his father Makoto and Kensuke Nakaniwa. He trains in Funabashi, Chiba Prefecture. Nakata won both of his JGPs during the season and finished second behind Shunsuke Nakamura at November's Japan Junior Championships.

Early Fall Hurts Kim's Title Chances

Kim made a valiant effort to retain the top spot, but fell on his opening quad toe loop to "Requiem for a Dream" and was a quarter rotation short on a triple toe loop. The 17-year-old from Seoul did land six clean triples and recorded level fours on all of his spins, but was unable to measure up to Nakata's dynamic performance on this night.

"Today I felt a little bit nervous. I'm not that satisfied with my performance," Kim remarked. "I do not have any regrets."

It's just a shoe!

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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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