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Rio Nakata's Woeful Short Program Ends Japan's Shot at 3rd Straight Men's Gold at Winter Youth Olympics

The Junior Grand Prix Final champion, who entered the Winter Youth Olympics as the favorite, made a number of mistakes in his skate to "God Particle."

Rio Nakata's hopes of glory at the Winter Youth Olympics in South Korea ended in tears at Gangneung Ice Arena on Saturday, January 27 with a shocking result in the men's short program that saw him finish in 13th place.

The Junior Grand Prix Final champion over-rotated his opening triple axel in his skate to "God Particle," then singled a triple lutz, before falling as he entered a spin. Nakata's series of mistakes cost him dearly as he tallied just 55.59 points, more than 20 behind leader Jacob Sanchez of the United States who scored 76.38.

The 15-year-old Nakata entered the competition as the favorite following his strong GP season, but just wasn't up to it on this day. He burst into tears after leaving the ice and receiving a hug from his father and coach Makoto, then wept again in the Kiss and Cry as he waited for his scores.

Winter Youth Olympics
Rio Nakata competes in the men's short program at the Winter Youth Olympics on January 27 in Gangneung, South Korea. (OIS/via KYODO)

Nakata Reacts to His Performance

"I tried to focus on what I had to do but I’m not sure what happened out there," Nakata was quoted as saying by "It’s just really frustrating. The axel felt really good in warmups but I couldn’t find it in competition."

He then said, "The triple combo went well but I rushed into the lutz and messed up. I have nothing to lose now so I’m going to swing for the fences."

Nakata continued: "I felt great before the competition but something happened and I can’t make it out. I was confident but it didn’t work out. All I can do is regroup now."

Japan is the two-time defending champion in the men's event with victories by Yuma Kagiyama (2020) and Sota Yamamoto (2016).

Slovakia's Adam Hagara, who was third behind Nakata at the JGP Final, is in second place with 75.06. South Korea's Hyungyeom Kim, who came in second at the JGP Final, is in third at 69.28 on home ice.

Strong Start for American Sanchez at the Winter Youth Olympics

Sanchez, a 16-year-old from Montgomery, New York, skated to "Singin' In The Rain" and began with a big triple axel, followed by a nice triple lutz. He went on to triple flip/triple toe loop combination jump, but was judged a quarter rotation short on the back end of it. 

Sanchez, who did not medal in either of his JGP assignments this season, recorded level fours on one of his spins as well as his step sequence.

Haru Kakiuchi, the other Japanese entrant in the competition, is in eighth on 61.11 after his performance to "Caruso." The 17-year-old from Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, under-rotated the front end of his triple flip/double toe combination jump, but earned level fours on two of his spins and his step sequence.

Following his mistake on the triple axel, Nakata recovered to land a solid triple flip/triple toe loop combo, then followed that with a decent spin. However, he then scored no points on his next two elements (single lutz, fall on spin) and then notched just a level two on his step sequence.

It was a disastrous outing for Nakata, and was reminiscent of the short program struggles of American Nathan Chen at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in the very same rink, which saw him in 17th place heading into the free skate.

The skating competition will continue on Sunday with the women's short program, while the men's free skate is slated for Monday.

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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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