Sunday, December 26, 2010

Japanese Nationals 2010: A Long Time Coming, Part II

Continuing quickly, following the starting order:

In a word, this performance was all guts. After the short program and the collision injury that lay behind it, Daisuke Takahashi's attitude to go out and attack this free skate and defend his honor as reigning World Champion was pretty incredible. With the exception of his opening quad flip, which is an unbelievable jump to even attempt in competition, and popped double Salchow at the end, all of his jumps were clean, without any of the stops or shortness that marred his short program. As usual the step sequences were the highlight of Daisuke's performance, and I loved how his transition into his headless scratch spin in his final combination spin was perfectly matched to the music.

I was actually surprised he lost even the free skate to Takahiko Kozuka, especially considering Takahiko's two falls, but then I checked the protocol and realized that his quad flip had been downgraded to a triple, and then given a -3 GOE. Ouch. Regardless, though, this was the performance of the night. The commentators are right--there is some special power that comes from him, and without it things just aren't the same. These four and a half minutes flew by, and he is a champion with life experience.

By the way, Tonia Kwiatkowski can stop being so bitter--Daisuke Murakami was only eighth.

This is typically the moment when Takahiko loses his head and subsequently his short program position, so to say I was concerned is a serious understatement. This title needed to happen for him, though, not only because I love his skating but because he needs to find a way to believe that he is among the best in the world.

Deep purple and black seem to be Takahiko's unofficial official colors. It is quite a contrast to Daisuke's flashiness and works well for him, just as all of Daisuke's rhinestones and open collars and frills more or less accentuate his performance ability.

As usual I loved his triple Axel(s), and I was fascinated by the delay that seemed to happen in the instant before he tapped into his triple Lutz. The double toe loop he did in combination with it was kind of a girly decision (sorry), but it got the job done. Also girly was his awkward three-jump combination: triple Axel + double toe + single loop. Mao Asada, your future wife if I controlled this world, could do that combination. I was a little surprised that Takahiko could still get credit for a triple Lutz + triple toe combination in the second half of the program after his attempt in the beginning, but I'm not altogether clear on all of the rules (though probably more so than, say, Nobunari Oda) and now that I think about it, double Axels and triple Axels are considered different jumps, so. The fall on the final triple Salchow was unfortunate, but everything about it just screamed wasted nervous energy. Hopefully he'll learn, especially since he managed to keep up his stroking, step sequence, and spin speed until the very end.

I was hoping I could find a clip of the moment Takahiko becomes National Champion, but so far I've come up with nothing.

Oh hey, new flavor of the month. Your free skate costume is even worse than your short program costume, but I'll forgive it and your necklaces because you are still so damn adorable. (Edit: I just looked up Yuzuru Hanyu on Wiki to see if he's actually Christian, but instead of finding that information I instead found that in 2007 he modeled his hairstyle after Evgeny Plushenko's, and that this season Johnny Weir had a hand in designing his costumes. I feel validated in my assessment of Yuzuru's costumes before knowing this information, but at the same time this all makes him rather questionable. By the way, a moment after I gave up on finding the original information, the commentator said that Yuzuru's cross is actually a good-luck move to keep his shoulders level. Huh.)

I'm not sure how many times I've seen a jump end in a split fall, but I have to admit it was kind of graceful. I enjoyed his second triple Axel, and the rest of his jumps were fine, except the final triple Salchow attempt. It was a little bit Takahiko-like in how the program played out, complete with a missed quad attempt, an unnecessary fall, and an unfortunate triple Salchow.

Although I prefer Takahiko, of course, Yuzuru actually has a much better innate performance ability that will probably threaten Takahiko's status as the heir apparent to the No. 1 position four years from now, assuming Yuzuru can get his jumps together under pressure. I also really admire Yuzuru's lines and speed across the ice, but unfortunately in this performance the little technical mistakes crept in and added up, leaving him in fourth place by quite a margin. The disappointment on his face after he finished made me want to hug him again. No matter, though. It's all a learning experience in the first year of the new Olympic cycle. Welcome to the craziness!

Is it bad that I wanted to laugh when the commentators mentioned that what Nobunari Oda was most disappointed in after his short program was his weak mentality going in? I'd be quite interested to see the moments of his mental strength. Although he fell on his quad attempt (so that's 0 for 4 for all of the top men, I think?), Nobunari seriously makes it look like he lands his triple Axels on clouds instead of ice. It's rather unfortunate that he fell on the second one, but he made up for it with great jumps otherwise. Of course he simply does not have the excitement of Daisuke or the pure endearingness that is Takahiko and now Yuzuru, but he was good enough to do enough.

Yet despite this relative success, it's impossible to ignore that he seriously needs to learn how to hold up under pressure. Six falls between the top two finishers, and four from Nobunari? Come on. The commentators remarked that the tension swallowed him, and that he dislikes being the last to skate. Tough. Cookies.

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