Sunday, December 26, 2010

Japanese Nationals 2010: The Restoration of a Champion, Part I

Ever since she became aware of her own status and the magnitude of the stakes, Mao Asada has struggled early in the season. This year the struggle has been alarming, and even though I still have faith that she will get it together in time for Four Continents and Worlds there were those that suggested that she could miss the World team. Since pessimism doesn't usually follow Miracle Mao, I spent most of Christmas nervously checking for updated scores. My persistence paid off in the form of a great if temporary Christmas present!

There is something a little scary about Risa Shoji's face. Maybe it's the eyebrows. It's also like, an artificially Asianified version of Alissa Czisny or something. But no matter, I'll stop being petty. She appears to be the equivalent to Yuzuru Hanyu, and she lived up to the next-generation hype with a somewhat rare triple Salchow + triple toe combination. She doesn't seem to be particularly fast (although she isn't slow) or have great extension, but she has solid jumps and spins, which tend to be more difficult to fix. The extension in particular will come with greater maturity and polish--after all Risa is only fourteen(!)--and overall all of the fundamentals are there, more so than for Kanako Murakami. It's pretty unbelievable that last season she was a novice, although I guess that's also what Mao Asada pulled off. I'm really quite impressed and can only hope that puberty doesn't mess with her.

By the way, her coach is rather attractive.

Speaking of the young ones...

Kanako is older than Risa by two years, but Risa's look is currently much more mature. I'm not sure which I prefer--Kanako is much cuter but at some point she needs to become an adult--but in any case Kanako better get working on that Lutz before Risa overtakes her in time for Sochi.

LOL, I had no idea they call Kanako "Jumping Jack" and "Kanako Flash." The English language in the hands of the Japanese can be quite a scary thing.

Kanako so far has better speed and performance ability than Risa, and she backed this up with a great triple toe + triple toe combination and a triple flip. Her popped double axel was a very unfortunate miss since it seems to be such a solid jump for her, but I guess this is what Nationals does to skaters. I loved the speed through all of her spins, though. And really, can you say adorable?

Wow, geez. I must have missed several key things in the past few weeks, because I did not know that Miki Ando had made the decision to skate her new short program (wait, why did she change it again?) in a modified wedding dress. Actually, I just looked at a picture of her from the Grand Prix Final, and she was wearing another white dress there, so this is probably its debut. It helps make Miki look lighter and softer, but it's still a little creepy to see her wearing it as she stands next to Nikolai Morozov. Also creepy is that Nikolai actually kisses her (albeit on the cheek) in the Kiss & Cry instead of the traditional hug or handshake. I'm also unclear as to why Miki even bothers trying to be light or soft.

However, she actually surprised me here and pulled off a program far lovelier than I've come to expect from her. Miki's jumps didn't quite have the spring of Risa and Kanako, but she actually flowed. And she actually smiled.

I would probably be very sad for Akiko Suzuki if I hadn't already used up my dead-end fandom on Yukari Nakano. There is just something so tragic about her skating life. Here, I understand that her triple Lutz attempt was pretty much a failure, but the other parts of her program seemed to be unfairly underrated. Do her a favor for once, will you? Name recognition has helped every other skater, but not Akiko.

This was it--the moment that pretty much everyone was waiting for. Bring it, Mao! What's weird is that this is actually the first time that I'd seen her short program this season, since I avoid trying to bring unnecessary stress into my life. Anyway, even my amateur eye on this YouTube-quality video could tell that her triple Axel was probably underrotated, but the judges decided to give it to her anyway. I guess they needed to in order to a) ensure that she would go to Worlds and b) give her the confidence she needs to continue to attack her jumps. I feel like her underrotated triple loop was more rotated than her complete triple Axel, but who's asking me? I'm sure Nobuo Sato isn't letting anything slide anyway.

Her triple loop + triple loop combination is an interesting decision, and her triple flip was the Mao that we'd all been missing all this time. After this she seemed to light up a bit, and although her step sequence--or her skating in general--wasn't as fast as it could be, it was intricately set to the music. Watching her performance, for the first time I really regretted the elimination of the spiral sequence from the ladies' short program. Sato seemed decently satisfied, which seems like a good sign for her progress.

Mao's smiles and tears after the Kiss & Cry almost broke my heart.

By the way, I'm sure that my obsession with Nobuo Sato is quite clear, but I think it should be made equally clear that if I were his student I would live my life in sheer terror.

Dear god, I cannot believe Fumie Suguri still exists. I can't believe the JSF didn't even have the foresight to bury her and to keep Akiko's spirits up. I watched this short program on the basis of Fumie's name alone, but it was generally two and a half minutes I could have spent napping. I will admit that her jumps were surprisingly solid and that her musicality isn't so bad, but everything was just so slow and boring. Please, for your sake and everything's sake, stop. Stoppp.

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