What a wonderful team Japan has assembled for Sochi

Yuzuru Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida, Daisuke Takahashi (Men); Akiko Suzuki, Mao Asada, Kanako Murakami (Ladies); Cathy Reed & Chris Reed (Ice Dance); Narumi Takahashi & Ryuichi Kihara (Pairs).

Just look at these names and the incredible amount of talent they represent – a real gold mine for the Olympics in Sochi, in February. Of course, the waiting has been hard, especially for Daisuke Takahashi and his fans. His fifth place at the Japanese Nationals left him in doubt and an emotional short interview, with him in tears at the end of the free program, circled the world, via facebook and twitter. But if you’d looked at the selection algorithm announced in summer by the Japan Skating Federation, you would have known for sure that Daisuke Takahashi would be a part of the Olympic team. As Inside Skating had indicated a day before, Daisuke’s name was indeed listed by the officials, at the end of the Japanese Nationals – the confirmation that he would attend the third Olympics of his career – and a roar of enthusiasm followed the announcement in Saitama Super Arena. If you haven’t seen this video, do yourself a favor and watch it. Of course, it’s in Japanese – but you’ll surely understand the universal language of joy.

by Florentina Tone

In addition to the Japanese team for Sochi, the officials announced also the teams for the 2014 Worlds and 2014 Four Continents. A short recap is necessary, though the teams for the Olympics and Worlds are (at least, at this point) identical.

Japanese Team for 2014 Olympics: Yuzuru Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida, Daisuke Takahashi, Akiko Suzuki, Mao Asada, Kanako Murakami, Cathy Reed & Chris Reed, Narumi Takahashi & Ryuichi Kihara.

Japanese Team for 2014 World Figure Skating Championships (March 24-30, Saitama, Japan): Yuzuru Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida, Daisuke Takahashi, Akiko Suzuki, Mao Asada, Kanako Murakami, Cathy Reed & Chris Reed, Narumi Takahashi & Ryuichi Kihara.

Japanese Team for 2014 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships (January 20-26, Taipei, Taiwan): Takahiko Kozuka, Nobunari Oda, Keiji Tanaka, Kanako Murakami, Satoko Miyahara, Haruka Imai.

Of course, these teams might suffer changes – for example, will Daisuke Takahashi and Mao Asada attend the Worlds in Japan or will they retire from competitive skating after Sochi? In this case, the third place at the Nationals, Takahiko Kozuka, might prove a reliable (and worthy) replacement for Takahashi at the Worlds; and the same thing might happen with Satoko Miyahara (fourth place at the Nationals), in case Mao Asada decides to give up skating after the Olympics in Sochi.

All of the above are simple assumptions – but actually, by the end of the exhibition gala of the Japanese Nationals, the team for 2014 Four Continents had already been altered, given the fact that Nobunari Oda announced his retirement; no replacement was indicated yet, though the figure skating fans from Japan assume the free spot will be given, maybe, to Takahito Mura (sixth place at the Nationals).

As for me, I only wonder if Kanako Murakami will be able to do both Four Continents and Olympics, without any repercussions on her Olympic performance (2014 Four Continents finishes on January 26 and the Olympics starts on February 6…).

Some of the members of the Olympic team

Yuzuru Hanyu

Yuzuru Hanyu

Kanako Murakami

Kanako Murakami

Daisuke Takahashi

Daisuke Takahashi

Akiko Suzuki

Akiko Suzuki

Emotional moments at the Medalist on Ice Gala
One thing is sure: these Japanese National Championships were to die for; a competition that Stéphane Lambiel attended and praised on his facebook account: “Merry Christmas everyone! I spent a wonderful holiday in Japan. It was a real privilege to witness what must have been the most successful national championship in skating history. Congratulations to all the skaters and good luck in Sochi to the Olympic team!”

A true rollercoaster when it comes to the emotions of the figure skating fans, the Japan Figure Skating Championships were followed also by two memorable announcements of retirement from competitive skating: both Nobunari Oda and Miki Ando said goodbye to their fans and their wonderful competitive careers. Nobunari and Miki aimed, of course, to be a part of the Olympic Team – and when this failed to happen they decided to say “This was it”.

I’m sure this particular (and abrupt) end of their road to Sochi was hard for both of them; but especially for Nobunari Oda, who’d had a wonderful Olympic season up to this point: first place at 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy, third place at Skate Canada, second place at NHK Trophy and third place at the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka (as the first alternate, he replaced Daisuke Takahashi and managed to get the bronze medal in Fukuoka); but his fourth place at the Japanese Nationals took him out of the race for Sochi.

The 26-year-old skater gave an emotional speech after the exhibition gala of the Japanese Nationals, on December 24. Naoko Takagi, a friend of Inside Skating, witnessed the event and shares with us the emotions of the moment: “Nobunari Oda announced his retirement tonight, at the Medalist on Ice, an exhibition of the Nationals. He performed so emotionally and from the bottom of his heart. At the end of the show, he spoke about his retirement. He was elected for the Four Continents, but he is not going. He said that the ticket should go to a younger skater. This season things were working so good to him, so he must be very upset not able to go to Sochi. Is this the way an era ends? This time I could get a ticket and I watched this touching moment”.

As for Miki Ando, her retirement was reported by the Mainichi News; and an emotional Miki was quoted saying: “I’d been told I would have to win the championships to have any chance of going to the Olympics. To me, this competition is just as important as the Olympics or the world championships. Today was my last skate”. Miki – who gave birth to a baby girl in April and immediately after returned to the ice in order to earn a berth for Sochi – finished on a disappointing seventh place at the Japanese Nationals. But one of the most beautiful photos of these Championships shows a serene Miki during the short program: her arms embracing the air, her smiling face looking up, with optimism and happiness. To me, this particular photo is a wonderful metaphor of her skating career.

"Today may be my last skating as a competitor. I want to fly today! And I want to skate with my heart! With Love...", wrote Miki Ando on her official facebook account, as a caption for a series of wonderful photos taken by Mr. Sunao Noto

“Today may be my last skating as a competitor. I want to fly today! And I want to skate with my heart! With Love…”, wrote Miki Ando on her official facebook account, as a caption for a series of wonderful photos taken by Mr. Sunao Noto

As for her future, Miki definitely wants to coach – as she pointed out at the beginning of December, at the 2013 Golden Spin of Zagreb, where she finished second, behind Yuna Kim: “Even now as a competitive skater I am sure I want to be a coach. I would like to skate in shows, not just in Japan, but around the world, but my biggest goal is to attend the Olympics with my students”. We wish her best of luck.

Happiness for Takahashi, sorrow for Kozuka and Oda
Of course, the announcement of the Japanese team for Sochi was followed, on the social media accounts, by dozens of messages; here’s a short but representative selection, coming from fans all around the world:

“The roar for Daisuke was absolutely amazing… I still feel bad for Kozuka especially, but in the end I think the decision was right, weighing everything. What a formidable team the Japanese will have in Sochi!”

“Feel sad for Kozuka! Very difficult choice, but I guess JSF made the right decision. Japanese figure skating owes so much to Daisuke! He’s an artist on the ice!”

“The Japanese should be very proud of all their skaters, their Nationals were much better than some Grand Prix events; and as much as I truly love and respect Daisuke I wish they can make it up for Oda and Kozuka; they must be in great pain. It’s crazy; I wish they had more spots….”

“Nobunari & Takahiko both made Japan proud at the Vancouver Olympics, and both deserve to go to Sochi. But so do Yuzuru, Tatsuki and Daisuke, and there are only three spots. No matter what the Skating Federation decided, some deserving skaters & their fans were bound to be disappointed. I guess what’s important is that Japan has assembled a formidable team”

“I feel very, very uncomfortable about JSF’s decision process on Olympics representatives in Men Singles. Except for the winner (Yuzuru), JFS has compared each skater based upon their grades at All Japan, their past achievements & most possibly, popularity. Takahashi is the most popular male skater in Japan. [But] We never know when Takahashi’s right leg shin would recover, which means his success is up in the air. If JSF really wants to send him to the world competition, they should send Kozuka to Sochi Olympics, and Takahashi to the 2014 Worlds”

“I have to give every single one of these kids credit. I cannot imagine the pressure that they were competing under, and what a pleasure it must have been to receive so much love from the audience. I hope that the Canadian and American fans give their skaters a similar reception and send off. They have all worked so hard throughout their careers, and it is beautiful to see when everything comes together”