Taking the time to reassess Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi’s second season as a team – the one in which they missed the much-desired trip to the Olympics, but went to Four Continents and Worlds instead, winning a silver medal in Tallinn and making another slice of history in the process –, you have this overwhelming feeling that there’s so much they could do still.
We only saw a glimpse of their potential in competitions – they left us in amazement with their progress, their choice of programs and performance, but also yearning, wanting more. Knowing for sure they could do more.
They left points on the table – unfinished business, if you may. We know it, they know it too.
Hence, they decided to keep going, keep following that (gold) fish that eluded them last season.
What fish, you ask?
The fish, aka the dream they chased during their innovative rhythm dance, as Kana beautifully put it at the beginning of the year, in Tallinn, when asked about the meaning of their program.
“We came up with this idea of skating to a Japanese themed-program, since it was an Olympic year for us. We hoped to represent Japan [in Beijing], and still take it in a unique way of the street dance.
The first half of the music is a very traditional Japanese music: it’s kind of portraying the fisherman, the sea, and working hard to catch your dream, or the fish.
The second half is Japanese hip-hop, traditional koto instrumental music: in this part, we’re representing many kinds of Japanese aspects, and it’s a very fun and unique program for us to skate to. [The program] is portraying how we are evolving”.
And so the program itself became a metaphor of their journey.
They might have not caught it now, the fish, the dream, by not going to Beijing or showing the flawless performances they had wished for – but they do seem determined to catch it still: accomplish themselves as ice dancers, show their true colors, their true potential.
Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi’s second season as a team has been indeed a rollercoaster: excitement with the sudden progress, but also disappointment with the mistakes that kept plaguing their programs during the actual events. In Tallinn, they would both summarize their feelings towards the medal, the season, the partnership, the future: the fact that this blend of happiness and sheer frustration actually became motivation for what’s next.
Daisuke Takahashi: “We’ve been second place all along this season – as if we were silver collectors – and we have the motivation to have the gold. We want to stand in the middle of the podium, and we want to skate different programs. All these small motivations are developing inside of us now”.
After the Worlds Championships in Montpellier – their first Worlds as a team, where they finished 16th, battling the same competition-nerves –, they confirmed it: they would continue, knowing there’s so much room to grow.
And this is an adventure that we’re all looking forward to.
by Florentina Tone
The best way to evaluate Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi’s season would be to look at their own analysis in Tallinn. Even before reaching Worlds in Montpellier, they had X-rayed their season well.
A real, feet-on-the-ground assessment, balancing the good, the bad, and everything in between.
FIRST CHAMPIONSHIPS TOGETHER – AND WHAT AN ACHIEVEMENT ALREADY
Kana would say in Tallinn after their rhythm dance: “It’s our first international championships together, and our second season, and I think what we achieved coming here is a really big thing”.
And while her partner would usually emphasize the errors after each performance, beating himself for them, Kana would be the voice of reason, seeing the bigger picture, focusing on the progress of their very young partnership.
Coming to Tallinn, what they needed was to gain their confidence back, after the disappointment of not making the Olympic team: “After Nationals, we had two weeks to train [for Four Continents] and I think we focused on building back our confidence. At Nationals it wasn’t the result we hoped for, so it was kind of a letdown. But we wanted to keep going, taking a step forward and believing in ourselves”.
To the talented Kana Muramoto, who choose ice dancing at a certain point in her (singles) skating career and who already contributed significantly in making the discipline more widely known across Japan, the trip to Tallinn, this January, was an emotional one, for many reasons.
A trip down memory lane, at first – and then an opportunity to put the present times under the spotlight.
“Tallinn was actually [host to] my first ice dance competition in 2014 [with first partner Hiroichi Noguchi], so it’s kind of nostalgic. It feels very interesting, and I’m back here with Daisuke in our first championships together. It’s a big opportunity to have a competition, and the opportunity to compete with all these amazing skaters is very special for us”.
“NINE YEARS AGO IT WAS UNTHINKABLE TO COME BACK TO FOUR CONTINENTS AS AN ICE DANCER”
For Daisuke Takahashi it was a special – not to mention unique – comeback as well.
Him, the prominent Japanese single skater who won the first Olympic medal for Japan in the men’s singles event at 2010 edition of the Games, the bronze in Vancouver, who was the first Asian man to win a World title, in Turin, in 2010, and the first Japanese man to win the ISU Grand Prix Final, in December 2012, after winning bronze in the same competition in 2005 (another first).
Taking part in 7 editions of the Four Continents Championships as a single skater, winning twice the event (2008, 2011), having last participated in 2013, Daisuke Takahashi came back to Four Continents as an ice dancer this January. And not just that – he would win the silver medal in Tallinn, alongside partner Kana Muramoto.
And they would both make history in their own way.
Daisuke, as the first skater to win medals at 4CC in two separate disciplines. Kana, taking the silver, after winning the first Four Continents medal for Japan in ice dance, the bronze, in 2018, alongside partner Chris Reed.
Daisuke would say, in all sincerity: “It’s been nine years since I’ve competed here as a single skater. Nine years ago it was unthinkable to come back here as an ice dancer – but it happened, and it feels very refreshing, and I feel very fortunate”.
And not only Daisuke Takahashi felt the uniqueness of the moment, but also the US younger teams sitting at the table in Tallinn and sharing the podium with the Japanese dancers.
They had their memories as well.
Bronze medalist with Christina Carreira, Anthony Ponomarenko would say: “2010 Games [where Takahashi won the men’s bronze] was the first time I really watched skating, all the disciplines, and fell in love with skating. Having Daisuke Takahashi on the podium with us, and even sitting here in the press conference, is a huge honor, and I’ve been telling that the whole week”.
As for Michael Parsons, winner of the 2022 Four Continents title alongside Caroline Green, he would summarize it in the best possible way: “He is a legend. What else is there to say? A career in ice dance is a journey, and to share it with people – it’s amazing – and the people that you meet while you’re competing too. It’s a privilege that not many people have”.
“IT ALL FEELS SO SUDDEN”
Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi winning silver in Tallinn, at this year’s edition of Four Continents Championships, was a success no matter how you looked at it – but both partners could still feel the glitches, sense the cautiousness during the actual performances, the pressing need to jell more and avoid rookie mistakes they kept on making.
Knowing they medaled, Kana would still stress the opposite feelings she had, at the end of their free dance at Four Continents, in the mixed zone: “I am very happy that I was able to reach the podium with Dai. Even though we are only in our second season, we can fight the world teams, and I admire Dai a lot for that. It feels weird because, on one hand, I’m happy to be on the podium, but, on the other hand, I’m frustrated because of the mistakes. We realized that we definitely want to improve our level”.
As for Daisuke, he would simply say, mirroring his partner’s words: “We didn’t make any big mistakes, but some parts were a bit messy. I’m very happy to be on the podium for the first time in a championship [as an ice dancer], and I can hardly put my joy into words, but I’m more frustrated that my performance was not so good. Overall, I’m happy to have achieved all this. It all feels so sudden”.
It was sudden: they announced their partnership in September 2019, started training in Florida in the midst of the pandemic, and their first season as a team only included their debut at NHK Trophy (November 2020; bronze) and their first common trip to Japanese Nationals (December 2020, silver).
In their second season, 2021-2022, they were 6th at NHK Trophy, won the silver medal at 2021 Warsaw Cup, their first Challenger Series event – and another silver at Japanese Nationals, hence not making the team for the Olympics.
It was a tough pill to swallow, no doubt – but, remember, their partnership was/is still very new.
DAISUKE: “A LEARNING PROCESS”. KANA: “IT’S STILL THE BEGINNING FOR US”
During the press conference after the free dance in Tallinn, the pluses tend to overcome the minuses.
Daisuke: “This is only our second season, and we feel very honored to be sent to this championships. After I turned to ice dance, COVID started, so we had hardly any chance to compete, especially outside Japan. So it was a precious opportunity to compete with all the international skaters. We did make mistakes here. It’s a learning process, and that only happens in a competition like this. Overall, I think it gave us some confidence and now we are preparing to, hopefully, do better at the Worlds”.
Kana: “We’re very happy with our second place medal – I think we made another [piece of] history. And it feels so special to be here with Daisuke, and to see him perform as an ice dancer is just amazing. It is still the beginning for us”.
And, in a way, this feels like a new beginning for Japanese ice dancing as well.
“THE AMOUNT OF PEOPLE WHO CAME TO WATCH ICE DANCING AT NATIONALS WAS JUST AMAZING”
Undoubtedly, the fact that one of Japan’s greatest single skaters turned to ice dancing changed the way the discipline was perceived in Japan: it doesn’t feel like the ugly duckling anymore.
It feels like a possibility for the Japanese young skaters now – and Kana and Daisuke feel it too.
Daisuke: “I think a good result will bring more attention to the discipline, and we are happy to be given that opportunity and got a medal here. It think it became big news, and I’m happy that we’re in that position”.
Kana: “At Nationals, I already kind of felt – because of Daisuke turning to ice dance – how much he accomplished in just two seasons. The amount of people who came to watch ice dancing was just amazing – I was very surprised. There are a lot of novice and junior teams now, so I think what we’ve accomplished has some effect on ice dance in Japan and we hope to continue that”.
As for their goal to upcoming Worlds in Montpellier, it included their wishes, but also a sense of sureness, from Kana: “I think we have still so much potential to grow, so with our team in Florida we’re basically going to prepare to just improve everything”.
A WORLD CHAMPION COMING BACK TO WORLDS
The best way to look at their progress is this: a team in only its second season is sent to World Championships.
A special journey for both of them, no doubt – but bearing a special meaning to Daisuke Takahashi in particular: coming back to Worlds after nine years (he last competed as a single skater in London, Canada, where he finished on the 6th place), coming back to Worlds in France after ten years (in 2012, he won the silver medal, after two sizzling performances in Nice).
A winner of the World title himself, in 2010, in Turin – returning to a competition that once felt like home.
But now, as an ice dancer, with Kana Muramoto on his side.
And when they entered Sud de France Arena in Montpellier, for their six-minute warm-up, and when they’re introduced, with all the accolades, the audience gave them a Welcome! to remember.
The pressure of the comeback would take its toll though: missing the second twizzle of their rhythm dance, the-always-striving-for-perfection Daisuke Takahashi would beat himself for it. “I think my mental aspect was the reason for my mistake. In the warm up it didn’t go well, and the second twizzle was always my concern, so it was my bad”.
Twizzle or no twizzle, that was a wonderful comeback at Worlds. And what a journey Daisuke Takahashi’s career has been – and just how privileged we are to witness it still.
And we were not the only ones to grasp the real meaning of it, their overwhelming growth in such a short amount of time – one that feels like a second, really, looking at the long careers of any established ice dance team out there.
“It has been some time since I’ve been at the Worlds, but it’s the first time as an ice dancer, so it feels funny because it’s something I’m familiar with, but something completely new. I’m able to attend Worlds in my second year as an ice dancer – that’s amazing”.
And watching them dance, two silhouettes in red and black on the thick whiteness of the ice, watching them embody their characters to the fingertips, to the top of their fishing hooks even, you know: they will catch that (gold) fish after all.
“WE WANT TO OPEN OUR OWN WORLD TO THE SPECTATORS”
Eyes open to the second act of competition, Kana would say, as a preview to their free dance: “[Our free dance] is a ballet and a ballet world, and we want to open our own world to the spectators. I hope they will enjoy it like a ballet piece”.
And what an absolute pleasure was to watch them ballet their way into the ice dancing world, with the beautiful La Bayadère by Ludwig Minkus as a companion. And if this free dance – the first free dance of their young career – is an indicator of what they can do in the future, then we’re in for a treat.
Minutes after the performance, in the mixed zone, while asked about the difference in approaching a program as a single skater and, now, as an ice dancer, Daisuke Takahashi would talk to us in Japanese, and Kana would translate his answer with a smile.
And he would make a clear distinction in between the two: “As a single skater, it’s basically between you and the judges or the audience: how to show your interpretation of the music to the judges or the audience. But with ice dance, it’s more between the partners: how the communication between the two is shown to the judges or the audience”.
Daisuke would add in English, for more clarity: “As a single skater, I feel more the music. But as an ice dancer, I’m thinking about the story more”.
For a second, we feel the urge to disagree: What about those amazing stories that he told while skating to La Strada or Pagliacci? We had always seen him as a storyteller. He’d answer with a smile: “It was more about the music still – I didn’t think about the story as much as I do now”.
They will leave the mixed zone smiling and chatting about their performance, shoulder to shoulder, finish the competition in Montpellier on the 16th place, and learn the necessary lessons of their first Worlds as a team.
Kana: “Overall, we are happy with what we achieved in just two years. We were finally able to compete with the top ice dance teams, and we learned a lot. We are not satisfied [with what we did], but we’re happy about where we are now”.
Daisuke: “At the beginning of the season we didn’t know which place we have [in the world], but, as the season went on, we knew where we wanted to go. That was a lot of pressure from myself: I remember this fight as a [single skater] competitor – it was hard and fun at the same time”.
And a teaser was thrown in the air by Kana: “We both kind of know how we feel [about continuing to compete or not], but I think by April we’ll let everyone know”.
They let everyone know by the end of May, confirming they would continue their journey as a team, and share this beautiful adventure with all of us.
[story by Florentina Tone
photos by Alberto Ponti, Montpellier
other photos © International Skation Union]
»» SEE MORE. LA BAYADÈRE: SEARCHING FOR PERFECTION
Remembering 2022 Worlds in Montpellier, and even looking at the pictures taken in Sud de France Arena, you are stunned: their attention to details is just incredible.
They’re mirroring each other in every move, in making their programs as close to perfection.
There’s a sense of movement, grace and character in each and every one of these photos – and we’re gladly sharing them with you. There you have La Bayadère, as imagined by Marina Zoueva and Massimo Scali, as danced by Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi in their first Worlds together.