Golden Skate

Sakamoto leads ladies to Japanese sweep at Four Continents

Kaori Sakamoto

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto performs her free skate at the 2018 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships.

Figure Skating News

Kaori Sakamoto led the ladies to a Japanese podium sweep at the 2018 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships on Thursday in what was her debut at this event. Mai Mihara, who was the reigning champion, earned the silver, while Satoko Miyahara slipped to third.

Sakamoto, who was second after the short program, delivered a flawless routine to music from Amélie which was highlighted by seven triple jumps along with level four footwork and strong spins. The 2018 Japanese silver medalist earned positive grades of execution (GOE) on all of her elements to earn a new personal best of 142.87.

The skater, who trains in the Hyōgo Prefecture, recalled doing clean programs at this arena last season when she took the bronze at the 2017 World Junior Championships.

“Today I am very satisfied with my performance,” said the 17-year-old. “This is my third time in Taiwan.”

The teenager was also happy that teammate Mihara was there. “She won last year and I knew she would show her perfect ability,” said Sakamoto. “I did not want to lose to her, but I am happy that we both showed a perfect performance.”

“In the short program, the steps were not so good and in the free skating the spins were not so good,” acknowledged the 2017 Skate America silver medalist regarding her performances. “Until nationals, I practiced a lot, but since 2018 had started, I couldn’t practice them that much and I think that was the reason for today’s performance. Before the start of the season, I practiced little by little to build up, and then I practiced a lot before the Four Continents and Olympics to build my confidence.”

Defending champion Mihara had a good start in her routine to “Gabriel’s Oboe” from The Mission soundtrack, landing a solid triple Lutz-triple toe and double Axel, but later received an edge call on a triple flip and underrotated a triple Lutz in combination with a double toe-double loop. She otherwise showed good level four spins and scored 140.73 for second in the long, moving up from third to second overall (210.57).

“Before I started my performance, I was surprised about Kaori’s score,” Mihara admitted. “I heard the cheering for her and I was happy for her. I was able to perform well today thanks to Kaori, my coaches and to the cheering of the audience.”

“I am a little bit happy,” added the 18-year-old. “Today my performance was not perfectly clean. I got an underrotation on the triple Lutz and I am bit frustrated about that. I felt nervous before my program, but I tried my best.”

Mihara wants to keep coming back to the Four Continents try for a medal every year. She is currently the alternate for the Olympic and World team and plans to keep on training. Her next event will the Coup de Printemps in Luxemburg at the end of the season.

Miyahara, who was in first after the short program, underrotated the back half a of triple Lutz-triple toe, as well as a triple Lutz in combination with a double toe-double loop. The four-time Japanese national champion also fell on a triple Salchow in her routine to Madame Butterfly, but despite the errors, earned the highest program component scores (69.76) of the day.

“I have a lot of regrets about today’s performance,” said 19-year-old. “When I came here, my jumps were not so perfect and I think that connected to me feeling uncomfortable and it affected my confidence. I want to fix that before the Olympic Games. My body is in perfect condition, the problem is in my mind. I need to be stronger mentally.”

Dabin Choi of South Korea returned to her “Doctor Zhivago” routine, citing that the other program was too difficult to perform well in time for the Olympics. However, she improved her fifth-place finish from last year, placing fourth overall (190.23) with a clean program which featured seven triple jumps.

USA’s Mariah Bell also improved her placement from last year, finishing fifth overall (185.84). The skater, who trains under Rafael Arutyunyan, feels she is still learning a great deal this season, but admits she is not quite ready for the Olympic team.

“I take this as an experience doing something under pressure so that I can prepare myself for the future when I am competing in the Olympics, since there is no more pressure than that,” said the 21-year-old. “I keep learning from my new coaching team and I’ve  been really enjoying my life in California and enjoy working hard. I am proud of myself, although I had a few silly mistakes. I am really proud of what I did and the arena is so cool. In Taipei, I really have a good time and it’s an honor to represent Team USA and I can travel the world and do what I love. After the competition, I’ll go home and keep training, but I’m really excited to give back and get working the next season. I really want to develop my skating skills and the program.”

South Korea’s Hanul Kim rounded out the top six ladies in her debut at this event.

“I was very nervous,” admitted the 15-year-old. “When I come up to the ice, even my legs were a little bit shaking. I had make some mistakes, but I told myself to be focused, but then I still made another mistake. After that, I just wanted to be really, really focused and just skate the way I have been training.”

USA’s Starr Andrews and Alaine Chartrand of Canada finished seventh and eighth, respectively.