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    Pj Kwong

    About Pj Kwong

    With more than 25 years of coaching experience, Pj Kwong is one of Canada's best known figure skating experts. She has worked with CBC Sports as a commentator and analyst since 2007.

Figure Skating

Pj Kwong - Monday Dec. 30, 2013 14:30

Japan names strong Olympic figure skating team

Daiuske Takahashi squeaks in despite poor national performance

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From left, Ryuichi Kihara, Narumi Takahashi, Kanako Murakami, Mao Asada, Akiko Suzuki, Yuzuru Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida, Daisuke Takahashi, Cathy Reed and Chris Reed make up Japan's Olympic figure skating team. (Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images)

Japan has long been considered one of the world’s leading figure skating nations, especially where the men’s and women’s events are concerned. In Vancouver in 2010, Daisuke Takahashi and Mao Asada each won a medal in figure skating. Both are hopefuls for Sochi in 2014.

Asada’s silver in 2010 coupled with her strong showing in her Grand Prix events this season put her back at the top of my list of favourites to win gold in Sochi. At least until she finished in third place at the Japanese nationals Dec. 21-24; her lowest finish in 10 years. Asada’s talent is second to none but even that talent wasn’t enough to keep her ahead of the pack.

With six national tiles in the last eight years, this season’s Grand Prix Final title and two world titles among many others, Asada’s body of work has earned her the right to head the three women heading to Sochi. She’ll be joined by Japanese champion Akiko Suzuki and national silver medallist Kanako Murakami.

I was surprised by Asada’s results to be sure but the fact that the top three women were going to the Olympics made complete sense to me.

On the men’s side, there’s been huge talk all season long about the depth of talent on Japan’s team. With as many as six men vying for three Olympic spots, the 2013 Japanese national championships were going to be very interesting.

Grand Prix Final champion Yuzuru Hanyu’s coach Brian Orser told me he had wondered if Hanyu might be named to the Olympic team by the Japan Skating Federation in advance of the national championships. This was not the case, forcing Hanyu to pull out all of the stops at nationals and take the title. The Skate America gold medallist Tatsuki Machida took silver while Takahiko Kozuka took bronze.

It thus appeared as a bit of a surprise to Takahashi, who won bronze at 2010 Olympics but finished fifth at nationals, when he was named to the 2014 Olympic team. There is no doubt that the hugely popular Takahashi is one of today’s skating superstars. He had qualified for the Grand Prix Final at the beginning of December but was forced to withdraw due to injury. He says he is well and cannot explain the lapse in confidence that resulted in his poor free skate:

Knowing that his Olympic appointment hung in the balance, Takahashi left his post-skate interview in tears.

 

Japan’s skating federation had always said that their criteria for inclusion on the Olympic team would include results at nationals and internationally. Internationally, Takahashi has been instrumental in boosting Japan’s popularity on the world stage. He has definitely paid his dues and will be looking to put last weekend’s disappointing performance behind him.

The three men representing Japan at Sochi include:

  • Yuzuru Hanyu.
  • Tatsuki Machida.
  • Daisuke Takahashi.

National bronze medallist Takahiko Kozuka was named as the alternate, while Nobunari Oda who finished off the podium in fourth place has announced his retirement from competitive skating.

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