Episode 23: Japanese Nationals 2019 - Transcript


Yogeeta: You're In The Loop - we're here to discuss the ups, downs and sideways of the sport of figure skating, and maybe give you +5 GOE along the way. Let’s introduce this week's hosts. Hi, I’m Yogeeta and I just want all the Japanese ladies to go to Worlds! You can find me on Twitter @liliorum.

Nina: Hey, I’m Nina and I, sadly, am no longer on break but I’m still recovering from JNats! You can find me on Twitter @yonkaitenpooh

Kite: Hi, I’m Kite and I’m glad that reliving Japanese Nationals is breaking up the back-to-work slump. I’m on Twitter @mossyzinc.

Sam: And I’m Sam! I hope everyone’s enjoying this bit of a break. You can follow me @quadlutze with an e for edge call on Twitter.

Sam: Alright. To start things off with the news, the 2019 Grand Prix Final has been moved to Torino, Italy. Originally it was announced to be in Strasbourg, France.

Kite: And, in some unfortunate news, Karen Chen has announced that she will be sitting out of US Nationals due to the foot injury that's been plaguing her all season. So we wish her a very speedy recovery from that and we hope to see her back in competition very soon.

Yogeeta: Some exciting news, Han Yan of China has confirmed that he will be coming back to competition next season. I'm very excited to see him back on the ice.

Nina: Oh, I've missed his Axel’s.

-end segment- 1:35

START: Pairs and Ice Dance

Yogeeta: Okay, let's talk about Japanese Nationals! To just quickly go through our Pairs and Dance medalists; for Pairs, the gold medalists are Miu Suzaki and Ryuichi Kihara, because they were the only ones competing because their other competitor withdrew [Riku Miura/Shoya Ichihashi]. And in Dance, we have Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto in gold, Kiria Hirayama and Axel Lamasse in silver, and Mio Iida and Kenta Ishibashi in bronze - and they were also the only three [teams] competing. At the very least, JSF was able to hand out all three medals to Dance. Why won't JSF actually build a foundation for Pairs and Dance? They have so many great ladies and men in Singles who will never compete internationally who could potentially be great at Pairs and Dance.

Sam: (in a sing-song voice) Money! It's all about the money! (hosts laugh) But seriously, no, that's really it. They have no real incentive to do it at this point because they don't see it giving them anything in return because there's no immediate gains. Because, in able to do something like that, to really create disciplines they would have to invest in lower levels and not just poach Singles skaters and move them over because then you're still not really getting the results you would need. But it would be great, especially if you consider if they had just a top 15 Dance team or a top 20 Pairs team, they could conceivably win gold medals for the Olympic team event because their Singles are that good.

Kite: Yeah, it takes a lot of time to build a top Pairs team or a top Dance team. It's not like Singles where you can kind of just drop them into competition and they can start winning immediately. That usually doesn't happen with Pairs and Dance, it can take 5 years or even more just to have a team like be able to build that dynamic and that awareness of each other to where they can go out and start winning stuff. So right now the immediate return for developing Pairs and Dance is really low so there's less incentive to do it. But still, team Japan could be sweeping Olympic team medals, like Sam said, and it's kind of disappointing that they're not right now.

Yogeeta: JSF really needs to start playing the long game here because they have such great men and ladies.

Nina: If there's anything I've learned from previous ITL episodes it's that apparently, Junior Ice Dance is where it's at. So, JSF, get on that.

Yogeeta: Yeah, they have no Junior Ice Dancers. I don't remember any Junior Ice Dancers from Japan.

Sam: And they only had one Pairs team too, I think.

Yogeeta: Yeah, I do remember a Japanese Junior Pairs team but I can't remember if there was a Japanese Junior Ice Dance team during the Junior Grand Prix. There probably was.

-end segment- 4:22


Nina: On the other hand, where Japan does invest a lot of money is in the Men's field!

(hosts laugh)

Kite: So we had our Men's medalists, Shoma Uno in first, Daisuke Takahashi in second and Keiji Tanaka in third.

Nina: Love that podium so much.

Kite: Let's just get right into the meat of this episode and start talking about Shoma. So I want to know who I have to fight to rescue all of the ankles this season because he sprained his right ankle in [warmup] before the Short Program and then decided to compete anyway. Ironically, finally had the clean Short Program he's been chasing all season and, obviously, he won. And reports say he's going to need about two weeks to heal which should technically still give him enough time to get ready for Four Continents but two weeks is...

Nina: I am very questionable about that two weeks figure because I suspect that it means "two weeks to be competitive" and not "two weeks to heal" which is not a great position to be in. Especially when you're kind of now the top man going to Four Continents and I think that he takes that on himself and is using that to keep himself up. Especially because he technically could have pulled out of Nationals and been given a bye but didn't want to. I worry that he's just going to push himself at Four Continents to try and prove something.

Sam: I don't know if I'd go that far. For me, Shoma's not somebody I'm not necessarily worried about mentally. He's the kid who couldn't do a triple Axel so he went and did a quad in spite of it. So I'm not necessarily worried about him not being able to push through stuff like this where he's feeling a little bit down or he's not getting the results he wanted. That said, I agree full heartedly on the injury front or whatever's going on with him. I'm so fed up with sports culture mentality where it's like a good thing to push through pain even though you don't have to. That kind of stuff doesn't really make sense to me and I hope he's putting himself in a good enough position to where he will be safe and he will be okay, no matter what he decides to.

Yogeeta: Yeah, I also just don't understand why JSF is even sending him to Four Continents since Worlds is in Japan this season. I feel like they would want to make a better showing at Worlds and have their two top men take the podium instead of risking further injury for Shoma by letting him go to Four Continents.

Kite: Yeah, Four Continents is, frankly, not a priority for someone in Shoma's position right now. It's a smaller competition if you want to put it in the context of Worlds, so definitely what they should be prioritizing is having him be healthy in time for Worlds and not pushing him to go to these competitions where he doesn't really need to be at.

Nina: I do wonder if there would have been a bit of a commotion if they'd given two men byes for not competing at Nationals. I was wondering if that would cause some strife.

Yogeeta: I'm sure some people would complain but it's Shoma and Yuzuru [Hanyu] - they're the gold and silver medalists of the Olympics. Nobody would be like "Oh, they don't deserve that."

Sam: Also, [Shoma] would have been pulling out mid-competition, so it's not as if like there would be any way for somebody to be able to point and be like "He just did it because he didn't want to go." We all saw it, it's not like somebody could be like "No, he just didn't want to be there" and make it about that. So I don't know if that was necessarily the case where they'd be like "Well, Yuzuru's not here so you have to still compete" or like fans themselves would get upset because it happened while he was there. You know what I mean?

Nina: Wait, if Shoma wasn't there could we have had Daisuke Takahashi National Champion?

Sam: We probably would have.

Kite: Probably. I feel like he does take a lot of that pressure onto himself, especially when Yuzuru has withdrawn, to kind of be the pull to encourage the audience to come. Well, maybe less so this year because Daisuke was also competing. But generally, I think that's kind of the mentality he's had going into competitions like this. Where the main man is gone so he's like "I have to really step up for both of us" and that is concerning.

Nina: I mean, he did say in the press conference that he doesn't feel like he's won any of his three titles...

Sam: I'm just gonna throw it out there - I would feel that way too. It's not necessarily a bad thing to be harder on yourself than you should be. I know I do that all the time and sometimes it's not necessarily healthy but I don't think thinking "Yeah, I won but my top competitor wasn't here, so it doesn't feel as big of a win to me as maybe it would have if he were here" is necessarily a bad thing or indicative of an issue.

Yogeeta: Yeah, I feel like anyone who has won something cause Yuzuru had to pull out probably also feels like that. They accept that they won but they also know what could have happened if Yuzuru was actually here, and that's just a common feeling. I don't think Shoma has terrible mentality issues, I agree with Sam in that regard. I think it's just what if scenarios that we shouldn't keep talking about. Let's move on to our silver medalist, the ever so wonderful Daisuke Takahashi.

Nina: I love him!

Yogeeta: That's it! We just love Daisuke Takahashi and we're happy that he came back and graced us with his presence.

Nina: I'm glad that he didn't murder himself by doing those terrifying quads that we saw.

Kite: Well he went for it. He went for it and popped it.

Sam: The one in practice that he did was really nice.

Nina: The quad toe looked nice. The quad flip did not.

Sam: Well, thankfully, he wasn't doing them at Nationals. He was doing them in practice videos. But I don't remember him seeing him do one.

Nina: I was just terrified going into the Short Program and then I was like "Okay, I can rest easy now."

Yogeeta: Well his triple toe in the Free looked like it was meant to be a quad to me.

Kite: No it was, he popped the quad toe into a triple. So he did go for one of them. But I mean, does anyone really have a nice quad flip?

Sam: No, the quad flip doesn't exist, let's be real. (Hosts laugh) No one's really done a quad flip.

Yogeeta: Rest in pieces, Shoma and [Nathan Chen].

Kite: Anyway, his Short Program was just so exquisite. It was probably my favorite program of the entire event in Men's because it just brings you back to the age where Daisuke was the mega-star of Japanese skating. And after the Short Program, where he posted a nearly 90 score, people were saying "Wow, he could actually be named to Worlds or Four Continents this year." And just the way the program is choreographed and laid out, it just highlights his strengths so well because he leaves his Step Sequence until the end, so he's gotten all of his jumps out of the way and then he can just focus on the performance. And the way he uses his edges, like the depth of his edges convey how wistful and longing the piece is, is just so phenomenal and yet so subtle. And you can actually see how Dai has influenced Shoma's skating because he also uses his upper body, especially his arms and his back. so effectively to highlight musical aspects in the piece without seeming sluggish or slow, which can easily happen when you're skating to something that's so melodic and smooth throughout. Just such a good program, I'm very upset that we're probably not going to see it again this season.

Nina: It really just shows what the meaning of the word "musical" is.

Sam: Exactly, for me my favorite part of that program is, like Kite was saying, with the Step Sequence how it explodes out in the beginning and then calms down and becomes more subtle and you can see his movements changing with each mood change in the music. Stuff like that is just absolutely beautiful to watch.

Yogeeta: Yeah, that Step Sequence was probably the highlight of the entire Men's event. I've gone back and rewatched it several times. It just brings you in and takes you away from the real world. I don't really have words to describe it but it's just this feeling of magic and I'm so happy we got to actually witness this. Especially in the current age, the age of all the quads jumpers who focus more on getting those quads and less on the choreographic elements of their programs, seeing these programs that are so musical and just gorgeous to watch.

Nina: Yeah, the moment right before he goes into the Step Sequence where he pauses and lets the moment sit and savor and then just throws himself into it - for me I would say it was the second best part of Japanese Nationals, only because his Free Skate Choreographic Sequence really slays me.

Kite: He struggled with his jumps quite a bit in the Free Skate and they still were originally going to assign him to Worlds and possibly Four Continents and he actually turned those spots down. Which partly was due to the fact that he realistically is not in a place where he can be competing internationally and getting good results like his jumps were all over the place in the Free Skate. But he also said that he wanted to give younger skaters a chance to compete at the Spring Championships which is, of course, very admirable of him to say even though "stealing spots" is not a thing and none of the men going to Worlds are rookies anyway. Like Keiji is 24, he's been there several times now. But it was a nice sentiment on his behalf to step aside and let the younger generation fill in the gaps.

Sam: Yeah, and he did what he said he was going to do from the beginning. When he announced his comeback he was like "I'm here for Nationals, I'm not necessarily looking to compete internationally." So stealing spots isn't a thing and Dai stuck onto his word and did what he said he was going to do. And that is what it is.

Yogeeta: He did say that he was going to continue competing next season, so maybe we'll see him internationally again next season which I would love to see. As long as we have more Daisuke Takahashi I'm happy.

Sam: Exactly, and honestly he probably wasn't ready to compete at Worlds this year anyway.

Nina: I think he said that himself.

Kite: Yeah, he also has not actually competed internationally this season so he would have had to go to a smaller competition to even get the score minimums that he would need to be able to compete at Worlds. So it just wasn't really a feasible goal for him this season. But he does plan to stick around, so here's hoping that next season he'll actually be able to compete internationally, even if it's not at Worlds.

Yogeeta: Give him a Grand Prix assignment!

Sam: Give him the NHK spot!

Kite: If you want to sell tickets, JSF, that's the way to go about it.

Nina: Those tickets would be selling like hotcakes.

Yogeeta: Okay, let's move onto our bronze medalist, Keiji Tanaka. He finally did it! I think this was his cleanest Free Skate this season.

Sam: Oh, by far.

Yogeeta: Which also says a lot because it was also riddled with pops and too many double toes. But he managed to do what he came to do and win that coveted spot to Worlds.

Sam: He has a knack for showing up at Nationals and skating just well enough to get the spot he needs. It's kind of uncanny.

Yogeeta: I still remember last year at Nats where he landed more quads than Shoma did.

Sam: Yeah, that was great.

Nina: You know, we always worry about Keiji and his ability to rotate and land on one foot but he can really put it out there when it counts, sometimes.

Kite: I mean, yeah it was the cleanest skate he's had all season, by far, but like Yogeeta said, it was still pretty error-packed as far as popping and not counting the double toes, and so we need to keep in mind that a skate like this would probably still bury him at Worlds, but it's good enough to get on the Worlds team and that was his immediate goal of the season, to make Worlds, so good for him, he did finally pull it together, and I'm hoping that we do see a good showing from him at Worlds as well.

Sam: And Four Continents.

Kite: So, moving on to a competitor who unfortunately did not have the skates that he quite wanted, Kazuki Tomono, there was some commentary that I saw about how Kazuki was robbed score-wise, especially in program component scores, and I personally would love to know where you think he should have been scored higher. Because I would personally probably put his Performance and Interpretation a little bit higher in the Free Skate, but even then not by much because he was really not selling the performance as well as he did at Rostelecom Cup, and he only got Step Sequence 2 on that really hype “Riverdance” bit that everyone's all excited about, and he also had a major mistake in the Short Program. So I would argue that these scores are actually pretty on par with what he gets internationally, and I don't think that he put out a performance at Nationals that was deserving of higher scores.

Sam: Yeah, I agree with that completely, and I would just generally say that I don't always get the calls for Kazuki to get higher PCS as it is, because I think no matter the Performance the only thing that could really rise is his interpretation and performance and most other components, like Skating Skills, Composition, Transitions - there's nothing you can really do with that, they're not gonna change. He's the skater that he is, he's not the best skating skill-wise but he's a great performer and I'll give him that. But it's also important to point out that Kazuki is not any less inconsistent than Keiji is. I mean, he won a medal on the Grand Prix, yes, but he won the medal at Rostelecom Cup with a field that did not perform very well, which are all important things to point out when you're considering things like this. The other thing I wanna say is while I love him to pieces, I don't want anyone to take me saying "Oh, his PCS shouldn't actually be higher" even though we all wanted him to do well. But yeah, I love his programs, I love him to pieces, it's just I don't necessarily always agree with the idea that he should be getting much higher scores just because he did well at Worlds last year.

Nina: I think they were hoping that he would get the home ice boost, because it was Japanese Nationals, but I don't necessarily think that even if he were going to be getting that sort of boost, this performance would be necessarily the one that was deserving of that.

Yogeeta: That also assumes that Japanese Nationals actually gives home ice boosts.

Kite: Yeah, there's an impression, it seems, that one fifth-place finish at Worlds means that his scores should suddenly be exploding, especially his PCS, and that he should be scoring close to Dai in performance, which I don't understand at all. That's pretty ridiculous, in my opinion. That would do him a pretty big disservice during this period of growth as a skater where he is developing his musicality and his artistry and his skating skills, to suddenly be throwing huge scores at him and giving off the impression that yes, this is just where he needs to stay for the rest of his career, he doesn't need to improve at all. That's not where he is right now.

Sam: Yeah, and it's important to say that at the end of the day, one result isn't the hallmark of your career. Doing well at one competition shouldn't set you up to then necessarily be solidly the third Japanese man, just because you happened to do well that one time, and then just ignore the fact that yeah, Keiji and Kazuki are both equally as inconsistent.

Nina: Also, it's true that his fifth place finish at Worlds was another competition where everyone died. Like died HARD.

Kite: And it was a post-Olympic Worlds. Let's not forget that. So, people were missing.

Nina: But, I mean, he's going to have further experience, he's gonna do fine.

Yogeeta: Yeah, he is going to Four Continents.

Nina: That's a competition that's good for boosting your reputation.

Yogeeta: Yeah, I hope he does well. I like his programs this season, and he hasn't really skated either of them clean yet, so I hope that he is able to do that at Four Continents. Okay, let's talk about some of the other men! Koshiro Shimada. Koshiro's momentum after medaling at the Junior Grand Prix Final did him really well here, he was third after the short, and the top three after the short was amazing because it was Shoma, Dai, and Koshiro, and it was a cross-generational top 3, that was spectacular. His free, unfortunately, was riddled with a lot of mistakes, which pushed him down to 11th in the free, but he ended up as fifth overall, which should hopefully be a strong position for him to be in, and will hopefully help push him forwards during the Junior World Championships where he will probably be hoping to podium again.

Kite: Not in love with the free still, I don't think he has quite the expressiveness that he needs to pull off a tango program just yet, as a skater, but I'm very glad for him to be getting these good results and I have faith that Stephane Lambiel knows what he's doing and is going to help him get good results in the future as well.

Yogeeta: When in doubt, trust Stephane. And I also just want to mention Shun Sato really quickly, he had done really well at Junior Nationals and he had the second highest technical score of the men in the Free Skate, but he finished ninth, which slightly confused me, compared to Junior Nats, he received eight points lower in PCS and even though he did have a fall in his Free Skate, I don't think his PCS should have dropped that much.

Kite: Yeah, I don't know what the judges were doing while he was skating, if they just took a coffee break or something, but literally all of the other junior men who had competed at Junior Nats got higher PCS at Senior Nats except for Shun. So I would really love to know what was going through their minds when they scored him, if they just hit the wrong key or something, but yeah that was ridiculous, I don't know why.

Yogeeta: Well, let's talk about who wasn't here, Yuzuru Hanyu.

Kite: Unfortunately he's still out with the ankle injury that he sustained at Rostelecom in November. JSF made what some thought was a pretty interesting choice to not send him to Four Continents, especially since his rehab period is basically over by now, and we do have confirmation that he's back on the ice and training.

Yogeeta: I don’t know if that was JSF’s choice or if it was Hanyu saying he wasn’t ready for Four Continents and he does want to go to Worlds but I’m happy that Hanyu is taking the time he needs to get fully recovered and we all know that he’s coming for that World title, no matter what.

Kite: Yeah, it’s a home Worlds for him so I’m sure he feels that added impetus to really go out there and give the performance of his life, and win the World title on home ice like his first World title.

Sam: Yeah and we know that he can take an extended break or rehab period and come to a major championship and win and be fine, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

-end segment- 23:09

START: Ladies

Yogeeta: So let’s talk about our ladies! (Nina: Yay!) In gold, we have Kaori Sakamoto, in silver, Rika Kihira, and bronze, Satoko Miyahara.

Nina: I love all of them and I’m very happy that Kaori is the national champion but I want to know why half the judges saw her go from her spiral sequence in her Free Skate into a triple loop which she just floats on, and only gave it +3 [GOE]. What are they on?

Yogeeta: One point there about her spiral sequence, she messed it up again!

Nina: It’s so beautiful you can’t tell!

Kite: No, you can tell.

Sam: Nah, you can see her going to grab her blade and missing it

Yogeeta: But I don’t think the judges saw because her GOE on it was really high compared to when she messed it up in Helsinki.

Sam: To be fair though, it wasn’t as bad this time as Helsinki. Helsinki was pretty funny, she was laughing in the middle of it.

Yogeeta: Kaori, I think, has the best jump technique of all the Japanese ladies - outside of her flutz.

Nina: She looks like a butterfly just casually lifting herself off the ice.

Yogeeta: Like all of her jumps should be getting +4s and +5s, judges if you give her anything else, like why.

Sam: It’s like a general trend to ask what’s going on with her GOE every time she competes because it doesn’t make any sense. She hits every bullet point on every single jump - again besides the lutz. Her double Axel-double toe-double toe in the Free is like ‘chef’s kiss, perfect.’

Kite: She got +4.8 on her solo back-counter double Axel so finally the judges are waking up and seeing the light. There was a bit of controversy regarding her win in general over Rika, but Rika was further down after the Short Program, she was in fifth and she had a lot of catching up to do. Had she landed the triple Axel, she probably would’ve won the whole event. I think it merits a fair point that Kaori would be pretty unlikely to get these scores internationally. Because she was clean at Skate America and she was clean at Helsinki and in the Free Skate she only got 142 and 140 respectively, and she got 152 here. Which, personally, I think is much closer to the performance that she’s actually putting out, but the international judges haven’t really been rewarding her for that.

Nina: Kaori often gets lowballed in PCS because she got 67 at Grand Prix Helsinki and 68 at the Grand Prix Final even with a fall and here she got 73, even though I’d say it was actually weaker performatively. So I think that her scores are more accurate.

Kite: That’s why I hope and pray that being Japanese champion going into Four Continents and going into Worlds is going to boost her scoring potential on the international stage because now she has a national title to back it up, although I’m frankly not super optimistic because Satoko [Miyahara] still got robbed in Program Components.

Nina: Yeah, I was going to say Satoko is not the greatest precedent.

Yogeeta: I have no hope regarding her getting scored for her PCS correctly but her jumps deserve the GOE they deserve, and she’s not getting it internationally. Not even just in the Japanese ladies, I think she’s one of the top 5 ladies internationally with the best jump technique and she’s not getting scored for that. So, hopefully, this will boost her GOE as it should be and not actually in the 2s and 3s like it currently is on the international stage. I just want her to do really well, guys. I’m very thankful we have Kaori Sakamoto, Japanese national champion. Her reaction when she saw her score was everything.

Nina: Don’t forget this was right after the world’s cutest dab.

Kite: Dabbing in the Kiss & Cry? She’s been taking lessons from Nam [Nyugen], clearly.

Yogeeta: No one should be taking those lessons (laughter).

Kite: No they should be able to have their fun and, you know, 10-15 years down the line, they can rewatch these and just cringe.

Yogeeta: Okay. Rika Kihira, our silver medallist.

Kite: So, she definitely came in as the favorite to win, she was hot off her win at Grand Prix Final but unfortunately she did have boot problems coming into the event and it really seemed like her nerves were what undid her in the Short Program. She missed the triple Axel; was pretty far outside the circle and fell on her side coming out, and so she was a little too far back to catch up to the leaders after the Short Program, even though she did have a clean Free Skate. And frankly I’m growing pretty concerned she’s going to miss the triple Axel in the Short Program which she really needs to be a contender at Worlds because if she misses that at Worlds, they’re going to bury her so far that she’s probably not going to be able to get back up onto the podium, even. We saw at the Grand Prix Final, conversely, that she can build enough of a lead in the Short Program to be very hard to catch. I still think a Rika is unbeatable but so far, she’s only been clean in both segments once this season so I’m a little bit worried.

Yogeeta: For me, I feel like her Short is really the issue for herself. She’s proved again and again that she can rise back from a bad Short and give an outstanding Free Skate. I don’t think having a bad Short will necessarily put her out of the running for gold at Worlds but it’ll definitely set her back a lot.

Nina: I think it also depends on the reliability of the other top competitors.

Sam: Yeah, and also what group she ends up being in. Like if she messes up in the Short, but she’s still in the final group I don’t think she’ll have any issues vaulting back up to first.

Yogeeta: For me, I don’t think her Short Program suits her at all. I don’t think Clair de Lune is the right music for her, and I think part of that is making it... part of the disconnect between her mentality and her music may be giving her some issues because I don’t think it’s really matched to her style. I think her Free Skate is absolutely brilliant and every time she’s done it I’ve just been like “This is magic,” but I’ve never felt that way about her Short Program.

Kite: Yeah, she’s such a powerful skater and she kind of needs that powerful, modern music to showcase her strengths which Clair de Lune is not doing for her this season. But it’s her first Senior season, I’m going to give her a pass on that.

Nina: I was going to say I actually like her Short. I think it’s pretty, and I think it can be good for her but I think it seems to be very difficult for her to get into the mindset to perform it properly. I think she still has to work on her nerves problem as we’ve seen with the triple Axel in the short and also, you could see going into her Free Skate that her movements were a lot more frantic and she didn’t hold her lines as well, especially right at the beginning when she has those really cool hand sweeping movements.

Nina: I think it did affect her PCS because she didn't necessarily deserve the highest performance interpretation this time because she seemed a little more jerky and on edge.

Sam: So I guess for me, the reason why she doesn't seem to have any issues with the Free is because she's been performing it literally since the beginning of the summer. When you get used to having to come back from mistakes while you're in the middle of a spotlight and you're still doing triple Axel’s in the middle of the off-season, it's easier to get yourself in that mode even on competitive ice where you're like “okay, I'm going to go out there and I'm going to do this and it's going to be okay.” She doesn't have all that performing in the bank for her short, so I think that's why her nerves get to her a little more there. That Free Skate has really grown on me a lot. I'm not going to say I didn't like it, but I didn't think it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen when I had first seen it but now I'm like, this is an incredible piece of work. Tom Dickson, you are my savior as always.

Yogeeta: Next let's speak to Satoko Miyahara, our bronze medalist.

Kite: She would've been second if she hadn't popped the triple flip in the Free Skate. I'm still so upset about it given how she struggled at Grand Prix Final, this was the confidence booster competition she needed going into the spring because she was nailed on underrotations at the Grand Prix Final. Here, she was only called on the double loop combo in the Free Skate and the rest of the jumps, bar the triple Lutz, looked pretty good in real time.

Yogeeta: The triple Lutz looked underrotated in real time. I'm really surprised that they didn't call it.

Sam: For Satoko, she's always most comfortable when it seems like she's less focused if that makes sense. Because it seems like when she goes into jumps sometimes, she kind of gets into her own head and starts rushing things, and that's why she has issues on the solo Lutz where she's slipping on the takeoff. Her axis gets weird and she's landing short and underrotating it completely. She's one of the rare exceptions where you can look at a skater and be like, maybe don't think about it as much as you are. You know what I mean?

Kite: On the flip side, thank you judges for giving her a 75+ program component scores but in my opinion I think it could be higher still, especially in performance and composition. She should be getting 9.5 and above easily every time she steps on the ice. Every time she steps on the ice, give her 77 or 78 PCS.

Sam: That's what I was about to say. I'm on record as saying “Step on the ice, 37 and 77 automatic [PCS]” Don't even bother. Just throw it at her.

Nina: I don't think this was the best performance I've seen from her this whole season, and I don't think this would've been the right place to give her the highest PCS.

Kite: Well this is a national competition, so I do expect there to be some score inflation anyway. In either case, she's handily winning in PCS among all the ladies in the world hands down. Except for Carolina Kostner.

Yogeeta: Even if she's not performing to her highest ability, she still performs better than everybody else.

Kite: Exactly. Satoko on an off day performance-wise is like all the other ladies when they're on.

Yogeeta: When they're like super on for that rare competition.

Sam: For that Short Program, especially, it's just absolute majesty. It's so perfect.

Yogeeta: It's probably my favorite ladies' Short Program this season.

Sam: It might be my favorite program.

Yogeeta: Now it's time for me to cry about Mai Mihara, who will never ever win anything ever again.

Kite: Seriously, what does Mai have to do to get 70 PCS or above.

Yogeeta: She got so close! She got 69 point something, and I was just so mad.

Kite: But honestly, judges, tell me what she has to do.

Yogeeta: She has to fly, Kite. Mai Mihara needs to fly.

Sam: Or just become Canadian.

Kite: Yeah, change nationalities Mai. Skate for Canada.

Yogeeta: Literally if Mai had performed these two programs at any other nationals outside Russian Nationals, she would've won those competitions handily.

Kite: She has the worst luck in the world. She was third in both segments and she finished fourth overall.

Yogeeta: And she was the only one in the top four ladies who had two clean protocols. I do understand part of the issue with Mai is that I love her with all my heart, but her programs aren't really the best fit for her and aren't the best it in the current competitive landscape. Last season, Mai had a great Short Program with Libertango. It took her a very long time to actually reach a point where she was performing it well. But it was great for her development and It's Magic is such a setback for her. She definitely needs to leave behind these onenote programs and do programs that have more intensity and performance aspects to it. And more modern. She has a very classical feel, but I don't think that's what the judges are looking for right now. Honestly, she should stop working with David Wilson.

Nina: It's a pity because she has a very soft, lyrical skating style but the programs are just so one-note that it becomes very boring. I think she needs something that builds a little more, and not something just out of left field to shock the judges.

Kite: Honestly what compounds on the issue of her having these onenote programs is the fact that JSF fails to reward her properly anyway, even at their own nationals and they don't politic for her internationally because, as we all know, JSF can only politic for one skater at a time. It's so disheartening and unfortunate because she's already proven that she can compete against the top in the world and do really well. The fact that they gave her Four Continents over Satoko shows that they know she is a serious contender for major medals, if not major titles. It's just so bewildering and frankly embarrassing that they can't give her more support in her own country by just giving her the PCS she should rightfully be getting. I don't understand it at all.

Nina: Give her better assignments.

Yogeeta: She's had such a stellar season so far and she skated mostly clean. She's probably been the most consistent of all the Japanese ladies this season, but if you look at her GOE and PCS growth over the past few seasons and compare them to the growth of the other Japanese ladies, hers has been mostly flat while the other Japanese ladies have been rising — not as much as some of the other ladies internationally, but still have been on the rise. I don't understand why. She was the first alternate to the Grand Prix Final, and now she's the first alternate to Worlds and with so much competition at the top within the Japanese ladies, Mai really needs to do something to change her style, improve some of her elements that she's weaker on, and find a way to break into that top three or else I'm worried she's going to be the first alternate forever.

Sam: I agree with that. Just think about how different her season would've been if she had more favorable Grand Prix assignments.

Yogeeta: She could've gone to Grand Prix Final.

Sam: She could have made the final, easily, and she could've medaled and her entire season would've been different.

Yogeeta: Speaking to some of our other faves, Wakaba Higuchi.

Kite: God, I love her Short Program so much, especially the part in the Step Sequence where she's marching in place and swinging her arms back and forth. Just thank you Shae-Lynn Bourne. Just complaining about how Mai's programs don't suit her at all, this is the polar opposite. This program is so quirky and charming and she sells it so well.

Sam: Her smile. The way she beams when she does the hands around her head. It's the best.

Yogeeta: Yeah, it's such a unique program. I haven't seen any other person with a program like this, this season. I'm so glad she had the opportunity to actually do it justice here at nationals. She looked like she was having so much fun with it as well. But, Wakaba's team has to get rid of the triple flip in the Short Program. She has always been getting the edge call on it, and at this point, it's not even an unclear edge. She's just getting that edge call.

Sam: Honestly, maybe just ditch the flip entirely for a little bit, especially now that she's injured — right now as she's injured. Just put it off to the side, save it for when you're healthy and you can work on it and hopefully get it to a place where you can get an unclear edge call instead of a straight edge call every time you do it. Otherwise, I love her to pieces, like I hope she has a nice rest and come back next year and just kill it.

Kite: She had a great Short Program. Unfortunately, she had some issues in the Free Skate including too many double toes, which seems to be the sponsor of Japanese Nationals at this point. But I think overall she performed pretty admirably given how long she was out with the injury like she was out of her second Grand Prix so we haven't seen her compete since October. Even though she didn't get assigned Four Continents or Worlds, I don't think people were necessarily surprised by that because at least personally I didn't anticipate she would get any spring competitions unless she knocked it out of the park here. It is a shame she won't be able to defend her silver medal at worlds, but on the flip side, she'll at least be able to take the time off that she needs to fully heal her injury because it wasn't fully healed.

Nina: I was going to say that she was definitely in a competitive state here, although I don't think she was fully healed because of her Free Skate, she seemed really labored and she was a bit lacking in energy, although she did have a gorgeous layback spin in the end. I think she clearly wasn't fully up to snuff.

Yogeeta: Especially since immediately after she pulled out of an ice show she was supposed to do. So, we know there's still problems with injury, and I hope she takes the rest of the season to fully heal to get back to being competition ready for next season.

Kite: But, all of that said, the Japanese ladies field is packed with consistent competitors who are delivering internationally that I really worry about WAkab's chances for getting assignments in the future, because coming off of her World silver last year she really needed to take the first half of the season and strongly make a case for herself as a, or the, leading Japanese lady going into nationals to get into the national team, and unfortunately, because she was injured, that didn't quite pan out for her and os you can really see that the Japanese ladies field is starting to be separated into what I would call the world medal contenders, who are Satoko, Kaori, and Rika, and the "B Team" which is Mai and Wakaba, and the separation is just becoming clearer and clearer with every competition. And at this point, especially with so many juniors possibly coming up next season, I just don't know if they're going to be able to get into a spot where they can realistically contend for the spring competition spots.

Yogeeta: Especially since so many of the Japanese ladies are also queens of consistency. When Wakaba is on, there's no doubt she's going to get really high scores and she's going to place really well, but she's not consistent.

Sam: I would say that she doesn't get the scores she deserves, but she still places ahead of other Japanese ladies. Last season, there were tons of issues with her not getting the PCS she deserves, most noticeably at Cup of China where she got second behind Alina Zagitova, I personally thought she should have won that. That's a good example of that. But she's still beating the other Japanese ladies, and that's where she should be. So even though she's also getting low-balled on her PCS sometimes, so is everybody else, but when she skates clean, she's still ahead of them, even though she's getting lower scores.

Yogeeta: Yeah. But she has issues being consistent and when faced with the choice of having a really consistent Japanese lady versus Wakaba, I fear that JSF would lean towards a more consistent lady who they know would do really well regardless, and will get them the spots for next season, especially at Worlds', versus Wakaba who they know when she does skate well, she places above most of the Japanese ladies, but it's always a question of, "WIll she?"

Kite: Yeah. This kind of goes back to what Sam said on the RusNats episode about how this really is not the season to be messing around with Worlds spots, especially with juniors coming up next season who are also going to be contending for spots in the World team and for spots in the World podium, and it's a home Worlds. So they really need to make sure they hang on to three spots. And from their perspective, it makes sense that they would be sending the most consistent skaters over the ones who can, yes, score very high, but if they have an off day, they can also be buried.

Yogeeta: Well, let's move onto a Japanese lady who does not have the greatest time at Japanese Nationals this season. Marin Honda.

Nina: Speaking of skaters who are getting left and left off the teams...

Yogeeta: Marin just continues to falter every time she makes mistakes. She hasn't had a good skate since her Free skate at Skate Canada last season. And I'm seriously worried about her and her future competitiveness.

Nina: So the thing about Marin that I worry about is that, I mean, we talked about it in the episode covering Internationaux de France, Tilda talked about the impact of scoring precedence and whether or not it can affect skaters' ability to bounce back, or even perform in future competitions, and that's what I think has been happening to Marin, because she starts out not bad, but she doesn't get great scores, and then she kind of falls apart, and then it compounds, and then by significantly into the season, it seems like she doesn't even fully perform, because part of her knows it's not going to get rewarded.

Yogeeta: I know some people have been saying, "It's her move to Raf, she'll get better soon," but this has preceded her move to Raf, and these issues aren't just going to magically go away.

Kite: Yeah, I would like to give - not a shout-out to JSF but - a criticism of JSF here, because Marin Honda is a former Junior World Champion. And so after she won Junior Worlds, JSF was kind of really hopping on the bandwagon and saying, "We're going to put all of our energy into politic-ing for this one lady." And then when she didn't quite measure up, they kind of `just left her in the dust. And you see this happen with the way JSF promotes their skaters internationally, that they kind of put all their eggs in one basket, and then when it doesn't bear fruit...

Nina: It's kind of like they're just looking for the next Mao, and as soon as someone doesn't start hitting these criteria right off the bat, they're like, "And next."

Yogeeta: I do want to give a shout out to Ayaka Hosoda, who landed three clean triple Axel’s at Japanese nationals. She was going to retire after last season, but then she started practicing doing triple Axel’s for fun with Rika and then she did it. I'm so happy that she decided to come back and perform here at nationals, because, honestly, her triumph here was probably the second biggest highlight of the ladies' event after Kaori's win. And she's definitely proved that you can always learn something new, even if you've been in this sport for quite a while.

Nina: It's the 'Axel Juice'.

Kite: On the other hand, landing three triple Axel’s, and still finishing eighth... Hashtag just JNats things.

Yogeeta: Well, her other elements were not as good. Her spins didn't get high levels, and her Step Sequence didn't either, but she had the jumps. But I really wish that JSF would give her an international assignment so she could get that triple Axel ratified. That would be great. Please and thank you.

Nina: Speaking of other women that JSF isn't really taking care of, what is happening with Yuna Shiraiwa's assignments?

Kite: I have questions, and just, what the hell JSF? What are you doing?

Sam: That is the question, why are we assigning her to Junior Worlds when she's been a senior for two seasons now?

Kite: Especially since Mako Yamashita finished ahead of Yuna Shiraiwa at senior nationals and is the reigning Junior World Bronze Medalist, and has a Grand Prix silver, it's kind of a slap in the face to not send her, especially since

Sam: If you had to send one of them.

Kite: Especially since she's only 15. She can still compete as a junior. I mean, so can Yuna, obviously, but Yuna's been out of juniors for a lot longer than Mako has, I don't understand. No, I do understand why they sent her, but at the same time, I don't understand, because a) she hasn't even competed internationally as a junior this season, so she has to go to a junior event in the spring to even get the tech minimums that she needs.

Nina: Is she going to have to change her programs just to fit the different requirements?

Sam: Yes, she has to change the composition of her Free Skate, and she has to change her jump layout for the short.

Kite: And obviously, you can kind of see where JSF was coming from with this, because Yuna did have decent results on the Grand Prix, and the choice is obviously made with Japan's junior ladies' spots in mind, and she can probably crack top 5, top 6 in juniors, and probably not going to make the podium. Realistically, I don't think any of the Japanese ladies are going to medal at Junior Worlds just because the Russians are too strong and their jump layouts are too crazy. But for Yuna, this does such a huge disservice to her growth and her trajectory as a senior lady, because she's basically being demoted right now. They're saying, "Oh, we know you've been representing Japan on the senior circuit for two seasons, but no, you're going to go back to juniors, because we need to hang on to our spots. And it just really, really sucks for her.

Yogeeta: Why does JSF suck so much?

Sam: Why do all feds suck so much?

Nina: This is a question that we've had on many indications.

Yogeeta: Yeah, I just want Yuna to do well and be happy and I hope that this doesn't turn into a major step-back for her mentally. Hopefully, this is a one-off thing and it doesn't happen again to her, but we can't stop JSF from making their decisions and I just hope that she still yet to compete in a senior level B competition in the spring to keep up her status as a senior lady.

-end segment- 48:48

START: Shout Out of the Week

Kite: Our shout out of the week goes to Fuji TV's IceScope, which we saw featured at Japanese Nationals. So, basically, it measures the height, distance, and speed of the skaters' double or triple axels.

Yogeeta: It did measure Satoko' triple Lutz though.

Kite: They can measure other jumps, they just really focused on the Axel’s for some reason. It kind of made me sad, honestly, that Yuzuru wasn't there, because I really want them to measure his triple Axel. Ugh, next time. Next year, maybe. If he makes it to nationals.

Yogeeta: Don't curse Yuzuru making nationals this early, Kite.

Kite: Well, no, this year. So it's not actually too early.

Nina: Oh god.

Yogeeta: Kite. It's still too early.

Sam: It's always too early.

-end segment- 49:27

START: Outro

Nina: Thank you for listening, we hope to see you again for our next episode which will be about the European Championships!

Yogeeta: If you want to get in touch with us, then please feel free to contact us via our website inthelopodcast.com or on Twitter, Tumblr, or Facebook. You can find our episodes on Youtube, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and Spotify.

Sam: If you enjoy the show, and want to help support the team, then please consider making a donation to us on our ko-fi page, and we’d like to give a huge thank you to all the listeners who have contributed to our team thus far.

Kite: You can find the links to all our social media pages and our ko-fi on the website. If you’re listening on iTunes, please consider leaving a rating and a review if you enjoyed the show. Thanks for listening, this has been Kite,

Yogeeta: Yogeeta,

Sam: Sam,

Nina: and Nina.

Yogeeta: Bye!

Kite: See ya!