This week that all changes, as the trio headlines the Japanese national figure skating championships, set to be held 25-27 December in Nagano.
None of Hanyu, Shoma, or Kihira skated in this season’s Grand Prix Series, and while Hanyu and Kihira last competed at Four Continents in February (where they both emerged as champions), Uno hasn’t been on competitive ice since winning his fourth consecutive national title a year ago.
What awaits fans should be an action-packed, exciting three days of skating, Kihira being joined by reigning NHK Trophy champion Sakamoto Kaori and four-time Japanese winner Miyahara Satoko, among others, in the ladies’ field, while 17-year-old Kagiyama Yuma will look to build off his own win at the Japanese Grand Prix last month in the men’s field.
And it’s not to be forgotten that Vancouver 2010 bronze medallist in singles, Takahashi Daisuke, continues his own return to the sport – in ice dance. He and partner Muramoto Kana will look to improve on a third-place finish at NHK Trophy against two other Japanese teams.
Here, a preview of the singles events, with the competition serving as one of the final guides for which Japanese skaters head to the world championships in March.
Hanyu is set to practice on 24 December in Nagano, the first time we’ll get a glimpse at his programs for the season, the short which was confirmed to have been choreographed by Torino 2006 bronze medallist Jeffrey Buttle.
Hanyu spent the majority of the year in Japan, moving back home from his training centre in Toronto, Canada, where he normally works with Calgary 1988 silver medallist Brian Orser. He opted out of the ISU Grand Prix series, citing his own health (he suffers from asthma) as well as the health of others.
Much like Hanyu, Uno is a four-time Japanese nationals winner, Shoma’s titles coming in the last four consecutive years. He had planned (like Kihira) to compete at the French Grand Prix, as they both train in Switzerland with 2006 Olympic silver medallist Stephane Lambiel, but that event was called off due to COVID-19 safety precautions.
Uno missed the podium at both of his Grand Prix assignments in the fall of 2019, but bounced back with his national title, and was said to be making steady progress with Lambiel, the two having joined forces in November 2019.
While Hanyu and Uno are familiar faces on the international scene, 17-year-old Kagiyama continues to make his own splash: He was the Japanese junior champion a year ago, then won bronze at both nationals and Four Continents, while also claiming Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games gold and silver at junior worlds.
He will skate in with plenty of confidence: He was the runaway winner at NHK Trophy last month, though neither Hanyu nor Uno were in that field.
Also to watch among the men: Sato Shun, Tanaka Keiji, Tomono Kazuki, recent junior national champ Honda Lucas Tsuyoshi, and 15-year-old Miura Kao.
Kihira, armed with her triple Axel, could be seen as the leader of the pack in the ladies’ event, but not by much. Just last month it was Sakamoto, following an up-and-down 2019-20 season, who was the most impressive at NHK Trophy, the 20-year-old claiming her first Grand Prix gold to add to Four Continents and Japanese titles.
Kihira is in the same boat at Uno, having missed the Grand Prix due to her training location in Europe. She ended the truncated 2019-20 season with a win at nationals as well as a title at Four Continents, the latter her second consecutive.
Kihira recently told a Japanese publication she might try a quadruple jump in the free skate, depending on how she performs in the short program. Kihira has spoken about adding quads to her repertoire since the 2018-19 season.
There are a whole host of recognizable names entered in the women’s field, including Higuchi Wakaba, Mihara Mai, Honda Marin, and Hongo Rika. Matsuike Rino, just 16, was third at NHK Trophy, finishing behind Sakamoto and Higuchi.
Miyahara, winner at this event from 2015-18, also missed out on the Grand Prix, now being based in Toronto with new coach Lee Barkell. The two-time world medallist has programs choreographed this season by Lambiel and Lori Nichol.
The action gets underway on the afternoon of 25 December (local time), with the men’s short program starting things off.