There was plenty to celebrate on Sunday (27 December) at the Japanese national figure skating championships.
For Komatsubara Misato and Koleto Tim, it was a third consecutive national title in ice dance. And for the new duo of Muramoto Kana and Takahashi Daisuke, it was a first national medal as a team, finishing as runners-up in Nagano.
The silver is a major benchmark for Takahashi, the Vancouver 2010 bronze medallist in men's singles and 2010 world champion, who is skating in his first full season as an ice dancer.
Fukase Rikako and Cho Eichu Oliver finished in third place.
While Komatsubara/Koleto, who skated together at worlds in 2019, were the run-away winners with a 175.23, Takahashi and Muramoto (pictured above) edged out Fukase/Cho for silver, scoring a 151.85 to 145.18.
Takahashi skates through shaky moments
Performing to La Bayadere, Muramoto/Takahashi presented an elegant free dance, moving softly yet with great speed. But the team had several issues in the program, including a fall on a spin for Takahashi and a few off-balance, shaky moments. Takahashi failed to get Muramoto's skate on his leg for their final lift.
"It's OK," she told him in the 'kiss and cry' as they waited for their scores.
The mishaps in an otherwise well-executed program show the challenge of switching from singles to dance, even for an elite and accomplished skater like Takahashi.
With only one dance spot at the Worlds Championships set for March in Stockholm, it is likely Komatsubara/Koleto will get the nod.
Takahashi and Muramoto maintain their goal is Beijing 2022. They'll need their compatriots to finish in the top 10 in Stockholm to earn a second spot for Japan at those Winter Games, or beat them outright a year from now to earn their ticket to go.
Takahashi: 'We've really made progress'
It's only been just over a year since Muramoto and Takahashi made headlines with their announcement to team up, and just a matter of months since the two have started training together under coach Marina Zueva in Florida. They are taking each experience as a positive one.
"Compared to the NHK Trophy, I feel we've really made progress in being able to perform in public and expressing ourselves," Takahashi said in Japanese. "Personally I think I was able to understand how my partner was feeling during the program more than the previous competition. So that's a big gain for me."
"I feel we've really made progress in being able to perform in public and expressing ourselves." - Takahashi Daisuke
Muramoto expressed relief in finishing the event. Earlier in the competition they had suffered an incident in which Takahashi fell on her leg, putting their nationals in doubt.
"I feel relieved we could finish the (free) program safely. During the morning practice, I was feeling pain more than I'd imagined. So I was worried to be honest."
"Throughout the rhythm and free dance programs, Daisuke supported me 100 percent and I felt protected. So I really want to thank him."
Komatsubara/Koleto: Reflecting on COVID challenges
Komatsubara and Koleto won gold in an all-Japanese field at NHK Trophy last month, as well. They reflected on their appreciation for being able to skate competitively in a challenging moment with the pandemic.
"We are feeling really special and happy that we can still skate," Komatsubara said in English to reporters. "It's a difficult time for not only skaters but all the other people. We really hope that you guys will stay safe. And then hopefully we can give you a little smile through our skating."
Koleto echoed those sentiments, saying that COVID-19 measures have challenged their training - and beyond.
"It's been a difficult year for everybody. We've been away from our cultures. But if there's anything we learned from being separated from not only our cultures but our families and friends as well is that the farther we are apart, the closer we can come together in our hearts," he said. "And hopefully today we showed you a little bit of our hearts."