First Suzuki, then Murakami, now Asada.
At this rate of going, Mathman could get their wish of Tsuya Yamaguchi competing for Japan; with Miki Ando and Fumie Suguri as her team-mates!
(If you want to know what I’m on about, see Mathman’s post in my “Parallel Universe” thread)
Seriously, though, these are worrying times for Japan’s international team. If all the rumours we are hearing are true, then all the Ladies skaters that have been representing Japan internationally in recent years (Suzuki, Asada and Murakami) are retiring.
On top of this, the guts of Japan’s Men’s international team (Takahashi and Oda; not sure about Kozuka, Machida, Murakami or Mura) could also be retiring.
Admittedly, the Men’s team does have Yuzuru Hanyu as hope for the future. But, when Kozuka, Machida, Murakami and Mura do go, then it is hard to pick out potential team-mates for him. Ryuju Hino and Shoma Uno looked promising at Junior Worlds, but we all know how difficult the step up from Juniors to Seniors can sometimes be.
But, unlike Hanyu in the Men’s, there does not seem to be any standout star for the future in the Ladies division. Satoko Miyahara and Rika Hongo looked promising at Junior Worlds, but are no-where near stepping into the skates of a Suzuki or even a Murakami. Of the skaters that are already in the senior ranks, only Hiruka Imai jumps out, but she hasn’t had a great season this year.
Although I was joking when I mentioned Kristi Yamaguchi at the start of this comment, this could realistically be the chance that Miki and Fumie were waiting for to get back into the Japanese team, even if it is just for the short term.
And, if Miki and/or Fumie were on the team, it would provide support for whichever championship rookies that were joining them (although Hiruka has been to 4 Continents a couple of times, she hasn’t been to Worlds). And, if all the older guys do retire, Yuzuru could fulfil a similar role in the Men’s category.
Throughout the season (but particularly during the Europeans), I was saying that for major championships like the Europeans and Worlds, the Russian team should have a skater who has been there before to help support Sotnikova and Tuktamysheva if they needed it. My suggestion was that they should have sent Polina K to Europeans, and Leonova to Worlds. That would also have let Gosviani get some GP experience under her belt before the big fight for international places next season. (See this post for my full explanation). But, they didn’t… until the Worlds, anyway. And as a result, during the Europeans, all the Russian teenagers came under a lot of criticism on this forum unnecessarily.
I would hate for this to be repeated with the Japanese teenagers, whatever category they skate in.
Although the picture I am painting is not rosy in singles skating, it is even bleaker in Pairs skating. We saw that ourselves when, after Takahashi and Tran split, Japan couldn’t even find anybody to enter into the 4 Continents, Worlds and WTT.
During the WTT, Mathman asked whether Japan could have entered a novice team to pick up the 7 points. Now, I don’t know if there are any novice pairs teams in Japan, but they certainly don’t have any junior pairs.
Looking through the history of Japanese Nationals, since 1984, there have only been 7 Junior Pairs competitions, and only 1986 had more than 1 entry (a grand total of 2 teams!)
Before Narumi Takahashi and her former partner Yoshiaki Yamada appeared in 2006/07, there had been no Junior Pairs competitions since Yuko Kawaguchi and her former partner Alexander Markuntsov (yes, she had another Russian!) turned senior in 2000! Then, in the 2 years when Narumi was competing, she and her partner (be it Yamada or Tran) were the only entries! And, since Narumi and Mervin turned senior in 2008, there hasn’t been any Junior Pairs competitions at Japanese Nationals!
It was the same in the senior ranks. There had been no Senior Pairs competitions since Yuko Kawaguchi and her new partner Devin Patrick switched to competing for the USA in 2005. Then, in the 4 years when Narumi and Mervin were competing, they were the only entries! And then this year, after Takahashi and Tran split, there was no competition.
This just shows how ill-prepared Japan are for the future. We all know how easy it is to get injured; and we also know how often partnerships split up. And, thanks to what did happen Narumi and Mervin, we all know now how difficult it is to get Japanese citizenship. Surely the Japanese Federation would have known all that as well. So, they should have at least had some sort of contingency plan in place in case something happened.
Although we mightn’t see them on the international stage too often because the headlining partnership is so dominant, at least there would be another pair available to be called on if needed.
That’s what it’s like in ice dance. Although we see the Reeds in every international competition, there are other ice dance partnerships in Japan. OK, so there mightn’t be too many entries in Japanese nationals, but it is worth noting that apart from the 2007/08 season (when there was just the Reeds), the last time that there was only one entry in the Senior Ice Dance at Japanese nationals was 1972/73! (In Juniors, it has been a more regular occurrence to have just one entry, but since 1987/88, the only year with no competition was 2011/12, as the partnership that had been entering the previous few years had moved up to Seniors).
So, I hope that over the next few years, the Japanese Federation puts all their efforts into developing a strong team for the future in all disciplines. Because, if they don’t and all the skaters we expect to retire before Pyeonchang do go, we could see a very sudden end to Japan’s success story.
At the moment, there are just no visible foundations to build a new team from. There is just one block in place – Yuzuru Hanyu.
Until then, I hope that all the skaters who are planning to retire enjoy a successful swansong to their career. Especially Mao and Akiko!!!