Home Figure Skating News Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto seizes Skate Canada gold

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto seizes Skate Canada gold

by Paula Slater
Judith Dombrowski

Kaori Sakamoto

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto, who is currently ranked first in the ISU World Standings, competes at 2023 Skate Canada.

2023 Skate Canada: Women

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto of easily seized the gold in the Women’s event at her first Skate Canada appearance on Saturday afternoon in Vancouver. Chaeyeon Kim of South Korea won the silver in her Grand Prix debut at this event, while Rino Matsuike of Japan pocketed the bronze.

Kaori Sakamoto

Sakamoto landed a double Axel and triple flip-triple toe in her short to “Baby, God Bless You.” The only flaw was an edge call on the triple Lutz. The 2022 Olympic bronze medalist picked up many high grades of execution (GOE) for all other elements, including her level-four footwork and layback spin. She scored 75.13 points for first going into the free skate.

“My triple flip was a bit off the axis, so I was unsure for a moment if I should add a triple or a double,” Sakamoto explained. “But I heard my coach Nakano yell ‘hai!’ from the boards, so I know I had to go for it, and I landed it!”

The two-time Japanese National champion added that she was not feeling the pressure as much after gaining experience over the last two seasons. She met her personal minimum goal of 75 points for the short and was looking for 149 for the free skate.

My main goal overall is to achieve high quality in my skating,” said the 23-year-old.

The two-time World champion achieved her goal in the free skate, scoring a season’s best of 151.00 points. She gave a very focused and diligent performance in her soulful free skate to music by Lauryn Hill. Every one of her seven triple jumps were solid, including two flips and a Lutz. In fact, the Lutz received +1.77 grades of execution (GOE). She finished first overall with 226.13 points—nearly 25 points ahead of Kim and the rest of the women.

“I was very calm today, it almost felt like skating at home,” said Sakamoto. “After landing the Axel and the Lutz, I knew I was going to be okay. I felt good nerves, good tension and very comfortable overall. At the end of the skate, I felt like ‘alright I did it!’ I scored two points more than I hoped for.”

“Not often am I able to skate that well in an international competition,” she added. “I was happily surprised that people were clapping along despite this year’s music doesn’t really invite to clap along. Looking at the protocols I have lots to improve on: the spins can be better, and I want to get the PCS higher.”

Skating last is not new for Sakamoto.

“I can’t say I am totally comfortable with skating last, but I know I am able to show a good performance in that position,” she observed. “This is my fourth win in 13 Grand Prix events I skated in, and I feel like I am not there yet. I have much more to go for! Now I will prepare as best as I can for Finland!”

Chaeyeon Kim

Kim, the youngest competitor at this event at 16, finished second in the short with a season’s best of 70.31. Her endearing performance to “Pantomeme” and “Lilies of the Valley” featured a double Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe and triple flip (edge call). Two spins and the footwork were graded a level four for the skater who competed on the senior circuit at Lombardia Trophy and Nepela Memorial earlier this season.

“I was a bit nervous because this was my first senior Grand Prix,” admitted Kim. “I am very happy I could show a clean skate today! My goal is to make the Grand Prix Final!”

The skater relayed that she changed her short program costume because her choreographer didn’t like the original.

Kim appeared focused in her dramatic free skate to “Le Bal des folles,” ticking off the elements one by one, but it wasn’t perfect. She underrotated her triple flips, one in combination with a double toe-double loop. Nevertheless, the rest of her jumps were solid, including a triple Lutz-triple toe and triple Lutz-double Axel sequence. The skater also earned a level four on all three spins as well as her footwork, scoring 130.84 points for fourth place. With a total score of 201.15, she managed to maintain second place overall.

“I made some mistakes, but I am still very happy to be second,” said Kim. “I had an ankle injury last week, so I was worried. Even though the program wasn’t perfect, it was still good.  I need to work more on my spins, jumps and everything.”

The skater admitted to being very nervous, even more than before her short program.

“I didn’t skate clean, but I am very happy with the result of winning a silver medal!” she said, beaming. “It’s so nice to compete alongside Kaori. She is such a strong and powerful skater and also a very, very nice person!”

Kim’s next Grand Prix will be in Finland.

Rino Matsuike

Matsuike showed good presentation and skating skills her in her short program to “One Day I’ll Fly Away.” The 19-year-old underrotated the back end of a triple Lutz(q)-triple toe, but the double Axel and triple flip were very good. She also earned a level four on two spins and the footwork, picking up 66.29 points for third place.

“I was feeling more and more happy towards the end of the program,” said Matsuike. “In general, I have mixed feelings on the combo. I can do better there. But overall, I am very happy about the second half. I focused well on the spins and steps, but at the same time, was able to perform freely. I know this program has the potential to score in the 70s.”

“I am happy to be healthy right now, and very happy to come to such a big competition,” she added. “I was surprised that I actually was not nervous, probably because the practice went well.”

Matsuike performed with open joy in her lyrical free skate to Nella Fantasia. The 2020 NHK Trophy bronze medalist struggled a bit with some jumps, landing four of them on the quarter which left a lot of points on the table. However, she had the second highest program component scores and finished third in the free skate and overall (132.33/198.62).

“I had a lot of fun skating here,” said Matsuike. “I feel like being here is a huge achievement. This is my first international competition in a while and being here with a smile is just amazing! I was having a tough time recently, so I can’t believe I am here and won a medal!”

“After the loop, I started feeling very comfortable,” she added. “Coming here I had no expectation for a medal, but I started thinking about it yesterday. Last year at Skate America I had to withdraw from the free skate because I was feeling so badly health wise. I wanted to perform this free skate last year and couldn’t. It is about bringing happiness and peace. I think after going through tough times, I am able to feel this program even more.”

This was a solo Grand Prix event for her.

Madeline Schizas

Madeline Schizas of Canada made a statement after rebounding from a sub-par short program. The 2023 Nepela Memorial bronze medalist stood in eighth (57.44) going into the free skate after making errors on all jumps. However, she scored a new personal best of 132.47 for her free skate to “Summertime,” just a smidge higher than her previous personal best (132.04) from the 2022 Olympics.

The two-time Canadian Champion was frustrated and angry with her performance after the short but was determined to enjoy her free skate.  Her program featured seven clean triple jumps, including a triple Lutz-triple toe, and she placed second in this segment. With a total score of 189.91, she rose from eighth to fourth overall.

“I am feeling really good,” said Schizas. “I pulled it together in the free. I was really angry yesterday as I knew there was a big open door here. I found the ‘perfect timing’ to put out my lowest short program score ever (as a senior), but I was able to put it behind me. I was able to see my parents, that also helped me. My parents don’t care so much about my skating and just want to see me happy.”

“I think I could have given a bit more in the performance, but that’s okay,” she continued. “It’s still just the beginning of the season.”

Schizas was also thrilled with the standing ovation she received. She has a four-day break at home before leaving for her next Grand Prix at Cup of China.

Lindsay Thorngren

USA’s Lindsay Thorngren looked very composed and elegant in her short to “Windmills of Your Mind.” The 2022 World Junior bronze medalist made two mistakes when she underrotated the back end of a triple Lutz-triple toe and received an edge call on a slightly underrotated triple flip., However, the double Axel was solid. She scored 61.99 points for fifth place going into the free skate.

“I am happy about my skate today,” said the 17-year-old. “I am really glad to be able to show my two programs here. I fought for the combination.”

“I think compared to last year, I became a little calmer,” she offered. “The short is definitely a little more mature. It’s a new style for me. The story is about, as the title says, the windmills of your mind. It’s about getting control over your thoughts, and I manage in the end.”

The 2023 Cranberry Cup champion placed fifth (127.53) in the free skate with her routine to a Twighlight medley. The back end of her opening triple Lutz-triple toe was underrotated, as was a triple Lutz-double toe-double loop later in the program. She also received an edge call on a triple flip that was landed on the quarter, but the spins and footwork were all graded a level four. She finished fifth overall with 189.52 points.

Thorngren was very happy with her performance and felt she skated up to her abilities.

“Practices have been going really good recently and I am glad it showed today,” she said. “I had a fracture in my lower back in September and was out of training for a month, so I am really glad how it’s going now. I will train a lot and hope to improve for NHK Trophy.”

The skater added that a friend of hers suggested the free skate music, and she in turn suggested it to Shae-Lynn Bourne.

“After that I watched the Twilight series and I really liked them,” said Thorngren. “I can relate to them also personally. So, I am kind of re-telling the story of the movie as well as my own when skating the program! I really liked the program that Alena Kostornaia did to this music, but of course I want to create my own program!”

Rinka Watanabe

Rinka Watanabe of Japan took a fall in the short program on a triple loop, placing seventh (57.52). She explained that during her warmup, the triple Lutz wasn’t going well, so she was focused on that before she went down on the loop.

“I decided to put the combination on the triple loop because usually that’s my more secure jump of the two,” she said. 

The skater said she watched Avatar: The Way of Water on her flight from Japan to Canada and now understands what it’s about.

“I think my step sequence became more powerful because of that,” she said.

The story of her free skate reflects the dark times and struggles with injuries she went through during her junior career. The music is to “Brotsjor,” “Goliath,” “Meeting Laura,” and “November.” On Saturday she did a good job, landing six triple jumps. Her only mistake when she popped a triple Lutz. All spins and footwork garnered a level four and she finished sixth in this segment and overall (124.56/182.08).

“I think I have grown a lot after Finland and had good practices,” Watanabe pointed out. “I am proud of landing the second Lutz and putting the toe on the end.”

“I watched the Grand Prix Final here in Vancouver in 2018,” the skater added. “I never would have thought that I’d ever skate here. I am feeling proud of myself that I made it. Last season has been a true rollercoaster and this season I feel like I am more aware of what I’m doing.”

Wantababe will making her first trip to China for her next Grand Prix event.

“I have been talking with Hana Yoshida about what we want to do there,” she said. “We talked about the food and we hope to play ‘Smash Bros’ together when we are there!”

Watanabe’s mother is currently working on a new costume which she hopes to show in Chongqing.

Audrey Shin

USA’s Audrey Shin scored a new season’s best of 65.19 for her short to music from Pina. The 2023 Kings Cup champion was solid, landing a triple toe-triple toe, double Axel and triple loop. She also earned a level four on all three spins and the footwork, placing fourth.

“I am so proud about what I showed,” said the 19-year-old, adding that she recently had some pain in her calf and was a little insecure mentally. “It’s all good now though. So, I was really happy when I finished my skate.”

“I wanted to skate to Pina for a long time, and when it came up in a project at my school, I knew it was the right time to skate to it,” she added. “I have certain goals for this competition, but I will keep them for myself. Definitely I want to compete with the top skaters!”

Unfortunately, the free skate didn’t go as well for Shin. She underrotated a few jumps and fell on a triple loop to finish ninth (111.95). She slipped from fourth to seventh overall (177.14).

“I am pretty disappointed with my skate today,” said Shin, who’s next event is Cup of China. “I fought all the way through my program. I really like Adele and wanted to skate to her music. As we chose ‘Skyfall,’ we constructed the program around it. I hope to have a few solid training sessions before leaving for China. It will be my first time there and I am excited to go despite the very long travel.”

Starr Andrews

USA’s Starr Andrews put out a good skate in her short to “Alien Superstar” for sixth place in the short (61.07). Her routine featured a triple toe-triple toe, double Axel and a triple loop, although she fought for the landing on the latter jump.

“I am happy I stayed on my feet,” said last year’s silver medalist. “I fought hard on the loop, that could have gone a whole different way.”

The 22-year-old underwent another heart surgery this summer, so she had a late start in the season.

“I am just getting back into competition mode and we will see how it goes,” said Andrews. “I see every competition as a new challenge, so I don’t think much of my successful Skate Canada from last season.”

The defending silver medalist struggled with the majority of her jumps, placing eighth in this segment and overall (113.75/174.82).

Her next Grand Prix event is in Espoo, Finland.

Rounding out the top 12

Italy’s Lara Naki Gutmann, who had a “great off season, training in the mountains in Italy, Champéry and at home,” placed ninth overall with a new season’s best of 165.73 This was a solo event for the three-time national champion.

Gutmann was disappointed with her short program as her training has been going very well. However, she was happy with what she put out today.

“I hope I will get more opportunities on the Grand Prix in the upcoming seasons,” she said. “I really liked Canada of what I’ve seen so far and plan to explore more of the city tomorrow!”

Kaiya Ruiter of Canada rounded out the top 10 with a total score of 155.44 in her Grand Prix debut at this event. The 17-year-old took silver at the 2023 Autumn Classic earlier this season in her first senior international competition. This was a solo event for her.

This was also a solo event for both Sara-Maude Dupuis and France’s Mae Berenice Meite, who finished 11th (151.95) and 12th (121.13) respectively.

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