2023-24 Japanese Nationals: Ice Dance
Misato Komatsubara and Takeru Komatsubara reclaimed the title at the 2023-24 Japanese National Championships (第92回全日本フィギュアスケート選手権大会) on Sunday in Nagano, adding their fifth national gold to their collection. Newly formed teams Azusa Tanaka and Shingo Nishiyama and Utana Yoshida and Masaya Morita placed second and third, respectively.
Misato Komatsubara and Takeru Komatsubara
With the retirement of Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi, Komatsubara and Komatsubara secured their status as Japan’s top ice dance team. Despite placing second in both segments of the competition, they finished first overall with a score of 178.39 points.
Skating to Ghostbusters in their hunter costumes, they placed just behind teammates Tanaka and Nishiyama with 70.89 points in the rhythm dance.
“In the first half of our performance, we are hunting ghosts in many places, like in a haunted mansion,” explained Misato, regarding the storyline of their program. “Then we encounter our first big monster when we do our lift. In the second half, we got into our romance, everything is sparkling, and the spotlight is on the both of us. But then we get a phone call, and we have to get back to work.”
“It’s the first time in three years that we returned to Big Hat,” pointed out Takeru. “We received warm applause and enjoyed ourselves a lot. Of the three competitions we had this season, it was our strongest rhythm dance. We are shortly behind in terms of the score, so we want to discuss what to do with our coaches.”
In the free dance, the team performed passionately to “Loving You” and “Love Grows” to the cheers of the audience. The couple has been skating together since 2016, but the fight for the first place of the podium was tight.
“Between practice and the performance, I actually cried,” revealed Takeru. “I was very nervous, but more than that, I was emotional to see three Japanese ice dance teams fight for Japan. I have been involved in ice dance for about eight years now, but there are many things I still need to learn. But I think it is important to convey emotions on the ice.”
Azusa Tanaka and Shingo Nishiyama
Tanaka and Nishiyama found themselves in first place after the rhythm dance with 71.08 points. The team entertained the audience with an original and dynamic routine to music from the Mario Bros. dressed as characters Mario and Luigi.
“Actually, it was Romain who picked this piece of music,” confessed Nishiyama. “At the beginning, I was very surprised, but I wanted to challenge something new. And when I got on the ice and skated the choreography, I had a lot of fun.”
For their free dance, the team went with the classical piece Giselle. With Tanaka earning a level one on her midline steps, they admitted to nervousness.
“We were starting as the last team in the free dance, and I had never been in this position before,” confessed Nishiyama. “I felt a lot of pressure. We tried not to stress ourselves too much.”
Despite the small error, Tanaka and Nishiyama delivered a strong performance in their debut as a team at this event. They placed third (105.35) in the free dance but claimed the silver medal overall (176.43) in their first season together.
“When we first started skating to this program, we were already happy when we made it to the end,” added Tanaka. “But now we are able to skate it at such a huge competition. Our goal was to do our best and to make it on the podium. We did not think too much about the rankings.”
They teamed up in May and left Japan to train in Canada at the Montreal Ice Academy alongside Komatsubara and Komatsubara.
Utana Yoshida and Masaya Morita
Yoshida and Morita took home the bronze medal at the event with 173.17 points. Like their teammates, they also started skating together in May of this year. They train at Kinoshita Academy, and both had different partners before teaming up.
The team delivered an engaging rhythm dance to “Real Wild Child/Wild Thing/Wild Side” despite Morita’s fall during the twizzles. They stood in a provisional third place with a score of 64.00.
“We made a big mistake and that was very disappointing, but as soon as we went into our steps, we regained ourselves,” explained Morita. “However, the mistake was frustrating.”
Luckily, the wind shifted for the duo as they delivered a sublime free dance, finishing first with 109.17 points and with the highest technical and component scores in that segment. Skating to “Rise of the Phoenix,” they left the disappointed rhythm dance in the dust and redeemed themselves. The highlight of the program was the choreographic lift where Yoshida leapt onto Morita’s knees to mimic the mythical creature as the music played a bird sound, earning thunderous applause from the audience.
“We really enjoyed our performance, and we were happy to have skated at Nationals,” Yoshida summed up. “Of course, we are glad that we got 109 points, but we wanted to reach 110 points, so from now on we want to train harder in order to get a higher score.”
Ayano Sasaki and Yoshimitsu Ikeda finished fourth (129.40) ahead of Akari Kinoshita and Takahiko Tamura (124.86) and Yuri Kunimura and Kaiji Sakabe (107.08).
The Japanese Skating Federation have named Komatsubara/Komatsubara, Tanaka/Nishiyama and Yoshida/Morita to the Four Continents team. There is only one spot at Worlds, and at press time, a team had not yet been selected.
Komatsubara/Komatsubara, Tanaka/ Nishiyama and Yoshida/Morita were all selected by the Japanese Skating Federation to compete at the Four Continents Championships in February. With only one spot, the lone Japanese ice dance entry for the upcoming World Championships held in Montreal has not yet been decided.
As the lone Pairs entry of the competition, Yuna Nagaoka and Sumitada Moriguchi placed first in the absence of reigning World Champions Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, who withdrew from the event due to injury.
In the short program to “Can’t Take My Eye Off of You” choreographed by Cathy Reed, they were in great shape and nailed every element, only losing a little bit of GOE on their spin. While their free program music is more dramatic, Nagaoka and Moriguchi showed a fun side and enchanted the home crowd. They scored 56.07 points.
“We came here with a good feeling, and we also practiced with a good feeling,” said Nagaoka. “The short program was a success.” said Nagaoka.
In the free skate, the pair showed off their strong jumping skills as they landed a wonderful side by side triple loop-double Axel-double Axel sequence and triple Lutzes. The latter jump received positive GOES and earned them many cheers from the crowd. They also landed two clean triple throws for the first time in their free program to “Space Table Symphony.”
“After the throw jump, I was just happy to have landed it and it gave me so much energy,” explained Nagaoka.
“I heard the crowd cheering,” added Moriguchi. “And I felt how happy Yuna was after nailing the jump.”
The team scored 173.64 overall after their two programs.
Splitting their time between Japan and Canada, the team trains alongside Japan’s top pairs Miura and Kihara in Oakville.
“We wanted to learn a lot from Miura and Kihara,” shared Moriguchi. “So, we are a bit disappointed that they are not here, but we hope that we can skate together in the future. We want to work very hard on our skills to reach their level.”
Miura/Kihara were selected to compete at both the Four Continents and Worlds.