2023 World Junior Figure Skating Championships
Women’s Free Skate
Mao Shimada of Japan impressed in Calgary, winning the Women’s title at the 2023 World Junior Figure Skating Championships on Friday night. South Korea’s Jia Shin took her second consecutive Junior World silver, while Ami Nakai of Japan collected the bronze.
Shimada reeled off an excellent triple Axel which scored many high grades of execution (GOE) across the board at the top of her extraordinary routine. Her next element, a quad toe, was slightly underrotated, but the rest of her program was top-notch. The 2022-23 Junior Grand Prix (JGP) Final Champion landed an additional seven solid triple jumps, including a triple Lutz-triple toe, while racking up more GOEs for her level four spins. Her free skate score was a whopping 152.76. Her total score of 224.54 was the highest total score of the season by a woman, junior or senior, in an ISU international competition.
“I felt lots of happiness after landing the triple Axel and quad toe, but told myself there was a lot of difficulties still to come in the program and had to concentrate,” said Shimada. “There were many competitions where I couldn’t land these jumps in the past, and that scared me. But it was never an option for me to not do it. Practices here weren’t good, but I think that had the reverse effect. I just went for it in the program more boldly.”
Her performance left her coach, Mie Hamada, in tears in the Kiss & Cry.
“Coach Hamada put in many hours of work in teaching me all these things, I am so happy to pay her back!” said the 14-year-old from Kyoto.
The skater herself cried tears of relief and joy.
“The tears were based on the fact that in either practices or competitions (this entire season), I was not able to land both of those big jumps (triple Axel and quad toe) in the same program. Today, I was able to land both of them, so those were the emotions that were coming out in my tears.”
Shimada became the eighth Japanese woman to the Junior World title. She is also the youngest Japanese Junior World Champion.
“It is both a surprise and also a big happiness to me to find myself in the line of these wonderful, very strong skaters,” said Shimada, who was named after Mao Asada. “I’m really glad I was able to get this gold medal myself.”
Practices will continue for Shimada, but she plans to “relax a little bit and go places,” then it will be time to work on new programs for next season.
Shin delivered a splendid performance to “Tree of Life Suite,” but it wasn’t clean. The 2022-23 JGP Final silver medalist put a foot down on her opening double Axel and later received an edge call on a the front end of a triple flip-double toe-double loop. She landed a total of six solid triple jumps, including a triple Lutz-triple toe, but then went down on a fluke fall at the end of the choreo sequence. She finished second in the free skate (130.71) and overall (201.90).
“I am happy to win another medal at Junior Worlds,” said Shin, who turns 15 later this month. “I had a bit of a rough time at the beginning of the week, because I felt a bit sick, but winning the medal here is a great highlight!”
Shin will travel to Toronto next week to have her programs for next season choreographed by David Wilson. She doesn’t know yet what to expect, but is very excited about it.
“I felt David Wilson’s choreography style fits my skating and my choreography ability,” she explained, when asked how she chose to work with Wilson.
Despite holding two Junior World silver medals, Shin’s most memorable competition was this season’s JGP Final.
“I was able to deliver two clean programs,” she pointed out. “It was also my first (Junior) Grand Prix Final stage, so I was really happy to be there and pull out some great results.”
Nakai fell on her opening triple Axel, but the rest of the program to “Miss Saigon Rhapsody” was very strong. She had been missing the element in practice throughout the day, but she didn’t let the fall break her her focus throughout the rest of the routine. The 14-year-old landed a total of seven clean triple jumps, and the high GOES on her other quality elements made up for this mistake. She finished third in the free skate and overall (130.12/197.40).
“When I was attempting my triple Axel, I was able to tighten my arms and I thought I was doing it exactly the same as usual,” Naki recalled. “But somehow, I missed the landing and I fell. In my head at this point, I was able to switch my thinking, because I had done this (falling on triple Axels) in practice. So that’s why I think I was able to [recover] in the actual performance, as well.”
This was a big season for the young skater who was assigned to many international competitions, and being able to land a triple Axel will stay in her memory for a long time.
“It was my goal to get on the podium here, and I am very happy I made it,” said the skater who trains in Chiba. “Also being able to participate in the Junior Grand Prix Final and to have been able to get on the podium at this Junior World Championships are great memories for me.”
Naki will return to Japan, and rest up. She said she learned many things and that there were a lot of takeaways from this competition.
“I will try and funnel that into my practices, to be able to overcome the weaknesses that I found, and to learn from the lessons I got from this competition,” she summed up.
Yujae Kim of South Korea gave a brilliant performance to music from the AIDA soundtrack. The 13-year-old from landed a solid triple Axel, followed by a triple Lutz-triple toe and triple loop-double toe-double loop. She landed a total of seven triple jumps, however, the last one, a loop, was landed on the quarter. All spins were graded a level four and she earned a new personal best of 129.65 for fourth place in the free skate. Her total score of 193.62 for fourth place overall was also a personal best.
“I am very happy about my skate and that I was able to land the triple Axel,” said Kim. “My next goal will be two triple Axels in the program! I landed my first triple Axel 10 months ago.”
Kim’s idol for the triple Axel is Japan’s Rika Kihira, while her all-time favorite skater is Yuna Kim.
Teammate Minsol Kwon captivated with her routine to Cats, staying in character throughout. The 2022-23 JGP finalist landed a total of seven triple jumps. The only error was an edge call on the front end of a triple Lutz-double toe-double loop. She earned many GOES for all other elements, including her level-four spins.
“I am very happy with my skating,” said Kwon, who just turned 14 last month. “I love my program, because I love animals, and especially cats. Unfortunately, I don’t have my own cat.”
Her next plans are to “to play and eat delicious food,” while her goal for next season is to continue to improve and have “happy skating.”
China’s Xiangyi An turned out a passionate and mature performance to music from The Theory of Everything. However, the 16-year-old stepped out of her opening triple Lutz and three of her jumps were called on the quarter: both jumps in a triple flip-triple toe, and the middle of a triple Salchow-triple toe-double toe. Nevertheless, she stayed focused throughout, displaying excellent spins. While she finished eighth in the free skate (120.03), her total score of 183.94 only resulted in dropping one spot to sixth overall.
“My initial goal was to reach the top 24, so this result is beyond my imagination,” said the skater from Beijing, who only competed at one JGP event this season. “I am so happy. I am so tired now and my heart is beating super fast! I feel the altitude and also recently had Covid. I think figure skating and gymnastics align with each other, and I practiced my flexibility from a young age.”
The young skater speaks perfect English as her mother has been teaching her since she was four. “I also studied it by myself since I was around 10, to be prepared.”
Kimmy Repond of Switzerland finished sixth in the free skate. Her routine to the well-known music “Exogenesis Symphony” featured a total of six clean triple jumps. The only minor error was an edge call on the front end of a triple Lutz-triple toe. With a total score of 180.32, the 2023 European bronze medalist rose from 10th to seventh overall.
“I am so happy I could skate clean,” said Repond. “The preparation going into this event was a bit more difficult than usual as I was a bit sick. After the calls from the judges in the short program, I tried to put some more energy into my jumps to jump higher. I am very excited to have qualified for senior Worlds! I have never competed against these high-class athletes outside of Europe, so I am very excited for that and to visit Japan in general. It will be my first time there!”
USA’s Clare Seo placed eighth place overall (172.62), while Inga Gurgenidze of Georgia catapulted from 19th to ninth place overall (172.50). Canada’s Kaiya Ruiter rounded out the top 10 women at 169.65 points.