2022-23 Japanese Nationals: Ice Dance Recap
The ice dance team of Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi impressed the judges with passionate performances at the 91st National Championships (第９１回全日本フィギュアスケート選手権大会), rightfully claiming their first national title as a team. The competition was held from December 22-25 at the Towa Pharmaceutical RACTAB Dome, a centrally located arena in the metropolitan city of Osaka. Misato Komatsubara and Takeru Komatsubara took the silver, while newcomers Nicole Takahashi and Shiloh Judd earned the bronze.
Muramoto and Takahashi had already thrilled the audience with their first-place rhythm dance (77.70), showing a fiery performance combined with high speed. In the last lift, they lost some points after Muramoto set her foot on the ice a little too late, but apart from this faux pas, they delivered a clean show and picked up a level four on the twizzles.
“The step sequence is really fast, but our body has gotten used to it,” said Takahashi. “In the competition, it’s different (than during practice). Depending on our nerves, we become faster.”
Their free dance to Phantom of the Opera was a masterpiece on ice. They began their program with an emotional choreographed step sequence in which they performed their roles as if they had jumped out of the musical. The earned high grades of execution (GOE) for nearly all of their lifts, but Takahashi’s one-foot steps were only graded a level one. Unfortunately, the program ended awkwardly as Takahashi was unable to hold his partner during the choreographed lift until the very end, leading to a fall. Despite this, they still managed to finish first in the free dance (108.91) and overall (186.68).
“My timing was wrong,” Takahashi explained regarding the last element. “I went into the lift too fast and I didn’t have enough power when I made my step, so my body kind of moved forward. It was our goal to win this competition, so we achieved it. Today’s performance wasn’t too bad, but it’s very frustrating that I messed up the final lift.”
Muramoto emphasized that winning nationals was indeed their biggest goal.
“We did everything that we were capable of, but we still have to work on many details when it comes to our technique,” she said. “This was the last competition of the year. We had mistakes, but I think we closed the year satisfactorily.
“That I was able to return to the nationals, was thanks to Dai,” added the ice dancer who lost her partner, Chris Reed, on March 14, 2020. “I competed at the nationals with Chris about five years ago. We spent a good time together and we won. I was very happy back then. But being able to stand on the podium with Dai after only three years felt so good. It was a good view. It’s been a long time (since winning with Chris), but it doesn’t feel like ‘along time ago.’ It feels more like (standing on the podium) for the first time. We both started from zero, so we are a very fresh team. Thus, we are happy about our victory. It’s a very special day for us!”
Takahashi noted that the season had started very late for them and that time had flown.
“I’m 36 now, but I have the feeling that I still can improve a lot,” he pointed out.
“2022 was over so fast!” added Muramoto. “This year, Marina coach accompanied us to every competition. Each competition was a precious experience and we learned a lot. For nationals, we gave everything as a team, each competition was very meaningful. This year, we have six ice dance teams! This nationals were a good way to end our year!”
Although Misato and Takeru Komatsubara were satisfied with their performances, they felt disappointed about not having broken the 70-point mark in their rhythm dance (69.96). They slightly lacked momentum, resulting in small mistakes in their step sequence.
“In practice, we were very fast,” Misato reflected. “I almost crashed into the rail. So I wanted to work on slowing down, but we were downshifting too much.”
In the free dance, the team presented a futuristic performance to the Fifth Element soundtrack which featured three level-four lifts. They fell off a little bit during their twizzles, but managed to captivate the audience with an interesting choreography. Overall, they didn’t have any major mistakes, but weren’t too strong on a technical level, which resulted in a second place free dance score of 105.14. Their total score was 175.10.
“Of course, we are disappointed about the result, but we had a lot of fun,” Misato explained with a bitter smile. “There were many spectators and they gave us a lot of power. From now on, we want to focus on training to become better. We experienced how it feels like to be an athlete. We want to work on our skills and improve.”
The husband-and-wife team reflected that Japan had the weakest result at the Olympics last season.
“When we met our coach, we started from the very beginning and viewed this season as a challenge,” said Misato. “We were able to overcome many hurdles and came one step closer to our goal.”
“One of our dreams became true, but we also had regrets and cried a lot,” added Takeru. “We had a strong feeling that we had to give much more. I don’t like to use the word rival, but thanks to all the other teams who are competing with us, we became much stronger. After this competition, there are many new steps we want to climb to reach our goal.”
Third place went to the young American-Japanese team of Nicole Takahashi and Shiloh Judd, who both experienced their first time competing at the national level. They sat in third after the rhythm dance (52.01). Their fourth-place (78.25) free dance to music from Interstellar was highlighted by a strong level-two curve lift, level four straightline lift and twizzles. During their dance spin, they seemed to have lost track for a second, but aside from this glitch, they were able to secure third place with a total of 130.26 points.
“It was our first time competing at nationals, and traveling to Japan was very exhausting,” said Takahashi. “We are not totally satisfied with the performance, but we made some improvement, so from now on, we want to do our best.”
“We had a few mistakes,” agreed Judd, “but it was a great experience, great skaters and great teams. We thought it was a huge improvement for us.”
The new team wasn’t able to compete at nationals last season, so they felt it was important to give a good performance at this event. It was indeed a tough year as they had just started their partnership and went through this season with no competition. There was no “guide” for them to show what and where to improve in terms of levels.
“All the experiences we collected in the last competitions were very important for us,” said Takahashi. “We are only in our second year as a team, but it still feels like our first one.”
“This year we worked very quickly to come up with the elements we can use this season,” Judd summed up. “Overall, this (result) shows a lot of work that we’ve done as far as building our friendship, partnership and skills.”
Akari Kinoshita and Takahiko Tamura placed fourth (128.69).
Muramoto and Takahashi were selected by the Japanese Skating Federation to compete at both the Four Continents and World Figure Skating Championships. Misato Komatsubara and Takeru Komatsubara will compete at Four Continents, as well.