Ice Network

Asada returns to help Japan claim Japan Open title

Abbott solid for Team North America; Chan shakes off rust in comeback
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Members of Team Japan hold their gold medals (L-R): Shoma Uno, Satoko Miyahara, Daisuke Murakami and Mao Asada. -Getty Images

Surrounded by a home crowd of 16,511 fans, Team Japan triumphed with a combined score of 607.62 points. Team North America placed second with 545.23, and Team Europe settled for third with 528.90.

Now in its 10th year, the Japan Open consists of men's and ladies free skates. Team Japan took gold behind a formidable lineup consisting of three-time world champion Mao Asada, world silver medalist Satoko Miyahara, world juninor champion Shoma Uno and 2014 NHK Trophy winner Daisuke Murakami.

Former world champion Brian Joubert opened the competition for Team Europe, skating to music from the movies Matrix Reloaded and Requiem for a Dream. Despite being the oldest skater in the event, the Frenchman landed two triple axels at the beginning of his routine, including one as part of a combination. The rest of his program, however, was underwhelming, and he finished with 105.51 points.

Four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott skated next. After popping an opening triple flip into a single, he skated the rest of his "Adagio for Strings" free solidly, showcasing his fluid skating and elegance. He finished with a total score of 153.72, with 84.44 ofo that coming from his components. The performance put Team North America in the lead, as Murakami followed with a 145.77-point free skate.

World champion Javier Fernández debuted his new free, set the soundtrack of Guys and Dolls. He opened with two nicely executed quads: a stand-alone quadruple toe and a quadruple salchow-triple toe combination. The Spaniard then popped a triple axel and fell on a quad salchow in the second half of the program. Overall, his performance was strong and refined.

Fernández was rewarded with 176.24 points.

"I feel very happy for my first competition this season," he said. "The new program is very complicated, but I've been training only for, like, a month, because I've been busy doing stuff. So, I was really happy. It wasn't perfect, but it went really, really well in my opinion. I had a lot of fun doing it."

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan struggled in his return to the ice after taking the 2014-15 competitive season off. Skating to the same Chopin medley that he used during last year's Japan Open, the Canadian had trouble executing his jumps, popping several while also putting his hands down and stepping out of others. Those miscues and Level 3 spins led to a total score of 159.14, almost 20 points lower than his outing here last year.

"I think my performance was OK," Chan said. "It was a decent performance for the first time competing in a year. I had to take time to get used to competing again; it was a bit of a scary feeling. I didn't quite find my legs right away; it took at least a minute to get comfortable on the ice. I slipped at the beginning of the program, just because I didn't find my legs. It's like learning how to compete again."

To the surprise of many, 17-year-old Uno took the top spot in the men's segment behind two quads (one in combination) and two triple axels. The Japanese skater also interpreted the music of Turandot with nice posture and deep emotions.

The home crowd gave Uno a standing ovation and erupted again when it heard the score of 185.48 announced.

"I didn't expect that I could get such a high score at all," he said. "I felt very happy about it. But, I would only rate my performance 80 out of 100, because I think I can do better in other elements besides jumps. … I don't want to be satisfied with this result, but I want to aim higher."

After the men's competition finished, Team Japan sat in first place, followed by Team North America and Team Europe.

Three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner skated first in the ladies event, bringing back her Moulin Rouge! free. Despite a fall and some under-rotation calls, she came away with 117.84 points, a much better result than her performance at this event last season.

Team Japan grew its lead after Miyahara gave a clean performance of her "Un Sospiro" free. She finished with 134.67 points, a personal-best score.

After struggling in recent months in ice shows and Russian test skates, Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova showed improved skating behind huge triple jumps and two Level 4 spins, but her free was far from her best. The Russian came away with 118.81 points and didn't help Team Europe make up much ground.

After Gracie Gold fell on both of her combinations, popped her flip and doubled her salchow in her "Firebird" free, it was clear that Team Japan was going to win. Only two questions remained:

1. How would Asada's first skate go after one year away from competition?

2. Would world champion Elizaveta Tuktamisheva challenge Asada with her new weapon, the triple axel?

Wearing a purple kimono-like costume, three-time world champion Asada skated to music from Madame Butterfly. She put any concerns to rest by successfully landing a triple axel at the beginning of her program and giving to give a champion-quality performance the rest of the way.

Although she popped two jumps, all of her spins and step sequences earned Level 4. She came away with 141.70 points, nodding to herself and appearing releived after the performance.

"It was my first competition after such a long time," she said. "I was glad that I managed to control my feelings and skate well."

Asada only rated her comeback a 55 out of 100, however.

"Although it was the best first competition (of a season) I've ever had, I didn't achieve my goal," she said. "I was aiming to at least recover to the level I was at during 2014 worlds. I think I can do much, much better, so I think I can only give myself '55.'"

Tuktamisheva skated last in the event. She fell on her opening triple axel attempt and as well as the entrance to her final spin, but put down a strong skate overall. 

"I think my performance was nice; I felt content about it," she said of her 128.34-point outing. "For me, it was a good start of the new season. My free program turned into a carnival toward the end, at the same time emotions explode. Today, the explosion was a bit out of control, so I fell before the spin."