Ice Network

Host country claims title at 2016 Japan Open

Miyahara delivers superb free; Oda shocked by personal-best score
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Satoko Miyahara helped lead Team Japan to victory at the 2016 Japan Open. -Melissa Majchrzak

Surrounded by a home crowd of 12,217 fans at the Saitama Super Arena, Team Japan claimed the Japan Open title for the second year in a row, outdistancing Team Europe by 42 points and Team North America by 63.

The home team triumphed behind mostly stellar performances from all four of its members: reigning Four Continents champion and 2015 world silver medalist Satoko Miyahara, world junior bronze medalist Wakaba Higuchi, 2015 Grand Prix Final bronze medalist Shoma Uno and former Four Continents and Japanese champion Nobunari Oda.

Miyahara delivered a magnificent performance of her free skate to music from Star Wars and "Jupiter" from Gustav Holst's The Planets, earning positive Grades of Execution (GOEs) on each her seven jump elements and Level 4's for her spins and footwork. The "tiny queen" was rewarded a huge score of 143.39.

"I was a bit nervous today, but I think I've skated the way I wanted to." Miyahara said. "I felt happy about landing the triple lutz-triple toe, but my second lutz was a bit tight, so I think I need to improve that toward the Grand Prix Series."

Higuchi, competing at her first Japan Open, popped a lutz and doubled a salchow, but all of her other elements were well executed and received positive GOEs. She earned 116.99 points.

Skating last in the men's event, Uno opened his tango-themed free with an exceptional quad flip -- the jump that only he and he alone has landed in competition. Despite falling on the ensuing quad toe, the rest of the program was almost perfect, and he was rewarded with 198.55 points.

"I am glad that I didn't drag my team down," the 18-year-old said humbly. "I felt happy and relieved that I was able to land the quad flip in this competition. It gives me confidence, and I want to work hard and nail it in future competitions."

Oda, who retired almost three years ago, delivered an extraordinary performance that featured, believe it or not, a solid quad toe-triple toe combo, two huge triple axels (one in combination with a double toe) and a triple lutz-half loop-triple salchow from a difficult spiral entry. His three year's of experience as a professional skater was also reflected in his polished and refined program set to the classical piano solo "Liebestraum."

When his score of 178.72 was announced, Oda could not hide his surprise.

"I first thought, 'You must be kidding me,'" Oda said after the competition. "I remember my personal best is around 175 (175.64 at 2013 Nebelhorn Trophy), so when the score came out, I was like, 'Isn't it three points higher than my personal best?' And I don't know what to say now. Refreshing (my) personal best after such a long time? What's the point of my tearful retirement, then?"

The skater also shared his secret of staying in such good shape.

"After I decided to compete in this event, I made up my mind to do the quad," Oda said. "Doing a full long program requires lots of practice, but I am a regular castmember on a TV show every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, so time is very limited. However, I think the most important thing in training is not losing your own pace and following your plan. So, no matter how exhausted I was, I would do whatever I knew I had to do, and trained really hard in order to perform well in competition."

Florent Amodio opened the competition for Team Europe. Skating to a Gladiator medley, the Frenchman, who retired after last season's European championships, had difficulty pulling off a complete competition program, as he executed only six out of his eight planned jumping passes. Nevertheless, his charismatic performing style was present, and he finished with 124.35 points.

Javier Fernández opened his Elvis Presley free skate with a solid quad toe, followed by a quad salchow-triple toe combo, triple axel-double toe and quad salchow, but stamina became an issue for him in the second half of the program. He finished with 192.20 points.

The reigning two-time world champion was satisfied with the result.

"For the first competition of the season, after returning to the ice for only five weeks, I think I've delivered a great performance," Fernández said. "It is definitely not perfect, but we can work a lot and improve a lot. It is really a good start."

World bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya skated to selections including the "Modigliani Suite," "Le di a la caza alcance" and "Memorial Requiem." Besides singling a double axel, Pogorilaya skated a solid performance, and she finished with 132.04 points.

Even though Japan had already clinched the team title by the time Evgenia Medvedeva took the ice, fans were excited to watch the reigning world champion -- and the "Tano queen" did not disappoint.

Her performance to the music from Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was nearly as good as the one she gave at the 2016 World Championships, where she set a record for the highest score ever recorded under the international judging system. Except for an edge call on her triple lutz, her protocol was almost perfect on the technical side, while her components were the highest in the field. Her 147.07-point score was an indication that another dominant season could be imminent.

But the formidable 16-year-old admitted that there was still room to grow.

"I feel very satisfied with my performance today, but this is only the start of the season," Medvedeva said. "I think I need to further polish the program and really get into it. I think through competitions and experiences it will be improved."

Despite being away from competition for more than a year, four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott showed good form by effortlessly landing a triple lutz, triple axel and triple axel-half loop-triple salchow combination. His "Old Pine" program drew the audience in, and they showed him their appreciation by giving him a big round of applause. Abbott's strong performance was rewarded with 166.99 points, 0.31 more than his official personal best -- which he produced in this same arena, at the 2014 world championships.

Adam Rippon showed improvement from the U.S. International Classic two weeks ago. A fall on his opening quad lutz didn't affect the rest of his "Bloodstream" program, as he solidly landed the ensuing triple flip-triple toe combination and completed almost all of his planned elements. The reigning U.S. champion received 166.85 points.

Skating to "Exogenesis: Symphony Part 3," world silver medalist Ashley Wagner executed almost all of her planned elements in a very effectively presented program. The 132.12 points she received set a good tone for the season, although the two under-rotations she incurred showed she still has work to do.

The debut of Gracie Gold's Daphnis et Chloé free skate didn't go as planned, as the two-time U.S. champion made errors on several jump elements. She finished with 108.24 points.