Daisuke Takahashi’s unprecedented figure skating mission now looks very possible

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - NHK Trophy
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Eleven years ago, Daisuke Takahashi became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic medal and a world championship in singles figure skating. Two days ago — after a retirement, a comeback and switching disciplines and transforming his body — Takahashi and his partner in ice dance, Kana Muramoto, posted a record-breaking score for a Japanese couple.

This winter, Takahashi can become the first figure skater to compete in the Olympics in their career in both singles and ice dance as medal sports, according to Olympedia.org.

He and Muramoto are expected to go to the national championships in Saitama next month to vie for the nation’s one Olympic ice dancing spot. They may well enter as the favorites given they just outscored the three-time reigning Japanese champions at NHK Trophy in Tokyo over the weekend.

It will cap an incredible journey if they make it all the way to Beijing. During the pandemic alone, Takahashi went from zero competitive ice dance experience (and little training with Muramoto) to best in his nation.

Nearly 36, he would be the second-oldest Olympic ice dancer in history after British legend Jayne Torvill, who came back with partner Christopher Dean in 1994. He would be the second-oldest figure skater in any discipline in the last 25 years (after 2010 Chinese pairs’ gold medalist Zhao Hongbo), according to Olympedia.

“This may be pretty unprecedented,” NBC Sports analyst Tanith White, who first marveled at Takahashi’s dance skills in 2016, when he was part of an off-ice show called “Love on the Floor,” created by “Dancing with the Stars” pro Cheryl Burke, said last year before Takahashi and Muramoto’s debut. “Having said that, I think that Daisuke, he is one of the most naturally gifted skaters I have ever seen.”

At NHK Trophy last weekend, Takahashi and Muramoto totaled 179.50 points, a Japanese record in international competition and 22.25 points more than they scored at the same competition a year ago (their first as a couple).

The 179.50 would have placed 15th at last season’s world championships (Japan, a singles powerhouse, has never put an ice dance couple in the top 10 of an Olympics). More importantly, it was 7.3 points more than national champions Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto scored between Friday’s rhythm dance and Saturday’s short dance at NHK.

Komatsubara said afterward that she had an elbow tendon injury that would be examined this week after flying to North America. Their training base is Montreal.

Takahashi and Muramoto have the momentum.

“Compared to NHK Trophy last season, there were no major mistakes, and we were able to put on the performance we were practicing for,” Muramoto said after Saturday’s free dance, according to a translator.

Their coach, renowned ice dance mind Marina Zoueva, said last year that she gave Takahashi the nickname of Zeus, “because when he’s on ice, he’s just flying around.”

“Daisuke is like a dream ice dance partner,” Zoueva said in 2020 of learning that he was the 2018 Olympian Muramoto’s new partner. “He’s so fast, so edgy, so light, like a bird on ice.”

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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