Daisuke Takahashi just misses Olympics in ice dance

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Daisuke Takahashi, the first Japanese man to win an Olympic figure skating medal and world championship, just missed making it back to the Olympics in ice dance.

Takahashi and partner Kana Muramoto finished second in the Japanese Championships on Saturday, 1.86 points behind Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto. Japan has one Olympic ice dance spot, and selectors went with the national champs over Muramoto and Takahashi, who had better recent international results.

The Olympic team was announced Sunday.

Japanese Olympic selection criteria includes both nationals results and recent international performances, similar to how the U.S. picks its Olympic figure skating team.

Takahashi, 35, was trying to become the first figure skater to compete in the Olympics in their career in both singles and ice dance as medal events, according to Olympedia.org. Instead, he and Muramoto were named as Japan’s ice dance couple for the world championships in France after the Olympics.

Eleven years ago, Takahashi bagged a breakthrough singles bronze at the Vancouver Winter Games. He won the world title a month later. He retired after placing sixth in his third Olympics in 2014.

Then in 2018, Takahashi announced a return to singles skating, for domestic competitions only. He placed second and 12th at the Japanese Championships in December 2018 and December 2019 and stunned the world by switching to ice dance starting in 2020.

“I didn’t think about the Olympics, actually,” Takahashi said earlier this month from their training base in Florida, where they’re coached by the legendary Russian Marina Zoueva, who nicknamed him “Zeus.” “I just wanted to know more [about] figure skating, ice skating techniques. After I quit as a competitor, I still wanted to skate and perform.”

He partnered with Muramoto, a singles skater through her teens who became a 2018 Olympian in dance with Chris Reed. Reed retired in 2019. In March 2020, Reed died of a sudden cardiac issue at age 30.

Muramoto and Takahashi competed together for the first time in November 2020. In November 2021, they posted the highest score ever for a Japanese ice dance couple and became favorites to grab the Olympic spot.

But in their nationals rhythm dance on Thursday, both fell (at the same time, a two-point deduction), and they trailed by 4.81 points. They had the best free dance, but not enough to overcome the deficit. That left the Olympic decision in the hands of the selectors.

Neither Muramoto and Takahashi nor Komatsubara and Koleto have been considered Olympic medal contenders in the ice dance event. But Japan has shot at a medal in the Olympic team event, encompassing all disciplines, for two reasons: Canada’s decline since winning in 2018 — their top skaters in every discipline are gone. And the rise of pairs’ skaters Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara, giving Japan strength in the three disciplines other than dance.

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Japanese pair edges Americans for historic Grand Prix Final figure skating title

Riku Miura, Ryuichi Kihara
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Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara won the biggest title ever for a Japanese figure skating pair, taking the Grand Prix Final and consolidating their status as the world’s top active team.

Miura and Kihara, last season’s world silver medalists, barely outscored world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Turin, Italy, in both Thursday’s short program and Friday’s free skate to win the six-pair event that is a preview of March’s worlds.

The Japanese totaled 214.58 points, distancing the Americans by a mere 1.3 points after Frazier erred on both of their side-by-side jumping passes in the free skate. Italians Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii took bronze.

“We had a very late start to our season than initially planned, so as we have been performing at each event, I see us getting stronger, improving things,” said Frazier, who with Knierim had their best short program and free skate scores of the autumn.

Knierim and Frazier didn’t decide to continue competing together this season until July.

“I feel a little personally disappointed tonight just for myself for my jumps,” Frazier continued. “I was a little all over the place and, normally, I can execute better, so I feel a little bad, but I’m very proud of us overall. We’ve done a great job of improving each competition and looking forward to the second half of the season where we can start tapping into our best skating.”

GRAND PRIX FINAL: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Miura and Kihara, who partnered in June 2019 and train in Ontario, both waited with trepidation for their final score to be posted, worried that each’s separate mistake on jumps might cost them the title. When they learned they won, both burst into tears.

“This was the first time in eight years that I made a mistake with a Salchow, so I thought we might not get a good score, and it would be my fault,” Kihara said.

Miura and Kihara entered the competition ranked No. 1 in the world by best scores this season ahead of Knierim and Frazier, who in March became the first U.S. pair to win a world title since 1979.

Last season, Miura and Kihara became the second Japanese pair to make a Grand Prix podium and to earn a world championships medal. Their ascension helped Japan win its first Olympic figure skating team event medal in February (a bronze that could be upgraded to gold pending the Kamila Valiyeva case).

In Grand Prix Final history, Japan had won 11 gold medals and 40 total medals, all in singles, before this breakthrough.

Knierim and Frazier, already the first U.S. pair to compete in the Grand Prix Final since 2015, became the first U.S. pair to win a Grand Prix Final medal. The Final has been held annually since 1996, though it was canceled the last two seasons due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Miura and Kihara and Knierim and Frazier ascended to the top of the sport while the top five teams from the Olympics from Russia and China have not competed internationally since the Winter Games.

All Russian skaters are ineligible for international competition due to the war in Ukraine. China’s pairs, including Olympic champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, didn’t enter last March’s worlds and did not compete in the fall Grand Prix Series.

Later Friday, world champion Kaori Sakamoto of Japan led the women’s short program with 75.86 points, 1.28 ahead of countrywoman Mai Mihara. American Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, was fifth of six skaters in her Grand Prix Final debut.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier topped the rhythm dance with 85.93 points, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .44. Both couples are bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. None of the Olympic medalists competed internationally this fall.

The Grand Prix Final ends Saturday with the men’s and women’s free skates and free dance, all live on Peacock.

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A Winter Olympic medal still being decided, 10 months later

Fanny Smith, Daniela Maier
It's still unknown whether Fanny Smith (green) or Daniela Maier (blue) is the Olympic ski cross bronze medalist. (Getty)
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There is a second Winter Olympic medal result still in question, 10 months after the Games.

While the figure skating team event results are still unknown due to the Kamila Valiyeva case, the bronze medal in women’s ski cross is also in dispute.

Originally, Swiss Fanny Smith crossed the finish line in third place in the four-woman final at the Winter Games in February. Upon review by the International Ski Federation (FIS) jury, she was minutes later demoted to fourth place after making contact with German Daniela Maier near the end of the course. Maier, who originally was fourth, was upgraded to bronze.

“I tried to be OK with the fourth place. I was very disappointed, I have to say, [then] the jury was like this,” Maier said then. “I am really sorry for Fanny that it’s like this right now. … The jury decided like this, so accept it and be happy with the medal.”

Smith and the Swiss ski federation appealed. FIS reinstated Smith as the bronze medalist nine days after the race and six days after the Closing Ceremony. A FIS appeals commission met four times and reviewed video and written documentation for several hours before deciding that “the close proximity of the racers at that moment resulted in action that was neither intentional or avoidable.”

But that wasn’t the end. The case ended up reportedly going to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), whose rulings are usually accepted as final. The CAS process is ongoing, European media reported this week.

CAS has not responded to a request for comment. A FIS contact said Friday, “There is currently no update to provide in regards to the bronze medal in ski cross. Should there be any update, we will inform you.”

Smith said there should be news soon regarding the case, according to Blick.

Maier still has the bronze medal at her home and enjoys looking at it, according to German media, which also reported that the German ski federation expects Maier to win the case and keep the medal. Smith and Maier spoke extensively about it in recent training sessions and cleared things up. Maier said the best outcome would be bronze medals for both of them, according to the report.

For now, FIS lists Smith as the bronze medalist. The IOC lists Maier as the bronze medalist.

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