Can Japan's women skaters catch up with Russians?
GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA â" In the wake of Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva winning the gold and silver medals in such dominating fashion at the Pyeongchang Games, many are wondering how the Japanese women can close the gap on the powerful Russians going forward.
Zagitova, with a score of 239.57 points, finished more than 17 points ahead of Satoko Miyahara (222.38), who was fourth, in the final results, while Medvedeva (238.26) was nearly 16 points in front of Japanâs four-time national champion.
Kaori Sakamoto (209.71) was farther back in sixth place.
Ice Time spoke to two-time Olympic bronze medalist Philippe Candeloro of France, who worked for French TV at the Olympics, two journalists and a coach to get their views on this issue.
âI think the Japanese did fine here, they had two women in the first six places,â Candeloro stated.
âWhat can I say about this? Itâs like the artistic impression from Russia with the Bolshoi Ballet and everything,â Candeloro continued. âThey will forever have better marks for artistry.â
Candeloro, who claimed the bronze at both the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics and 1998 Nagano Games, thinks the body types of skaters from the two countries is a factor.
âItâs a question of attitude, of physicality,â Candeloro commented. âThe judges will prefer the Russian style more than the Japanese style, even if the Japanese make quads.
âWe also have Russians (women) doing quads soon. What is it going to be in the next five or 10 years?â
Candeloro feels it is time for some changes.
âSo I think the rules of skating competition will change soon,â Candeloro said. âWe should have a technical competition and an artistic competition on style.
âBecause for European skating, it is so low except for the Russians, and they are good now only for the girls and pairs,â Candeloro added. âThey start to lose first place in the rankings.
âIt is going to be difficult for a European skater to say, âOK. I have a chance. I can compete for worlds because I have a chance,â â Cande loro added. âIt is going to be difficult for them. We need to find a different form of competition, to make everybody happy and have a chance to win something.â
Ice Time questioned Candeloro about Eteri Tutberidze, the star Russian coach of both Zagitova and Medvedeva.
âShe is a good manager,â Candeloro stated. âShe has control of all the people on her staff and they do good work. The students are like soldiers. The students listen and the students work.â
Candeloro believes motivation is also driving the Russian revolution.
âIn America, they have the good spirit and they always enjoy what they are doing,â Candeloro noted. âThis is the same for the Canadians, they enjoy what they do. In North America, they always enjoy what they do, which is a good, positive attitude.
âAs for other European countries, we think they donât want to work enough,â Candeloro said. âThey need to get hurt. To win, you need to get hurt. In Europe, life i s so good, maybe they are not motivated enough to fight.â
Ice Time reached out to a prominent Japanese skating writer, who asked that their name not be used, about how the gap with Russia can be closed by Japanâs female skaters.
âThe rules may be changed next year to eliminate the bonus in the second half,â the writer stated. âOther changes the Japanese want include increasing the base value of the triple axel, because many girls coming up in Japan now are trying it.
âThe triple axel value is just 8.5 points, which is very low,â the writer added. âWith many Japanese girls doing it, a change would help in the next four years. This would give them a better chance.â
I wondered if the writer thought Kaori Sakamoto would be on Japanâs team for the 2022 Beijing Games.
âKaori is a jumper. Four years from now she will have to show more emotion and artistry in her programs,â the writer assessed. âBut she might continue to just focus on jumping.
âSatoko is a more well-rounded skater, so she will have a chance again to make the team in four years. She is a very hard worker.â
A well-known European skating journalist, who requested anonymity, told me she didnât see the difference between the Japanese and Russians as being that significant.
âI think the Japanese ladies skaters are in a good way,â the journalist commented. âBecause they had a very good result here and they are technically good.â
The journalist cited the Russians adeptness at skating clean programs as being what puts them ahead at this point.
âWhat they still can improve, like Alina has a technical advantage with her triple lutz/triple loop, like doing very difficult stuff,â the journalist said.
âBeing absolutely consistent. I think that is really the key that has put the Russians in this position. They are really, really consistent, the ladies. You hardly see them miss anything in competition or pr actice. That is probably the next step for Japan.â
The journalist singled out Miyahara for her fine programs.
âThe Japanese programs are also good,â the journalist stated. âEspecially Satoko has good programs. Satoko has a little bit of a disadvantage in that her jumps are not as high and there are under-rotation problems. You need to be absolutely clean as a whistle with the elements, and consistent.â
The European journalist does not believe the triple axel is that big of a factor in the bigger picture.
âThe triple axel alone isnât making the big difference,â she said. âAs you could see with Mirai Nagasu, she landed the triple axel, but itâs not all about one element.
âI donât think the value will be increased. Now they donât want the men doing so many quads that they canât do really. Only encourage people to do stuff they can really do.â
Where does the increasing talk about turning the short program and free skate i nto athletic and artistic programs stand? Ice Time inquired.
âThatâs far in the future. That wonât happen until after Beijing,â the journalist felt. âThe process of thinking about that has just started.â
She then described what some in the skating community are envisioning going forward.
âThere would be two programs. A technical one and an artistic one with limited jump content,â was the journalistâs analysis. âTo have three separate medals including combined total.
âIn figure skating, now there is the team event. But compared to other sports, there are still far fewer chances to get medals in skating than in skiing or speedskating events.â
The coach, who also did not want to be named, also highlighted the ability of the Russians to be nearly perfect time after time on the ice.
âThe Russian women generally do not make a mistake,â the coach stated. âSatoko did not make a mistake. She was pretty good and clean on her ju mps. She has a problem with that sometimes. She is not a big jumper.
âThe Japanese women are equal in so many parts, but they might make one more mistake, which is the difference,â the coach commented. âThe Russian women simply do not make mistakes and also they jump a little bit bigger, so they have a little room for error when something goes a little bit wrong in the air, so they have a bit more time to save it.â
There has been a lot of talk in skating circles about how the Russian skaters â" especially Zagitova â" put nearly all of their jumps in the second half of their programs.
âThey backload their programs, which gives them extra points,â the coach noted. âPeople complain about that, saying, âWell, itâs an unbalanced program.â
âWhat are you talking about? This is sport. Can you tell a guy who is running a marathon that you are not allowed to hang back and you have to sprint from the start? The race is run through time.â
The coach felt it is the same scenario with skating.
âThe program is strategic through time,â the coach commented. âIf you can backload your program and do all those jumps when you are more tired, and still have a pleasing program overall, then so be it.
âThe Russians have been able to do that. So they are getting those extra points, because most of their jumps are in the second half of the program. That is another advantage they have.â
In the coachâs opinion, Russia and Japan are above just about everybody else in skating.
âI donât see the Russians and Japanese very far apart. I see the rest of the world quite far apart from those two. There are some skaters, like (Canadaâs) Kaetlyn Osmond, who are good,â the coach said. âBut the Russians and Japanese, they are strong. They are consistent. What I see is the Japanese making a little untimely mistake.
âSatokoâs performance skills are of the highest level,â the coach added. â You are talking about such small differences.â
While some may be concerned about Japanâs female skaters catching up to the Russians, the coach isnât one of them.
âThe Japanese are not quite as powerful as the Russians, as commanding on the ice,â the coach stated. âBut the Japanese are such beautiful skaters.
âI believe the Japanese women have the best yet to come. In the next four years, they will emerge stronger than they have been in the last two years or so.âSource: Google News Japan | Netizen 24 Japan