Japan is a new figure skating superpower
About monopoly in the era of victorious tolerance
The World Figure Skating Championship in Saitama turned into a demonstration of the total dominance of the host that won three gold medals out of four. They had only one silver five years ago, also at the world championship. Realnoe Vremya’s sport staff shares impressions of the main event in the world of figure skating.
From a perspective of the attitude to the world championship, this year’s tournament reminded me a plot when an abandoned bride watches a wedding chronicle of other’s wedding with her ex-groom. Especially in pairs and ladies’ singles, we understand that Russians were going to be the main characters. Ours were to catch the bride’s flowers, be bridesmaids, perform the role of newly-weds at last. While the figure skaters who became world champions could qualify for the role of entertainers at best. Or guests. When the wife mumbles something when congratulating and wishing something and the husband says “I echo the words” and puts an envelope with money. Nobody knows who was it, from whose side, what’s in the envelope. So a fan looks at these foreign pairs and female skaters remembering just the colour and cut of the dress.
Only ice dance and the men’s singles were interesting for us at the World Championship in Saitama in the current circumstances. The positions on the podium in ice dance were quite expected — the USA, Italy, Canada, and it was interesting that the Europeans, Italians, were followed by duets from Great Britain and Lithuania. We remember that earlier Lithuanians had medals, but at that time “totalitarian” Margarita Drobiazko danced with local Vanagas, while now Allison Reed from the country — the stronghold of democracy — competes with Lithuanian Ambrulevičius. How happy Baltic politicians will be if Russians will be again out of the European, now in 2024.
Japan's thorny path to global dominance
We cannot escape from obvious feelings, let’s switch to the reality. A unique occurrence took place in pairs when Japanese pair Riku Miura and Ruiti Kihara won the gold. Asians no longer a foreign object in pairs after China made a breakthrough in the 2000s. There was even a moment of dominance when China won gold and silver and 5th place at the 2007 World Championship. These were dark times for Russia when to create the first pair it was necessary to wait for figure kater Yuko Kawaguti from Japan, we didn’t manage to get all the quotas for the 2008 WC performing with two pairs only, and at the 2009 WC the third pair didn’t make it to the free programme giving way even to Greeks in the short programme. However, the Greeks were peculiar when Canadian Chad Tsagris skated with a Canadian first, then with an American for the national team of his ancestral homeland. And Alexander Enbert with his partner lost to them, though he would probably have skated with actress Olga Kuzmina even better.
But China is China, there is a state approach there when athletes come to pair skating in column and left it in the same way. But Japan didn’t manage to get closer to pairs for a long time. Kawaguti left it including for this reason. It is interesting that her rival Rena Inoue left the country starting to skate with American John Baldwin and represented America then.
The pairs of Narumi Takahasi and Marvin Tran started to compete for Japan on the international stage. Takahasi is also partly a project of Chinese figure skating because she started to skate there, moreover, in pairs from the beginning. The Japanese athlete lived in China because her father was working there. Then, the family moved to Canada, and the new pair with the Canadian of Chinese origin Marvin Tran was created there, and the pair finished second at the 2010 World Junior Championship going ahead of even Ksenia Stolbova and Fyodor Klimov. In 2012, Takahasi and Tran became medallists of the senior world championship, but the country’s government dispelled hopes for the competition at the Olympics in Sochi by not granting the Canadian Chinese Japanese citizenship.
One can compete at world championships without official citizenship, consent of the local federation is enough, but the competition rules at the Olympics are stricter in this regard. Tran returned to his homeland and unsuccessfully skated with Americans, while Takahasi started to compete with her inexperienced peer Riuti Kihara. She debuted with her first Japanese partner at the Olympics in Sochi in 2014, then the partners broke up and began skating with new skaters. We should talk about the birth of Japanese pair skating from this moment. It is both Canadian Francis Boudreau-Audet who consecutively skated with two different Japanese partners and Riku Miura who started with Shoya Ichihashi. They all, by the way, became medallists of world team championships when they were pulled into the podium with the help of single skaters. But when Canadian Boudreau-Audet couldn’t compete at the Olympics in Pyoengchang in 2018, it became clear that Japan needed to create a national duet. So the current champion pair Miura and Kihara was created from two couples.
With Olympic precision
At the recent World Junior Championship, the Japanese pair Haruki Murakami and Sumitada Moriguti finished fourth. The scores weren’t great, but this is not the case. Firstly, Japan is now an undoubted leader of figure skating, which almost guarantees gold at the upcoming world team championship and success in such a tournament in 2025. Then, it will be the Olympics, with a team competition.
Even in the case Russia is back, Japan will be a favourite there. Moreover, Russians have opaque prospects. The International Hockey Federation extended Russia’s ban from international competitions. If a year ago this looked like a flick on the nose, now we have been slapped with a shoe on our face. But there has been no such news in figure skating, moreover, the Olympic qualification is about the corner. Olympic quotas will be distributed at the 2025 World Championship, but its quotas will be distributed at a championship that will be one year earlier. If the ban is extended for a year, only one Russian athlete in each discipline will be able to compete at the WC before the Olympics. Only a medal guarantees the biggest number of quotas of three athletes, and in this regard it is especially alarming for single skaters and ice dance. Especially, if they will have to compete without substitutes after the team event like at the 2022 Beijing Games.
Urmanov, take a running jump in the river
The events around the World Championship in Saitama developed so quickly that purely sports results took a back seat for some time. Everything began with Olympic champion Alexey Urmanov’s brief interview:
What can one say about this if not the broken phrase from a commercial: “Chewing is sometimes better than saying...” Moreover, this applied to both interlocutors. Both that “kind of journalist” who phoned Urmanov notwithstanding that he was at the World Championship as coach of team Kazakhstan and the question if he would stay tuned for the World Championship wasn’t topical. Here it is a two-edged problem. The case is that most Russian sports media are focused on football, and on hockey to a lesser extent and other sports by a leftover principle.
The Zagitova-Medvedeva-Valieva phenomenon made this mass media pay attention to figure skating too, but the attention itself is sporadic, and that “kind of journalists” are lazy to follow changes in this sport like transfers from one federation to another, from one coach to another group. If Wikipedia says that “Nowadays Urmanov continues working in Sochi and is head coach of team Krasnodar Krai in figure skating,” it means to be true.
I admit that as a sports media outlet I often contact with different online resources to fix personal information mistakes. The latest success was about making changes to Tatarstan wrestler Sergey Timofeyev’s profile who, sadly, died two years ago. But Wikipedia is such a stagnant online resource that it is almost impossible to fix it, moreover, authors themselves do not always manage to track changes. Urmanov is now in Kazakhstan, at the WC he was a coach of Mikhail Shaydorov who finished in the top 20.
But some modern media aren’t confused not to know facts and here the Olympic champion’s indignation can be understood. Though the way he expressed it...
Phantom pains of mass media
“I don’t care about Russian skaters...” Seriously? To start with, one of these Russian figure skaters — Maria Pavlova — is Urmanov’s stepdaughter who performs for team Hungary with ex-Ukrainian Alexey Sviatchenko, including at the WC where they finished 7th. But she trains in sae Sochi where Urmanov used to work earlier and even chaired a group of coaches. But he didn’t achieve any results, which we should admit, with either young figure skaters or Yulia Lipnitskaya he kept her for “boarding,” roughly speaking. Urmanov has over 20 years of work as a coach but neither at the beginning when he competed nor later the 1998 Olympic champion didn’t have students who would approach him to his successes.
Once again: Usmanov has recommended itself neither before the era of quad jumpers from Eteri Tutberidze’s nursery farm nor during the “Kosher” 2000s when ladies’ figure skating in Russia was below the ground level. Nevertheless, he got a post of a manager in Sochi, at one of the figure skating centres, with its own sports palace and fully-fledged funding. There are a lot of questions for Sochi in general as a place that didn’t five Russian winter sports an impulse for development except for ski jumper Irma Makhinya and chair of the Sochi 2014 Organising Committee Dmitry Chernyshenko who became vice premier.
We, Russians, do care about Pavlova who skated with Kazan figure skating’s student Ilya Spiridonov for a short period. Urmanov himself can be asked to take a running jump in the river.
Before the World Championship, many Russian mass media focused on the absolutely old theme of figure skaters with the Russian past. Come on, stop it, or as it usually happens, you will discover Russians so that a Tatar will come about, dig in your ancestry so much that the sea in the steppe of Ukraine will be seen. Only the ex-Russian pair of Alisa Yefimova and Alexander Korovin who competed for different countries at the recent championship were interesting personally for me from a perspective of the performance of ex-Russians for other countries. Yefimova with Belgian Ruben Blummaert was for Germany, Korovin with American Isabella Gomez who earlier competed for Spain is now for the Philippines.
Moreover, there is an option that somebody will even return to Russia like it happened previously with 2002 Olympic champion Yelena Berezhnaya who represented Latvia in international competitions and 2006 Olympic medallist Alexey Tikhonov who competed in Japan’s championship.
The author’s opinion does not necessarily coincide with the position of Realnoe Vremya’s editorial board.