KELOWNA, B.C. – A seismic shift happened in men’s figure skating yesterday at the Skate Canada International Grand Prix.
A transformed Takahito Mura of Japan came out in the men’s final, and threw down such a powerful gauntlet that surely, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu must be watching.
Mura broke down in tears in the kiss and cry (that’s what that corral is for) after his marks popped up: 173.24 for the free – a mark he thought he’d never attain – and 255.81 overall. Then he had to wait for two-time European champion Javier Fernandez of Spain to skate, but Fernandez left marks on the table, looking as if he was playing to catch up.
And Mura won. By almost 11 points.
With Daisuke Takahashi retired, Japan still has its Hanyus and its mighty Tatsuki Machidas, but now count Mura in the mix. Japanese nationals will be as hard fought as ever.
Mura had always looked like a bit of a hammer-thrower in the past to be sure, thundering through his jumps with power and thud. But he came out in the free skate dressed elegantly, as the Phantom of the Opera – a completely different look for him altogether. And he’d worked during last summer with Ilia Kulik, who helped him with the technique on his jumps and also with basic skating skills. And who had sweeter technique than Kulik, who would land his jumps with unparalleled softness of the knee? Mura is landing his jumps with a new softness of the knee.
His father/coach Takashi Mura (who skated singles and pairs at the world level in the early 1980s) said his son now rotates his jumps more completely, allowing him to land more correctly with the knee.
“I really thought it would take more time to reach 170,” Mura said after his performance. “I was really very surprised. It’s the result of a lot of hard work. I have learned that hard work will translate into high scores.”
Now he knows that there are folk who will expect more of him. “There will be a lot of pressure for the next competition,” he said. Father Mura says he cannot rest on his laurels, there is more work to be done, and the Japanese nationals will sort out the Japanese men.
And it’s not just about the jumps for Mura. “It has taken me a long time to get to this point,” he said. “It took me a long time to figure out how to express myself and what Takahito Mura is about.” He admitted that Phantom of the Opera may have been overdone in the past, but although it was difficult to find his own Phantom, he has.
Fernandez had an off day, lost marks on all of the three quads he planned, (he fell out of a quad Salchow) and finished second with 158.51 for the free and 244.87 overall. Max Aaron, a former U.S. champion, took one step to regaining his confidence and his U.S. title back by finishing third.
Andrei Rogozine finished ninth overall after two-footing and under-rotating his quad, while Canadian bronze medalist Liam Firus got angry with himself for his short program the day before, and came out strongly enough to get a partial standing ovation. He finished ahead of Rogozine in the free, but was 11th overall.
In winning the pairs gold medal, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won their first Grand Prix title (after three silvers) and are the first Canadian pair to win a Grand Prix since 2007. They scored a season’s best of 210.74 points and feel there are many other opportunities to improve.
Duhamel stepped out of a throw quad Salchow, but they kept up their goal of accomplishing it at every event this season. The Chinese team of Sui Wenjing and Cong Han – using the choreography of Canadian David Wilson – landed a deft quad twist and finished second with 184.64 points, about 26 points behind the Canadians.
Russians Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took the bronze medal at their first senior Grand Prix, the first time they have ever skated in Canada.
Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro landed in sixth place with 158.82 points. Brittany Jones and Joshua Reagan skated to a personal best in the free program for an overall score of 146.77 and finished in seventh place.