The Yomiuri Shimbun SOCHI—Japan finished fifth in the team figure skating event on Sunday at the Sochi Olympics as Tatsuki Machida placed third in the men’s free skate but Akiko Suzuki finished fourth in the women’s free skate and Cathy and Chris Reed were fifth in ice dancing.
Their combined scores were not enough for Japan to win a medal in the team event, which made its Olympic debut in Sochi. Russia won the event, giving the host country its first gold medal at the Sochi Games.
Japan’s skaters performed relatively well in the men’s and women’s singles components, but they were undeniably less skilled in pair skating and ice dancing. Team coach Yoshiko Kobayashi said: “This is our current level of skill. I was glad we could form a team with skaters for four programs.”
The six Japanese skaters who participated in the men’s and women’s solo components are some of the best skaters in the world, all ranked 10th or higher globally.
However, Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara were the only pair that competed in the Japan national championships in December and there were only four ice dance pairs, demonstrating the very small number of Japanese athletes practicing pair skating.
The figure skating population has been rapidly increasing as a result of the gold medal won by Shizuka Arakawa at the 2006 Turin Olympics and Mao Asada’s strong performances, but the number of pair skaters and ice dancers has remained low.
Skate rinks are the biggest factor behind this situation—there is a shortage of rinks due to the greater number of figure skaters, and even top-ranked skaters currently have difficulty securing practice space. Kobayashi lamented that Japan has fewer rinks than Europe and the United States, and also needs more coaches.
Ironically, the surge in the popularity of figure skating has put additional pressure on pair skating events.
People involved with pair skating events hope they will attract more attention following the debut of the team skating event in Sochi. Takahashi, who took part in the Olympics only about one year after she teamed up with Kihara in January 2013, displayed enthusiasm for the individual competition starting on Tuesday.
“I want to convey the appeal of pair skating by a good performance,” she said.
The men’s solo competition will start on Thursday and the women’s on Feb. 19. Gold medal hopeful Asada moved from Sochi to Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, on Monday, where the Japan Skating Federation has secured a rink for its skaters to prepare in a quiet atmosphere.
“I want to make final preparations to put myself back in my ordinary state. All I need now is a can-do attitude,” Asada said.
Learning from the mistakes she made in the team event, Asada is trying to make a comeback.