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Tomoki Hiwatachi Charms to Win Junior Men's Title

 by Karen Frank



(21 January 2016)   

Junior Men’s SP

With three out of four of the 2015 medalists in the field, it was an experienced group of skaters who took the ice for the short program. But experience can occasionally lead to expectation which leads to added pressure. All of which led to a mistake filled evening.

Last year’s fifth place competitor, Tomoki Hiwatashi, began his short program with a shriek of I Feel Good. Prancing around to James Brown, Hiwatashi cemented his placement with a couple high scoring level four spins and a strong triple Lutz-triple toe combination. Though he fell on an attempted triple Axel, he was given credit for rotating the jump. In spite of the jump error, he performed the program with energy, convincing the audience and judges that he did indeed feel good.

Three and a half points behind Hiwatashi, Tony Lu, who qualified for last year’s Junior event, but had to withdraw due to injury. The New Jersey native skated to Hans Zimmer’s powerful Tears of the Sun, soundtrack, landing a big triple axel with high grades of execution. Lu, whose skating style fits this music, lost ground when he doubled the second jump in a planned triple Lutz-triple toe combination.

Recent MIT enrollee, Kevin Shum, whose cross-country collegiate move necessitated a transfer to the Skating Club of Boston, skated a stylish program to Ástor Piazzolla’s Invierno Porteño. Though he only attempted a double axel, and two footed his triple flip, Shum made up the difference with his program components. The judges deemed his performance of the post-modern tango music to have the highest interpretation score of the field.

Last year’s bronze medalist, Paolo Borromeo, also chose a Piazzolla tango -Libertango- for his short program music. Borromeo, who trains in Los Angeles, skated the complex looking choreography with almost too much energy, tripping himself up in the footwork.

Outside of the top four, three skaters finished the short within a point of each other, including last year’s pewter medalist, Aleksei Krasnozhon. After making a splash earlier this summer at the Freezer Aerial Challenge, where he landed a quad loop, Krasnozhon came into the event as one of the favorites. However, falls on the triple Axel and triple Lutz, put him in seventh place.

Junior Men Free Skate

“I have a birthday today and I am 16 years old. Yes,” Tomoki Hiwatashi stated emphatically. Oh and by the way, the birthday boy also has a Gold Medal. And, he landed a triple Axel for the first time in competition. Not a bad way to begin the seventeenth year.

Yet, Hiwatashi wasn’t completely satisfied with his winning performance, to a medley of Charlie Chaplin songs. “I messed up on the triple loop, and my triple Salchow was cheated. My levels were not as I expected so I would like to try better next time.”

The audience in St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center was easier on Hiwatashi than he was on himself, giving his “Little Tramp” performance a partial standing ovation.

For Kevin Shum, the only thing that hasn’t changed in his life since 2015 Nationals is his placement. The 2015 and 2016 Silver Medalist has had to completely restructure his life. “College was a big adjustment.  First of all, trying to settle down and getting used to the rigor of MIT was very challenging. The beginning of the semester I spent more time trying to adjust kind of transition to college life.”

For some, the start of college signals the beginning of an adult life, and Shum’s free program did display a mature performance to Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Trio Élégiaque in G Minor No. 1. Though Shum didn’t attempt a triple Axel, he landed seven other triples, including a triple Lutz-triple toe combination. For Shum, this year of balancing full time academics with training meant more of a focus on program components than increasing his technical arsenal. “I wanted work on getting whole package together, the whole components in my programs before moving on to trying triple Axel and quads.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Aleksei Krasnozhon jumped from seventh to third with a high flying program to music from The Bolt. Though his attempted quad loop was downgraded, he landed seven other triples, including two triple Axels. Always trying to push himself technically, Krasnozhon’s goal was to put the quad attempt into his program as an investment in the future. “Internationally those guys are trying three or four quads in juniors and that’s crazy. To compete with them you have to try the quads.”

He admits though, that it’s easier said than done. “It takes a lot of time to get new jumps into the program consistent. You cannot just come out and do it.”

Hiwatashi agreed that getting a quad into the program is an enormous undertaking. “I’ve been trying the quad toe loop. While I’ve been trying really hard, it just doesn’t work out like it’s supposed to.”

Well, since landing the triple axel in competition was his sixteenth birthday present to himself, maybe the quad will mark his seventeenth birthday.