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2020 NHK Trophy Dance

by Klaus-Reinhold Kany


(1 December 2020) There were only three ice dance couples at the competition. All of them skated astonishingly well although traditionally Japan is a country without a big ice dance tradition. But all of them partially train in North America with renowned ice dance coaches, this year at least online.

The National Champions Misato Komatsubara & Tim Koleto took the lead in the Rhythm Dance with a difference of more than six points (70.76 points). As their free dance was by far the best they celebrated a run-away victory with 179.05 points, They mainly live and train in Japan for at least two or three years, sometimes with online help of the Montreal coaches because this is mandatory for American citizen Koleto (29) to have a chance to get citizenship.

 They had started their career together in Italy and then moved to the Ice Academy of Montreal. Now they are in their fifth season together. They got married in 2017 in Japanese tradition and the week before the NHK Trophy, Koleto obtained Japanese citizenship after having passed also a difficult language test. In the press conference he proved his language skill by answering questions in fluent Japanese. Komatsubara (28) is Japanese, but had skated previously with Italian dancer Andrea Fabbri for two seasons. Certainly their main goal is to compete at the 2022 Olympic Games. At Worlds 2019 they were 21st, at Four Continents 2020 they placed 11th, and they have improved since then.

In their Rhythm Dance they danced to a Blues, a Swing and two disco dances from the Broadway musical “Dreamgirls“ from 1981. Their curve lift (level 4) was excellent and got two GOEs of +4, the twizzles (level 4) as well, the Finnstep section (level 3) good, the pattern step sequence very good and the diagonal step sequence (level 2) good. Their components had an average of 7.5.

Koleto commented, “During the warm-up the announcer said that I got Japanese citizenship last week. It was an emotional feeling to share this moment with the Japanese audience who loudly applauded. For the Finnstep and the step sequence we wanted to improve the level so we were focused. My legs were heavy and the distance between us needs improvement, so we know what to work on. We improved some weaker passages which we saw during the West Japanese Championships some weeks ago. This rink is the same place where we won the Nationals for the first time. It is the same music and program as last year. This year has been such a tough situation for everyone.“

Komatsubara added, ”We skated to ‘Dreamgirls’ and Tim felt inspired by Eddie Murphy and I was inspired by Beyonce. We had a good feeling from today and there are some topics for improvement. The challenge is the distance between us. I know it is only us and nobody might have noticed, but we were off in timing and bumped into each other so we will make improvements.”

In their free dance they played their life and love together in a romantic and enchanted way. The used the famous “Love Story“ music (in French: Histoire d’Amour) sung by Mireille Mathieu and a small piece of music which Montreal musician Hugo Chouinard had composed for them. The spin, the lifts, the twizzles and two choreographic movements were outstanding, and the step sequences at least good. Their components were around 7.9.

Komatsubara commented, ”Normally we are always exhausted at the end of a free program, but today we were very happy about the huge applause. I am very happy and proud we skated two powerful programs. I am grateful to everyone who made this competition possible. I think we are at the starting line to the Olympic Games and we want to be proud to be Japanese and we want the young ice dancers to be proud of us. The changing rooms were disinfected all the time and it gave us a feeling of safely to compete here. I am very thankful for that.”

Koleto added, ”It was difficult to do on-line lessons and we want to work harder but it felt great. This season, we talked and were on the same page so that was different from last season. I want to improve my condition and work together to get on a good wave.”

Rikako Fukase & Eichu Cho won the silver medal with 157.89 points after being second at last year’s Japanese Nationals. They had been 13th at Four Continents in February 2020. Like the winners, they are also students of the Montreal dance school. In the Rhythm Dance, they skated to Quickstep and other rhythms from the soundtrack of ”La La Land.” Their levels were mixed, their best element was the rotational lift and the components were around 7.0.  Fukase said, ”We enjoyed the competition from the beginning to the end. It is the first time we had over 60 points in the Rhythm dance in spite of some small mistakes, therefore we are happy. In the three months of quarantine, we did off-ice training and it paid off.”

In their free dance, they skated to ”My Funny Valentine” by Lorenz Hart and ”Feeling Good” performed by Michael Buble. Most levels were good, but the two step sequences lower. The GOEs were mainly +1 and +2 and the components around 6.8. ” We were pretty excited to show you the Free Dance,” Cho said. “It’s a new choreography. We were under quarantine in Canada for three months, so we had a lot of time to choose the music for the Free Dance. We even edited the music, so we knew it’s well going into the choreography. When we could train again, my body was no longer used to skating and even easy steps were difficult for me,” Fukase added. “We had a lot of challenges to overcome. Coming to Japan, we first had to practice under quarantine conditions again. All the lifts went well, but we made some mistakes we should never make.”

The ice dance debut of 34-year-old former men’s world champion Daisuke Takahashi with his dance partner Kana Muramoto (27) caught a lot of media attention. Takahashi had won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games of 2010, was World champion in the same year, and sixth at the 2014 Games. Then he retired, came back again in 2018. But he had rarely ever performed clean quads and no longer trains them. Seeing that had no chance to get to the top again he finished single skating and announced in December 2019 to start as an ice dancer.

He began training with Japanese ice dancer Kana Muramoto who had danced with Chris Reed from 2015 to 2018. They had been 11th at Worlds 2018. Reed finished his career afterwards and died in a heart attack in March 2020. Muramoto and Takahashi went to train with Marina Zueva in Florida, but returned to Japan in spring when the pandemic was really bad in the USA. Later they came back and in early November had to sit out another quarantine in Japan for the NHK Trophy. Zueva’s assistant coach Oleg Epstein coached them in Japan, he had to sit out two weeks of quarantine as well.

The NHK Trophy was their very first competition together. They ended up third and last with 157.25 points, almost 22 points less than the winners. But seeing this result you have to admit that Takahashi made quick progress because he had never done any ice dance elements before. He made a lot of off-ice training to get a stronger upper body for lifts, which is not easy when you are 34 years old and have to obey the anti-doping rules.

In the Rhythm Dance, they used the soundtrack of ”The Mask” and ”Let the Good Times Roll” by Alexander Goldstein. The midline step sequence was excellent but only a level 2. The rotational lift had a level 4 (like almost all lifts) but was a bit slow and hesitantly performed. The twizzles were good (level 3), the Finnstep sequence was level 1 and on the pattern dance step sequence she had a level 3 and he a level 1. The components had an average of 7.1, with 64.15 points for the segment.

Takahashi commented, ”Debut! There were small mistakes, but it was good for the debut. Kana told me that we should enjoy. She kept me going. It is very special to perform for a live audience. Not everything was the way we hoped and it was not a 100 per cent, but the Rhythm Dance was good. I did not realize how difficult ice dance is. So hat off to all ice dancers. Being alone going into competition things go well and sometime it works to the contrary, but now we work as a team, Kana tells me good things. I apologized for missing her leg in the lift.“

Their free dance music was the classical ballet of “Bayadere“ by Leon Minkus. The levels were relatively low: The combination spin had a level 1, the lifts 3, 4 and 3 and slow, the step sequences 3 and 2. Takahashi stumbled on the twizzle sequence which was counted as a fall and had GOEs of -2 and -3. Their general style was a bit careful and not very fast, but very expressive. The components were around 7.4. In their free dance they had 15 points less than the winners.

Takahashi commented, “In today’s free dance I made a mistake and I hate that. Even in practice I don’t make such a big mistake on the twizzles and other mistakes in the transitions. The clockwise twizzle became unstable today so it is a mental thing. It was difficult to switch from single skating to ice dancing. I had to change meals.  In singles, I had to refrain from eating but now it was about weight training and eating more. I stop breathing in my lifts so still lots to work on. The single skater in me is still there so every day I heard instructions on the free leg, toes and hold.”

Muramoto added, ”There are many things to work on, but I feel that we can do better at the next competition. We did well, I guess we learned how to regroup and get back in sync so that was good learning. The takeaway is that we got a feeling for the levels we can get so we will work on that.  Our goals are Nationals and of course we are aiming for the Beijing Games. We are a team that has just started.”