Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto skates to World title

Kaori Sakamoto

Kaori Sakamoto of Japan performs her Free Skate at the 2022 World Figure Skating Championships in Japan.

The Women’s event at the 2022 World Figure Skating Championships concluded with the Free Skate on March 25, 2022, in Montpellier, France. Kaori Sakamoto of Japan maintained her lead to win the title—her first world medal after coming back from Beijing with an Olympic bronze. Loena Hendrickx took the silver to become the first Belgian woman in history to win a world medal of any color. USA’s Alysa Liu moved up from fifth place to capture the bronze in her debut at this event.

With the absence of very strong contenders from Russia, there was some wiggle room on the podium for other athletes.

Sakamoto skated to a new personal best (155.77) with her brilliant routine to “No More Fight Left In Me” and “Tris” which featured seven triple jumps. The only error was an edge call on a triple Lutz, but all elements, including her level-four footwork and spins, earned many positive grades of execution. With a total score of 236.09, the two-time Japanese Champion maintained first overall to with gold with nearly 20 points to spare.

“Four years ago I did everything to fight for the Olympic Games and I didn’t attend the World Championships,” recalled the the 21-year-old. “I remembered my experience from four years ago. This year was very difficult to adjust to Worlds one month after the Olympics and I didn’t know the outcome, but I made it till the end and I feel that this medal has a very precious meaning to me. It was the hardest month I have ever had, but this experience is something that only those who have competed in the Olympics and the World Championships can make, so it was a great experience to have it this time.”

“I feel like my status has really changed since the beginning of this year,” said Sakamoto when asked of her plans for the future. “I’m sure I’ll feel the pressure that comes with it, but I’ve always believed in myself, and I’ve always tried to win over myself, and I’ll never forget that feeling. I will do my best so that I can continue to work hard. I think everyone’s goal is to win an Olympic medal, and I achieved that this time, and I also won the World Championships and achieved the best result of my life this season, so I have already achieved my goal. So what should I really do from now on? I am still in the process of thinking about it, but I still have a lot of room for growth, such as mastering the quad and other high points, so I would like to continue to improve my skills and increase my content rather than my results.”

Hendrickx underrotated the back end of her opening triple Lutz-triple toe in an otherwise mesmerizing performance. The only other flaw was a slightly underrotated triple Lutz in combination with a double toe. The 2021 Gran Premio D’Italia bronze medalist produced a total of four clean triple jumps in all and showed excellent level-four spins and footwork throughout. She finished second in the free skate and overall (142.70/217.70).

“I had a really hard time going into these worlds,” said the four-time national champion. “I had a lot of pain, but I wanted to show one last time that I can do it to finish my season strong and I’m just so happy with the result. I didn’t want any pressure on me because I know I couldn’t train how I wanted. I’m super emotional and happy and proud of myself. I’m proud I didn’t give up despite my injury, but I think today was a limit and now my body needs a rest.”

Liu underrotated her opening triple Axel and the backend of triple Lutz-triple toe, but landed six clean triple jumps in her classical routine to Tchaikovski’s “Violin Concerto in D.” The grades of execution (GOE) for her jumps were not as high as the top two skaters, but the 2020 World Junior bronze medalist showed good level-four spins and level-three footwork to finish third in the free skate (139.28). With a total score of 211.19, the 16-year-old moved up two spots to third overall to claim the bronze.

“I feel astonished at this point. I’m still in shock!” said Liu. “I think I did really good. I’m really proud of myself. I didn’t think I could do better than the Olympics and I was like ‘it’s going to be hard to do it again at Worlds so soon after’ but I’m so happy. I took a week off after the Olympics and trained really hard for the little time I had and it paid off.”

Teammate Mariah Bell fought for the landing of her last two jumps, a triple Lutz-triple toe and triple Lutz (slightly underrotated), but gave a heart-felt performance to “Hallelujah” sung by k.d. Lang. The 2022 U.S. National champion earned many high GOEs for her level-four spins and footwork and placed fourth in the free skate and overall (136.11/208.66).

The 25-year-old said she had “mixed emotions” in that she was happy with herself but that she was “bummed” about the second half of her program.

“To be third after short and to be in the last group was pretty exciting,” said Bell. “I’m so proud of my teammate Alysa for getting on the podium. It’s been a while since an American lady has been on the podium, so I’m so happy that she was able to do that. Overall I’m really proud of how this season went.”

Young You of South Korea performed a beautiful routine to music from Les Miserables, underrotated her triple Axel and several other jumps. The 2020 Four Continents silver medalist also fell on a triple flip, but still showed good level-four spins and footwork, placing sixth in the free skate and fifth overall (132.83/204.91).

“I am very disappointed I fell on my triple flip,” said You. “I usually don’t fall on it. And I popped my triple loop, so I am a little bit sad about that.”

The 17-year-old doesn’t have any ideas yet for music next season, but stated that she wanted to start learning quad jumps.

Georgia’s Anastasia Gubanova delivered a fantastic free skate to music from the W.E. soundtrack in her debut at this event. The 2021 Golden Spin of Zagreb Champion landed a total of seven triple jumps, including a triple Lutz-triple toe, triple flip-triple toe, and triple flip-double toe-double toe. She finished fifth in the free skate (134.02) and soared from 14th to sixth overall (196.61).

“I am so happy with my skate and am thrilled I was able to finish the season on such a high note,” said Gubanova. “The emotions are overwhelming and I am glad how it ended. I never had such a packed season! I got so many new happy emotions this season am so proud with what I have done. I overcame the hardships, a huge thanks to the Georgian Federation for all that. I wouldn’t be able to compete at such competitions without them.”

“I will return to St. Petersburg and will probably have a few days off,” added the 19-year-old. “Then we’ll do most likely new programs. I think we’re changing both programs. I am planning to compete for another Olympic cycle. I really, really want to learn a quad toe. I tried it, but not much, it is not done yet. Also I want to do the triple loop combos and to work on what I already have.”

Haein Lee of South Korea finished in seventh place (196.55) followed by USA’s Karen Chen (192.51) and Azerbaijan’s Ekaterina Ryabova (188.50).

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