Figure Skating

Kagiyama Yuma: From strength to strength one year after Lausanne 2020 gold

In the year since the Japanese won Youth Olympic gold, he has made his senior Grand Prix debut to great fanfare and established himself as a top skater.

By ZK Goh ·

Exactly one year ago, Japan's Kagiyama Yuma staged a comeback in the free program to win the Winter Youth Olympic Games figure skating competition in Lausanne, Switzerland.

In the 366 days since, the now-17-year-old has gone from strength to strength despite a difficult year with limited competitions.

And Kagiyama, the back-to-back two-time national championships bronze medallist, only seems to be heading for bigger and brighter things.

Men's Single Free Programme - Highlights | Winter Youth Olympic Games 2020

Yuma Kagiyama (JPN) won gold in the Men's Single Free Programme competition...

Duels with Mozalev

In Lausanne, Kagiyama landed two triple Axels and two quadruple toe-loops as he made up a seven-point deficit to Andrei Mozalev of Russia. "I am super happy to be standing on the podium today. It’s a once in a lifetime moment," he told Olympic Channel then.

Those same jumps carried him to a Four Continents Championships bronze medal a month later, as he finished behind teammate Hanyu Yuzuru and USA's Jason Brown.

That impressive display, which was Kagiyama's first senior international medal, came as a surprise to the Japanese teenager himself.

"I never could have imagined getting a medal here and I'm still in shock," he told the ISU.

Before the coronavirus pandemic took a hold on the world, the last major global figure skating competition was the World Junior Championships in Tallinn, Estonia, in March – a hotly-anticipated re-match between Kagiyama and Mozalev.

The Japanese put in a solid showing to lead after the short program, but committed uncharacteristic errors in his free skate to allow Mozalev to pip him to the title.

An under-rotation on his signature quadruple toe-loop resulted in a fall, and he lost points on his camel spin and step sequence before popping his closing triple Axel down to a single.

While he was visibly disappointed at the way he ended his junior career, that setback would only provide motivation for a complicated – yet rewarding – first full senior season.

Shining in tough times

With the globe in the throes of the coronavirus pandemic in the summer, the International Skating Union announced in July it was cancelling the entire Junior Grand Prix season.

The following month, it indicated the six events on the senior circuit would be held as regional events. Reports also suggested skaters would be limited to just one Grand Prix instead of the normal two, which was confirmed when the ISU released the assignments in October.

That meant Kagiyama would be restricted to just the NHK Trophy in Osaka, and with second-tier Challenger Series events also cancelled, would have no competitive international skating between March and November.

With Hanyu opting to withdraw from the Grand Prix season and Uno Shoma assigned to the subsequently-cancelled Internationaux de France, the stage was set for Kagiyama to shine.

And shine he did. In addition to his quad toe, Kagiyama had clearly spent his competitive downtime working on a second quadruple jump, the Salchow. He showed it off beautifully in Osaka, scoring highly with the judges for the jump's grade of execution in both the short program (3.10) and free skate (4.07).

"The first half of the programme was better than anything I had done in training – Salchow and toe-loop included," Kagiyama said after the short program. "Last season definitely added to my confidence but that was that," he added in reference to his successful 2019/20.

Across both routines, the Yokohama skater landed five quadruple jumps cleanly and looked like he had been competing at elite senior level for years.

Step up against Hanyu and Uno

One question remained – namely, how would he do in competition with both double Olympic champion Hanyu and PyeongChang 2018 silver medallist Uno up against him?

While Kagiyama won the NHK Trophy by nearly 50 points, his winning score in Osaka (275.87) was still lower than what Hanyu received (282.77) in the 2019 nationals where the latter won silver.

The Japanese nationals at the end of December in Nagano marked the first time the three had competed against each other since the previous year's competition after Uno sat out the 2020 Four Continents.

Kagiyama lived up to the hype. While the two more-experienced skaters were clearly better, the youngster held his own for the second consecutive year to win bronze. He improved his score from the NHK Trophy by some three points, and clearly took a lot out of the experience of skating between Uno and Hanyu.

What's next?

With the 2021 Four Continents – originally scheduled for Sydney, Australia, next month – long since cancelled, the World Championships in March are the next obvious target.

Assuming the championship isn't cancelled for the second year in a row after last year's event in Montreal, Canada, fell foul to the pandemic, Japan will have three spots to use in the men's singles.

With Hanyu and Uno – if they don't withdraw – both certainties to be selected by Japan, Kagiyama's strong season has made him the apparent clear choice for the third spot. Based on results from both the NHK Trophy and nationals, no other Japanese male singles skater is close to the top three at the moment. Tanaka Keiji was some 40 points behind Kagiyama in fourth at nationals.

After the Worlds in Stockholm (22–28 March), the World Team Trophy is scheduled for Osaka in April. Hanyu sat out the 2019 edition of that event and if he chooses to do so again, Kagiyama would be the obvious man in line to take that spot.

Then there's the looming Beijing 2022 Olympic Games, where Japan are again likely to have three men's skaters. For his part, Kagiyama said after the NHK Trophy: "I'm not thinking too far ahead or about my future at the moment.

"Obviously the Olympics is something I'm aiming for."

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