Sakamoto finishes short program with personal best

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kaori Sakamoto performs in the women’s figure skating short program in the Olympic Games in Beijing on Tuesday.

BEIJING — Kaori Sakamoto secured 79.84 points, a personal best, in the women’s figure skating short program in the Olympic Games on Tuesday, moving into third place ahead of the free skating portion of the event.

Wakaba Higuchi, making her first Olympic appearance, placed fifth with 73.51 points, succeeding in the triple axel in the program.

Mana Kawabe, also making her first appearance, finished 15th with 62.69 points, placing her among the top 25 skaters who will advance to the free skate.

Kamila Valieva of the Russian Olympic Committee, who was allowed to compete despite a positive doping test, took the top spot with 82.16 points.

The women’s free program will be held Thursday.

Points added with improved jumps

Sakamoto burst into tears the moment she saw her coach Sonoko Nakano’s face after she struck the finishing pose.

She said she had been “scared” to compete with the top three skaters of the ROC, who seemed to have been born under a high-jumping star.

Though Sakamoto’s knees were shaking, she believed in herself as she had been working to improve the quality of her performance.

Recalling Sakamoto as a child, Nakano laughed, saying, “She used to step off at tremendous speed and repeatedly jump or fall.”

Sakamoto has the ability to accelerate thanks to the muscular strength she has cultivated through swimming, and she possesses an unyielding spirit of challenge.

The combination of these factors added height and distance to her jumps, which earned her points in the grade of execution.

She has been improving the quality of her skating during the four years since she finished sixth in her Olympic debut in the 2018 Pyeongchang Games at the age of 17.

Three years ago, she spent two weeks skating hard in Italy, working through intense muscle pain.

Through the experience, “everything changed,” she said.

She honed the technique of leaning into big curves to keep up her speed, which laid the foundation for her current competition style.

On Tuesday, she was second to Valieva in skating skills, a component of the short program scores. She won the highest evaluation, level 4, in spins and steps, showing the results of her hard work and attention to detail.

In her short program performance, she wanted to convey a message of freedom and hope to a society that has been pervaded by a sense of stagnation due to the novel coronavirus disaster.