As we start 2016, I can't help but look back at the end of the 2015 with a whole lot of awe. Why? Japan Nationals and Russian Nationals took place - the first two of the Big Four Nationals, with U.S. Nationals and Canadian Nationals coming up at the end of the month. And before we shift our focus our attention back on North America, here's a review of the 20 things we learned from the other side of the world.
- Yuzuru Hanyu is human. And frankly, after two ridiculous competitions, he was overdue for a return to earth. He's skipping Four Continents to rest up for Worlds, let's hope the letdown ended in Sapporo and won't be carried over to Boston.
- Satoko Miyahara is out of the shadows for real. She owned Japan Nationals with a confidence that we've never seen before.
- There's time for Mao Asada to salvage her comeback season - it hasn't been smooth sailing, between inconsistency and stomach flus, but the big one, Worlds, is still to come. And with her decent third place showing at Nationals, she booked herself a trip to Boston.
- With Kana Muramoto, Chris Reed may be better than ever - which means that Japan may have its best ice dance team ever.
- After an injury derailed her Junior Grand Prix, Wakaba Higuchi catapulted herself back into Junior World title contention. (See RUSSIA for your other favorite.)
- Japanese men don't quite have the depth that they did a few seasons ago, but Hanyu and Shoma Uno are going to carry them for a while.
- With the bronze, Takahito Mura turned in very respectable performances in a season that saw him finish 10th at a Grand Prix. Unfortunate for him that Japan only has two spots at Worlds (but then again, that was partially his doing last season).
- Where do Takahiko Kozuka and Kanako Murakami go after this? The two veterans had decent showings (fifth and sixth) but are just not top-tier international material on a even a semi-consistent basis anymore. Hopefully, they can rebound and get a second wind in their career.
- Speaking of second wind, Keiji Tanaka got just that this season - a career-high fourth at Nationals and a berth to Four Continents are a great step up for him.
- And lastly, let's not forget the fact that 14-year old Yuna Shiraiwa went from 27th in Juniors last year to 5th at Seniors this year. Unbelievable jump.
- The Russian ladies are ridiculously good. Period.
- Along with the Grand Prix Final win, Evgenia Medvedeva has now established herself as the clear favorite for the World title.
- Off the top five for Adelina Sotnikova, Julia Lipnitskaia, and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva - it was less of a surprise for Sotnikova, who is still on the comeback trail, and Lipnitskaia, who was even struggling with landing more than just toe and flip all season. Tuktamysheva was looking stronger at Golden Spin, and you expected her to put up a bit more of a fight, but alas, the reigning World champ looks to have given her title up even before Worlds begins.
- But going back to Lipnitskaia, though - that short program was to die for - definitely glimmers of hope there, and hopefully her coaching switch to Alexei Urmanov will make a huge difference her next season.
- Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov are a tad vulnerable - that foot injury has kept them from being consistent, and of biggest concern is their newest element, the throw triple flip. I'd contend that they aren't even favorites for Europeans - that distinction would likely go to Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov and Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot.
- If Higuchi is to get to the top of the Junior World podium, she will have to get past Polina Tsurskaya, fourth at Russian Nationals and with a triple lutz-triple toe that rivals the best ever (read: Yuna Kim).
- If you can believe it, two of the top four on the men's side did NOT even attempt a quad in either program (see: Alexander Petrov and Gordei Gorshkov).
- In ice dance, Ekaterina Bobrova/Dmitri Soloviev's win (and their big FD score relative to everyone else) was a bit of a surprise, especially considering how good Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov have been looking this season.
- And though Maxim Kovtun took the title, it was very much Mikhail Kolyada's competition. It's been a breakthrough season for him already - he should be making some noise at Europeans.
- Lastly, how about Anna Pogorilaya's great competition? She went from persona non grata after a very uneven season to bronze and a berth to Europeans. Another strong competition there and she will be back at Worlds for a third season in a row.