So much of this weekend's Japan Open was focused on the return of Mao Asada. TV Tokyo, which aired the event in Japan, spent almost a half-hour before the competition was (tape-delay) aired on her. The words "triple axel" were uttered at least 25 times during the whole broadcast. And yup, Asada had a triumphant return to competition, but for me, the biggest story at this competition was the incredible performance from World junior champ Shoma Uno. A few thoughts on the event.
Videos/play-by-play: Japan Open full coverage
Uno ready to take on the world
Super dedicated skating fans will know that Uno's season debut was not at Japan Open, but at the U.S. Classic a few weeks ago. His short program there was a hot, hot mess - he scored a 52.45 after floundering on the toe and axel, and having his combo invalidated. It was 30+ points lower than he is capable of scoring, and it was looking like he was just maybe not ready to be on the senior ranks. And even though he had a nice comeback free skate that vaulted him back up the standings, no one would have expected the kind of performance that we saw at Japan Open. Two quads, including a quad toe for his SIXTH jumping pass (unheard of), and seven clean triples later, he handily beat World champs Javier Fernandez and Patrick Chan.
Asada trending up, Chan and Sotnikova looking solid
The other clear winner at Japan Open was three-time World champ Mao Asada, who was definitely the recipient of all the hype before the competition. She competed for the first time since winning her third World title two seasons ago. And frankly, if you were to have asked me last season if her "break" was actually more like retirement, I would've said yes. But she came back looking just as strong as she was at the end of that Olympic season. The triple axel was there, and she was training triple flip-triple loop - everything looked solid and Asada looks like she's completely ready to be back on top.
Two other big names also made a comeback after taking last season off. Three-time World champion Patrick Chan skated his short program last week at a domestic competition in Canada and debuted his free skate at Japan Open this weekend. He looked just a bit nervy, but what we do know is that he's definitely back with a quad toe (we saw it last week) and a triple axel, which we saw this week. Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova looked to be on the rise as well, reminding us what her huge jumps were like and skating better than she did a few weeks back at the Russian domestic test skates.
Of the three skaters, though, Sotnikova likely has the longest road back - she will be up against Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Elena Radionova, Julia Lipnitskaia, and Evgenia Medvedeva, among others. And Sotnikova, who is not known to be the most consistent skater, will need to definitely put together more clean programs in order to get back to Worlds and contend.
Caveating the scoring
Rainbows and butterflies aside, one thing to always note about Japan Open is the scoring, which tends to be a bit different than what you would see in normal international competitions that aren't as jam-packed with big names. For comparison, Satoko Miyahara scored seven points higher in PCS here than she did at US Classic for her free skate, Uno scored 11 points higher in PCS than he did at US Classic. Miyahara saw a bit of a dropoff in both TES and PCS for similarly-skated programs last year after Japan Open, which could happen again. But without much data for the season yet, this is more of an observation than a trend.
Another observation with the scoring was the technical panel calls, some of which looked just a tad more generous than you'd expect. Both Asada and Tuktamysheva looked to be underrotated on their triple axels, but both were called clean, whereas Ashley Wagner's triple flip-triple toe looked similar in underrotated but was called underrotated. Asada, Sotnikova, and Wagner all got a "!" on their lutzes, though you would have expected Asada's to have gotten a straight "e" on hers because it definitely rolled inside. Gracie Gold's popped flip was definitely on an outside edge but there was no edge call on it (possibly because it was just a single anyway and the panel didn't need to review).
Lastly, a quick hello and goodbye for the season for four-time U.S. champ Jeremy Abbott, who announced a couple months back that he would skip competition for the rest of the season after Japan Open. But that didn't prevent him from showing off a new trick - this flawless triple axel-half loop-triple salchow halfway through his free skate.