Why is Japan Open the early-season competition that I look forward to the most? Well, the caliber of skaters is magnificent for this early in the season - the Grand Prix doesn't even start for another few weeks. And the team atmosphere has really grown on me in the past few years. In my first Opining of the season, let's take a look at the ladies' competition and a few of the things we learned.
Play-by-play/videos: Ladies' free skate
Asada looks strong
This is not the early-season Mao Asada we saw four years ago when she was preparing for Vancouver. And it is certainly not the early-season Asada we saw during the two seasons after Vancouver. During each of those three years, she got off to a slow start, and in the case of the Olympic season four years ago, caught fire at the end and finished with a bang.
What we saw at Japan Open was potentially a continuation of the momentum that Asada was building at the end of last season. Though we only saw it once because it was a free-skate-only competition, the triple axel looked confident. She hit another four triples and showed few signs of the jump-popping jitters that have appeared early in the season for her in the past four years.
Of course, this is just one competition and we will have to see how the Grand Prix goes for her, but Japan Open was a nice, strong start. But early success might be exactly what Asada needs to propel her to a great season.
Wagner gets a technical boost
Many wondered how Ashley Wagner would deal with the shake-up in her coaching/choreography team during the off-season. If her Romeo and Juliet free skate debut was any indication, it has only made her better.
Unlike the past two seasons, Wagner went guns-blazing in the first competition and put down a triple flip-triple toe attempt that was pretty impressive. Her flip entrance has changed, likely to give her better check-out snap before the triple toe, and the combination looked competition-ready. The toe was called underrotated, though, but it's not that far away at all.
For me, though, it was the program itself, even more than that flip-toe attempt, that made me take notice. Sure, everyone and their sister has done a Romeo and Juliet program, but Wagner went the extra step to go with music from the Prokofiev opera, whereas the usual R&Js you hear are either the Nina Rota or Tchaikovsky versions. It's refreshing, to say the least, and the choice of music makes it necessary for her (and choreographer David Wilson) to step outside the same ol' R&J choreography and mood. It'll be great to see how the program evolves during the season.
And one quirk I did note in this program - lots of falling leafs. Was it just me?
Here and there
Not too sure about the costume choice, but, for me, Adelina Sotnikova is certainly the Russian lady with the most potential this season - quietly powerful, wonderfully musical. If she gets her jumps in check, there's a lot to like there. That triple lutz-triple loop, though, is always going to be dangerous in the name of rotation (just ask Miki Ando).
Likewise, Kanako Murakami just didn't seem to want to rotate her jumps. She has certainly found some synergy with violin-based music, and her free skate suits her very well. And while neither she nor Sotnikova had a great day of jumping, their programs both made you want to see them skate more. Nice to see.
Oh Joannie, how we miss thee.
No triple lutz, but come on, Joannie Rochette looks trained. She hit six triples and scored in the 120s without a lutz - a score that would solidly put her in the top 5 or 6 in the world. Alas, no Olympics for her this season, but it was great to see her skate and do it so well.