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22nd of January 2018


Yuzuru Hanyu to lead Japan Olympic team in figure skating

Dec. 26 (UPI) -- After highly competitive national championships, the Japanese Skating Federation has announced which athletes will represent Japan at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics in February.

The three spots for men's singles go to reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, Shoma Uno and Keiji Tanaka, while the coveted two spots for ladies were awarded to Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto. Miu Suzaki and Ryuichi Kihara will be the only Japanese pair competing and the single slot for ice dance went to Kana Muramoto and Chris Reed.

The decision came after the 2018 Japanese Figure Skating Championships concluded in Tokyo. Hanyu, 23, was absent from the competition due to ongoing treatment for an ankle injury that pulled him out of the NHK Trophy and consequently the Grand Prix Finals, as well. Performance at nationals is a key consideration in the JSF's choices for the Olympic team, but despite his absence, Hanyu was an Olympic lock and received his qualification for Team Japan.

Uno, a major medal contender for Pyeongchang, was this year's national champion and granted a spot on his first Olympic team. Tanaka earned silver at nationals and earned the third spot on the team.

While the men's qualifiers were fairly predictable, the major competition was found in a wide pool of talent in the ladies' field. Miyahara was a favorite to qualify, while many debated over who the second skater to qualify would be. Wakaba Higuchi, Marin Honda, Rika Hongo and Mai Mihara all had plenty of fans rooting for them to take the spot. Rika Kihira was a favorite as well, capable of landing a consistent triple axel, but was too young for this year's Olympics.

In the end, it came down to national results. Miyahara, the champion, was granted a space and the silver medalist, 17-year-old Kaori Sakamoto, was given the second slot to compete in Pyeongchang.

The single spaces for pairs and ice dance went to the respective champions in each discipline, with only three pairs competing and only five ice dance teams.

The Winter Olympics begin Feb. 9 in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

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