Kagiyama Yuma, Audrey Shin and five other must-know names in figure skating after the athletes made their mark in what was an otherwise incomplete Grand Prix season.
Figure skating moves quickly.
Not just the athletes on the ice – yes, they’re fast, too – but the sport itself: Sometimes top contenders for the upcoming Olympics aren’t senior skaters until the year before the Games – or even the Olympic season itself, like in the case of eventual gold medallist Alina Zagitova for PyeongChang 2018, who turned senior in 2017.
Beijing 2022 is just 15 months away, and this season the Grand Prix Series showcased a handful of skaters who will look to factor into the conversation come February 2022.
While the Series itself was incomplete – only four of the scheduled six events took place, and each with strict COVID safety measures in place – potential future stars like Kagiyama Yuma, the Japanese teen who won gold at NHK Trophy in November, took advantage of their chances to make international headlines with their skating.
Here, we examine Kagiyama and six other breakout stories from the past few weeks.
Kagiyama Yuma (JPN)
Grand Prix: Gold, NHK Trophy (Singles)
Kagiyama had high expectations placed on him coming into the ISU Grand Prix event in Osaka, having won gold at the Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne in January, as well as bronze at Four Continents just a few weeks later.
But the 17-year-old, whose father Masakazu is his coach and was an Olympic figure skater himself in 1992 and 94, delivered in full at the NHK trophy, in a field that did not include Hanyu Yuzuru or Uno Shoma.
Kagiyama landed four quads between his two programs, winning by nearly 50 points in his senior Grand Prix debut, the first man to capture gold on debut since Yan Han (2013). He showed a measured maturity in his skating not matched by his competitors in Japan, particularly in his free skate, where he made just one major error (a popped triple loop), skating to music from the soundtrack of Avatar.
“I’m not thinking too far ahead or about my future at the moment,” he told reporters. “I need to turn my sights to the nationals.” Japanese nationals are set for 23-27 December.
Audrey Shin (USA)
Grand Prix: Bronze, Skate America (Singles)
Buoyed by her seventh-place finish at Lausanne 2020, the American teen, who is based in Colorado Springs, turned in two solid skates at the season opener in Las Vegas, including a free skate that helped her stave off 2018 Olympian Karen Chen for her first-ever Grand Prix medal.
The New York native said her result was “a big surprise... I was only supposed to skate juniors this season,” in an interview with Olympic Channel in November.
She also revealed she’s looking to up her technical content: She’s training both a triple Axel and quadruple toe, the latter which is only “a quarter turn short” in practice, she said.
Apollinariia Panfilova and Dmitry Rylov (RUS)
Ages: 17 & 19
Grand Prix: Bronze, Rostelecom Cup (Pairs)
The Russian pairs scene goes from strength to strength, and while all eyes were on Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, the Rostelecom Cup champions, as well as runners-up Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, it was Panfilova and Rylov (pictured above) who made their senior Grand Prix debut in Moscow – earning a bronze medal along the way.
The duo has been on the rise: Junior Grand Prix Final champs in 2019, Russian junior champs a few weeks later, then gold medal winners at both the Youth Olympics and world juniors to start 2020.
Both only still in their teens, they have a polished quality to their skating already, as well as versatility: This season they skate to an up-tempo rock ‘n’ roll short program, while their free skate – held over from last season – is a softer, balletic performance to “No One Ever Called Me That”.
Matsuike Rino (JPN)
Grand Prix: Bronze, NHK Trophy (Singles)
Having just turned 16 in October, Matsuike had few international results to point towards a bronze medal finish at NHK, though she was carrying the momentum from her win at Japanese juniors the week prior into her Grand Prix debut.
In a topsy turvy ladies’ event in Osaka, Matsuike held firm, rising from fourth in the short program to place second in the free, finishing two points behind Higuchi Wakaba for bronze. She scored particularly well in her program components (artistic score), finishing behind only Higuchi and winner Sakamoto Kaori in that department.
Much like Kagiyama in men’s singles, she’ll now contend with a stronger field at nationals, which should include Kihira Rika as well as Miyahara Satoko in addition to Sakamoto, Higuchi and more.
Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson (USA)
Grand Prix: Silver, Skate America (Pairs)
Calalang and Johnson were not making their Grand Prix debut, having skated at Skate America and Skate Canada last season, but continued their upward trajectory among U.S. teams, finishing second to new duo Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in Las Vegas.
Knierim and Frazier are also their training mates in Southern California, and Calalang and Johnson have only built off of their stirring performance at U.S. nationals in January of this year, when they won the free skate and captured the silver medal.
The team is in just its third season together and is coached by two-time Olympians Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, who continue to fine tune the team’s presentation from both a technical and artistic point of view.
Petr Gumennik (RUS)
Grand Prix: Bronze, Rostelecom Cup (Singles)
While Mikhail Kolyada re-asserted himself as the top Russian men’s skater in the last few months, 18-year-old Gumennik is leading the charge of the next generation, though not far behind – or right alongside – him is Andrei Mozalev, 17.
Gumennik skated a brilliant short program at Rostelecom to sit in second, though it was Mozalev who shone brighter in the free skate, where he was second. Gumennik had enough of an edge to claim bronze, but only by less than two points over a fourth-place Mozalev.
The up-and-coming Russians are joined by 17-year-old Evgeni Semenenko and Makar Ignatov, 20, as ones to watch in the “next gen” of men’s skaters from the figure skating powerhouse nation.
Wang Shiyue and Liu Xinyu (CHN)
Grand Prix: Gold, Cup of China (Ice dance)
Much like Calalang and Johnson, Wang and Liu are by no means “the new kids on the block,” but the Chinese duo, which is normally based in Montreal, has its first Grand Prix medal of any colour – and it’s gold.
Leading the charge at Cup of China, Wang and Liu will now look to build stronger towards Beijing 2022, having scored two top-five finishes in their Grand Prix assignments last season and placing fourth at Four Continents in February.
Also: The long-awaited ice dance debut of Vancouver 2010 bronze medallist in singles, Takahashi Daisuke of Japan, took place at NHK Trophy, as he and partner Muramoto Kana placed third. Takahashi is making that rare switch from singles to ice dance, and now faces a battle anew in trying to qualify for a fourth Olympic Games. One to watch going forward.