Thursday, March 11

Yukari Nakano Retirement

Yeah, the news is already a week old, but here is the message, in English, that Yukari left on her official website in case you missed it.

I remember first seeing her during the American broadcast of the 2002 World Junior Figure Skating Championships. I had seen her name near the top of the junior results for a few years, but had no idea what her skating was like until her short program, and I instantly became a fan. It was the highlight program of the competition for me, and I re-watched it many times (all on video tape! No Youtube and barely any skating video clips at the time-- that whole business was actually just starting up). She followed up that program with a great free skate to win the silver medal.

The next time she was shown in the United States was during a disaster of a short program at the 2002 Trophee Lalique, which came three weeks after both she and Ludmila Nelidina of Russia successfully landed triple Axels in their free programs at Skate America. I remember in this particular short program, Yukari not only had difficulty with her jumps, but she also completely lost her center and fell out of a flying camel spin. Even though she finished last of the skaters in the portion, I once again really loved her soft skating to Michael W. Smith's Prayer for Taylor, and I actually bought the sheet music for piano not long after.

After winning the bronze medal later that year at the Four Continents Championship, I thought Yukari was still well on her way up the rankings. However, for the next few seasons, she really valued trying the triple Axel in every program, usually resulting in a fall and then letting it deflate the rest of her skating. She wouldn't become a big contender again until the Grand Prix series in 2005/2006, where she was a surprise winner of the NHK Trophy and went on to win the bronze medal at the Final. Due to a complicated and controversial scoring process throughout the current and previous season, the Japanese Federation chose Miki Ando to go to the Torino Olympics over Nakano. Yukari, however, was sent to her first World Championship after the Olympics, where she placed a very respectable 5th.

2007 featured my favorite performance of all-time by Yukari, her short program from the World Championships. Absolutely beautiful skating to Memoirs of a Geisha, and it remains one of my favorite World Championship skates by any lady! She once again finished 5th in the World, and continued her success early in the 2008 season, winning two silver medals on the Grand Prix circuit. Her greatest moment of the season came in the free skate at the World Championships, where she ended up finishing just off the podium, but not without possibly "the" skate of that particular night.

Even though Yukari was unable to qualify for the major competitions in 2009 and 2010, she had a great 2009 free skate to Giselle, maybe my favorite of that season. Some people could never get past the wrap of her leg she had on certain triple jumps, but it didn't bother me. She remained one of my favorite ladies skaters year after year, and I really think she was a great artist on the ice. Yukari may not have been able to compete at an Olympic Games, but she will definitely be remembered for a very long time and I wish her all the best in her future endeavors!

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