Sunday, April 23, 2017

Goodbye, Farewell & Thank You: Kanako Murakami

Less than a week after Mao Asada announced her retirement Kanako Murakami performed as a guest at the World Team Trophy exhibition and announced her retirement as well.  My heart can't take much more of this!

Thank you Kanako!

The first time I saw Kanako was at the 2010 World Junior Championships.  It was tough to find video of the junior events back then (the ISU started their JGP channel on YouTube a year later) but I was really interested in watching the event.  I remember seeing this adorable girl in this white lace dress and thinking that it didn't really match the flamenco music she was skating to.  Her posture wasn't great and the technique on a few of her jumps was a little odd but somehow none of that mattered.  She flew around the rink at top speed and there was something about the way she performed that really grabbed me.  She ended up winning the event and I made a mental note to watch out for her in the future.

That was my introduction to Kanako Murakami.

Later that same year Kanako debuted on the senior Grand Prix.  I was excited to see her debut because I'd already taken a liking to her at Junior Worlds.  However, I fell in love with Kanako when I saw "Jumpin' Jack."  The program was so fun, upbeat and entertaining.  Kanako looked like she was having a blast out there and I had a blast watching her.  Kanako, the newbie senior, ended up winning the event over the established veterans which was pretty impressive to see.  She had a great debut season that year.  She followed up her win at Skate America with a 3rd place finish at NHK Trophy which qualified her for the Final where she placed 3rd.  Kanako made the World team for Japan and placed top 10 in her first trip, finishing 8th overall.

Kanako's debut senior season was definitely her strongest.  It was the only season she medaled at both Grand Prix events and the only time she qualified for the Final.  Over the course of the rest of her career she'd earn two more GP medals: bronze at Skate Canada in 2012 and bronze at Cup of China in 2014.  Even though she didn't always medal, she continued to skate well and often finished just off of the podium in 4th place.  She stayed competitive throughout the majority of her career which is not something all skaters can say.

Over the course of her career Kanako made the trip to Worlds five consecutive times and placed top 10 each time.  I feel as though her biggest accomplishment was placing 4th at Worlds in 2013.  The field was stacked that year: Mao was back on form, Carolina was skating great, Yuna was back and there were a lot of strong debuting newbies (Gold, Li, Osmond, Sotnikova, Tuktamysheva).  Kanako had managed to have a good season but her under-rotation issues were causing her troubles.  She'd placed an impressive 5th at Worlds the year before but with her under-rotation problems and all of the depth in the field, most didn't think she could repeat at top 5 finish.

Just so happens Kanako saved her best for last in both segments of the competition.  She placed an impressive 3rd in the SP and brought the house down in the FS to place 4th overall and shock everyone.  It was such an amazing performance from her (in both programs) and I was so happy to see her finish out her season so strongly.

Kanako is a 4-time national medalist (two bronze, two silver) and she often competed at Four Continents Championship.  She earned the bronze medal at Four Continents in 2013 and won the event in 2014 ahead of the Olympics.  She competed at the 2014 Olympics where she placed a disappointing 12th overall.  After her wonderful performances at Four Continents most were hoping she'd have a repeat performance at the Olympics but she wasn't able to make it happen.  However she improved upon her placement there by placing 10th at Worlds that year.

Though she's not the most decorated skater Kanako has a place in my heart because of her skating.  Results are great but not everyone can pull me into a performance.  Kanako was great at doing at doing that.  Even when her jumps started to fail her she always had programs that made me want to watch her.  She also had a way of performing that appealed to me. There was something about the way she delivered her choreography that spoke to me.  There was a tension, emotion and expressiveness to her movements that really drew me in.  Her step sequences were always amazing and she gave so much energy and feeling to them that she could get the crowd on its feet based on that alone.

Kanako's smile was infectious.  Whenever she'd have a great skate her face would just light up and I couldn't help but smile along with her.  I just loved her spirit!  Later in her career the jumps weren't really working and her results weren't as good, but she continued to give it her all.  Her programs this season were wonderful, especially her "Tosca" FS which was so emotional and dramatic.  I loved it! Her performance at nationals was the strongest FS she'd had in a long time.  It was great to know that her final performance was a great one and one that she can be proud of.

Not everyone got Kanako's skating but I did.  She wasn't a traditionally "pretty" skater in terms of her posture, line, technique, etc. but I didn't care.  Kanako had an intangible performance quality that made me love her. She helped to anchor the Japanese women in the world standings from 2010-2015.  Kanako was one of the first skaters I watched grow up from a tiny junior girl to a mature young woman.  I will miss her so much and I wish her the absolute best.

Goodbye, thank you and farewell Kanako.

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