His free skate certainly wasn't pretty, but Daisuke Takahashi retained just enough of his 10-point lead from the short program to hold onto the gold medal at Japanese nationals and hold off Takahiko Kozuka and Sendai native Yuzuru Hanyu.
Instead of making the post-ISU Grand Prix statement I was hoping for, Dai-chan brought his D-game and was lucky that neither Kozuka nor Hanyu could put together a perfect performance. Both of his challengers had great programs going, but couldn't nail a late jump, the 17-year-old Hanyu clearly because of asthma-induced exhaustion at the end of his program:
Clearly the future of Japanese figure skating is in good hands, as another 17-year-old, Kanako Murakami, had a chance to take the gold after a fantastic short program gave her a tiny lead over Mao Asada:
But the bubbly teenager was off in the free skate, falling to 3rd after Akiko Suzuki thanks to a flat-out trip late in her program:
The contrast in moods between Murakami and gold-medal winner Mao Asada couldn't have been more pronounced. Asada, who pulled out of the ISU Grand Prix Finals in Quebec the moment she found out her mother was terminally ill but who couldn't get back to Japan in time to see her before she died, was somber in interviews even after skating her best short program of the year:
But Mao-chan kept her composure the entire competition and skated a great-under-the-circumstances long program:
The changing looks on her face during the awards ceremony say it all:
You can see in the reactions of the crowd and hear in the voices of the announcers how deeply moved everyone was who watched Asada perform in Osaka the last few days. The Full Metal Archivist and I were holding back tears ourselves. Gambatte, Mao-chan!