Japan has long produced world and Olympic medalists, male and female, in singles figure skating , but its pairs and ice dancers have rarely attracted international attention. That will change with the gold medal Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara just won in Saitama for pairs. For almost a decade, ice dance in Japan was dominated by the brother-and-sister team Cathy and Chris Reed (whose sister Allison Reed, now skating with Saulius Ambrulevicius of Lithuania, placed seventh in the discipline on Saturday). Cathy retired from competition after the 2014–15 season to concentrate on coaching and choreography. Chris teamed up with Kana Muramoto, with whom he skated for three seasons; in 2018 she announced that the partnership had been dissolved and she was searching for a new partner. (Chris Reed, who announced his retirement the following year, died of sudden cardiac arrest in 2020, aged 30.)
Daisuke Takahashi, now 37, has been a star in singles skating for 20 years. In 2010 he became the first Japanese man to medal in figure skating at the Olympics, winning bronze in Vancouver; the following month he became the first Asian man to win gold at Worlds. He retired from competitive skating in 2014 but announced his return in 2018, winning silver at Japanese Nationals. The following year he announced that he was switching to ice dance and would skate with Kana Muramoto. To make that change, Takahashi would have to reshape himself, developing the upper-body strength needed for dance lifts and twizzles. He had often expressed his admiration for ice dancers, especially the American Olympic and world gold medalist Meryl Davis. Now he and Muramoto train with Marina Zueva, who coached her and Charlie White, among other ice-dance champions. In their second Worlds, Takahashi and Muramoto were in 11th place after the rhythm dance and finished in that spot, although their free dance, to “The Phantom of the Opera,” was scored in 10th place.
After the pandemic, Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko of the US changed coaches, joining Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon’s new team in Ontario to work with Scott Moir, Madison Hubbell, and Adrián Díaz, retired champions now coaching. At the end of last season, Ponomarenko had ankle surgery and required three months’ rehabilitation, while Carreira kept working with Moir, strengthening her partnering skills. This January Carreira and Ponomarenko won bronze at US Nationals but were not named to the world team; Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, who had withdrawn from Nationals because of health issues, were given a bye. But Hawayek and Baker also had to withdraw from Saitama, giving Carreira and Ponomarenko their first trip to Worlds, where they finished 10th.
This was also the first Worlds for US silver medalists Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, who finished sixth. They train at the new Michigan Ice Dance Academy, run by Charlie White, his wife, Tanith (née Belbin), and Greg Zuerlein (Madison Chock’s former partner). Canton, Michigan, was a hot spot of US champions in the last decade, with Davis and White, Belbin and Ben Agosto, Maia and Alex Shibutani, Chock and Bates, and Tessa Virtue and Moir all training there with Marina Zueva and/or her former partner, Igor Shpilband. The Whites and Zuerlein hope to restore its former glory and break the hegemony of the Gadbois coaches.