Kanako Murakami Officially Retires

2014 Four Continents Champion gives a farewell performance at the World Team Trophy gala after announcing her retirement.

The actual competition at the concluded World Team Trophy yesterday, but today there was still the gala. And unexpectedly, it brought its own news. The World Team Trophy gala usually includes performances by skaters who didn’t participate in the competition itself. Among those that took to the show ice in Tokyo today was elder Japanese stateswoman Kanako Murakami. Just before her performance, the announcer stunned the world by informing the world that it would be her final performance as an amateur, and that she was retiring from competition and turning professional. She’ll be joining the skating/kabuki show Hyeon.

Even those who can’t understand Japanese will know the exact moment the announcer said it, thanks to the audience having a reaction befitting such news:

This is the second high-profile Japanese retirement this month, but not as shocking as Mao Asada’s was two weeks back.  Kanako Murakami has never been the same since her disappointing skates and twelfth place at the 2014 Olympics. This last season was particularly bad, and she had pretty much lost all hope of making it to another Olympics even before Japan lost their third berth. There was a general feeling she might be done as early as Japanese Nationals, which ultimately did prove her final competition.

Kanako Murakami won her first international title when she was only eleven, taking the Novice event at the 2006 Gardena Spring Trophy. Two and a half years later, as soon as she was old enough to, she made her Junior Grand Prix debut, medaled at both her events, won one of them, and finished fourth at the 2008 JGP Final. The following season she went undefeated at the Junior level, winning both the 2009 Final and 2010 Worlds. She also made the top five Japan’s senior Nationals, though she was too young to compete at the 2010 Olympics anyway. Her senior debut was much anticipated.

It did not disappoint. She stormed the senior scene immediately, winning her Grand Prix debut event. Again she medaled at the other and made the Final, and this time, she medaled there too. The season culminated with a promising eighth place finish at Worlds. All the while, she enchanted audiences with her youthful energy, and she seemed fearless:

Those particular blessings of youth, of course, couldn’t last. After going through a late growth spurt, she struggled a little during her sophomore senior season, making mistakes and failing to medal at her individual events internationally (though she did help Japan win at the World Team Trophy that year). But she nonetheless was able to find a new beautiful style befitting a more mature skater, and she even was second in the short at Worlds, though she then fell to fifth:

She seemed recovered by 2013, where she got up to fourth at Worlds, the closest she would ever come to that podium. Despite more trouble on the Grand Prix that fall, she gave two of her best ever performances at Japanese Nationals (where she won silver) and the 2014 Four Continents Championships, the biggest title she ever won:

But then came her only Olympic appearance, where things went wrong, and she never truly recovered from the heartbreak. After that, individually she would win only one more medal, and she would make only one more appearance at Worlds, and that only because two girls who might have otherwise beaten her out were too young to go. At her last Nationals, she finished all the way down in eighth. But she did still go out on a strong note; her long program there was possibly her best performance of the quadrennium, a reminder of what she had been capable of:

To some extent, she was a skater who never realized her full potential, done in by psychological demons and a little bit of bad luck. But she still had a pretty successful career, and the better performances she put on will not soon be forgotten.

With her retirement comes the passing of an age. For the past two weeks, she’s been the last not officially retired yet member of those ladies who ruled Japan’s scene during the 2010-2014 quadrennium.  Most of the skaters on top of it now were still in junior back then, if even that, and even top ladies skater Satoko Miyahara had only begun to make waves at the end of it. Ladies skaters can now last longer than they once did, but none of Japan’s have.

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