Ice Network

Placid Pieces: Miyahara fights for stronger bones

Hamada says Honda must work harder; Denney, Frazier get to work
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Skate America short program leader Satoko Miyahara has adopted a calcium-rich diet to try and strengthen her bones. -Getty Images

Mie Hamada has issues with her two senior stars.

"Satoko Miyahara is working too hard, and Marin [Honda] is lazy," said the ever-smiling coach from Kyoto. "I need something in the middle."

Hamada made the remark with a laugh, but Miyahara's herculean work ethic is no joking matter. The 19-year-old, who won a world silver medal in 2015, suffered a stress fracture to her left pelvis in January, soon after winning her third national title. She returned to the ice in fits and starts, injuring her left foot in July and suffering hip inflammation in September.

"She started to jump again in October, so only one month (ago)," Hamada said. "Sometimes she jumped, but then she got another injury, so we decided not to jump and to completely heal."

Lack of bone density puts the Japanese star at risk every time she trains her triple-triples. Doctors tell her she needs to add about eight pounds to her tiny 4-foot-11 frame, preferably with calcium-rich foods.

"She couldn't get enough nutrition; she hated milk, she never drank it," Hamada said. "She has to learn how to eat very well. And always she slept only five hours a day, but now she sleeps at least eight hours a day. She studied a lot; she didn't take time to sleep. This year, she took one year off (from Kansai University), and she is getting better."

Miyahara agreed that, yes, changes had to be made if she wanted to grab one of the two Japanese ladies spots at the PyeongChang Games in February.

"It is interesting to me, a new challenge, and I am still working on the challenge," she said. "I think it is a very good opportunity to work on my body. I take calcium medicine, and mostly I eat a lot of calcium, in milk and fish and vegetables."

With Honda, Hamada's message is "train more." After opening the season with a win at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City, the 16-year-old placed fifth at both of her Grand Prix events.

"She's kind of not a hard worker," Hamada said. "Now she finds she has to [train more], and also work for spins and hard steps."

Like Miyahara, the 2016 world junior champion is fighting for a spot on Japan's Olympic team. The only way either skater can assure herself of a berth is to win Japanese nationals, held in late December. Both also have corporate sponsors to satisfy.

"I think [Honda] wants to keep her sponsors, but no, she is not really working harder," Hamada said.

Miyahara returned to competition at the NHK Trophy early this month, placing sixth in the short, sixth in the free and fifth overall. At Skate America, she leads the pack with 70.72 points after the short.

"I am very, very happy with my score," she said. "Of course, I am still not satisfied. There is a lot of work to do."

Denney, Frazier adopt new training regimen

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier haven't had the smoothest ride. The U.S. champions did not qualify for the free skate at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships, and their performances at Skate Canada and Skate America yielded a pair of seventh-place finishes.

They're grateful to be competing at all, following Denney's devastating right knee injury in April 2015 that required many months of rehabilitation and took them out of competition for a season. Still, the reality is only one U.S. pair will go to PyeongChang. Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, with a 10th-place finish at the 2017 World Championships, are frontrunners.

"We need to start growing it up, putting it out there," Frazier said.

The skaters and their husband-and-wife coaching team, Rockne Brubaker and Stefania Berton, have developed a three-part strategy for upping their scores. One target: improving levels. At Skate Canada, their pairs combination spin gained Level 2, their death spiral Level 1. The spin improved at Skate America; the death spiral did not.

"It woke us up. We thought, 'Hey, when we do these smaller elements, we can't walk through them. We left a lot of points on the table,'" Frazier said.

Since returning from Skate Canada late last month, Brubaker and Berton have recorded every run-through in practice. Twice a week, they meet with the skaters in their office to analyze the elements.

"We never really videoed too many of the run-throughs before," Frazier said. "Now, in the pair spin, we see, 'Hey, that's Level 3, not 4,' and at the beginning of the season, we might have let that slide."

Berton, a three-time Italian pairs champion, sends the videos to technical specialists, who advise on gray areas.

"It is very important you give your athlete any tool you have to make them accountable, so they always know when they do get a level, how it should feel," she said. "I'm getting feedback on the choreography, the way they are pushing into an element, the way they are finishing an element, what we can do to get more GOE (Grades of Execution)."

Another target: improve the consistency of their side-by-side triple jumps. Denney and Frazier, who try side-by-side triple salchows and toe loops in their programs, train with noted technical coach Alex Ouriashev 2-3 times a week.

"Coming back from my injury, [jumps] were the slowest thing to get back into my bones," Denney said. "A lot of work with Alex has helped me so much. At first it was a process, but now I'm starting to feel confident with my jumps."

"[Ouriashev] trains you like a singles skater," Frazier said. "You do 50 or 60 jumps in a matter of an hour."

Finally, the pair has targeted their discipline's trademark element -- the triple twist -- for improvement, working with two-time U.S. champion Brubaker to revise their technique. They have made strides, gaining Level 3's this season with many +2 and +3 GOEs.

"It was just a different technical approach, and I hated it for weeks and I got so agitated," Frazier said. "And then it clicked. It's lighter, I'm not muscling it, and we're both working and getting that explosion off of the ice."

Time grows short. The 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships are about five weeks away.

"We're going to be fighting until the end, that's for sure," Frazier said.