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Figure skating: Uno captures 3rd straight national title, Takahashi 2nd

Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno performs his free program at Japan's national figure skating championships in Kadoma, Osaka, on Dec. 24, 2018. He won gold. (Kyodo)

KADOMA, Osaka (Kyodo) -- Shoma Uno delivered a gutsy free program with a twisted right ankle to win the men's title at the national figure skating championships for the third straight year on Monday.

Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist and a national icon, skated an inconsistent free program at the Towa Pharmaceutical Ractab Dome in Kadoma, Osaka Prefecture, but still hung on to second place with 239.62 points behind Uno's 289.10. Keiji Tanaka was third.

Uno, who suffered a slight ankle sprain in Saturday morning's free practice and appeared in pain warming up ahead of his short program, was awkward on the first three jumps of his free skate, but turned things around.

"On the day off, it was touch and go whether I would skate today or not, but I received the best treatment, and was able to make it," said Uno, who earned a berth in March's world championships.

"Tonight there was little I could do but believe in myself (because of the injury). As a result I learned that if I maintained that self-belief I could go far. Of course, it would have been better had I not got hurt, but -- and I know this sounds weird -- I'm thankful in that sense for the injury."

"It appears that I should be better after a few weeks, so I'll rest completely and then practice thoroughly in time for the worlds."

Takahashi, who returned to competitive skating this season for the first time since 2014 with the goal of competing in the nationals for the first time in five years, was the clear fan favorite, but his free skate jumps lacked some of the power and polish he'd shown on Saturday.

Skating after Uno, the 32-year-old Takahashi, a five-time national champion, brought that aura with him to the ice, but his program began to crack with his jumps -- his intended quad toe loop became a triple -- and he could only manage the fourth-best free skate of the night.

That hardly mattered to the crowd who couldn't get enough of their former hero.

"I didn't see the other performances, so I didn't have a clear idea of where I stood," Takahashi said. "Since I was skating in the final group, I figured I'd be good enough to finish in the top eight. It's inconceivable to me that I was second."

"By competing here, I cleared one hurdle I had set for myself. I don't have a plan for after this, but from the moment I entered the venue till the instant I was finished, I felt enriched by this experience."

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