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2013 NHK Trophy

by Tatjana Flade

Davis & White Easily Dance To The Lead

World Champions Meryl Davis & Charlie White (USA) easily danced to the lead in the short dance. Everything else would have been a major surprise. Italy’s Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte came second while Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani (USA) are currently ranked third.

With “My Fair Lady”, Davis & White picked a fast paced, light-hearted music that suits their style very well. They were able to bring across the happy mood and combined that with their solid technique. However, the levels were not as good as at Skate America three weeks ago. The couple from Detroit had a level four for the second sequence of the Finnstsep and their rotational lift. The other elements were rated a level three. Davis & White collected 73.70 points, two points below their seasons best from Skate America. “Charlie and I feel really excited about the direction our short dance is taking. We have a lot of things we want to improve before the Grand Prix Final. But I think since Skate America we’ve really grown into the presentation of this program ,which is really what we were aiming for”, Davis said.

“It’s very simple just the levels. At Skate America we had level four for both Finnsteps and twizzles and here we had a level 3 on the Finnstep and twizzles”, White explained when asked about not achieving a seasons best. “We have to figure that out obviously. We don’t want to go backwards, but it felt good, that means a lot, too. This is still part of the building process when we figure out in which direction we need to go to make sure that we can get the levels and achieve that feeling that we were able to get today. But we are really happy with how we skated the program, and I think right now this is the most important thing”, he continued.

Cappellini & Lanotte delivered a characteristic Quickstep and Foxtrot to “42nd Street” and “Broadway Lullaby”. At Skate America they had earned a level four for all elements, this time three elements got the hightest degree of difficulty: the fast twizzles, the first Finnstep sequence and the rotational lift (anything else than a level four for a lift is disappointing for ny dance team). The Italian Champions scored 64.58 points. “It was kind of tough start in the warm up when I fell unexpectedly in the Finnstep. I guess that made us a little more nervous. There were a couple of mistakes and we left a few points on the ice, but in general we are proud of our short dance. We were able to bring a lot of fun and dance out there. It was not a perfect skate, but something we can build on”, Cappellini explained.

Shibutani & Shibutani chose three songs by Michael Bublé as they feel they have a special connection to them. The siblings achieved a seasons best with 63.09 points with a strong performance. “Going into this week our goal was to show improvement from Skate America. The performance felt really good and our Finnstep levels got better”, Maia Shibutani noted.

“This being the Olympic season everyone wants to pick music they can look back on later in life and remember. There is no story behind any of the Michael Buble songs, but in our selection, we were struck by how the lyrics connected to the story of Maia and Alex, our story. The past couple of years have been more difficult, I think it is safe to say, than our first year in seniors. That was kind of a magical year for us. Obviously we struggled through injury and various things. The first song that we use is “The best is yet to come”. We wanted to include it, because that’s kind of our mantra this year. We wanted to show that we are back”, Alex Shibutani elaborated.

Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov of Russia danced with a lot of emotion and character, but they ended up fourth since they only had level twos except for the lift. They now have 61.35 points. “We feel great about our performance. This was one of my easiest skates, it was very emotional and powerful, easy to skate. However, apparently we didn’t quite focus look at the technical score. This is upsetting, because we’ve worked so hard. But we will skate better and we will fight”, Katsalapov said.

Canada’s Piper Gilles & Paul Poirer finished fifth at 55.20 points ahead of Germans Tanja Kolbe & Stefano Caruso (52.39), who felt that they improved since their last competition.

Cathy and Chris Reed gave an upbeat performance but low levels kept them in seventh place (51.91 points). 2012 World Junior Champions Victoria Sinitsina & Ruslan Zhiganshin were left in last place with 44.34 points as she fell on the first keypoint in the Finnstep and basically left out the whole sequence. As a result, they had no level for this part.

Volosozhar & Trankov Dominate Again

Russia’s World Champions Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov continued their dominance this season by winning their second Grand Prix event by a wide margin again. The two Chinese teams switched places after the short program, and so Cheng Peng & Hao Zhang took the silver and Wenjing Sui & Cong Han settled for the bronze.

Volosozhar & Trankov had 236.49 points, just below their record score from Skate America and Peng & Zhang trailed them by almost 54 points. The Russians deserved their high score with a confident outing to “Jesus Christ Superstar”. They hit all their elements including a side by side triple Salchow and triple toe-double toe, a big triple twist, throw triple loop and Salchow. Five elements garnered a level four. The European Champions picked up 154.46 points for the free skating (that’s more than the total score of the three couples ranked sixth to eighth). “We feel very comfortable and happy about our free skating. We skated very well today and got good points. We are very happy as this is the first time at NHK Trophy for us and we did our job very well”, Volosozhar said. “I really wanted to skate well for the third time (this season) in order to feel confident. Therefore this was an important step. It was important for us to get good scores and to skate well”, Trankov commented.

The highlight of Peng & Zhang’s program to “Yellow River Concerto” certainly was their quadruple twist and a high throw triple Salchow, However, they both doubled the Salchow and she reduced their combination to double toe-double toe. She also put her hand down on the throw triple loop. The couple from Beijing earned 117.09 points and totaled 182.18 points. “We are happy with today’s result, but not a 100 percent happy with the performance itself”, Zhang said.

Sui & Han had an off-day. They opened their routine to “Kalinka” with a quadruple twist, but the catch was messy. Then he fell on a triple toe, she missed the throw triple flip and they abandoned the Axel Lasso with her crashing on the ice. The Chinese team was ranked fifth in the free skating with 101.19 points, but held on to third place at 171.32 points overall. “It was not a good competition for us. Yesterday I started having a headache and a fever. I ended up getting up at 2 am and couldn’t go back to bed until 5 am. I had to be on the 6 am bus. I’m feeling very bad”, Han explained. He then went to see a doctor and was declared unfit to skate in the Exhibition Gala.

Marissa Castellli & Simon Shnapir (USA) include the throw quadruple Salchow in their free skating to “Skyfall” (James Bond soundtrack), but she stepped out of it. Nevertheless the element was worth six points. The U.S. Champions had problems with their solo jumps again. He doubled the toe and fell on the triple Salchow. The team from Boston moved up from fifth to fourth place at 168.89 points overall. World Junior Champions Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier (USA) dropped to fifth. He two-footed the triple Salchow while she wobbled on the double Axel-double Axel sequence and touched down on the throw triple Salchow. The triple twist, throw triple loop and the lifts were fine (167.85 points).

Paige Lawrence & Rudi Swiegers of Canada produced strong lifts but had problems with the solo jumps again and she also fell on the throw triple Lutz. They placed sixth. Anastasia Martiusheva & Alexei Rogonov of Russia made errors on the throw jumps, but landed the side by side triple toe to finish seventh. Narumi Takahashi & Ryuichi Kihara made no big mistake, but had a few low levels and she two-footed the throw triple loop and Salchow. They finished eighth.

Volosozhar & Trankov are now qualified for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final with two wins in the series. Peng & Zhang are currently ranked second in the standings and have a shot at making it while Sui & Han probably will miss out.

Takahashi Back In Action, Strikes Gold

Daisuke Takahashi of Japan proved that he is back in action by winning NHK Trophy confidently. Nobunari Oda completed the success for the Japanese men with his silver medal while Jeremy Abbott (USA) came from seventh to capture the bronze.

Takahashi’s performance to a Beatles Medley was not perfect yet, but still strong with a nice quadruple toe loop as well as a triple Axel and four more clean triples. The errors came when he stumbled on his second triple Axel and on a triple toe. The Japanese star scored 172.76 points, improving his a seasons best significantly and totaled 268.31 points. “I wasn’t able to perform as well as yesterday. In the free skating at Japan Open and Skate America I wasn’t able to perform very well, so I was little bit anxious. I made progress. It was not 100 percent yet, but I think it was okay”, the 27-year-old commented. “It was my second Grand Prix and my third competition and I’m thinking that I’m finally prepared going to the Olympic Games. I think I’m right at the starting line”, he continued. With a win and a fourth place from the Grand Prix, Takahashi is now leading the standings and should qualify for the Final.

Oda improved from his first Grand Prix Skate Canada as well. Skating to the “Wilhelm Tell Overture” by Rossini he landed a quadruple toe loop, a triple Axel-triple toe loop as well as six more triple jumps and showed his trademark fast, well centered spins. The 26-year-old earned 170.46 points to move up from third to second at 253.16 overall. “Yesterday in the short program I had a lot of cheers and applause and I didn’t want to forget that. I was hoping to perform well today. I missed my first quad, but I’m happy with how I went on with my performance. I still have margin to improve for the next competition”, Oda said. He now has a silver and bronze medal from the series and will have to wait and see if that is enough to get him to Fukuoka for the Final.

Abbott was down in seventh place after the short, but not far behind in points and he knew that. The American is very popular in Japan, he has even an official fan club here and has attended meetings with his fans. There were a lot of banners for him in the arena, too. Abbott delighted his fans with a beautiful performance to “Exogenesis Symphony” by Muse. He hit seven triple jumps including an excellent triple Axel-triple toe combination. The spins and the footwork were all a level four, and the only thing that was missing was the quad toe – he tripled it. A for all three spins and the step sequence, but had tripled his planned quad toe. This performance garnered 158.63 points and which added up to 237.41 points. “I was very happy with my performance in the short, just the missing piece of the quad toe, but the rest of the elements were very strong and very good quality. Even though I was in seventh, I was very close in points to second and third place and I knew that I could make up those points by doing a good free skate. Again, today the quad was missing, but everything else was there. I wanted to skate a solid program which I did. I’m happy I was able to make up the points to go from seventh to the podium”, Abbott noted. I was also important for him to be the top ranked U.S. man.

Adam Rippon (USA) remained in fourth place at 233.71 points. Skating to “Prelude to the afternoon of a faun”, he stepped out of his quad toe and singled an Axel, but six triples were fine, including an Axel and his trademark “Rippon” Lutz with both hands held over his head. Spain’s Javier Fernandez didn’t look quite ready in his “Peter Gunn” program. He hit a quad-triple Salchow, but tripled his planned quad toe and the second planned quad Salchow. The European Champion visibly tired towards the end, doubled jumps and dropped from second to fifth with 230.45 points. “When you have to fight for every jump, it’s hard. I want to do better in my next event”, Fernandez said.

Takahito Mura of Japan finished sixth with 227.22 points. His quad toe was wobbly but he landed six triples. Max Aaron (USA) made several errors on his jumps and finished seventh (223.35 points). The two Russian men Konstantin Menshov and Sergei Voronov came eighth and ninth. Menshov skated basically clean (except for a stumble on a triple toe), but pulled up only one spot. Voronov landed two quad toes in his free skating for the first time, but the first one was two-footed and some other jumps had shaky landings.

Asada Claims NHK Trophy

Mao Asada of Japan claimed the NHK Trophy with an advantage of almost 16 points. Russian prodigy Elena Radionova overtook Akiko Suzuki of Japan to take the silver medal.

Asada landed her triple Axel on two feet and it was short of rotation, but she didn’t let that affect the rest of her performance to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2. The two-time World Champion landed five triple jumps including a double Axel-triple toe combo, but she doubled the Salchow. The Olympic silver medalist from Vancouver scored a seasons best with 136.33 points and racked up 207.59 points. “Ever since the Japan Open I’ve been doing well, but I am not satisfied yet. Since Skate America I am climing up step by step and I want to be at a higher level at my next event”, Asada commented. On the top of her list is to add a triple-triple combination that has eluded her this season so far.

Triple-triples are not a problem (yet) for 14-year-old Radionova. She nailed a triple Lutz-triple toe and a triple loop-single loop-triple Salchow combination as well as three more triples and two double Axels. Of course, her spins and footwork were a level four and she also showed a lot of energy in her Latin themed program to “Frida”. Elena is able to bring a across her joy of skating. The reward was a personal best of 128.98 points (she had the highest technical score by the way). Overall the Muscovite earned 191.81 points. “I am very, very happy with today’s performance, because I skated clean and I really wanted to do that. I would like to go to the Grand Prix Final, this is a goal I set for myself this season”, Elena said. Her chances to make it are quite good. She is already ahead of Suzuki by the tiebreaker.

Suzuki produced four triples to “Phantom of the Opera”, but she struggled with the Lutz, falling on one and popping the other one. This and also a double loop cost too many points. The free skating score was only 113.29 points and the 2012 World bronze medalist dropped to third place at 179.32 points. “There were a lot of mistakes. I was quite anxious before I skated and I wasn’t able to recover. I have lots of regrets now”, the 28-year-old told the press.

Gracie Gold (USA) crashed on her opening triple Lutz and didn’t do her triple-triple nor her double Axel-triple toe combo. She also doubled a Salchow, although she landed a triple Lutz-double toe later in her “Sleeping Beauty” program. The 18-year-old from Chicago (who now has moved to California for training with Frank Carroll) is a powerful skater and has everything you need to get to the top, but needs to develop more consistency. She finished fourth with 177.81 points and missed her chance to qualify for the Final.

Satoko Miyahara of Japan often struggles with under-rotations, and again three jumps – a tirple toe, triple flip and triple Lutz – were not fully rotated. She still moved up to fifth with 170.21 points. The Flamenco music is not the right vehicle for her, though. The Flamenco – “Nyah” by Hans Zimmer in this case – worked much better for Valentina Marchei of Italy. She improved her performance from Skate America significantly, but still doubled a flip and under-rotated a triple Lutz. She was ranked sixth at 168.95 points.

Alena Leonova of Russia stepped out of her opening triple toe (which she planned as triple toe-triple toe combo) but pulled herself together to land four triples in her program to “Carmen”. With the tough competition inside Russia it will be very hard for the 2012 World silver medalist to make the Olympic team. She knows that and wants to work on a tirple flip-triple toe combination.

Mirai Nagasu (USA) had bad luck. Just after the first skater, Elene Gedevanishvili, had skated, the computer system crashed and needed to completely restarted. That took about 15 minutes. Mirai was on the ice all that time, skating around. She was invited to the exhibition to make up for this. Unfortunately she struggled with some jumps in her “James Bond” program and finished in eighth place. Gedevanishvili placed ninth.

Another Gold Medal For Davis & White

Meryl Davis & Charlie White (USA) won NHK Trophy and the 14th Grand Prix gold medal of their distinguished career with an excellent performance. Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte of Italy took the silver medal and Maia and Alex Shibutani (USA) clinched the bronze medal. The podium was exactly the same as at Skate America.

Davis & White impressed with their speed, whirling lifts and precise footwork to “Scheherazade”. They collected level fours for the lifts, spins, circular footwork and twizzles, just the diagonal steps were rated a level three. The judges didn’t hold back with 10.00s in the components, overall the two-time World Champions got ten perfect 10.00s. That meant a personal best score of 112.95 points and the total added up to 186.65 points. “Charlie and I were very pleased with our skate today. I think we’re feeling the growth since Skate America. We’ve been working very hard all season, including in between the two competitions. I think we are really excited about the direction our free dance is taking. We certainly feed off the energy of the Japanese audiences and can’t thank them enough for their support, enthusiasm and appreciation for what we put out on the ice”, Meryl said. All these gold medals still don’t get boring for Charlie. “Meryl and I have been very fortunate to have a lot of success in ice dance over the last years. We really treasure being able to be on the big stage and perform to the best of our ability. In the end, this is really what wins you the medals, but I think it’s the moments themselves that really stand out for us. It’s the people that you get to meet; it’s the crowd standing at the end of your program that really makes it special. That’s what we are striving for. No, it never gets boring. We feel we always have something to strive for and reach for. We love winning, but we really love our sport, too and the opportunity that it’s given us is been tremendous”, he said.

Cappellini & Lanotte delivered a playful interpretation of “Barber of Seville”. It was a solid performance, although the Italian Champions lost a few points on the levels. Their lifts and twizzles were a level four, the spin and the diagonal only a level two. Anna and Luca scored 95.48 points and accumulated 160.06 overall. “We had some tough skates this week, it was a little hard, maybe we had jet lag problems or the tiredness was catching up with us. Of course we are happy with the result and we can’t wait to go home, take some days off to regroup a little bit and start working hard for the Grand Prix Final to end this Grand Prix season as best as possible”, Cappellini commented. The Italian team has two silver medals now and should qualify for the Final.

The Shibutanis finally went for something more upbeat and fun with their “Michael Jackson Medley”. They tended to skate to rather old-fashioned music. Technically they improved from Skate America and earned almost the maximum levels with level fours for everything except for the step sequences that got a level three. 94.49 points were a seasons best for the siblings and they had 157.58 points overall. „We very happy with our performance today. It felt great to build on what we did at Skate America. The crowd was absolutely incredible. We have two programs that we really love this year. So that makes a world of difference and this has been such a successful Grand Prix season for us”, Maia Shibutani commented. However, it is unlikely that they will make it to the Final with two bronze medals from their events.

Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov put out an emotional performance to “Swan Lake”. Both were dressed in black and captured the dramatic, dark mood of the music very well. The component score was deservedly high, but like in the short dance, the Russians lost points on the technical score when the spin and the diagonal step sequence were rated a level two. The European silver medalists remained in fourth place with 155.37 points. “We have to continue to work on the technical aspects. When we do it in practice, we can do everything flawlessly, in competition we need to focus on each edge, each turn, on each move. We’ll compete again next week in Paris, so there won’t be time for changes, but we’ll try to go out and skate better than here, and try to fix what we can fix”, Katsalapov explained.

Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier performed to music from the “Hitchcock” soundtrack. The audience especially liked their new stationary lift right at the beginning. They finished fifth (144.07 points). Japan’s Cathy and Chris Reed moved up to sixth with a solid free dance to music from a Japanese movie soundtrack (133.76 points). Tanja Kolbe & Stefano Caruso of Germany (the Italian born Caruso has been naturalized in September) danced well to “Enchanted”, but a level twos on the footwork and two level threes on the spin and a rotational lift cost them a placement. They came seventh. 2012 World Junior Champions Victoria Sinitsina & Ruslan Zhiganshin of Russia remained in eighth place. Their free dance to “Norma” was powerful, but they too, lost some points on levels and two points for extended lifts. But following her fall in the Finnstep they were already so far behind that they couldn’t really close the gap to the couples ahead of them.

By the way, an earthquake shook the ice rink at 7.30 in the morning during practice when Sinitsina & Zhiganshin’s music was playing. The music even stopped and had to be restarted. “First I thought it is just me staggering, but it was an earthquake”, Zhiganshin said.

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