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2018 NHK Trophy Pairs

by Klaus-Reinhold Kany



(14 November 2018)  In the pairs competition at the NHK Trophy in Hiroshima, Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert from the Russian school of Nina Mozer won their second gold medal only one week after being first in the Grand Prix in Helsinki, this time with 214.14 points. Therefore they are qualified for the Grand Prix Final in December in Vancouver. They had taken the lead in the short program with 73.48 points and presented all seven elements in very good quality. The triple twist, the triple throw loop and the step sequence received mainly GOEs of +4, the other elements mainly +3. Skating to the soundtrack of Sergey’s Eisenstein’s 1938 film “Alexander Nevsky“ by Sergei Prokofiev, they had components with an average of 8.4. Enbert later said, “It was a good performance and we enjoyed it. Almost everything worked out well, there were just a few small mistakes. We want all elements to be a level four.”

In their free program to the song “Toi et Moi“ (You and Me) in French language by Russian composer Igor Krutoi, they did not make any real mistakes either. Their excellent triple twist had mainly GOEs of +3 and a level 3, the jump combination of triple toe loop, double toeloop and double loop was performed in good harmony, the two triple throws were excellent and landed on one foot, the three lifts as well, only their side by side triple Salchow was a bit out of sync. This time their components were around 8.5. Zabiiako said, “It was almost a 100 percent performance for today, also emotionally. So we have only positive emotions right now.” Enbert added, “It is always hard to make the Grand Prix Final, it’s a battle and it is nice to see the result of our work. It’s always interesting to skate there and we hope to skate as well or even better there.”

Cheng Peng & Yang Jin from China took their second silver medal, this time with 207.24 overall points, two weeks after their first second place at Skate Canada international. They are also very probably qualified for the Final. They had 70.66 points for their flawless short program which contained a very good side by side triple toeloop and an excellent triple throw loop. Their best element was the lift. The components of the Chinese team were a bit lower than those of the Russians and only around 8.1 because they skated a bit less extroverted to the music “Ophelia” by The Lumineers“. Jin commented, “The performance was better than at Skate Canada, but we missed some levels in the death spiral, spin and step sequence. We will focus on the levels in the free program.”

In this part, to the music “La Vie en rose”, their levels were really better, with four times level 4 and twice level 3. They both doubled the side by side Salchow which originally was planned triple, but had not worked in practice. The triple throw Salchow and triple throw loop were outstanding and had several GOEs of +5 each. Their components were around 8.4. Peng commented, “We are pleased with our performance today, we did what we do in training.” Jin added, “Compared to Skate Canada there was some progress. We got our personal best score.”

The reigning U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim & Chris Knierim won the bronze medal with 190.49 points after being fourth in short program with 64.75 points to the music “Castle“ by U.S. songwriter Halsey. After Skate America they had decided to work with Jenni Meno and Todd Sand in California as their new coach after they had split from Olympic Champion Aliona Savchenko in Germany before their first Grand Prix. In the short program of the NHK Trophy, Scimeca Knierim fell on the side by side triple Salchow and she missed a correct version of the last part of the side by side spin on one foot. The other five elements were very good. The twiple twist was even outstanding and had two GOEs of +5 and seven GOEs of +4. They had performed this element in a quadruple version some years ago, but do not do it any more with four revolutions as a very good triple version gets more points than a soso quad version after the rule changes of this summer. Their components were around 7.5.

In their free program they began with another high, elegantly landed and outstanding triple twist which this time got three GOEs of +5. But the individual jumps remain their main weakness, Neither had a clean landing on the triple Salchow, and Scimeca Knierim could no add a second jump. Knierim almost fell on the triple toe loop. The remaining eight elements of the program to “Wicked Game“ by Chris Isaak were very good and elegantly presented. GOEs of +3 dominated on the throw, lifts and other elements. Their choreography, prepared by Aliona Savchenko and French choreographer Benoit Richaud in the summer, was better than ever. The components were around 7.8, with some 8.0 for composition as highest scores. Nevertheless the fourth and the third place will very probably not be enough to qualify for the Final, especially as they have 28 less total points than Canadians Moore-Towers and Marinaro who also have a third and a fourth place in their two Grand Prix.

“We’re very happy with our performance today. We put out a much stronger skate than we did three weeks ago at Skate America, so we’re on the right track,” Knierim said. “Even in the short program, we were happy with the improvements that we made over Skate America.”

Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro from the Canadian pair school of Richard Gauthier and Bruno Marcotte in Montreal dropped to a close fourth place with 189.66 points after being third in the short program with 67.70 points. There, Moore-Towers touched down her hand on the side by side triple toeloop and the triple throw loop was not a hundred per cent clean. The other five elements were at least good. “We are a little bit disappointed with our performance today. We’ve been practicing well all week, it was just a little bit off in a lot of places.” Moore-Towers explained. “We know in a field like this one, with teams like this, we need to be perfect to stack up. Unfortunately, today it wasn’t our day, we’re ready to fight tomorrow.”

But this fight was not very successful because in the free program to a Pink Floyd medley, they made three mistakes which brought them GOEs of mainly -3 each. In the jump combination Marinaro touched down on the triple Salchow and could add only a single toe loop. Both had a shaky landing on the triple toeloop and Moore-Towers touched down on the throw triple loop. The other elements were clean, the death spiral excellent. With a third and a fourth place, they have to wait and see if they reach the final, but it is not very probable. At least they have more points in their two Grand Prix than the Knierims which might help.

Tara Kayne & Danny O’Shea, the 2018 national silver medalists and Four Continents gold medalists, finished on fifth position in their first Grand Prix since 2016, earning 164.16 points. They had gone back from Florida to Dalilah Sappenfield in Colorado Springs in the summer. In Hiroshima, they skated the short program to “Turning Page“ by the Illinois-based Indie Rock Band “Sleeping at Last“ and had 59.99 points. O‘Shea touched down on the triple Salchow which was under-rotated. The other elements were clean, the lift even very good. In their free program to “Swan Lake“ by Peter Tchaikovsky, Kayne stepped out of the triple Salchow and added a single toeloop before doing a double one, whereas his combination was clean. Later she fell on the double Axel and again on the triple throw loop. The lifts were very good, the other elements good.

Laura Barquero & Aritz Maestu from Spain finished sixth, winning 159.59 points.  During their first Grand Prix in Finland they learnt that they were invited the week after to the NHK Trophy as alternates for the German team of Annika Hocke & Ruben Blommaert because Hocke is sick.

Audrey Lu & Misha Mitrofanov from Plano in Texas are seventh with 149.25 points. They came as alternates for the 2018 World silver medalists Wenjing Sui and Cong Han from China because since March Sui has suffered from a stress fracture in her foot. In their short program, they made no big mistake, but several small ones. In the free to two pieces from the musical "Moulin Rouge“, she under-rotated both triple Salchows of their combination and stepped out of the second one. He fell on the triple toe loop and did an incompleted last lift. The other elements were clean.

The Japanese pair of Miu Suzaki & Ryuichi Kihara, which trains with Jason Dungjen in Detroit, ended up eighth and last with 143.69 points.