by Klaus-Reinhold Kany
(17 November 2021) The women’s competition at the NHK Trophy in Tokyo had a mixed level, with errors more frequent than at the first three Grand Prix.
Kaori Sakamoto from Japan, sixth at the World Championships 2021 in Sweden, won the gold medal with 223.34 points. The 21-year-old skater of Kobe opened her short program to the music of “Now We Are Free“ from the soundtrack of “Gladiator“ with an outstanding double Axel which was rewarded with four GOEs of +5 and five GOEs of +4. Her triple Lutz was near an edge call, but got mainly GOEs of +1 and she performed an excellent combination of triple flip and triple toe loop. Her spins (all level 4) and steps were very good, her components had an average of 9.0. She commented, “I was able to skate very cleanly and I was actually very calm throughout. I was quite nervous and felt like I wasn’t well grounded. But during the six minutes of warm-up I was able to get my usual jumps back and I was able to realize that I was back to my normal self.”
In her free routine to “No More Fight Left In Me“ by Moroccan-French composer Armand Amar, Sakamoto did fight a lot, however, starting with an excellent double Axel, followed by seven triple jumps, mostly in very good quality. Her spins and step sequences were stellar. Her components were around 9.0 again. “On my first and last jump today, I was a little bit at an angle in the air and that got me worried. But my goal of putting out a good free and short program was achieved,” she said. “To be honest, one month ago it would have been hard to imagine today’s result. This season every competition is very important. I don’t have a big element such as a triple Axel or quad, so I have to make sure to skate clean.” With her fourth place at Skate America and her first place in Japan she is probably qualified for the Grand Prix Final in Osaka, Japan in December.
Sakamoto’s 17-year-old teammate Mana Kawabe had only been 9th at Skate Canada the week before, but in Tokyo she secured the silver medal, earning 205.44 total points and 73.88 in the short. Her first element there to a new version by Max Richter of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons“ was a very good triple Axel, the only one in the short program of the competition, followed by a good combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop. Spins and steps had a high quality as well, only the triple Lutz was near an edge call. She said, “My goal was to get 70 points, and I was expecting a score in the low 60s. I was happy and surprised that my score came out better than I expected.”
Her first element in the free program to two versions of “Miracle“ by Sarah Brightman was an Axel which was planned triple again, but she popped it and it became only a fall on a double. The other seven triple jumps were mostly very good, the spins as well and her components reached around 8.2. “After I missed my Axel, I was able to change my mindset and focus on something else,“ she said. “I achieved my personal best, so I’m very happy about that. At Skate Canada, my free skating gave me confidence, especially the fact that I could focus on the free. I was able to do that in the short program in this competition.” She was only fourth in the free program, but kept her second position. She was an alternate for her teammate Rika Kihira who has longtime injury problems.
Young You from South Korea, who often trains in Colorado Springs under Tammy Gambill, took the bronze medal with 203.60 points after also being third at Skate America. She went down on the opening triple Axel in the short program to “Whirling Winds“ from the TV soap opera The Leftovers by Ludovico Einaudi. Next she performed a combination of triple Lutz and an under-rotated triple toe loop. The five other elements were very convincing. In her free program to music of the French musical “Les Miserables“, she fell again on the (this time under-rotated) triple Axel, but had five clean and two a bit under-rotated triple jumps. She explained, “I am disappointed again in myself. Next time I want to concentrate on my triple Axel and I don’t want make these mistakes. Until Nationals, I don’t want to get an injury, but take care of my body, so that I can do well at Nationals and get to the Olympic Games.”
Alysa Liu from Oakland, California, finished fourth with 202.90 points. She fell on her under-rotated triple Axel in the short program and stepped out on the triple toe loop after the triple Lutz. The other five elements were excellent, the layback spin even very outstanding. In her free, the triple Axel was slightly under-rotated and five other jumps were not clean, but the spins outstanding again. Eunsoo Lim from South Korea came fifth with 186.68 points. Her triple Lutz in the short was near an edge call and her combination was only triple flip and double toe loop. Four triple jumps in the free were good, the Salchow a bit shaky. The third Japanese skater Rino Matsuike is sixth with 186.17 points. The triple Lutz in her short program was under-rotated, the other elements very good. Four of the six triple jumps in her free were clean.
Amber Glenn from Euless, Texas, ranked seventh with 175.83 points. She almost fell on her triple Axel attempt, which was downgraded. Her triple toe loop after the triple flip was almost under-rotated (q), the other five elements were excellent. In her free routine to “Rain, In Your Black Eyes“ by Ezio Bosso, only two triple jumps were good, but three not clean and she doubled a Lutz which was planned triple.
Nicole Schott from Germany placed eighth, winning 172.37 points. Therefore she reached the minimum scores of the German Olympic Committee for competing at the Olympic Games for the first time but she has to win more than 172 points in another competition. In the short program, the combination of two triple toe loops was good, but she stepped out of the triple flip. In her free program, four triples were clean, but she stumbled on a combination with a triple Salchow. The third South Korean skater Seoyeong Wi ended up ninth with 170.54 points. She fell on the triple toe loop after the triple Lutz in the short program and had only two clean triples in her free program.
Daria Usacheva from Russia could not compete because during the six-minute warm-up before the short program, she tore a ligament in her right leg after a heavy fall. Skate America winner Alexandra Trusova withdrew two weeks before because she had heavy pain again because of her stress fracture in her landing leg. Olga Mikutina from Austria, eighth at the World Championships in March 2021, had withdrawn weeks before the NHK Trophy due to an inflammation in her right foot. Non-Japanese skaters could not be invited as alternates because the Japanese immigration rules during the pandemic are too complicated and time consuming. Therefore only nine women instead of 12 competed.