(17 November 2021) The men’s competition of the NHK Trophy 2021 in Tokyo had a relatively high level and was better than the three prior Grand Prixs.
Shoma Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist from Japan, won the event with 290.15 points after performing two outstanding programs, better than any competition he did in the last two of three years. He opened his stellar short program (102.58 points) to two baroque Oboe Concertos by Alessandro Marcello and Antonio Vivaldi with an excellent quad flip and a good combination of quad toe loop and double toe loop. His Swiss coach Stephane Lamabiel has helped a lot to improve his landing style which had been very deep until one year ago. The triple Axel was as perfect as two of the three spins and the step sequence for which he even got one GOE of +5. His components had an average of 9.2. He explained, “To be really honest, it’s not really about whether the performance was good or bad, but in my combination the triple (toe) became a double and I am very disappointed because this season is still long. So now is not the time for me to try to play it safe. I wasn’t really pushing myself enough.”
He started his free routine to a new Japanese version of Maurice Ravel’s Bolero with a very good quad loop, followed by an impressive quad Salchow and a very good combination of quad toe loop and double toe loop. Two triple Axels came later, another quad toe loop (a bit shaky) as well and a double flip which was planned quadruple. One spin had only a basic level, everything else was very convincing and his components around 9.1. He commented, “I felt good on the ice, the skate, my movement, my mind. Everything was as during practice, everything went well. it wasn't a coincidence, everything was happening the way it should. The second half, the flip, if I had done it, it would have been great. But it wasn't and that means I wasn't training enough."
Vincent Zhou of Colorado Springs took the silver medal with 260.69 points after winning Skate America in October. His short program to “Starry, Starry Night“ by Don McLean had a very good combination of quad Lutz and triple toe loop, but his quad Salchow and his triple Axel were nearly under-rotated. Spins and steps were excellent and the components around 8.8. “Actually, I felt a little bit shaky,“ he said. “My legs were a little bit nervous, and I think that was reflected in the quality of some of my spins and my triple Axel. I definitely understand why I didn’t reach 100 points, but overall I’m pretty happy with my performance.“
His free program to the music of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" which is inspired by martial arts, was only the sixth best, but due to his excellent short program he stayed second. He popped his Lutz, performed a very good quad flip, but later six jumps were more or less under-rotated. He commented, “I am very disappointed in my free skating. Thankfully it happened here and not at the Olympic Games. I am glad that I got this out of my system now. I was not able to train consistently leading up to this competition and it showed. I need to make sure I am in better health and condition for my next competition.”
South Korean skater and Brian Orser’s student Junhwan Cha won the bronze medal with 259.60 points. He skated a clean short program to “Fate of the clockmaker“ by the music group Eternal Eclipse and to “Cloak and Dagger” by composer Bianca Ban. His quad Salchow, his combination of triple Lutz and triple loop as well as his triple Axel were excellent. In his free program to operas of Puccini, Cha landed a very good quad toe loop, but fell on the quad Salchow which was downgraded and brought him only 1.15 points (including -1 for the fall). Three triples were clean, but four others under-rotated. “My performance was disappointing, but I fought until the finish,” Cha commented.
Makar Ignatov from Russia finished on fourth place with 257.20 points. His short program had seven good elements, including a quad loop and a combination of quad toe loop and triple toe loop. In the first 80 seconds of his free program, le landed four quads: a loop which was a bit under-rotated, a very good Salchow and two good toe loops, one of them with a triple toe loop. Four triple jumps were good as well, but his components of around 7.5 were not high enough for a medal.
Matteo Rizzo from Italy had left his coach Lorenzo Magri in Egna and returned to Franca Bianconi in Bergamo in the summer. He came fifth with 255.84 points. In the short program to two music pieces by the Italian Rock band Maneskin, he had a very good quad toe loop, but almost fell on the toe loop after a bad triple Lutz. In the third best and flawless free program to “Two Men in Love“ by the British band The Irrepressibles, he began with a good combination of quad toe loop and double toe loop. Later he landed seven triple jumps, including two very good triple Axels.
Alexander Samarin from Russia is sixth with 255.65 points. In the short, he stepped out of the quad Lutz and landed a good combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop, which was planned quad and triple. His second best free program was faultless with a good combination of quad Lutz and triple toe loop plus six more triple jumps. Sota Yamamoto from Japan came seventh with 238.90 points. In his short, he landed a good quad Salchow and a combination of triple flip and triple toe loop. In he free, his two quads and the first triple Axel were under-rotated, six more triples very good.
Kao Miura from Japan finished eighth with 232.89 points. He was the alternate for super star Yuzuru Hanyu who had injured his leg about two weeks before while training the quad Axel too hard. Earlier in the year Hanyu had said that being the first man to land a quad Axel in competition is more important for him than winning his third Olympic Games in 2022. Miura had a good quad Salchow in the short, but almost fell on the quad toe loop. In the free, all three quads were so-so, but four triples good.
Tomoki Hiwatashi of Colorado Springs is ninth with 217.08 points. His quad Salchow and his triple Axel in the short were good, but he almost fell on the toe loop combination which he popped. In the free, five jumps were under-rotated and he popped an Axel. Nam Nguyen from Canada sits tenth with 208.39 points. In the short, his combination was a mess and his triple Axel under-rotated. In the free, he made several mistakes after a good quad Salchow. Camden Pulkinen of Colorado Springs ended up eleventh with 193.18 points. None of his three jumps in the short worked, but he had five clean triples in the free after missing a quad toe loop.
Danill Samsonov from Russia withdrew several weeks before the competition because he still suffers from growth problems in his bones. He could not be replaced because of the complicated immigration procedure to Japan.