NAGOYA — World champion Mao Asada had a calamitous start to her Grand Prix season Friday night, finishing eighth in the short program at the NHK Trophy.
Skating last before a raucous home crowd at Nippon Gaishi Arena, the Nagoya native two-footed the landing on her opening triple axel, botched both ends of a triple loop/triple loop combination jump, singled her planned triple flip and had a time violation.
Competing under coach Nobuo Sato for the first time in a GP event, Mao’s showing was disappointing to say the least. She has struggled over the years with her short program, and any thought that those days were over was quickly dispelled.
The choice of “Tango” as the musical selection for Mao’s short program also failed to inspire. It wasn’t quite as misplaced as “Bells of Moscow” from last season’s free skate, but wasn’t the kind of upbeat tune that goes best with Mao’s personality.
“I have only been feeling about 50 percent in practice (with the new program),” Mao said. “Sometimes it goes good and sometimes bad. I need more practice on my jumps.”
Italy’s Carolina Kostner was in the lead with 57.27 points following a strong effort to “Galicia Flamenco.” Kostner landed all of her jumps and made no significant mistakes in her routine.
“I’m really pleased and a little surprised,” said the three-time European champion. “It’s the first competition of the year and I didn’t train how I wanted to in the summer.”
World junior champion Kanako Murakami (56.10) is in second following a successful senior debut. She underrotated the front half of her opening triple toe loop/triple toe loop combination jump, but still received big cheers from the home crowd, and also nailed a triple flip and double axel to “Jumping Jack.”
The vivacious 15-year-old stumbled at the end of her straight line step sequence, but otherwise had a solid performance.
“I was a little nervous when I took the ice,” Murakami noted. “But I felt better after hearing all of the applause. My goal was 60 points for the short program, so I have to practice more.”
U.S. champion Rachel Flatt (53.69) is third.
Mao’s total was just 47.95, leaving her significant ground to make up heading into Saturday’s free skate. Failing to make the podium here would likely mean that she would miss the Grand Prix Final for the second straight season.
“I’m not worried (about being eighth),” Mao said. “In my mind I am concentrating on myself and my jumps.
“I want to have good elements.”
China’s Qing Pang and Jian Tong moved out to a comfortable lead in pairs with a nearly-seven point advantage over Russia’s Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov.
Pang and Tong, the reigning world champions, totaled 67.10 points, while Bazarova and Larionov were at 60.16.
Japan’s Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran (57.23) are in third going into Saturday’s free skate.
Olympic silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White took a commanding lead after the short dance. The American duo, who won last year’s NHK Trophy, tallied a score of 66.97 to lead Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (58.69) by more than eight points.
Japan’s Cathy and Chris Reed (44.90) are in seventh place heading into Saturday’s free dance.
“We were actually very nervous going into this program because we just made it in September and it is still fresh,” Cathy Reed told Kyodo News.
“It’s a very active program and there is not much time for a breather so it is a little bit challenging.
“I think we were very relaxed and although we are not at our best yet I think we will get better.”
This season the ice dance, which used to include three different elements (original, short, free dance), has been reduced to just the short and free dance.