Inspired Takahashi claims NHK Trophy

by Jack Gallagher

NAGOYA — World champion Daisuke Takahashi won the NHK Trophy for the third time with an inspired performance in the free skate on Sunday afternoon.

Leading by four points after the short program, Takahashi opened his routine to “Invierno Porteno” with an impressive quadruple toe loop, hit six triple jumps, and despite a late fall defeated American Jeremy Abbott by more than 16 points.

Being the first Grand Prix event of the season stamina was certain to be a factor, and Takahashi hit the ice on the back end of his final combination jump (a triple lutz/double toe loop) near the end of his program. But by that point he had victory in the bag and earned 234.79 points.

Takahashi had a few other miscues, including a shaky landing on a triple toe loop, not executing the final jump (a double loop) on a planned three-jump combo, and singling a triple salchow, but the judges took the totality of his effort into account.

Abbott (218.19) was sharp, but singled a triple axel and a double toe loop on a combo jump, and more importantly, did not attempt the quad that Takahashi landed.

France’s Florent Amodio (213.77) was third after moving up with a strong free skate (in which he finished second) to “Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough.”

Being the reigning world champ and Olympic bronze medalist carries a certain amount of gravitas, not to mention skating on home ice, but the margin of victory was still a surprise.

“I haven’t been hitting the quad much in practice, so I didn’t think I would today,” said Takahashi. “Many young Japanese skaters are coming up and I want to stay on the top, so I knew I had better go for it.”

Takahashi said his right knee, on which he had reconstructive surgery in late 2008, is feeling much better, but pointed out that it can lead to other issues.

“The knee feels good and now I am moving smoothly in my step sequences,” he said. “But I almost have too much flexibility, which can be problematic on my jumps.”

Abbott, the two-time defending U.S. champion, seemed satisfied with his result.

“I feel great. I had about a month of boot (skate) issues, where I wasn’t able to train at 100 percent,” he said. “I’ve only had about two weeks where I felt comfortable.”

World junior champion Yuzuru Hanyu, in his senior debut, came in fourth. Hanyu (207.72) also opened with a spectacular quad to “Zigeunerweisen” and skated strongly throughout, landing seven triple jumps.

He was marked down for taking off on the wrong edge on his triple flip, doing just the triple lutz at the beginning of a planned three-jump combo, and singling a triple loop, but clearly showed he can compete with the seniors at the age of 15.

Hanyu, who was fifth in the short program, overcame the jitters and was relieved afterward.

“The quad was better than I thought it would be,” he said. “I was worried about it during practice and nervous heading out on the ice. I got tired near the end, but was happy with my jumps.”

Hanyu is already looking forward to his next GP assignment (the Cup of Russia in Moscow next month).

“I want to get a higher GOE (grade of execution) on my elements and I want to make the podium at my next competition,” he said.