SAPPORO – Daisuke Takahashi defended his NHK Trophy title on Sunday with a solid showing in the free skate.
The Okayama native, who set a personal best with an amazing short program on Saturday, could not quite equal that feat this day, but still scored a comprehensive victory over compatriot Takahiko Kozuka.
The 2010 world champion rang up a tally of 259.75 total points to beat Kozuka (235.02) by nearly 25 points and clinch a spot in next month’s Grand Prix Final in Quebec City.
The 25-year-old Takahashi has now won the NHK Trophy four times in the last six years. The victory gave him his seventh career GP title.
Takahashi skated to “Blues for Klook” and fell on his opening quadruple flip and was downgraded on both a triple toe loop and triple loop later, but still received high scores for his program components.
“I had some downgrades on my jumps but I feel like I am making progress in my overall performance,” Takahashi said. “I lost some speed in the second half of my routine, but was satisfied with the way things went.”
The bronze medalist at the Vancouver Olympics was clearly pleased with the result.
“At last year’s NHK Trophy I felt like I wasn’t sure if I deserved to win, but this year I felt there was no doubt about it,” he said.
Kozuka performed to “Fantasia for Nausicaa” and underrotated his opening quadruple toe loop, but executed the rest of his program successfully and easily claimed second place. The result leaves him with a fair chance to make the GP Final.
The 2011 world silver medalist acknowledged that there is still a significant gap between his skill level and that of the technically superior Takahashi.
“I watched Takahashi from under the stands and realized I have a long way to go to catch up to him,” Kozuka said.
“I tried too hard and my timing was a bit off, so I was disappointed. But I was happy that I picked up some points for my presentation.”
American Ross Miner climbed from sixth place after the short program to take third with 212.36.
The podium finish was the first for Miner in a senior GP event.
“It’s awesome to be on the podium,” Miner stated. “I wasn’t expecting to be there at all. This is my first Grand Prix medal and to do it in Japan is amazing. The fans here really appreciate their skating.”
Miner, 20, said going up against Takahashi means confronting reality.
“Last year I watched Daisuke at the NHK Trophy (in Nagoya) and I thought to myself, ‘I can’t believe I have to compete against this guy.’ But competing against him really motivates you and inspires you to get better.”
Miner’s compatriot, Brandon Mroz, who made skating history a day earlier when he became the first person to land a quadruple lutz in international competition, suffered a total meltdown in his free skate and tumbled from third place to finish dead last in ninth.
Mroz hit the ice on his opening quadruple lutz and touched down on the following triple axel, then came completely undone as he singled several planned triple and double jumps. The performance illustrated just how fast fortunes can change in figure skating.
The NHK Trophy is the fourth of the six GP events. The series moves to Paris this week for the Trophee Bompard, where Kanako Murakami and Nobunari Oda are scheduled to represent Japan.
Next year’s NHK Trophy will be held in Sendai.