Hanyu, Mao victorious in NHK Trophy

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Yuzuru Hanyu gave the hometown fans what they wanted most on Saturday — a victory by their hero at the NHK Trophy.

Hanyu, who broke his own world record with a mark of 95.32 in Friday’s short program, carried the momentum into Saturday’s free skate and captured the men’s singles title with a solid showing.

The 17-year-old opened with a quadruple toe loop and hit six triple jumps on the way to victory with a score of 261.03 points. He was unable to land the second quad — a salchow — he attempted, and fell on his final jump (a triple lutz), but did enough to beat second-place finisher Daisuke Takahashi by nearly 10 points.

The win gives Hanyu a berth in next month’s Grand Prix Final in Sochi, Russia. The Sendai native was fourth at last season’s GP Final.

Mao Asada narrowly edged out Akiko Suzuki for the women’s title. Mao tallied 185.27 to Suzuki’s 185.22.

Suzuki was done in by her fifth-place finish in the short program on Friday.

American Mirai Nagasu took third with 176.68.

Hanyu skated to “Notre Dame de Paris” and labored near the end of his program (also falling on a sit spin), but had racked up sufficient points by then for a decisive win.

“I’m very happy to make the Grand Prix Final,” said Hanyu. “Despite my mistakes in the free skate, I was able to score more than 160 points, so my training has paid off.”

The 2010 world junior champion, who is coached by Brian Orser, says the triumph here will give him motivation going forward.

“I want to do well at the final and also at the world championships, so this gives me something to aim for,” Hanyu stated. “Regardless of my scores, the important thing is to continue to show people that I can grow.”

Takahashi put on an absolutely sensational performance to “I Pagliacci” and totaled 251.51. The result qualified Takahashi for his seventh GP Final, speaking to his longevity and continued excellence.

Only Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko, the 2006 Olympic gold medalist, has made more GP Finals (eight).

Takahashi, the 2010 world champion, began with a quad toe loop, but under-rotated a second quad toe loop. The mistake took nothing away from the sublime show he put on, however, as he landed seven triple jumps and had the audience completely enthralled with his superior presentation skills.

“I feel good about making the final for a seventh time,” commented Takahashi. “I will give everything I have and go all out there.”

Takahashi claimed that he is finding motivation by competing against the younger skaters.

“My feeling is that men’s figure skating is at a very high level now,” he said. “Going up against guys like Yuzuru and (Spain’s) Javier Fernandez is a good test for me.”

Hanyu and Takahashi will be joined by compatriots Takahiko Kozuka and Tatsuki Machida at the GP Final, giving Japan four of the six competitors in the men’s event.

American Ross Miner took third at 235.37 with a steady skate to “Captain Blood.”

Mao skated to “Swan Lake” and had a calamitous outing, botching several jumps. She doubled her opening triple loop, then later doubled a triple lutz and compounded it by singling a triple salchow, but her big lead over Suzuki from the short program was enough put her atop the podium.

Suzuki (185.22) assured herself a spot in the GP Final with a tremendous performance to “O” from Cirque du Soleil. The world bronze medalist landed six triple jumps and truly moved the audience with her program.

With Mao and Suzuki booking their tickets to the GP Final along with the quartet of Japanese men, half of the field of 12 in the singles in Sochi will be from Japan.

“I feel a lot of disappointment,” said Mao. “I couldn’t execute any of my jumps. I can’t be satisfied with the way I performed.”

Despite finishing second, Suzuki’s outlook was much brighter.

“I was able to give it my all,” she stated. “I was really happy, so I pumped my fists with joy (at the end of the program).”

Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States retained their lead from the short dance to capture the title in ice dance with 178.48.

White and Davis, the 2011 world champions, beat Russia’s Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov (156.62) by nearly 18 points in notching the victory.

Maia and Alex Shibutani, also of the United States, took third place with a total of 154.56.

Davis and White, the 2010 Olympic silver medalists, locked up a spot in the GP Final — which they have won the past three years — with the result.

The win marked the third time that Davis and White have captured the NHK Trophy (they also claimed it in 2009 and 2010), and more impressively, the eighth straight Grand Prix victory for the duo. The last regular GP event they entered and did not win was the Cup of Russia in 2008.

Russia’s Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov hold a slim lead in pairs after the short program. The Russians top the field with 65.61, with Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch close behind at 65.14.
Americans Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir (61.85) are third.

The free skate in pairs is set for Sunday.