Two-time world champion Mao Asada established a solid lead in the short program at the NHK Trophy on Friday night at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
Mao, skating to Chopin’s “Nocturne in E flat major,” two-footed the landing on her opening triple axel and totaled 71.26 points. She stands more than five points ahead of compatriot Akiko Suzuki, who is in second place.
Mao, seeking her fourth NHK Trophy title and a spot in the Grand Prix Final, was clearly a level above her competitors on this night and the judges recognized it.
After the triple axel, Mao landed a triple flip, but under-rotated a triple loop on a combination jump. Nevertheless, her technical scores were still superior to her opponents.
Suzuki moved the audience with her triple toe loop/double toe loop combo, but then doubled a planned triple flip, to score 66.03.
Performing to “Hymne a l’amour,” Suzuki was consistent if not spectacular.
“I missed the triple axel, but I’m not worried about it,” said Mao. “Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad. I was thinking that I just want to skate like I do in practice.”
Mao, who should clinch a GP Final berth with a podium finish here, said she was not looking ahead to the Olympics.
“I wasn’t thinking about Sochi,” she stated. “I want to take it one competition at a time this season. Right now I am only concentrating on this event.”
Suzuki said she elevated too much on the first toe loop in her combo.
“I jumped too high on the triple loop and this resulted in a deep landing, which prevented me from doing the second triple loop,” she noted.
Defending world junior champion Elena Radionova of Russia and Gracie Gold of the United States have the same score of 62.83, with Radionova in third on superior element score.
Satoko Miyahara (58.39), skating in her senior GP debut, made a respectable showing and is sixth.
American Mirai Nagasu (51.01) stumbled on her opening triple flip and wobbled on the landing of her double axel and finds herself in eighth place.
In the men’s event, 2010 world champion Daisuke Takahashi skated nearly flawlessly to “Sonatino for Violin” and took a commanding lead with 95.55.
Takahashi looked resplendent in a black outfit and had the partisan crowd roaring by the end of his program.
After a disappointing fourth-place finish at Skate America, Takahashi looks like he is rounding into shape at just the right time.
Takahashi began with a quad toe loop, then added a triple axel and later hit an excellent triple lutz/triple toe loop combo.
“After Skate America my coach (Nikolai Morozov) and other staff said my motivation did not look good,” Takahashi commented. “I have had to reset myself and show my motivation to make it to the Olympics.”
Takahashi, the bronze medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Games, says he knows what he has to do to make Japan’s Olympic team again.
“I have to win nationals and skate well,” he stated. “The level of competition at the nationals will be high. It’s been a long time since I performed well, but I have confidence now.”
Takahashi critiqued his own performance in succinct fashion.
“My jumps were good, but I can improve my spins,” he said. “Today is not my best. I can do more.”
Spain’s Javier Fernandez, the defending European champion, is more than 10 points behind Takahashi in second place with 84.78. Fernandez botched his quad salchow, but still impressed the judges with the remainder of his program.
Nobunari Oda under-rotated his opening quad toe loop to “Cotton Club” and is third with 82.70.
Oda skated fairly cleanly, but appeared to lack speed at times. He is considered a long shot to make the team for Sochi.
“I thought I skated well today, but my score was lower than at the Nebelhorn Trophy (a preseason event in Germany),” noted Ota. “I will try to remain calm in the free skate tomorrow.”
Adam Rippon (82.25) stumbled during his step sequence and is fourth, the highest ranking of the three American men entered here.
Takahito Mura (79.97) started with a huge quad toe loop as part of a combo jump, but then stumbled on the landing on the back end of a triple toe loop. He is in fifth.
Max Aaron, the defending U.S. champion, fell on a triple lutz and is eighth at 76.21.
Jeremy Abbott, a three-time U.S. champion, two-footed the landing on his quad loop and is seventh on 78.78.
The NHK Trophy is the fourth stop on the six-event Grand Prix circuit this season. The competition ends with the GP Final in early December in Fukuoka.
Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov (82.03) lead the pairs, with China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong (70.13) far behind in second.