Mao wins fourth NHK Trophy title

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Two-time world champion Mao Asada won the NHK Trophy for the fourth time with a strong free skate on Saturday night as her buildup to the Sochi Olympics continues.

The victory gives Mao, who scored 207.59 points in the win, a berth in the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka next month.

Skating to Rachmaninov’s “Piano Concerto No. 2,” Mao underrotated her opening triple axel, but went on to hit five triple jumps in her routine.

Mao’s four NHK Trophy titles are second only to Midori Ito’s record six among female skaters.

The triumph was Mao’s second of the Grand Prix season, following her victory at Skate America last month, and 10th of her career.

“I was a bit disappointed not to do the triple axel cleanly. It’s something I want to be able to do well,” said Mao.”But I’m happy with the overall result.”

Defending world junior champion Elena Radionova of Russia used her youthful energy and some fine presentation skills to take second place at 191.61.

Akiko Suzuki, who was solid in Friday’s short program, missed several jumps while competing to “Phantom of the Opera” and dropped to third with 179.32.

Suzuki fell on a triple lutz/double loop combo halfway through and battled to hold it together the rest of the way just to stay on the podium.

American Gracie Gold was fourth at 177.81, while Satoko Miyahara (170.21) took fifth.

Daisuke Takahashi scored a decisive victory in the men’s event, besting compatriot Nobunari Oda by more than 15 points with a total of 268.31.

A night after wowing the crowd with an electric performance in the short program, Takahashi was more subdued on this day but still good enough to notch a record fifth victory in the competition.

The 2010 world champion skated to a Beatles medley and hit his opening quad, but then botched the following quad toe loop/double toe loop combo.

He held it together the rest of the way for the most part, though he did touch the ice after a shaky landing on a triple axel.

“It’s been a long time since I hit two quads. I didn’t want to miss it, but that’s the way it goes,” stated Takahashi, who last landed two quads at the Four Continents back in 2008.

Takahashi said the decision to switch boots before Skate America — one that was prompted by coach Nikolai Morozov — helped him land the first quad.

The brand of boots he is now wearing are heavier than other skaters, which allows him to generate more speed going into his jumps.

“I didn’t do well at Skate America (he finished fourth), so I was determined to get my confidence back here,” said the 2010 Olympic bronze medalist. “I wasn’t perfect today, but little by little I was able to gain momentum.”

The result should qualify Takahashi for the GP Final.

Oda performed to the “William Tell Overture” and popped his quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo, but otherwise had a strong skate for second.

“I missed the first quad but I wasn’t disappointed,” Oda commented. “I knew the next jump (a quad toe loop) was important and I hit it.”

Knowing he still has an uphill climb to make the team for Sochi, Oda took stock of where he stands.

“I have to think about what I need to do to improve my ranking,” he said.

Three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott (237.41) was solid in his free skate and took third after placing seventh in the short program.

European champion Javier Fernandez (230.45) of Spain had an uneven outing and wound up fifth, falling from second in the short program.

Takahito Mura skated to “Shogun” and doubled his planned opening quad toe loop. He was sixth with 227.22.

Defending U.S. champion Max Aaron (223.35) made several errors and ended up seventh.

Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov won the pairs by a staggering margin of more than 50 points.

The defending world champions totaled 236.49 in their victory, while second-place Peng Cheng and Zhang Hao of China netted just 182.18.

Volosozhar and Trankov extended their impressive streak of victories with the triumph and qualified for the GP Final. The duo won every event they entered last season, and have won both of their GP assignments this season. They will be heavily favored to win the gold in Sochi.

Two-time world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. lead the ice dance after the short dance.

Davis and White (73.70) are more than nine points ahead of Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (64.58) heading into Sunday’s free dance.

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.