Despite a poor performance by world champion Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan is in first place after the first day of the World Team Trophy on Thursday at Yoyogi National Gymnasium.
Skating in the final event of the 2016-17 skating season, and just three weeks removed from winning his second world title with an epic free skate in Helsinki, a letdown was almost predictable for Hanyu.
The Olympic champion skated to “Let’s Go Crazy” and singled his opening planned quadruple loop, then put both hands on the ice on what was supposed to be a quad salchow/triple toe loop combination. He came back to cleanly execute a triple axel, but the damage was done.
Hanyu is in seventh place going into Friday’s free skate with 83.51 points, while teammate Shoma Uno is in first after posting a personal-best score of 103.53.
“I’m so disappointed with my program today. I feel sorry for the other team members,” stated Hanyu. “I did a lot of preparation and pushed myself for this competition, but somehow it didn’t go well. I’m starting to develop a negative image about the short program and I need to fight through this.”
Hanyu knows expectations will be high for his free skate after the spectacular show in Finland.
“I think a perfect performance will be expected after worlds,” Hanyu commented. “There will be pressure and expectations from the fans, and I want to transform those into power.”
Japan is tied with Russia on 44 points, but leads on a tiebreaker. The United States is one point behind with 43, while China (32), Canada (31) and France (19) are farther back.
Uno was sublime to “Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra,” hitting both a quad flip and a quad toe loop/double toe loop combo, before landing a superb triple axel.
“I was supposed to do a quad/triple on the combination, but my second jump was not good this morning at practice,” noted Uno. “Because this is a team event, I did not want to make a huge mistake that might cause trouble for us, so I just did the quad/double.”
The world silver medalist said he has dealt with his past issues in the short program through repetition.
“My short program has gotten better this year because I can compete at a certain level even if I’m not fully focused,” stated Uno. “Through all of my practice, I have been able to overcome my fear of doing the short program.”
American Nathan Chen is in second place with a tally of 99.28. He hit a booming quad flip/triple toe loop combo, a quad toe loop and a triple axel in an inspired outing.
“I’m happy with the program today. I had some boot issues at the worlds,” noted Chen. “I took the lutz out of my program today just as a precaution. My boots were causing me some ankle problems at worlds. There was no need to risk injury. It will be back in for next season.”
China’s Jin Boyang, the bronze medalist at the worlds, is in third place on 97.98.
In the women’s event, Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva, the two-time defending world champion, set a new world record of 80.85 with her short program to “River Flows in You.” Medvedeva continued her season-long dominance with another refined showing that earned her top marks for her spins and step sequence.
The graceful Medvedeva cleanly landed a triple flip/triple toe loop combo, then added a triple loop and a double axel. Her spins and footwork were sublime as usual.
Medvedeva’s compatriot Elena Radionova (72.21) is second heading into Saturday’s free skate.
Mai Mihara (72.10) is third after a strong performance to “Rondo Capriccioso.” Mihara opened with a nice triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, before going on to hit a double axel and triple flip to earn a personal-best score.
“I was so happy I was able to land the flip because I missed it at the worlds,” Mihara stated. “I have been practicing it really hard. At one point I landed the flip 15 times in a row.”
Wakaba Higuchi (71.41) is in fifth after a solid effort to “La Califfa.” Higuchi opened with a double axel, then went on to land a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo and a triple flip. She also notched a new personal best.
“I was disappointed in my results at the Four Continents, so after that I practiced a lot with the music,” Higuchi commented. “I worked on continuing through with my entire program even if I made mistakes in the middle.”
Higuchi admitted that the stress of trying to help lock up three places at the worlds for Japan in women’s singles at the Pyeongchang Olympics affected her.
“I was under a lot of pressure at the worlds,” Higuchi said. “I do feel more comfortable here, so I can actually be experimental.”
Mihara, who was fifth at worlds, and Higuchi, who finished 11th in Helsinki, are just two of several skaters who will be vying for Japan’s two spots for Pyeongchang next season.
Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates lead after the short dance with 79.05. Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are second on 76.73, with Russia’s Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev in third at 68.94.
This marks the fifth edition of the World Team Trophy, with Tokyo having hosted the event on each occasion.
The U.S. has won three times (2009, 2013, 2015), with Japan taking the gold in 2012. Japan has earned the bronze three times.
Each squad is composed of two men, two women, one pair and one ice dance team, for a total of eight skaters.
The team event consists of two phases of competition, the short program/short dance and the free skate/free dance. Teams are awarded 12 to 1 points (12 points for first place, 1 point for 12th place) for men and women, and respectively 12 to 7 points for pairs and ice dance in the short and in the free skate
The standings are calculated according to the sum of the team points achieved in each phase of the event.