NAGOYA – American Nathan Chen captured the lead after the men’s short program at the Grand Prix Final on Thursday night with a solid if not spectacular performance. The defending U.S. champion landed a pair of quadruple jumps on the way to establishing a nearly two-point advantage over Shoma Uno.
Chen skated to “Nemesis” and began with a big quad lutz/triple toe loop combination jump, before going on to hit a quad flip and a triple axel for a total score of 103.32 points. The 18-year-old is seen by many as a primary challenger to Yuzuru Hanyu for the gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
Uno competed to “Winter” and opened with a beautiful quad flip, then landed a nice quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo, but fell on his triple axel.
Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada is third at 99.22 despite receiving poor marks for the grade of execution on his opening quad lutz.
Chen, who was second behind Hanyu at last year’s GP Final, admitted that his performance was not without flaws.
“I made a couple of mistakes on the landings of both quads, but the triple axel is improved from Skate America,” Chen stated. “I’m happy with that and looking forward to tomorrow.”
The Salt Lake City native was asked about his ongoing challenge with multiple quads.
“I have tried to push the technical elements. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” Chen commented. “I definitely don’t regret trying it. I put the (quad) flip in the second half of the program and it has worked for me.”
Uno’s fall on the triple axel was most unfortunate, as he appeared to have done it cleanly only to fall awkwardly at the very end of the landing. Despite the mishap he is still in position to make a run for the gold medal in Friday’s free skate.
Uno, who has taken home the bronze at the last two GP Finals, was bemused by his miscue in front of his hometown crowd.
“I made a ‘new type of mistake’ today,” Uno said. “The triple axel is a jump I know I can land. I felt I didn’t take off in the way I usually do. So I tightened myself hard in the air and I don’t know what happened. Maybe over-rotation.”
In addition to a one-point penalty for the fall, Uno was also docked another point for running his program over the allotted time. Uno made small changes following the Internationaux de France, which requires more time for his step sequence.
“I changed the music a bit and started today’s program slightly earlier,” the 19-year-old stated. “I was not surprised by the 101 points, but I was more surprised by the two-point deduction.”
Germany’s Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot are on top following the pairs short program with 79.43.
Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (78.83) are second, while China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong (75.82) stand in third ahead of Saturday’s free skate.
France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (82.07) hold a slight lead over Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (81.53) following the short dance.
Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani (78.09) are in third with the free dance slated for Saturday.
Russia’s Alexandra Trusova tops the leaderboard after the short program in the women’s Junior Grand Prix Final with a tally of 73.25, ahead of compatriots Alena Kostornaia (71.85) and Anastasia Tarakanova (67.90).
Rika Kihira, the only non-Russian in the field, scored a personal best of 66.82 and is fourth.
Kihira skated to “Kung Fu Piano” and began with a beautiful layback spin. She went on to land a double axel, triple flip/triple toe loop combo and a triple lutz while appearing determined throughout.
“I was doing very well in practice so I was not as nervous as last year, being able to concentrate on each element I do,” Kihira noted. “I built my confidence today with this short program so I hope to do well on my long as well.”
Kihira, who was fourth at last season’s JGP Final, is counting on the top weapon in her arsenal — the triple axel — in Saturday’s free skate to vault her onto the podium this year. The 15-year-old from from Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, landed two huge triple axels two weeks ago to win the Japan Junior Championship in Maebashi, Gunma Prefecture.
“I have been focusing a lot on my performance, so I hope to show that to the audience, but of course I would like to land my triple axel,” Kihira commented. “The key to landing it is all mental, so I want to relax and enjoy my free skate, just as I did at the junior nationals.”
American Alexei Krasnozhon leads the men’s JGP Final after the short program with 81.33. Russia’s Alexey Erokhov is in second at 78.39.
Mitsuki Sumoto gave a solid performance to “Singin’ in the Rain” and is third on 77.10. He opened with a nice triple axel, followed by a triple lutz, then added a triple flip/triple toe loop combo.
The 16-year-old Sumoto said he was inspired by skating in front of the home fans.
“I could hear the audience cheering for me, the loudest cheer I have ever had, and I was able to change that into my power,” Sumoto commented. “It felt like a dream seeing all the Hinomaru after I finished.”
Sumoto said he has been working hard since winning the Japan junior title last month.
“I have been struggling with my triple axel during practice, but I was very happy to land it in competition,” Sumoto stated. “I was able to not think too much, just to concentrate.”
The Osaka native expressed a confident tone ahead of Friday’s free skate.
“For tomorrow’s free skate I want to express the music, and perform so it will touch the hearts of the audience,” Sumoto said.
The senior women’s short program is set for Friday.