Figure Skating

Hanyu struggles in short program at NHK Trophy

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu returned to competition for the first time since his collision with China’s Yan Han three weeks ago and fell twice in his short program at the NHK Trophy on Friday night to end up in fifth place.

Hanyu, skating last, hit the ice on his opening quadruple toe loop to the groans of the partisan crowd at Namihaya Dome, but recovered to execute a nice triple axel, before falling again on a planned triple lutz/triple toe loop combination jump.

The 19-year-old was awarded just 78.01 points and is going to have to step up his game if he wants to defend his Grand Prix Final title in Barcelona, Spain, next month.

Hanyu’s score is more than 23 points off the world record of 101.45 he set in the short program at the Sochi Games earlier this year.

Hanyu received level-four scores on three of his spins and for his step sequence to Chopin’s “Ballade No. 1,” but was hurt by the botched combination. Although Hanyu looked fit, it is clear that his timing is not yet back to where it was before the accident at the Cup of China earlier this month.

“I feel like I have recovered enough and just tried to skate as normal,” stated Hanyu. “I didn’t get enough rotation on the quad and obviously this is disappointing. But the free skate is one I’m confident with and will do my best tomorrow.”

Hanyu is trying not to get ahead of himself, however.

“I’m not thinking about the Grand Prix Final right now,” he commented. “I just want to go out and have a successful NHK Trophy.”

Compatriot Takahito Mura is the leader heading into Saturday’s free skate with a tally of 86.28.

Mura competed to “Carmen” and was sharp in a red and black outfit. He started with a quad toe loop/trip toe loop combo, then soared on a triple axel, before later landing a triple lutz.

“After Skate Canada, I wasn’t sure what to expect here,” said Mura. “I had three successful jumps today, but I made some mistakes in my step sequence.”

Mura, who won Skate Canada in October, both looked and sounded confident this night.

“I’m going to give it my best in the free skate,” Mura said. ” I hope to end up on the podium tomorrow.”

American Jeremy Abbott (81.51) is in second place after a clean program, which did not include a quad.

Daisuke Murakami (79.68) is a surprise in third place.

Skating to “Once Upon A Time in Mexico,” Murakami started with a nice quad salchow/double toe loop combo, then followed with a triple axel, before later hitting a triple flip.

Russia’s Sergei Voronov stands fourth with 78.93.

Hanyu (13 points), Mura (15 points) and Voronov (13 points) looked to be near locks for the remaining GP Final tickets coming in, with Abbott (seven points) a longshot. Hanyu needs at least a fourth-place finish here to qualify for the GP Final.

Murakami got off a good line on his unexpected place in the standings.

“I was about to get on the bus,” Murakami cracked. “I’m surprised to be in this position. It just shows you how anything can happen.”

American Gracie Gold leads after the women’s short program with a total of 68.16.

Gold, who was fourth in Sochi, skated to “Adagio” and opened with a nice triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, before going on to land a triple flip and double axel.

The 19-year-old Gold, the reigning U.S. champion, received level-fours for all three of her spins.

“I skated a really nice short program,” said Gold. “I’m happy because I made a lot of mistakes at Skate America (where she finished third). My jumps and spins were solid today. I want to keep the same consistency tomorrow.”

Russia’s Alena Leonova, the 2012 world silver medalist, is second with 68.11. Kanako Murakami stands third on 64.38.

Murakami competed to “Think of Me” from “Phantom of the Opera” and began with a triple toe loop/triple toe loop combo but under-rotated the back end of it. She then went on to hit a triple flip and double axel.

Murakami was awarded level-fours for her spins and step sequence.

“I didn’t have a big mistake today,” noted Murakami. “I’m happy, but I think I can still do more. I hope to hit all of my jumps in the free skate.”

Satoko Miyahara performed to “The Magic Flute” and is fourth at 60.69.

Miyahara opened with a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, but under-rotated the latter. She added a triple flip and double axel.

“I was so nervous,” stated Miyahara. “My speed was too slow on the lutz.”

Miyahara felt deflated after struggling on the combo.

“I didn’t have confidence after the first jump,” she said. “I was lacking power the rest of the way. I will try to improve in the free skate.”

Riona Kato, making her senior GP debut, fell on her opening triple flip/triple toe loop combo and is eighth with 50.87.

Four of the women’s slots for the GP Final are set. Those already in are all Russian — Elena Radionova, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Anna Pogorilaya and Julia Lipnitskaia.

American Ashley Wagner (24 points) and Rika Hongo (22 points) are on the bubble and will have to wait for this weekend’s results to see if they have qualified. Gold, Murakami and Miyahara all came into the NHK Trophy with 11 points and have the opportunity to move into the final two spots.

Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford lead the pairs after the short program. Duhamel and Radford (72.70) have an eight-point margin over Russia’s Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov (64.60) heading into Saturday’s free skate.

China’s Yu Xiaoyu and Jin Yang (60.15) are in third place, while Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara (45.35) are seventh.

Ice dance will get underway with the short dance on Saturday afternoon.