OSAKA – Two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva grabbed the lead at the NHK Trophy with a score of 79.99 points in the short program on Friday night. The Russian was her usual sublime self while skating to “Nocturne,” executing element after element nearly flawlessly.
Sochi bronze medalist Carolina Kostner is in second place with 74.57 heading into Saturday’s free skate, while Medvedeva’s compatriot Polina Tsurskaya is third on 70.04.
The first night of the competition was greatly overshadowed by the late withdrawal of world and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu on Friday afternoon due to an injured lateral ligament in his right ankle. Hanyu hurt himself while attempting a quadruple lutz at practice on Thursday and was advised by doctors not to participate here.
With both Hanyu and three-time world champion Patrick Chan not in the lineup, Russia’s Sergei Voronov is atop the men’s field with 90.06.
Israel’s Alexei Bychenko (85.52) is second, while American Jason Brown (85.36) is in third.
Medvedeva, the prohibitive favorite for the gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics, landed a triple flip/triple toe loop combination, then a triple loop and a double axel while displaying great line and edge throughout her program.
“I’m satisfied but I feel I can do better,” stated Medvedeva. “I don’t think it was so bad. I know I can do better on the double axel.”
Medvedeva uncharacteristically fell on her double axel in the free skate at the Cup of Russia last month on her way to victory.
“I will work hard for a better performance tomorrow,” added Medvedeva. “My goal is to put on a show for the audience and give them joy.”
Kostner competed to “Ne Me Quitte Pas” and came close to two-footing the landing on the back end of her triple toe loop/triple toe loop combo, but received level fours for her spins and step sequence.
“I wasn’t sure that I was satisfied when I came off the ice, but now that some time has passed I am happy,” commented Kostner. “Today it was not easy. I had to get into fighting mode.”
Kostner dedicated her performance Friday to two young Italian skaters who died tragically while on their way home from a domestic competition in Italy last month.
Tsurskaya, skating in her first senior season, was a surprise in third place.
“I’m satisfied overall, but my jumps could be better,” said Tsurskaya. “Tomorrow I hope to be clean.”
Rika Hongo is in fourth on 65.83 after under-rotating her triple lutz, while American Mirai Nagasu (65.17) stands in fifth place.
Satoko Miyahara (65.05) returned to competition following an absence of nearly 11 months due to a hip injury and is sixth. The three-time national champion had not skated competitively since the Japan nationals last December.
Miyahara planned to open with a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo in her skate to “Memoirs of a Geisha” but under-rotated the lutz and only did a double toe loop. She got level fours for her spins, but only a level three for her step sequence.
“While on the ice I didn’t feel that I was doing well, so I was worried,” Miyahara stated. “But I didn’t have any major mistakes like falls, so I felt relieved.”
Miyahara thought she might have some jitters after not competing for so long, but said that was not the case.
“I was worried beforehand that I would be nervous and my legs might be shaking, but I was fine,” she commented.
Yuna Shiraiwa (57.34) made her senior Grand Prix debut and is eighth.
Voronov skated to “Adios Nonino” and hit a nice quad toe loop/triple toe loop at the outset of his program. He received level fours for his spins and a level three for his step sequence.
“It was a very good level today, not just the jumps,” said Voronov. “I felt like I was skating at home. The audience was so supportive and really pushed me forward.”
Kazuki Tomono, last season’s Japan junior champion, is sixth at 79.88, while Hiroaki Sato (75.95) is 10th.
China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong lead the pairs after the short program with a tally of 79.43.
Russia’s Ksenia Stolbov and Fedor Klimov are second with 75.05, with their compatriots Kristina Astakhova and Alexei Rogonov (70.47) in third going into Saturday’s free skate.
The ice dance competition will begin on Saturday with the short dance.