Figure Skating

Shoma Uno, Rika Kihira earn NHK Trophy titles

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Olympic and world silver medalist Shoma Uno won the NHK Trophy on Saturday night with a solid performance in the men’s free skate.

Uno secured a spot in next month’s Grand Prix Final with the victory. The 20-year-old received a total score of 276.45 points to best Russia’s Sergei Voronov (254.28) for the title. Italy’s Matteo Rizzo (224.71) was third.

Earlier in the evening, Rika Kihira made her senior GP debut one to remember, winning in convincing fashion before the home crowd.

Kihira, a 16-year-old from Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, was a smashing sensation, landing two titanic triple axels in her free skate to come from fifth place after the short program for the victory.

Kihira finished with a total score of 224.31. Satoko Miyahara was second with 219.47, while Russia’s Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, the leader after the short program, settled for third on 219.02.

Mai Mihara, who was third after the short program, came in fourth at 204.20.

Uno, who won Skate Canada last month, performed to “Moonlight Sonata” and landed three clean quadruple jumps, but under-rotated his opening quad salchow. He received level fours on two of his spins and his step sequence.

“I’m happy to win the NHK Trophy and get the ticket to the Grand Prix Final,” Uno stated. “There were mistakes in both programs, but I didn’t lose it emotionally tonight.”

The Nagoya native is confident with some more work he can perfect his programs.

“I think if I train more I will be able to nail all the elements,” Uno remarked. “In the free skate tonight I believed in myself and trusted myself. I had too much energy in the short program.”

Voronov paid tribute to the late Denis Ten, who choreographed his free skate to “Way Down We Go.”

“I want to thank Denis from the bottom of my heart. He never got to see me perform this,” Voronov commented. “I’m sure he is looking down on me from heaven.”

Rizzo’s bronze medal made history, as it marked the first time an Italian man has medaled in a senior GP.

Sota Yamamoto was sixth with a tally of 213.40.

Kihira’s triumph was a replay of last year’s Japan Junior Championships, where Kihira missed her triple axel in the short program and trailed by several points, but rallied with the two triple axels in the free skate to win.

Kihira landed eight triple jumps to “Beautiful Storm” and received level fours on her spins and step sequence.

Kihira fell on her triple axel in the short program on Friday and said she focused on it during the morning practice.

“My triple axel was not good yesterday, so I worked on it this morning and felt better about it coming into the free skate. I’m very happy to win,” Kihira stated.

The victory puts Kihira in the running for the GP Final. She will skate next in the Internationaux de France in two weeks in Grenoble.

Kihira credited training with Miyahara as a prime reason for her success.

“Day in and day out we train together and I really admire her,” Kihira commented. “I can learn a lot from her. Our coach (Mie Hamada) told me she is not an enemy but a good rival. I am fortunate to have a good environment to train in.”

Miyahara skated last and knew she would have a big mountain to climb to top the podium, but by placing second she did clinch a spot in next month’s GP Final in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Miyahara competed to “Invierno Porteno” and under-rotated a double axel and a double loop, both on combination jumps, which proved costly in the end.

“My short program was nice, but felt a bit tense before the free skate,” Miyahara noted. “My performance was not that bad, but I know I need to work harder.”

Tuktamysheva, the 2015 world champion, also qualified for the GP Final for the first time by coming in third here.

“I’m happy about my free skate. It was better than Skate Canada,” Tuktamysheva said. “I think I can grow and show a better performance.”

The 21-year-old is looking forward to the big event next month.

“I finally made the Grand Prix Final,” Tuktamysheva remarked. “With the top six skaters in the world, it should be a good competition.”

Russia’s Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert won the pairs with 214.14. China’s Peng Cheng and Jin Yang took second at 207.24, while Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim of the United States came in third on 190.49.

Russia’s Tiffani Zagorksi and Jonathan Guerreiro lead after the rhythm dance with 75.48. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker of the U.S. are second on 70.71, while fellows Americans Rachel and Michael Parsons are third at 69.07.

The free dance will be held on Sunday.