Figure Skating

Yuzuru Hanyu looks sharp in NHK Trophy practice

Superstar seeking first NHK Trophy victory since 2016 season

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Yuzuru Hanyu came through his first NHK Trophy practice session in two years with flying colors on Thursday.

The two-time Olympic champion, who injured the lateral ligament in his right ankle in 2017 at an NHK Trophy practice in Osaka, looked sharp this day, tearing off quad jump after quad jump with no problems.

Hanyu ran through parts of his free skate to “Origin” during an afternoon session. The superstar, who turns 25 next month, will be trying to win his first NHK Trophy since 2016 (also in Sapporo) when he takes the ice on Friday night.

Hanyu, who took the title at Skate Canada last month, will be looking to lock up a spot in next month’s Grand Prix Final, which he has missed the past two seasons due to injury. He needs to finish in fourth place or higher to secure the berth.

Rika Kihira, last season’s GP Final winner, can book her trip to the event in Turin, Italy, with a podium finish. Her primary competition will come from Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova of Russia.

Kihira worked on her free skate to “International Angel of Peace” during practice and fell on her opening triple axel, then popped another. The jump appeared to be giving her trouble during the session.

Hanyu, who will skate 11th in the short program, was joined on the ice by teammates Sota Yamamoto and Koshiro Shimada, who emerged from the practice with no physical issues. Yamamoto will skate fourth on Friday, with Shimada set to be the sixth skater.

Second-year senior Mako Yamashita and GP rookie Yuhana Yokoi trained alongside Kihira in the afternoon without incident. Kihira will skate last in the short program, with Yokoi going second and Yamashita eighth.

World junior champion Tomoki Hiwatashi practiced in the later men’s session, along with fellow American Jason Brown, who can make the GP Final with a second-place showing.

Hiwatashi will be making his competitive debut in Japan in the short program.

“I’m hoping to do both programs better than in France (where he finished fifth in his GP debut earlier this month), especially the short program,” Hiwatashi told The Japan Times.

“I just hope I don’t have to skate right after Yuzu,” Hiwatashi added with a smile. “The ice will be full of Pooh bears.”

Hiwatashi got his wish in Friday’s draw and will come on seventh in the field of 12, as the first competitor in the second group.

Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara will represent Japan in pairs, with world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China coming in as the favorites.

Two-time defending world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Cizeron of France headline the ice dance roster.

The Hinomaru will not have a team in ice dance after Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto were forced to withdraw due to an injury she sustained at the Cup of China two weeks ago.

The event will get underway on Friday afternoon with the rhythm dance.