Figure Skating

Yuzuru Hanyu takes dominant lead in NHK Trophy short program

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Yuzuru Hanyu took a commanding lead after the short program at the NHK Trophy on Friday night at Makomanai Ice Arena.

The two-time Olympic champion gave the capacity crowd the show they were looking for with an exquisite performance to “Otonal” that saw him earn a score of 109.34 points.

The superstar opened with a beautiful quadruple salchow, then landed a nice triple axel, before hitting a huge quad toe loop/triple toe loop combination jump. He did it all with his usual panache, gliding effortlessly across the ice while being completely in-sync with the music.

Hanyu, who is looking to secure a berth in next month’s Grand Prix Final, received level fours for all of his spins and step sequence in another dominating effort.

France’s Kevin Aymoz is a distant second with 91.47, while Russia’s Sergei Voronov is third at 88.63.

Russia’s Alena Kostornaia holds a solid lead after the women’s short program with a world-record tally of 85.04. Rika Kihira is in second with 79.89, while Karen Chen of the United States is third on 67.21.

The shocker of the evening was Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova (66.84) sitting in fourth place, more than 18 points behind training partner Kostornaia.

Hanyu’s tally this night was just off his season best of 109.60, set in his victory at Skate Canada last month. His world record of 110.53 was achieved at the Cup of Russia last year.

“I was able to give myself a passing grade tonight,” Hanyu stated. “It was not my best, but it provides me with a baseline toward the next event. I don’t want to get too hung up on setting a world record.”

Hanyu was not resting on his laurels after his big score, but already looking ahead to the free skate on Saturday.

“Tomorrow is different, so it is most important for me to stay in top form and skate strongly until the very end,” Hanyu commented. “I try very hard to put my emotions into the music. My style of figure skating is all about how I can get it to work with the music.”

Koshiro Shimada (75.98) is in sixth place, just ahead of teammate Sota Yamamoto (74.88) in seventh.

Shimada fell on his quad toe loop and during step sequence to “Stay,” while Yamamoto popped a planned quad toe loop into a double and received no score for it in his skate to “East of Eden.”

American Tomoki Hiwatashi (64.54) struggled through a tough night and is in 11th place.

“It was not my best performance. In fact, it was pretty bad,” stated Hiwatashi, who fell on both quad toe loop and his triple axel. “I will try my best to get everything done tomorrow.”

The 16-year-old Kostornaia, who won the Internationaux de France earlier this month, competed to “Departure” and “November” and was nothing short of spectacular.

Kostornaia, another prodigy of savant coach Eteri Tutberidze, began with a triple axel, then landed a triple lutz, before hitting a triple flip/triple toe loop combo. The Moscow native executed her jumps effortlessly and exhibited nice line and edge throughout her program.

“I felt good that I was able to land all of my jumps and get a good score,” Kostornaia stated. “The triple axel is giving me opportunities. The quads are banned in the short program, so I have to rely on my triples. Of course, the triple axel does contain risks.”

Kihira competed to “Breakfast in Baghdad” and opened with a big triple axel, before hitting a triple flip/triple toe loop combo. Her last jump was a triple loop that was a bit shaky on the landing.

The 17-year-old Kihira, who was second at Skate Canada, earned level fours for her spins and step sequence while keeping herself within striking distance of Kostornaia in the free skate.

“I felt like I had a good flow today, which gives me momentum for the free skate tomorrow,” Kihira stated. “I think my triple axel, in terms of the height and width, was one of my best. It was higher than usual.”

Kihira admitted that seeing Kostornaia’s huge score was a bit unnerving.

“I was a bit anxious after seeing that Alena got 85 points,” Kihira confessed. “I knew I had to skate clean after that.”

Kihira bemoaned not landing her triple loop more smoothly.

“It was a regrettable mistake on the triple loop, so I will have to check both my axel and loop at practice tomorrow,” Kihira commented. “I may include the quad salchow in my program tomorrow. I have to evaluate all of my jumps first in the morning before deciding.”

A solid showing on Saturday will send Kihira to the GP Final, an event she won last year.

Zagitova was set to start with a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, but had trouble with the lutz and could not do the loop. After landing a double axel, she tried to add a triple loop onto her triple flip, but singled it and was hit with an invalid element.

“I was too calm today and that did not help me to skate well,” Zagitova said. “I did not have enough adrenaline.”

Zagitova, who is also bidding for a place in the GP Final, remained confident despite the disappointing outing.

“During the Olympic season I failed in the short program sometimes, so I have the experience to hold myself together for the free skate,” Zagitova remarked.

Mako Yamashita (65.70) is in fifth place, while Yuhana Yokoi (62.67) is eighth.

Yamashita, now in her second season on the GP circuit, skated to “Una voce poco fa.” She opened with a nice triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, then hit a double axel, before landing a triple loop.

Yamashita received level fours on her spins and a level three on her step sequence.

Yokoi botched her planned opening triple flip/triple toe loop combo to “Ten Dark Woman.” She went on to land a double axel, before adding the toe loop onto her triple lutz, on which she received an edge call.

World champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong leads the pairs after the short program with 81.27. Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Toweres and Michael Marinaro (71.21) are in second place.

Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara (62.41) are in sixth place heading into Saturday’s free skate.

Two-time defending world titlists Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France are setting the pace in ice dance after the rhythm dance with 90.03. Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin stand in second on 84.07.

The NHK Trophy continues on Saturday afternoon beginning with the free dance and pairs free skate.