Figure Skating

Yuzuru Hanyu dazzles en route to fourth NHK Trophy title; Alena Kostornaia wins women's event

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Yuzuru Hanyu won the NHK Trophy in decisive fashion on Saturday night, claiming the title by a whopping 55 points before a packed house at Makomanai Ice Arena.

The superstar, who qualified for next month’s Grand Prix Final with the victory, landed four quads in his free skate to “Origin” and triumphed with a score of 305.05 points.

Hanyu’s point total fell short of what he achieved in his win at Skate Canada (322.59), but it hardly mattered. It was another night of pure domination for the legend, who showed how wide the gap is between he and the majority of his competitors, even on an evening when he was not perfect.

France’s Kevin Aymoz (250.02) was a distant second, with Canada’s Roman Sadovsky (247.50) taking third. The podium finish also qualified Aymoz for the GP Final.

Alena Kostornaia, who set a world record in the short program on Friday night, won the women’s event with 240.00. Rika Kihira was second with 231.84, while Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova came in third on 217.99.

Hanyu opened his program with a quad loop and a quad salchow, then landed two quad toe loops later. He earned level fours for all of his spins and step sequence. He did have an under-rotation on the back end of a quad toe loop/triple toe loop combination in the second half of his skate.

“I’m happy to get through this competition without injury and happy to make the (Grand Prix) Final,” Hanyu stated. “I will do some more training to balance myself in the coming days. I want to take the energy I received here and leverage that at the final.”

Hanyu was asked about what he has planned at the competition in Turin, Italy.

“My goal is to put on a clean performance with no mistakes,” Hanyu commented. “I’m still figuring out what I will include. I want to be confident enough in my programs in spite of what my competitors are doing.”

Added Hanyu, “I want to do well in the free skate especially, with clean jumps. But it’s not possible to always be flawless.”

The victory marked the fourth time that Hanyu has topped the podium at the NHK Trophy, putting him second on the all-time list for wins in the event behind only Daisuke Takahashi (who won it five times).

Hanyu has captured the NHK Trophy title more than any of the other regular GPs. He has prevailed at the GP Final four times.

Aymoz was asked about what it was like to share the podium with Hanyu.

“It is a bit unbelievable to me,” Aymoz noted. “To me he is the champion of a generation.”

Sota Yamamoto (226.27) landed two quads and came in sixth, while Koshiro Shimada (213.65) fell on his quad toe loop and settled for ninth.

American Tomoki Hiwatashi (207.30), who was fifth at the Internationaux de France earlier this month, ended up in 10th place.

Kostornaia followed one superb program with another, skating to “New Moon” and “Supermassive Black Hole” and putting on a fantastic performance.

The 16-year-old won her second GP of the season and clinched a spot in the GP Final. She also gave coach Eteri Tutberidze a sweep of all six women’s titles this season.

Kostornaia had just one blemish on an otherwise impressive scoresheet, under-rotating her second triple axel, but landing seven other clean triples.

“I’m very happy with my skate tonight,” Kostornaia said. “I had a small miss on the triple axel, but I can work on it and fix it.”

When asked about her goal for the GP Final, Kostornaia gave a concise reply.

“My goal is the same as always,” Kostornaia stated. “I want to skate a beautiful and clean performance that moves the audience and satisfies myself.”

Kihira skated strongly in finishing second to “International Angel of Peace,” hitting six triples, with the only miscue coming when she under-rotated the back end of her triple flip/triple toe loop combo. She had considered opening the program with a quad salchow, but settled for a triple instead.

“I was able to skate almost perfectly in my short program and free skate while concentrating fully,” Kihira stated. “I want to do better so I can have a clean program. I was close to my personal best with some small mistakes. I don’t think I could have been first here even with a clean skate.”

Kihira acknowledged that defending her title at the GP Final won’t be easy.

“The Grand Prix Final will be tougher this year. If I perform the same as last year it will be difficult to win,” Kihira commented. “I want to look into my quads and other jumps that can get higher scores. I do want to win there and be stronger.”

Zagitova showed her fortitude in bouncing back from a rough short program by rallying with a sublime free skate to “Cleopatra.” She recorded six clean triples on the night, with just one under-rotation on a triple flip at the beginning of a three-combo jump.

Zagitova gave a direct response when asked her thoughts about her effort this night.

“I’m happy about my free skate. I’m not happy about my short program,” Zagitova remarked “I’m glad that I did better tonight.”

The Pyeongchang Olympic winner, who also qualified for the GP Final, was given level threes for one of her spins and her step sequence.

Yuhana Yokoi (189.54) moved up from eighth in the short program to finish fourth with a fine skate to “The Phantom of the Opera.” Yokoi had just five triples, but showed nice line and edge throughout, and got level fours on all of her spins.

Mako Yamashita (189.25) came in a respectable fifth in a strong field with her effort to “Scent of a Woman.” She also landed five triples with one under-rotation (on a triple flip), while posting level fours on all of her spins.

The results here mean that four Russians (Kostornaia, Zagitova, Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova) have made the GP Final, along with Kihira and American Bradie Tennell.

Satoko Miyahara is the first alternate, ahead of Mariah Bell of the United States.

World champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China won the pairs competition with a total of 226.96. Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro (208.49) took second.

Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara finished fifth on 179.94.

Two-time defending world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France prevailed in ice dance with a tally of 226.61. Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin (208.81) came in second.