Figure skating expert Hannah Robbins discusses the competition in Japan for the NHK Trophy this weekend and the standings for the Grand Prix Final, which is the halfway point in the Grand Prix Series.
The Grand Prix Series continues this week in Hiroshima, Japan with the NHK Trophy. This competition is the fourth of six Grand Prix events, so almost all the skaters that are in the hunt for spots in the Grand Prix Final have competed in a Grand Prix event. Maria Sotskova of Russia, who placed fourth in the Europeans and Americans Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker, winners of Four Continents, began their Grand Prix season this week.
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron of France were also supposed to begin their Grand Prix season in Japan, but this week in training Cizeron injured his back. This injury has made it impossible for Papadakis/Cizeron to compete in the Grand Prix Finals since skaters must compete in two Grand Prix events to qualify. Cizeron’s injury does not seem to be severe, however, since the pair plans to start limited training again on Tuesday to compete in the final Grand Prix of the season in two weeks.
In the men’s competition, Shoma Uno of Japan continued to dominate despite messy performances. Uno fell on his combination jump in the short program, leaving him only a point ahead of second place, and in the free program only attempted one combination jump of the three possible in his program. Despite these struggles, Uno still ended in first place by 22 points.
Russian Sergei Voronov continued to skate cleanly, and despite a free program that lacked difficulty, he finished in second place overall. Russian Dmitri Aliev had a strong score in the short program, finishing in third, but after finishing sixth in the free program due to a program that included only one combination jump, Aliev ended in fifth place. Matteo Rizzo of Italy ended end third after mostly clean but under-rotated programs where he placed fourth in the short and third in the free program.
American Vincent Zhou continued to struggle this week. After finishing fifth place in the short program following under-rotated jumps, something Zhou continues to struggle with, he placed fourth overall after ending in fourth in the free program due to more under-rotations. His compatriot Alexander Johnson had his Grand Prix debut this weekend and ended in seventh place after completing mostly clean programs that lacked competitive difficulty.
In the ladies competition, Satoko Miyahara of Japan seemed poised to continue her successes from Skate America earlier this season, but it was her compatriot Rika Kihira that ended in first. Miyahara started with a strong second place finish in the short, a mere .09 points behind Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia, but ended in second overall after under-rotations and popped jumps plagued her free program.
Rika Kihira improved after her rough short program where a fall on her triple axel left her in fifth, but surged back to win the competition with a strong performance in the free. On the other hand, Tuktamysheva was not able to capitalize on her success from the short program in the free, ending .45 points behind Miyahara in third.
Mai Mihara of Japan seemed off to a strong start with a third place finish in the short program, but under-rotations and lack of difficulty left her in fifth place in the free leaving her in fourth place overall. Sotskova struggled in both programs, finishing in ninth after placing ninth place in both the short and free after popped jumps, under-rotations and falls.
Americans also seemed to struggle this week, with Mariah Bell placing fifth after failing to overcome her seventh place short program where she fell despite her fourth place free program. Courtney Hicks and Angela Wang fared no better; Hicks started with 10th place in the short but improved to eighth in the free to end eighth overall while Wang started in eighth in the short but ended in 12th in the free to end 11th overall.
In the pairs competition, there were few surprises. Russians Natalia Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert placed first after placing first in both the short and free programs while Cheng Ping/Yang Jin of China placed second after earning second place in both the short and free. The only change in the entire competition between the short and free was in the third and fourth places, where Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro ended in third after the short program, but struggles in the free program left them .83 points outside of third place.
It was Americans Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim that ended in third place, after a fall in the short left them in fourth, they surged to third despite mistakes on a combination jump. Fellow Americans Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea ended in fifth place after earning fifth place in both their short and free programs following under-rotated jumps and falls.
In the ice dance competition, Hawayek/Baker had a strong showing. After a downgraded performance in the rhythm dance left them in second, they surged to first in the free dance following a solid performance. Russians Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro started out with a strong performance in the rhythm dance, finishing in first, but faltered in the free dance following deductions for an extended lift and lower-level step sequences and twizzles that left them in fourth in the free program and second overall.
Americans Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons ended in third after earning third place in both the rhythm and free dances following solid, if slightly less technical performances than the other competitors. Lilah Fear/Lewis Gibson of Great Britain were a surprise fourth place finish. They struggled in the rhythm dance, earning seventh place with lower-level elements before earning second place in the free dance following a mostly clean performance besides a deduction for an extended dance lift.
After the NHK Trophy, the standings for the Grand Prix final are starting to shake out. In the men’s discipline, Uno has guaranteed himself a spot in the final with two first place finishes. Michal Brezina of Czechoslovakia has also clinched a spot with two second place finishes.
If American Nathan Chen and Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan continue the way they began this season, they can both win their Grand Prixs and earn Grand Prix Final spots. The other two spots are up in the air. If Canadian Keegan Messing continues to do well he can earn a spot in his first Grand Prix Final, and if no other surprises occur, Voronov can squeeze into the Final.
In the ladies discipline, the field is wide open. Miyahara and Tuktamysheva seem to be in good shape to earn a spot, but the rest of the field is less certain. Russian Alina Zagitova and Kihira could earn spots with repeat first place finishes, but Kihira’s last competition is very competitive. She will be up against American Bradie Tennell and Russian Evgenia Medvedeva, and a strong showing by either of them, especially Medvedeva, might make for an interesting end to the Grand Prix Series. Also in the mix are Mako Yamashita of Japan and Russian Stanislava Konstantinova.
In the pairs discipline, Zabiiako/Enbert and Peng/Jin have earned spots in the Final. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres of France have a very easy second Grand Prix and look poised to make the final as well, but the last three spots are still up in the air. Russians Tarasova/Morozov look poised to win and earn a spot, but they face competition from Italians Della Monica/Guarise, Russians Efimova/Korovin, Americans Cain/Leduc and Russians Pavliuchenko/Khodykin.
In the ice dance discipline, Americans Hubbell/Donohue and Italians Guignard/Fabbri have clinched a spot in the Final. Russians Stepanova/Burkin also look poised to end up in the Final, but the last three spots are murkier. Those will go to some combination of Hawayek/Baker, Parsons/Parsons, Russians Sinitsina/Katsalapov, Zagorski/Guerreiro and Canadians Gilles/Poirier.