From November 27 – 29, this year’s NHK Trophy took place in Nagano. This was the sixth and final event in the International Skating Union’s 2015 – 2016 Grand Prix Series. Japan sent 6 skaters and 2 ice dance teams to this competition. Japanese skaters won 2 gold medals and 2 bronze medals at the event.
Yuzuru Hanyu won the men’s portion of NHK Trophy with a total score of 322.40, beating the combined score world record of 295.27 set by Canada’s Patrick Chan at 2013’s Trophee Eric Bompard. Yuzuru’s short program was given a score of 106.33, the best of the night. This short program score beat the world record of 101.45, which he set at last year’s Olympics. “I have been practicing very, very hard and am really happy with the score. I have to thank all of my teachers and coaches, including Brian (Orser). They deserve the credit,” he said after the short program. Yuzuru continued, “I felt I had to include two quads in the short program. As the Olympic champion I felt it is necessary as I prepare for the 2018 Olympics.” His first place finish in the short program brought back memories. “Like during the Olympic season I could do well in the short program,” he stated. “Now I would like to continue and do my best in the free skate.”
This year’s NHK Trophy took place at Big Hat, the venue for the ice hockey competition during the 1998 Winter Olympics. When asked if he remembered those games, Yuzuru said, “I was only 3 at that time, so I can’t say that I do. I had not even started skating at that point. But after the Nagano Games the skaters came to my rink in Sendai and gave a performance and this is what launched my interest in skating.”
The following day, Yuzuru had the best score of the free skate and set another world record. His free skate received a score of 216.07, besting the record set by 196.75 Patrick Chan at 2013’s Eric Bompard. “I’m very, very excited right now. I don’t know what to say. I have to appreciate my coach and all of my teachers. This is not the 2014 or 2018 Olympics, so I want to continue to work to impress the audience,” Yuzuru said after his win. He added, “It was important to carry out each element carefully and with quality. I know you (the media) were surprised by the score, but so was I. I just believed in my practice and performance.” Yuzuru continued, “It’s important to land quads with good quality. I tried five here between the short and free programs and was focused on more difficult entries and landings.”
Speaking of second place finisher, Boyang Jin of China, Yuzuru commented, “When I look at the future of figure skating (and quads), I see Boyang.” He beat the Chinese skater who debuted on the senior circuit this season by 55.97 points.
Takahito Mura came in third place with a total score of 242.21, behind Boyang Jin’s score of 266.43. His short program received a score of 88.29 (his personal best), putting him in third place behind Boyang’s score of 95.64. Takahito was motivated by his tenth place finish at Skate America a few weeks ago. “After Skate America I was disappointed,” he stated. “My practice was good after that. I made a few mistakes today, so I can still improve.” Takahito’s free skate was the fifth best of the night, receiving a score of 153.92, placing him behind fellow Japanese skater Keiji Tanaka’s 161.16. Takahito doubled his triple salchow. He also stepped out on his triple loop.
Satoko Miyahara won the women’s portion of NHK Trophy with a total score of 203.11. She had the highest scoring short program with a score of 69.53. After her skate, Satoko said, “I’m satisfied to be in this place. I’m happy to do my program clean with my jumps, spins and steps.” The next day, her free skate was given a score of 133.58, the best of the ladies’ event. “I was able to get good momentum from the start in this competition,” Satoko stated. “I’m happy I was able to perform both the short and free in a way that was satisfactory to me.”
Mao Asada came in third place with a score of 182.99, behind American Courtney Hicks’ second place score of 183.12. She was in fourth place after the short program with a score of 62.50, behind American Ashley Wagner’s 63.71. Mao fell on her triple axel and singled her triple lutz. “My triple axel is at a better level now than it was two years ago,” she said. “I’m comfortable with it, but the landing was a bit under today. I could not get a strong landing today because I had done it well at the other two events,” Mao added. “Mentally and physically I took it for granted today.” Her free skate was the second best of the night with a score of 120.49, behind Satoko. Mao has issues with her triple axel again, doubling it and two-footing the landing. She also double the second part of her triple flip-triple loop combination. She later under-rotated another triple flip and had issues with the landing. “I wasn’t able to do well in the short and free,” Mao later said. “I have a lot of work to do. There are several issues that have come to light. I need to focus on both the physical and mental aspects.”
Japan’s third male skater, Keiji Tanaka, finished in fifth place. The third Japanese female skater, Mariko Kihara, finished in tenth place. The two ice dance teams of Kana Muramoto / Chris Reed and Emi Hirai / Marien de la Asuncion placed seventh and eighth, respectively.
With the Grand Prix Series over, next up is the Grand Prix Final. This event will take place in Barcelona, Spain on December 10 – 13. The male skaters Japan is sending are Yuzuru Hanyu, Shoma Uno, and Daisuke Murakami. They finished the Grand Prix Series in second, third, and sixth place, respectively. Half of the male skaters at the Grand Prix Final will be Japanese. Japan’s female skaters attending the event are Satoko Miyahara and Mao Asada, who finished the series in third and fourth place, respectively. Rika Hongo is the first alternate. Upon hearing that she had won a spot at the Grand Prix Final, Satoko said, “I am delighted to win and earn a place at the Grand Prix Final. That has been one of my goals for the season.”