Pj's Preview: NHK Trophy
Who'll step up at figure skating's Japanese event?
PJ'S PODIUM PICKS:
- Men: Javier Fernandez (ESP)
- Women: Mao Asada (JPN)
- Pairs: Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov (RUS)
- Dance: Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA)
The six-event Grand Prix series is half over. Some of the most memorable moments have come from unexpected performances such as Japan’s Tatsuki Machida, who took the men’s title at Skate America at the start of the series.
For some skaters, Tokyo’s NHK Grand Prix will be a reprise of Skate America. For my money, I think we will see three of the same gold medallists on the podium. What I am interested in is who else among the competitors will step, rather, skate up.
Javier Fernandez, the 2013 European champion and world bronze medallist, is responsible for putting Spain on the skating map. Fernandez has his work cut out for him. I am a huge fan of his stylish expression and great technique, but he is going to have to get past a couple of Japanese skaters, among others, to win the NHK title. Skate Canada bronze medallist Nobunari Oda and 2010 World champion Daisuke Takahashi are great skaters but will need to pull out all the stops in competition. Americans Adam Rippon and Max Aaron, who took the silver and bronze medals respectively at Skate America, are also in hot pursuit.
I love the fact that Mao Asada is back to being herself. For the last few seasons, every time I mentioned her name and potential it was always with some sort of caveat about her life or her skating. With all that she has been through personally, and after changing her jump technique, it is wonderful to see that her tenacity is paying off. Asada took the title in Detroit and I think she will in Japan as well. But she’ll face a challenge from fellow Japanese skater Akiko Suzuki and American Gracie Gold, who finished second and third respectively at Skate Canada.
It goes without saying that defending world champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, of Russia, are in line to take their second Grand Prix title this season. I am looking forward to seeing an improved performance from Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers, the charismatic Canadians, who just missed the podium in fourth at Skate Canada. Look out for China’s Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, who finished an impressive second at Skate Canada with a quad twist.
NHK also signals the debut of Narumi Takahashi and new partner Ryuichi Kihara. Takahashi became the first world medallist in pairs for Japan when she won bronze at the 2012 world championships with Canadian Mervin Tran. That partnership dissolved shortly thereafter and it took until this spring for Takahashi to find a new partner. Will this partnership mirror her glory days with Tran? That’s what I want to see.
The ice dance should play out the way that it did in Detroit. Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the defending world champions, will undoubtedly take the title and clinch their spot as one of six dance teams for the Grand Prix Final next month. The Italian team of Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte won silver in Detroit, which is how I see things playing out in Tokyo. American brother and sister team of Maia and Alex Shibutani, who won bronze at Skate America, would have to pull of an extraordinary skate to overtake the Italians, so I think they will come away with their second bronze.
Also competing are Canadian national silver medallists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who have been anxiously awaiting their return to competition after Poirier’s catastrophic ankle injury in May sidelined him for the better part of the off-season.