NHK Trophy turns up some unexpected results
'I love it when I'm wrong,' writes Pj Kwong
The biggest shake-up over the weekend at the NHK event was in the men’s event. Who would have thought that former American champion Jeremy Abbott would have been able to stay out of his head long enough to skate beautifully in his free program after finishing in seventh place in the short? Not I. I love it when I am wrong, especially in the case of Abbott, whose skating I admire greatly. Abbott’s NHK bronze medal is part of a classic case of redemption that also puts him back in contention for one of two American Olympic berths.
I might not have thought that Daisuke Takahashi was up to the challenge of collecting his fifth NHK Trophy title, especially after his fourth place finish at Skate America. Once again, I am delighted to be proven wrong. Takahashi may not have been perfect, but was close enough to make me a believer that he is also on track to capture one of Japan’s three Olympic berths.
The Chinese pair program seemed to have lost some of its lustre over the last season or two, with the retirement of 2010 Olympic champions Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, and the inexperience of some of the up and comers. That has all changed; two Chinese teams finished on the podium in Tokyo.
NHK showed that 2006 Olympic silver medallist Hao Zhang’s new partnership with Cheng Peng has gelled in the most amazing way, resulting in an NHK silver medal. Fellow Chinese teammates and Skate Canada silver medallists Wenjing Sui and Cong Han took the NHK bronze.
The World champions, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov from Russia, easily won the NHK title, their second in the Grand Prix series, earning them a trip to the Grand Prix Final. Only in their fourth season, Volosozhar and Trankov have the kind of chemistry, unison and glorious skating that is usually reserved for teams with a much longer history.
Repeat wins in women's, ice dance
2010 Olympic silver medallist Mao Asada is also on her way to the Grand Prix Final by virtue of her second Grand Prix title at NHK. Here is what is different about Asada this season: she can rely on her jumps again. This seemingly gives her the confidence to be able to skate with the kind of abandon we came to know and love a few seasons ago.
The other notable woman’s performance in Tokyo came from silver medallist Elena Radionova from Russia. At almost 15, she is on the young side for this level of competition. Then again, so was 15-year-old 1998 American Olympic champion Tara Lipinski, and look how that turned out.
As I predicted, the ice dance podium was a repeat of what happened at Skate America. World champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White are off to the Grand Prix Final with a second series title at NHK. What I love about this team is their consistency and preparedness.
The silver medallists, Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, have created a much stronger presence on the ice this season that makes them appear bigger and faster. Taking their second Grand Prix bronze this season were the ever delightful American brother and sister team of Maia and Alex Shibutani.