Shoma Uno and Kaori Sakamoto both outlasted their rivals with impressive free skates to top their respective singles competitions at the NHK Trophy on Saturday night, giving the skating world notice of a potential show of force from Japan at next month’s Grand Prix Final in Osaka.
Uno, who ended Friday’s short program in the lead, brought the audience to their feet with a performance to “Bolero” that featured five quad jumps to earn a score of 187.57 in the free skate and 290.15 overall.
The victory was a redemption on the international stage for the 23-year-old, whose last major tournament win came in 2019 at the Four Continents in Anaheim, California.
“In my third competition of the season I feel like I have come back to a level where I can compete with the rest of the world,” said Uno, whose second NHK Trophy title following the 2018 edition clinched a Grand Prix Final appearance. “But that’s where I have been before, and I need to go beyond that so I need to train more.”
“There’s so many people including (coach) Stephane (Lambiel) who believe in me and think I can be No. 1, and I really wanted to show them what I’m capable of.
“I want to continue to grasp the moment, and I think right now all of the aspects of my life are focused on skating.”
Two weeks out from his Skate America title in Las Vegas, Vincent Zhou was undone by a shaky performance that included several under-rotated jumps. The American only narrowly held on to second with 260.69 total points, just above Cha Junhwan’s 259.60.
“Thankfully this isn’t the Olympics and I think it’s good to get this out of my system now, because this is not who I am and not representative of my training,” Zhou said.
“Everything happens for a reason. I know why this competition was difficult for me, and my team will make sure that the circumstances leading up to the biggest competitions are much better for me.”
Cha’s third-place finish matched his best in a Grand Prix event since 2018, when he finished third in Skate Canada, the Grand Prix of Helsinki and the Grand Prix Final.
“I learned that I had a lot of things to work on for my next competition. I’ll just train hard (in order to) be ready for those,” the 20-year-old said.
In the women’s singles free skate Sakamoto turned on the afterburners in her free skate set to “No More Fight Left In Me” and “Tris,” overcoming a faulty triple lutz to score strongly on her triple flip/triple toeloop combination and end the two-day competition with 223.34 points, comfortably ahead of second-place Mana Kawabe.
Despite seemingly having qualified for the Grand Prix Final, the Kobe native insists that she is still adjusting to this season’s free program after reaching a ceiling with “The Piano,” her 2018-19 program.
“To be honest I wasn’t sure which free program to do this year. Even for the (August 2021) Summer Cup I struggled trying to figure out which to use,” Sakamoto said. “I went with ‘The Piano’ and scored very well, but I also realized I had hit the upper limit of what I could accomplish with that program.
“If I wanted to achieve a higher score I really needed to do something new.”
Sakamoto, who also won the 2020 NHK Trophy that was contested almost entirely by Japanese skaters due to the coronavirus pandemic, said that she focused on perfecting both of her programs while training in isolation after returning to Japan from last month’s Skate America.
“I had the rink all to myself, morning and evening, twice during my self-isolation period,” she said. “I promised myself that I would skate a clean short and free program at least once in both sessions.
“For the free program I wanted to really figure out how to relax and jump effortlessly because that was important to me.”
Competing in the second Grand Prix event of her senior-circuit debut, Kawabe entered Saturday night with the potential to pull off an upset — only to be doomed from the start when she fell on her opening triple axel and later failed to cleanly land her triple flip.
The 17-year-old persisted to finish strongly for a combined score of 205.44, her personal best.
“After I missed my axel I was able to change my outlook and focus on other things, so I think that was actually good growth for me,” Kawabe said.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunity that I’ve been given to gain this experience.”
South Korea’s Young You finished second in the free skate with 135.52, ending the competition in third despite her disappointment at a failed triple axel.
“I’m happy I landed other jumps, but next time I’ll concentrate on my triple axel in order to not make mistakes in (future) competitions,” she said.
Russia dominated the pairs competition, with Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov ending the day in first place and Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov finishing second. Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara took third.
The final standings of the ice dance also mirrored that of Friday’s, with Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov lifting the trophies, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates finishing second and Great Britain’s Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson holding on for third.
The Grand Prix season will continue with next weekend’s Internationaux de France in Grenoble before the Nov. 26-28 Cup of Russia in Sochi. The Grand Prix Final and Junior Grand Prix Final will take place from Dec. 9-12 at Towa Pharmaceutical Ractab Dome, marking the first time Japan will have hosted the event since the 2017 edition in Nagoya.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.