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Skate Today

NHK Trophy Wraps Up Another Successful Competition

1998 Olympic Venue Big Hat Arena in Nagano, Japan played host last weekend to the NHK Trophy – the fourth stop on the Grand Prix Series. The event which boasted approximately 60 competitors from 13 countries featured some of the top echelon of figure skaters who hope to qualify for one of the six spots in the Grand Prix Final. The final will be held in Tokyo, Japan December 3-6, 2009. One-hundred-eighty thousand USD was doled out to the top competitors during the three day event here in Nagano, Japan.

2007 World Champion Miki Ando took top honors in the ladies’ event and secured her spot in the upcoming final after winning gold here in Nagano and gold two weeks ago at Cup of Russia in Moscow. Despite securing her spot, Ando has been disappointed with her performances. Despite finishing second in both the short and free program Ando was able to garner enough points to lift her to the top spot and qualify her as the leader in the Grand Prix series.

Skating to “Requiem” by Wolfgang A. Mozart the reigning World bronze medalist was shaky. She struggled on the landing of her triple Lutz/ double toe loop combination and also fell on the triple flip that followed. The rest of the program was clean. However, she received only a level one on her layback spin and a level two on her straight line step sequence. Her short program total was 56.22 points.

In her “Cleopatra” themed free skate the Japanese skater appeared in a stunning costume and overcame two glaring jump errors when she went on to take the title with 162.55 points. Her opening triple Lutz was two-footed and downgraded, and then she fell on the back-end of a triple toe/ double toe combination as well. She went on to produce a clean triple loop, a triple Salchow and a triple Lutz. She also executed two level four spins and a level four spiral step sequence as well. She placed 2.18 points Junior World Champion Alena Leonova who won the free skate.

“I stood in the middle of the podium for the first time in Japan (at a Grand Prix event), but I’m not really happy, because my free skating wasn’t competitive,”Ando shared. “I am pleased to be in the Final and I will train hard for it and try to become stronger mentally. I’m looking forward to the Finale in Tokyo, so I can show the people in Japan a better performance.”

The Russian pulled herself up from fifth place to second overall with a dazzling skate in the free program worth 108.51 points. Skating to the musical them from “Chicago” the teen displayed enthusiasm, class and excitement and energized the audience with energy. She nailed five triple jumps and delivered strong spins and spiral as well.

“I am very pleased with my free skating. I almost did the triple toe-triple toe combination, I just stepped out of it, but I’m still very happy. This is the first time that I got credit for it in competition,” the exhuberant teen stated.

Finishing in the third spot in Nagano and the second spot in Moscow behind Ando was upstart Ashley Wagner of the USA. Wagner actually eclipsed Ando in the short program here in Nagano with an entertaining skate set to music from the soundtrack “Once Upon a Time in America”. The reigning US pewter medalist has shown marked improvement since teaming up with current coach Priscilla Hill last season. She nailed her opening combination a triple flip/double toe combination, but received an edge watch on the triple Lutz and her double Axel was downgraded. Despite the mistakes, her non-jumping elements were strong receiving a level four on her layback spin and change foot combination spin and level three on her flying sit spins and spiral step sequence. She picked up 56.54 points in the short program and narrowly edged Ando heading into the free skate by 0.32 points.

However, the overnight leader struggled with her jumps in the free skate and slipped from first to third with an overall score of 155.90 points, 6.56 points behind Ando. She stepped out on triple Salchow and a planned double Axel + triple flip sequence.

“It wasn’t the best program, to be honest, but I still accomplished some of the goals that I wanted to accomplish here”, Wagner confessed. “I’m on the podium, so I’m pretty happy with that overall. Going through the program, I think I just was a little bit tired. I’ve been on the road for three weeks. By the time I got to the long program it’s been a long trip,” she added.

In the dance event, the American Champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White sailed to victory with two stunning programs. They displayed great speed, precision and deep edges to take the title over the brother and sister team of Sinead Kerr and John Kerr of Scotland by 24.26 points.

Davis and White displayed a high energy and technically demanding skate to”Devdas” by Nusret Badr. The Indian routine is based on the Kathak Dance of Northern India. The word kathak means “to tell a story”. It is derived from the dance dramas of ancient India.

“It is a story based on an Indian folk tale about an Indian God, who is playing a flute to call the women in the village to him” Davis explained.

With Davis donning a modified Ghaghara choli and White outfitted in traditional Sheerwani garb the dancers portrayed an authentic dance complete with hand gestures, which represented actual words. ,

“We worked with an Indian folk dancer that we found near where Charlie and I go to school in Arbor,” Meryl explained. “She worked a lot with us on our movement and on our hand gestures, and she helped us pick the music. Every gesture has a meaning. We wanted to make the program as authentic as possible. Our moms designed our costumes,” she added. They are based on designs we found in a magazine. “

Skating together since 1997 the youngsters have made a quick rise in the ice dancing world. Placing fourth at the most recent World Championships in Los Angeles last March the duo is hoping for a podium placement at the upcoming Olympic Games in Vancouver come February.

Their “Phantom of the Opera” free skate is mesmerizing. The duo received a standing ovation for their rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music. The Americans displayed blazingly fast twizzles, complicated lifts and intricate step sequences to capture the title.

Sinead and John Kerr put out two outstanding performances packed with excitement to capture the silver medal with 177.73 points over 2008 Worlds Junior silver medalists Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier who stood third overall with 165.89 points.

The Scots delivered strong lifts, which included a lift where Sinead lifts John, which captured ooh’s and ah’s from the crowd. Their high energy original/folk dance to music by Johnny Cash was well received by the Japanese crowd.

“We feel pretty good with our performance,” John Kerr said. “It feels like every time we get out there we feel from a performance point of view we really improve on it. The more we can perform this routine the more we relate to the crowd, the more we can realize which parts work really well and which parts don’t. I feel it’s a good progression from where we were at in Paris.”

The Canadians executed a powerful Flamingo routine which included complicated lifts and steps. Their expression and character in the routine were much improved over previous seasons.

We did all our elements very well,today. We had a few things that we were told to work on at the Cup of Russia two weeks ago and it felt like we really improved on them, Poirier told the press. ” I think something that was a lot better was the level of expression and interpretation, which is something that’s not our strongest point.”

2007 World Champion reigned supreme here in Japan after a dismal fourth place standing at Trophee Bompard three weeks earlier.

Besides struggling on the landing of a triple Axel and taking off from the wrong edge on the two triple flips in his free skate the Frenchmen produced an energetic routine to the music “Ancient Land” by Roman Hardiman. His opening quad toe loop was gorgeous as was the triple Salchow that followed. The overnight leader delivered powerful steps but was only awarded a level two by the technical panel. In the end Joubert racked up an event total of 232.70 points, a new season’s best – to capture the title.

“I am very happy about this competition. I’ve never won NHK Trophy”, Joubert told the media. “We have worked a lot, but we had only one week and I wasn’t completely ready for this competition. Winning this competition is great, but I still have a lot to work on. I don’t want to be known just as a jumper. I want to present the whole package.”

The ever flamboyant Johnny Weir moved up one spot to second to take the silver medal over up and comer Mikal Brezina by a slim margin of 0.22 points.

The 2008 World bronze medalist (Weir) delivered two emotional routines to the appreciative audience. His free skate which he coins as “Fallen Angels” describes his ups and downs in the sport. His only glaring error came when the reigning Grand Prix medalist popped a planned triple loop into a single. His non-jumping elements received high levels except for the change foot combination spin which was awarded a mere level one by the technical panel. Weir racked up a total of 217.70 points to win the silver medal.

“I was very happy that I was able to push through this week. It is definitely a medal well earned,” Weir commented. “Of course there were mistakes that shouldn’t be made later in the season. This competion will help me later in the season, because I had this very stressful and difficult situation (having a cold) behind me and I came out with a medal.”

“Being at Cup of Russia two weeks ago and watching how Evgeny (Plushenko) performed. It really inspired me to do my best and be mentally tough,” he added.

Reigning World Junior silver medalist danced his way across the ice to the music “An American in Paris” with a new personal best score of 217.48 points. The Czech skater could not place a foot wrong and wowed the crowd with six near-flawless triple jumps, which elevated the youngster from sixth to third overall to capture the bronze medal in his first ever senior Grand Prix event.

“This is my first senior Grand Prix, and I’m very happy with my medal. I skated almost clean in both programs, which is what I wanted,” Brezina commented. ” I hope that I can continue to skate like this in my next Grand Prix.”

Qing Pang and Jian Tong delivered a lyrical free skate to capture gold over Russians Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov who sat in first overnight, but struggled in the free skate.

Pang and Tong displayed technically demanding elements in combination with emotion and passion to the music “The Impossible Dream” from the Man of La Mancha soundtrack. The audience stood for the duo to exhibit their appreciation of the performance at the end of the program. The reigning Grand Prix Final gold medalists gather a new personal best score of 199.65 points narrowly missing their goal of 200 points.

“We achieved a new personal best score today, and that makes us very happy,” Tong stated. “We skated very well, but there are still some things we can improve on. In the three weeks before the Grand Prix Final we will work on solving these issues and then we want to skate our very best there.”

Kavaguti suffered from a partial dislocation of her shoulder after falling on their opening move – a throw quad Salchow. After a small disruption in their program, the European bronze medalists resumed their program delivering high quality elements. They earned a new season’s best score for the free skate of 124.15 points after receiving a one-point deduction for the fall and two-points for the disruption in the program. Their overall score of 193.05 points earned them the silver medal.

“I dislocated my shoulder in the fall and I tried to get it back in, but it didn’t go in. Therefore, we had to stop the performance.” Kavaguti explained. “I just thought that I have to finish the program, but now to be honest, it does really hurt. I skated the program just with my spirit.”

Americans Rena Inoue and John Baldwin moved up from fourth to third to capture the bronze medal with an event total of 158.78 points. The Americans went for their throw triple Axel but Inoue fell causing a one-point deduction. They also received a one-point time deduction as well. They did manage side-by-side triple Salchows, a double Axel + double Axel sequence, and a throw triple loop.

“From the beginning of our program we were able to enjoy our skating,” Inoue stated. “Now what we have to go back and prepare for our Nationals to see if we qualify for the Olympics. Nationals will be the height of our season”.

The Grand Prix series continues next week in Lake Placid, New York with Skate America.

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