The NHK Trophy – the sixth and last event of the Grand Prix Series – will be held in Nagano, Japan, from November 27-29. In recent years, thanks to the success of skaters like Yuzuru Hanyu and Mao Asada, figure skating’s popularity has skyrocketed in Japan, even extending so far that ballots need to be conducted for the sale of tickets to skating events!
The skaters at NHK will have one element of stress removed ahead of this competition – the ISU has yesterday announced that for the purposes of world ranking and prize money, the short program results from Trophee Eric Bompard will be final. If, after NHK is done, the seventh-placed skater in the series is a TEB skater, they will be given a place in the final. You can read the full announcement here.
The arena will be packed full on Friday, and there’ll be one man they’ve all come to see: Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning Olympic Champion and one of the world’s top skaters. Hanyu will be smarting after his loss to Patrick Chan at Skate Canada, and out to reclaim his authority, particularly over the other Japanese skaters. Takahiko Mura had a wretched Skate America and will want to improve in front of his home crowd, while Keiji Tanaka, now in his second Senior year, will be hoping to improve his standing ahead of Japanese Nationals.
Chinese wonderkid sensation Boyang Jin will be looking to prove that his Cup of China silver was no fluke, and that his incredible technical content can stand up against the best in the world. Defending Russian National Champion Maxim Kovtun will be breathing a sigh of relief that his TEB short program is his final result, and will hope to secure a Grand Prix Final berth here, but his compatriot Konstantin Menshov stands in his way and will be equally determined to get one over his younger teammate on neutral ground.
Elladj Balde of Canada had a torrid Cup of China and will be looking to redeem himself here, possibly playing spoiler for some of the other skaters’ Grand Prix Final chances. The American men have different stories: Richard Dornbush will be out to prove he really is still in contention for the US World team after a difficult Cup of China, while Grant Hochstein will be hoping to build on the form that saw him take a stunning fourth at the same event.
Brendan Kerry was a last-minute call-up for this event, after US National Champion Jason Brown had to withdraw due to a back strain. Brendan was added to the list on Monday night, and while this additional competition was unplanned there’s no doubt it’s an excellent opportunity for him.
Brendan had a great outing at Skate America on his Grand Prix debut, finishing eighth, outclassing several higher-ranked skaters and turning quite a number of heads. With Australian Nationals only next week – he will undoubtedly fly straight from the US to Japan to Sydney – this also provides an excellent opportunity to build on some good form and really nail down that long program. The Japanese crowd are likely to love his casual, relaxed style and goofy kiss-and-cry antics, and given the popularity of the sport in Japan, this is a fantastic opportunity for Brendan in more ways than one.
The NHK field is a stiff one for Brendan to be parachuted into, especially at the last minute, but if he can put out two programs of similar or higher quality than Skate America, he could find himself taking down some big names just as he did there.
PREDICTION: Hanyu, Jin, Menshov
If Hanyu is the top man that the packed arena want to see, then there can be equally no doubt that Mao Asada is the lady they want to see. Asada’s comeback has generated enormous excitement in Japan (and outside it too) and so far, all has been going to plan. The crowd would no doubt love to see Asada win on home soil, and they would equally love to see their reigning World silver medallist, Satoko Miyahara, medal also.
Standing in Asada’s way is the American self-styled “warrior lady” Ashley Wagner, who is on a good run of form after winning Skate Canada and seeking to establish herself as the number one US lady ahead of Nationals. Katelyn Osmond from Canada will be hoping to keep building in her return from a serious leg injury, while Chinese lady Zijun Li will be hoping to redeem herself here after a ninth-place finish at her home event.
The Russian ladies will once again be fighting among themselves for status as well as fighting for the medals. Anna Pogorilaya took some hideous falls at Cup of China, but her fourth place there means she is still in with an outside shot of a spot at the Grand Prix Final. Alena Leonova will be on a fightback after finishing only eighth at Skate Canada, while Maria Artemieva will be looking to impress in her only outing of the series.
PREDICTION: Asada, Wagner, Miyahara
Canadian champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford will be looking to continue their superb form after a dominant win at Skate Canada. As the reigning Grand Prix Final Champions, Duhamel and Radford will be hoping to secure a berth to the Final here and a chance to defend their title. Compatriots Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch had a rough start to the season at Cup of China and will be hoping to improve here.
US National Champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim will also be seeking a spot in the Final at this event, following on from their second place finish at Skate America. Their compatriots Jessica Calalang and Zack Sidhu, meanwhile, will be at their first Grand Prix event of the year and hoping to bank a solid result ahead of Nationals.
Russian pair Vera Bazarova and Andrei Deputat had a solid start to the season with a fifth place finish at Skate Canada. With the pairs field so deep ahead of their National Championships, they will need to improve their result here to establish themselves as contenders for post-Nationals selection. French pair Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres will return to the ice after an emotional second in the abbreviated Trophee Eric Bompard, with an opportunity to qualify for the Final themselves.
PREDICTION: Duhamel/Radford, Scimeca/Knierim, Bazarova/Deputat
American sibling duo Maia and Alex Shibutani come into this event in good form and a good position to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, after their second-placed finish at Skate Canada earlier this season. With a Final spot on the line and the opportunity to shore up their standing within the US dance teams, they should perform strongly here. They are joined at this event by Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who were the surprise winners of the abbreviated event in Bordeaux, and Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus, who had a solid fifth-placed outing at Skate America.
Their biggest challengers will be Russian couple Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, who were third at Skate America, and their compatriots Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, who were third at Trophee Eric Bompard. These two couples will also be fighting among themselves to establish position ahead of Russian Nationals, now only a month away, and a Grand Prix Final spot would be a strong way to do that.
British team Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland were fourth at the Trophee Eric Bompard, and are continuing to improve after last year’s setbacks. Home-event couples Emi Hirai and Marien de la Asuncion and Kana Muramoto and Chris Reed will be hoping to earn the technical minimums for Four Continents and Worlds at this event.
PREDICTION: Shibutani/Shibutani, Bobrova/Soliviev, Coomes/Buckland
All times AEDT.
Short Program – Friday 27th November – 6:10pm - 7:45pm
Long Program – Saturday 28th November – 6:30pm - 8:25pm
Short Program – Friday 27th November – 9:05pm - 10:40pm
Long Program – Saturday 28th November – 9:35pm - 11:25pm
Short Program – Friday 27th November – 4:20pm - 5:30pm
Long Program – Saturday 28th November – 4:20pm - 5:45pm
Short Dance – Saturday 28th November – 2:30pm - 3:40pm
Free Dance – Sunday 29th November – 2:00pm - 3:15pm