On the eve of the 2016 Grand Prix Final, I'm taking a look back at the last Grand Prix event two weeks ago at NHK Trophy. This was a not-so-grand experiment to take a bit of time after a competition and reflect back on it later. But what it did do was put the competition into perspective, especially with the second half of the season on its way. Here are some parting thoughts from NHK Trophy before GPF starts tomorrow.
Hanyu's ability to turn it on
When I think vintage Yuzuru Hanyu performances, I think NHK and Grand Prix Final from last year, and I think short program at the Olympics. And perhaps many other Hanyu observers have already made this connection, but this season is the first time where I'm seeing it. The flawless version of Hanyu is at least an order of magnitude better than the making errors version of Hanyu.
There are skaters who can maintain their level of intensity and performance even through mistakes, and there are skaters who let their mistakes run their programs. Hanyu is squarely the latter. But his ability to turn it on when he hits his jumps is perhaps more magnified than any other skater. When he's on, there's an air of invincibility - and some would even point to it as cockiness - about his demeanor that is so different. He feeds off the audience's excitement, he skates faster, he lands jumps with a glare and a smirk, and he puts so much more into the execution of every move.
At NHK, we saw him peak in the first half of his free skate, and then again at the end, sandwiching a letdown after he fell on his second quad sal. Compare it to his free skate at Skate Canada, where he opened with a fall on the quad loop, and you see a very different kind of intensity. And in a lot of ways, that's why I contend that no one can beat Hanyu when he's flawless. It's not just the technical content; it's the absolute magic he creates. Perhaps we will see it again this week in Marseille.
Other NHK observations
There's too much to talk about from NHK, but I'll do my best in lightning-round style.
- As I've mentioned, the men's event at US Nationals is going to be insane. But Nathan Chen's GPF-worthy silver and Jason Brown's disastrous seventh changed the dynamic two months before Nationals. Remember, two spots, likely between Chen, Brown, Adam Rippon, and Max Aaron.
- Keiji Tanaka has once again emerged as a Grand Prix surprise, and now a bonafide dark horse once again for a spot on the World team.
- Mikhail Kolyada has joined the quad lutz race - will be interesting to see where that jump goes.
- The underrotation policing was again at a high in the ladies' event at NHK as it was at Cup of China the week before; this is a very different look than last season, where the panels seemed to be more lenient across the board.
- As I wrote in my GPF preview, Anna Pogorilaya has emerged as the skater who is the biggest threat to Evgenia Medvedeva's dominance, and her performance at NHK proved just that.
- Both Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen having strong sets of programs at NHK bring up their stock for US Nationals, especially in light of the recent struggles from Mariah Bell, Gracie Gold, and Ashley Wagner. We will see where Gold's mind is this week at (appropriately enough) Golden Spin.