A couple days later, and I’m still reeling from the absolutely phenomenal set of programs that the women at 2018 NHK Trophy delivered. Five of the free skates were final group Worlds-worthy - between the technical content and the performance quality, they were some of the best programs I’ve seen in recent memory. It was just amazing.
Triple axel history
It was the first time in 16 years - and only the second time in history - that two different women landed clean triple axels at the same competition. The last time it happened was 2002 Skate America with Yukari Nakano and Ludmila Nelidina. The next time it came close was 2007 Grand Prix Final with Nakano and Mao Asada (Asada two-footed hers). It’s been a long time coming, but this past weekend, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva landed on in the short and Rika Kihira landed two in the free.
Both of them managed to deliver in a field that everyone coming in knew would be incredibly deep. Alena Leonova’s total score of 194.15 would have been good enough for fourth at any of the previous Grand Prix events this season - she finished seventh, outside of the top half. Tuktamysheva came in knowing she needed a medal to go to the Final for the first time in four years. Kihira came in trying to impress in her Grand Prix debut.
They, along with Satoko Miyahara, who just edged out Tuktamysheva for bronze, put together one of the strongest Grand Prix podiums ever. It was a sight to behold.
Finding their way
There were a few American skaters ramping up their seasons strongly ahead of the US Championships in two months. Mariah Bell has been showcasing career-best skating this season - first with her short at Nebelhorn Trophy and now with her free at NHK Trophy. Unlike seasons past, when errors has kept her from putting down high scores consistently, she has been solid throughout her four competitions this season. And what’s more, her two programs this season are the strongest all-around of her career. Let’s see where she goes from here.
In pairs, Alexa Sciemca Knierim/Chris Knierim have had an off-season and season of changes. They made headlines over the summer by working with Aljona Savchenko as their new coach, only to part ways with her right before Skate America. They are now working with Jenni Meno and Todd Sand. Whatever it is that they have been doing since Skate America seems to be pointing the right direction.
They looked more settled and confident in their programs and their elements at NHK. And though they still had issues with their side-by-sides, all of their other elements have improved in quality, which benefits them greatly because of the +5/-5 GOE designation this season. At their best, they have some of the best throws, lifts, and twists in the world - and their scores proved that in NHK.
Sergei hearts NHK
The highlight in the men’s event for me was very much Sergei Voronov. He won this event last season, and he skated the cleanest out of all of the men this past weekend and grabbed the silver. His free skate has been a standout for me - and for his career. He’s putting heart into this program, choreographed by the late Denis Ten. He continues to showcase his love for the sport, and he once again has a shot at the Grand Prix Final.
Topsy-turvy ice dance
Without Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron at NHK, we knew coming in that the fight for gold would be wide open. I don’t think we quite knew how much movement we would have. There were minor to medium-sized errors throughout the rhythm dances and free dances, but in the end, it was Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker who win their first Grand Prix title and set themselves up for a very solid shot at a first Grand Prix Final appearance.
And to end this with a smile - you gotta love the performance quality that Lilah Fear/Lewis Gibson put into this free dance. Anytime you see judges score skaters almost a full point higher in performance, composition, and interpretation, you know the skaters are doing something right with their commitment to the program.