O. M. G. What a crazy good field we have this week in the ladies’ event at 2018 NHK Trophy. Two skaters are going for their second Grand Prix title of the season - Satoko Miyahara took Skate America and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva took Skate Canada; a medal of any color for them will very likely get them to the Grand Prix Final. But the rest of the field here isn’t going to make it an easy task for either of them. There are anywhere from four to seven skaters here who have a realistic chance of getting on the podium. It’s going to be a nail-biter.
Oh also, it could be the first time since 2002 Skate America where two women land triple axels in the same international competition.
NHK Trophy predictions
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GOLD Rika Kihira JPN - Fresh off a win at Sectionals last weekend, Kihira is going back-to-back weeks with competitions. Like Tuktamysheva, Kihira has triple axels in her front and back pocket. But more importantly, she’s been looking consistent this season, which had been her downfall during her two seasons on the junior international scene. Kihira is my surprise pick of the week - three triple axels will push her to the win at NHK.
SILVER Satoko Miyahara JPN - In her win at Skate America three weeks ago, Miyahara put together two programs like we’ve never seen from her before - every jump looked as crisp and clean as I’ve ever seen her do in competition. She has talked about spending her summer working on her jump technique, and it seems to have paid dividends. On paper, she’s probably the slight favorite here this week, but can Miyahara withstand the onslaught of technical content from either Kihira or Tuktamysheva?
BRONZE Elizaveta Tuktamysheva RUS - Might it be Tuktamysheva who spoils the Japanese sweep at NHK Trophy this week? She will need every bit of her rediscovered confidence and consistency to get there. At Skate Canada, she hit her trademark triple axel in the short to take a huge lead that fended off the challengers in the free skate. She feeds off confidence, and the short program will once again be a crucial part of her strategy this week.
4. Mai Mihara JPN - Consistency is her thing. We saw it at Nebelhorn Trophy earlier this season, where she was second behind Alina Zagitova. Of the top skaters here, she is the one who is probably most underrated, and it could show up in her component scores relative to the others. But two clean programs put her on the podium, it’s a matter of how well she can stay consistent this week.
5. Mariah Bell USA - Now just over two years into her work with Rafael Arutyunyan, Bell is starting to see the results of the switch in coaching relationship. Though not perfect, her first few competitions of the season have been the steadiest she has looked in her career. She was fourth at Skate Canada in a tough field, and she actually showed that, if clean, she would have been very competitive for a podium finish. Can she flip the switch in Japan?
6. Eunsoo Lim KOR - Lim started her season with a silver at US Classic, but with a new coach in Rafael Arutyunyan, she was having some transitional pains in confidence and consistency. Now that she’s had another few weeks of training, it’s a question of how much more confident she will be with her new training. Her short program, in particular, is a standout this season - Lim’s got podium potential.
7. Maria Sotskova RUS - It was a tough go for Sotskova at Japan Open to start her season. Her jumps didn’t have the rotational speed that is so crucial for her technique, which often leads to delayed-rotation jumps. She will need to be sharper here to make a dent in this very deep field. But at her best, she is definitely podium material.
8. Mae Berenice Meite FRA - Bronze at Autumn Classic in September, Meite comes into this season injury-free and with a new coaching team. Her refreshed outlook may be the key to her success this season - this event will be a bellwether for where she stands midway through the season. Can she carry the confidence from Autumn Classic to NHK?
9. Kailani Craine AUS - Craine got the call to compete at NHK Trophy just days ago, but she won’t be coming in without experience for the season. She was a solid fourth at Autumn Classic in September - a strong short program can set her up for a great weekend in Japan.
10. Angela Wang USA - A couple of nervy skates last week in Helsinki dropped Wang to 11th in her first Grand Prix of the season. She’s got a chance to redeem herself here, but it’s a tougher overall field than it was in Finland last week.
11. Courtney Hicks USA - Seventh at US Classic to start her season, Hicks will be making her second career appearance at NHK Trophy. And the last time she was here? A surprise silver medal.
12. Alena Leonova RUS - A late entry to NHK, Leonova is no stranger to the Grand Prix (or to NHK). This will be her 11th season on the Grand Prix and seventh appearance at NHK Trophy. We saw her in a domestic event last month but this will be her first international competition of the season.