NHK Trophy’s highlights: it rained flowers on Mao Asada

Hats off to the Japanese audience
I’ll start with that: Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo, the arena hosting the 2013 edition of NHK Trophy, was a joy to watch these days; those 16.000 people were amazing, clapping, screaming, being all joyful, admiring and happy. They acted as if they were at a rock concert – and I wish I were one of them. This kind of enthusiastic crowd makes NHK Trophy probably the most loved Grand Prix event of the season – by fans and skaters equally. Jeremy Abbott wrote on his Instagram account: “Sayonara Japan! We will miss you terribly, but we promise to return to you!”

by Florentina Tone

Mao Asada in Nice, at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships

Mao Asada in Nice, at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships

Mao: she’s ready for the Olympics
This wonderful Japanese skater already has a silver Olympic medal. So, going to Sochi, we all know what she wants: the brightest medal of all. At NHK Trophy, Mao showed she’s ready. Though fragile, she’s ready to fight. You know by now that I’m a huge fan of her short program, skated on a Chopin’s “Nocturne” – I love her graceful arms, bearing emotions, her luminous face, her softness. At the end of the “Nocturne”, it rained flowers on this beautiful skater – and Mao herself started to collect the bouquets from the ice, not to inconvenience the following competitor, her fellow Akiko Suzuki.

Little things I liked

The musical choices of Konstantin Menshov: “Coultergeist” by Phil Coulter for the short program and “Allegro-Rose-Night Run” by Rene Aubry for the free. I do admire this Russian skater’s perseverance – and the quality of his jumps is just remarkable.

The Carmen’ routine of Adam Rippon. The American is daring and dashing; and he truly enters the character of the music. At the end of the short program, in the Kiss and Cry area, with a large smile on his face, Adam seemed proud of himself.

The exquisite free program of Jeremy Abbott, skated on “Exogenesis Simphony Number 3 (Redemption)” by Muse. His arms are definitely his forté – Jeremy should insure them for a considerable amount of money; they are a national treasure.

The final step sequence in Nobunari Oda’s free skating: what a joyful skate! He got the crowd clapping all along the routine.

• The short program of the Spaniard Javier Fernandez, “Satan takes a Holiday”, and his costume, a magnet for the eyes.

• The fact the Takahito Mura returned to the last season’ free program, skated on music from “Shogun”. That routine was truly a great one – and I’m glad we all have the chance to see it again.

Satoko Miyahara: she has what it takes to be a future champion. When she first saw Satoko, a year ago, a dear friend of mine sent me an SMS: “What about this girl? Satoko Miyahara is very delicate; is like a little Mao…” One thing is sure: little Mao or not, Satoko is a talent for the future and her sophistication, at 15 years old, is really something to admire. Have you seen her free program, skated on “Poeta” by Vincente Amigo? Is a marvelous and mature routine and I will definitely keep an eye on Satoko in the forthcoming years.

• I’m still a big fan of Mirai’s flexibility – her pirouettes are amazing – though I sometimes wonder: will she ever manage to replicate her success from the 2010 Olympics? Mirai Nagasu was fourth in the Olympic competition and everyone was sure the future would be hers. I remember Mr. Frank Carroll telling her in Vancouver: “You’ll be here for a long time”. Well, she was – but she hasn’t been able to rise to the expectations. Was Vancouver her time?

Mirai Nagasu in Torino, at the 2010 World Figure Skating Championships. She was leading after the short program

Mirai Nagasu in Torino, at the 2010 World Figure Skating Championships. She was leading after the short program

Mirai and her coach, Frank Carroll, before the long program. With the 11th score of the night, Mirai finished seventh at the 2010 Worlds

Mirai and her coach, Frank Carroll, before the long program. With the 11th score of the night, Mirai finished seventh at the 2010 Worlds

• Here’s a certainty: I could watch Elena Radionova’s short program (skated on the soundtrack of “Anna Karenina”) all day long. That little, supple skater is a joy for the eyes – and I remember watching her, a few years ago, in a short clip alongside Evgeni Plushenko. She had a pony tail then – and was considered to be a wonderkid of figure skating. At her senior Grand Prix season debut, Elena’s enthusiasm is just contagious and I love, I really love a particular photo at the end of the ladies’ event at NHK: with a huge smile on her face, coming to the podium, the Russian girl embraces the winner, the Japanese Mao Asada. This particular picture is a wonderful mixture of joy, happiness, admiration – as if Mao has been handing over an imaginary torch to the 14-year-old Russian.

Valentina Marchei: pure grace. This pretty much covers it: this season’s short program of Valentina, skated on the Neapolitan song “Torna a surriento”, by Ernesto de Curtis, is a masterpiece. It’s white, soft and serene. And the Italian’s smile at the end of the routine – priceless. I’ll definitely watch Valentina this season and I wish her all the best – and by “the best” I mean a medal at the Europeans. She totally deserves it.

Akiko Suzuki: a wonderful set of programs for the Olympic season. The short one, skated on “Hymne a l’amour” by Marguerite Monnot, choreographed by Massimo Scali; the free one, skated on “The Phantom of the Opera” by Andrew Lloyd Webber, choreographed by Pasquale Camerlengo. I’m conquered by both of her routines.

The sureness of both Meryl Davis&Charlie White and Tatiana Volosozhar&Maxim Trankov. These two couples, in ice dance and in pairs, seem almost unbeatable; and received standing ovations from the public in Yoyogi National Stadium in Tokyo.

The Shibutani’s free dance. Well, I have been a Michael Jackson fan for as long as I can remember – so you could imagine that I very much enjoyed the Americans’ routine.

The Hitchcock’ free skating of those wonderfully innovative athletes representing Canada, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier. They’re something else – and I was definitely caught by their performance, almost as if I were watching a thriller. Their free dance is intricate and sophisticated – and I can’t wait to see it again. And again.

• I’m totally and utterly in love with the set of Olympic programs of Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov. There, I’ve said it: the Russians who almost won the Europeans in January look sharp and prepared to conquer the world during this particular season. The short dance is absolutely gorgeous, a pleasure to the eyes (not to mentions she’s a beauty, in her pale-pink sparkling dress) and the free dance, skated on the music from Tchaikovski’s Swan Lake, suits them like a swan feather. He’s an exquisite dancer and she’s the embodiment of the swan. A drama on the ice – have you seen her face expression during the program? Elena and Nikita returned to the kind of program that made them famous – “Don Quijote” by Ludwig Minkus in the 2010-2011 season – and I’m absolutely thrilled by their choice. Can’t wait to see them at Trophée Eric Bompard in just a few days.

Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, at the 2013 Europeans (Zagreb, Croatia)

Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, at the 2013 Europeans (Zagreb, Croatia)

Of course, the Grand Prix events marked also Johnny Weir’s debut as a commentator for NBCSports. I haven’t heard his commentary, but it must have been great; and Johnny shared his emotions on his social media accounts. On 27th of October, he wrote: “I’ll be commentating for every Grand Prix event this fall, shown every Sunday on NBCSports! Get into it, get sparkly”. On 5th of November: “Excited for NHK Trophy this week! I will be commentating for both the ladies and the men!”. And soon after: “The hardest thing about commentating thus far has been not calling the skaters by their nicknames or diminutives”. On the 6th: “Feeling quite honored that I just got a call from the legendary Dick Button and his appreciation of my commentary”.

Those who heard him were enthusiastic too. Viola Wamp congratulated Johnny on facebook: “You were FABULOUS! Really great commentary. You KNOW what you’re talking about, obviously, but you also know how to share it with the audience. It was great listening to you. And I also appreciate the honesty-with-kindness about the skaters, and the little touches of humor! Great debut! Terry Gannon & Johnny Weir best figure skating broadcasting team. (I’m cheating on the lovely British EuroSports team)”.