The last time Yuzuru Hanyu had competed in NHK Trophy was in November 2016, in Sapporo – he won the gold medal in Makomanai Sekisui Heim Ice Arena, more than 30 points over Nathan Chen, the silver medalist back then.
In the Olympic season, he travelled to Osaka for 2017 NHK Trophy, his second Grand Prix event at the time – but left the competition before it even started; practicing a quad Lutz, Yuzuru injured a ligament in his right ankle and was forced to withdraw.
With Grand Prix of Helsinki and Rostelecom Cup being his assignments last season, Yuzuru only came back to NHK Trophy this November.
Again in Sapporo, again in Makomanai Sekisui Heim Ice Arena, again breaking the three-hundred point barrier, with a 55-point margin over the silver medalist.
And with a laurel wreath atop of that.
And we can’t think of a more deserving bearer of that crown – a symbol of victory, of recognition, used by the ancient Greeks to crown the winners in the Pythian Games. Featuring competitions for art and dance (how appropriate for our times also…), the Games were held every four years in the honour of Apollo.
…with that symbolic journey into the past, we travel to this year’s edition of NHK Trophy, and its highlights.
And we will mostly remember the silence, the almost religious silence that preceded the opening pose, the debut of Yuzuru’s short program in Sapporo.
That long has been the wait, that big the emotions.
by Florentina Tone
First time we see Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter’s rhythm dance this season – to the unmistakable voice of Liza Minelli – and we thoroughly like what we see. These two have always brought a different air on the World stage – and this season makes no exception. And they are strong, it’s easy to see, and it’s a great joy for us to follow them year after year, and notice their progress.
And they looked at ease, they looked relaxed – as if they couldn’t wait to get out there and compete.
Dare to contradict us: Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson have became a brand new team, improved in every way, since relocating to Montreal. They are fearless, they attack every single element in the program – the road only goes forward for these two. And we are here to witness their growth.
Shiyue Wang and Xinyu Liu’s rhythm dance – their Charlie Chaplin look-alike contest – is so highly entertaining, it is. And we discover new moves, new details every time we watch it. And we’ll give both of them the big prize – there are two Chaplins on the ice, each of them charming.
“Very good, that looked so much fun”, Marie-France Dubreuil greets them at the boards.
The ice dance event at US Championships will surely be hot this season – because of the overall competition, of course, but also because two teams have chosen “Too Darn Hot” for their rhythm dance: Madison Chock and Evan Bates, on one hand, a program choreographed by Marie-France Dubreuil and Sam Chouinard, and Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko, a dance choreographed by Christopher Dean.
And if the first version is flirtatious and passionate, due to Madison’s personality, the second one is very out there, very extrovert, like a bubble of joy, a glass of champagne.
And we like both versions for different reasons, and we like this one skated by Christina and Anthony in Sapporo, a new dress for her as well, and so much personality, and speed, enthusiasm added from the first time we saw it, in Vegas.
It feels like they’re two different programs – and, in a way, it is exactly like that.
Watching them skate to music from “Grease” – Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri changed their rhythm dance from Grenoble to Sapporo – you know they made the right choice.
Their “Paramour” dance was beautiful, but this one suits them to Charlène’s ponytail, it highlights their strengths, their speed in particular; they are literally flying across the ice. And that was quite a highly convincing debut of the dance in Sapporo.
We love the details in it – even the little ones: Charlène’s eyebrow raising when Olivia Newton-John says “Stuuud!”, intonation and all.
And the scores tell the efforts were worth it.
“Remember my name! Faaame!”, the song says – and we will surely remember their names, because Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron changed the way we look at ice dancing. Eyes amazed, glued to their qualities, their costumes, to the fun they’re having this season, while skating to music from the movie “Fame”.
This dance is a marvel, highly entertaining above everything else – and, wearing the colours of the marshmallows, Gabriella and Guillaume are all IN. And you have to be in with this dance, 100% there, music, costumes, hair, accessories. Their commitment is fantastic – and you surprise yourself with a smile to the ears from the beginning of it to the end.
And their stretching moves right before the start, only to tease us? Smart, not to mention highly addictive.
It’s all set – for the next minutes we’re only seeing them.
Years from now, they’ll laugh about it, and see it as no big deal – Alexandra had troubles with her coiffure, she barely could extract her head from a little entanglement, after having issues with the dress in their previous Grand Prix event – but she solved those problems like the queen she is, an embodiment of professionalism, really.
And they both had their job done, and could still project the story exactly as they envisioned it.
And Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin envisioned their rhythm dance as a sparkling one, with diamonds and all, with kisses and all – and they ticked all the boxes on their scoring sheet, putting aside everything else that might have hampered a brilliant performance.
Their version of Moulin Rouge had the drama you were looking for in a story like that – and they might have just spent all their share of bad luck for this season.
Oh, wow, have you seen that throw triple Lutz, so beautifully landed?
Now that’s a sign right here that Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara are aiming high. And they do train with some of the best (Bruno Marcotte, Meagan Duhamel). And the whole program, to “Nocturnal Animals”, had a certain flow, a certain air, and they took the theme so very seriously and she only smiled when everything was over.
Quite a skate for these two, we are impressed.
That twist! That throw triple Loop! All very sharp, very powerful, to go along with the energy of the music – and it’s the first time this season that we find this program convincing, Alisa Efimova and Alexander Korovin really made their version of “Carmina Burana” convincing.
Skating to it, they fed with the power of the music and, finally, they have seen the light. The program doesn’t eat them alive anymore, the program highlights their straight, powerful lines now.
And that’s such an improvement from early in the season.
Due to Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, we mostly assimilate “Je suis malade” with ice dance – but Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov managed to make it a pairs-music as well, and they also managed to make it theirs.
Because the World Junior champions last season, and Internationaux de France winners this season have a certain je ne sais quoi that makes you want to watch them, and appreciate their skate.
Out of the two programs they have this season, we’re mostly impressed with their free skate, but this one is powerful as well, and, apart from a little glitch on Aleksandr’s landing of the Salchow, that was a convincing performance in only their second senior Grand Prix event.
We still need to make friends with the music (“Blues Deluxe” performed by Joe Bonamassa), but the truth is Wenjing Sui and Cong Han are amazing while skating to it. And so much improvement already from Cup of China two weeks ago – they had Lori Nichol with them for a couple of days, and that shows.
So much freshness in the program, them highlighting every single line, every single nuance – a hand in the air, a toe in the air, the whole body in the air.
Wenjing told Lori before the start of the season, when looking for the music, “I want to be hot”. And skating to the music that Lori suggested, Wenjing looks exactly as she wanted. And Cong as well. And they both project 100%, they’re in it fully – and because of all these, and their stunning elements, the scores will skyrocket.
And they do just that.
Composition-wise, this is an enchanting program from Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro to the languid, smooth voice who sings “Love on the Brain” – and they do so much justice to the music while skating to it.
Somehow, the whole program – the air, the flow, the rapid movements and the slow ones – is a metaphor, is like falling in love. That’s the visual representation of it – and we loved Kirsten and Michael as the narrators: they did a wonderful job portraying the love that conquers, that takes over the brain.
She’s the love, he’s the brain. At the end, he falls in love.
That was a stunning performance, and hauntingly beautiful from Karen Chen in Sapporo – and she seems to resonate with every single line in the song accompanying her short program (“You Say” by Lauren Daigle). It flew by in a second – and it was a joy from top to finish: solid rock jumps (even if it was only a triple Lutz-double Toe, it looked amazing), incredible spins (some of the best in the business), a Charlotte spiral making your spine tingle, and then the incredible flow, the speed from one element to another.
It was as if she inhaled at the beginning of the program and exhaled when it has ended – and we might have done just the same.
Music-wise, nuances-wise, Mako Yamashita’s short program is a challenge – so many voice modulations to portray. But she does a tremendous job – and we admire her for that. And so she skates a wonderful program in Sapporo, to the enthusiasm of the audience.
Alena Kostornaia continues to do what she does best: amaze us. From the start of the program even, with that glorious triple Axel, to the end, feathers in the sky.
Plus: her confidence level is up in the sky as well – no doubts whatsoever, only an incredible trust in her endless resources of talent.
And this was her best short program this season. Followed by a so well-deserved standing ovation – the audience in Sapporo knows it witnessed something big.
Flawed as that was – she couldn’t put the Loop after the opening Lutz and only managed a single Loop after the Flip – that was such an emotional performance from Alina Zagitova in Sapporo. She took the time to feel the music, express the nuances – and so even if the program was so and so technically, we felt the emotions.
And she is so warmly received here in Japan.
“Bamboleo” makes you want to get up and dance – and Sofia Samodurova does just that on the ice of Sapporo. And she became friends with the music, she’s more at ease with it than in Cup of China – she performs to it more. The European champion got some great vehicle for her SP this season.
Allow us to share this with you: Rika Kihira’s short program this season is a work of art. So intricate, so detailed – and so masterfully performed. And she’s exquisite in her new dress – and came to NHK Trophy all guns blazing, a triple Axel atop of that.
Composition-wise, this “Breakfast in Baghdad” might be among our very favorites this season – and she’s ecstatic at the end.
Sota Yamamoto’s skating is pure and beautiful even when he falters. Great opening combo, and wonderful interpretation of music. Iconic music atop of that.
That opening combo in Makar Ignatov’s short program, quad Sal-triple Toe, is everything. And, Axel or not, he skates big, and he skates beautiful. And he is so very elegant.
No doubt, Makar has made quite an impression on the figure skating fans these two weeks.
Japan is such a good home to Sergei Voronov – some of his best skates happened here, and this one is no exception. A standing ovation type of skate from Sergei in Sapporo – he literally flied to the voice of Freddie Mercury, and embraced the energy of the music, of the crowd.
Stunning skate – we are thrilled, we are moved.
And, remember, the first time we saw him live was at the 2010 Worlds in Torino and we were not even as half as impressed as we are now.
First: there’s room in Kévin Aymoz’s triple Lutz for a quad.
Second, composition-wise, performance-wise, this short program is to die for. A joy from top to finish.
And third: give the man the Components he deserves. And a bonus for pushing the boundaries of what you can actually do on the ice.
We are so impressed with Kévin’s skating and dancing qualities.
“You know what to do”, Brian Orser says, they shake hands, and there you have Yuzuru Hanyu back at NHK Trophy. And people wait for his “Otonal” in complete silence. And Yuzuru sure knows what to do.
And, skating, he breathes life into the program, into the audience – and even into the flower boys and girls. (Did you see that moment when they all smiled when he passed by and had his hand in the air at their direction?)
That was a flying skate from Yuzuru at NHK Trophy – one that showed, if it was even necessary, the fighter that he is.
Brian and Ghislain are pleased with that – but the perfectionist that Yuzuru is surely knows where he needs to put additional work and emphasis.
Apart from being wonderful technicians and putting so much content out there, Sofia Shevchenko and Igor Eremenko remind us of Kati Winkler and René Lohse, and their iconic “Time goes Millennium” free dance.
And, yes, Sofia and Igor do a lot on the ice – but almost everything looks effortless.
Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson’s Vogue free dance might just be one of the best products that left the doors of the Ice Academy of Montreal this season.
It truly is a highlight overall, made of tens of other highlights – so much character, every little move, every little detail tailor-made, fitting the lyrics, the mood, the energy. A dance that involves the audience so much – you can’t help but mumbling, clapping, dancing. And they are stunning themselves – because it’s not an easy feat to keep up with this kind of program.
And in Sapporo arena there’s so much noise, hurray-s and cheers. And they deserve them all.
“Ground Control to Major Tom / Take your protein pills and put your helmet on”.
Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri’s spatial free dance takes you into a journey from the very first seconds – and it’s probably our favorite free dance from everything they skated so far. And they had some amazing programs, and they were all great, and technically impressive – but this one is so different and so engaging that we developed a passion for it every since we saw it for the first time, in Lombardia Trophy, in September.
One thing is sure: Charlène and Marco want to keep riding the momentum – and the momentum had them in third place at both Grand Prix Final and Europeans last season – and even though they’re the first alternate for the Grand Prix Final now, their rest of the season looks as bright, as moon-like as can be.
And we trust their resources to finish on the European podium once again.
There’s this calmness, tranquility in the first part of Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin’s free dance this season – and we really love that part (“Primavera” by Ludovico Einaudi) that goes so well with the qualities of their skating. But they somehow keep the smoothness for the second part as well, when the music may be asking for more defined movements, more categorical instead. All goes well in the end, with their energy matching the energy of Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River”.
“I will find you again”, Forest Blakk says, while Gabriella hugs a silhouette, a haze even, that vanishes from the embrace – but it’s still there, at her feet. And she exhales, eyes in the air, a smidgen of smile on her face.
And this is not a dark story – the smile says so, the overall story says so: this feels like a story of love that you know it is not over, it can’t be over, traces of it will always be there, in your heart, to remind you of its permanent, continuous existence.
And of course it’s hard to put into words what this amazing ice dance team does on the ice, the images it conveys through arms, through bodies, through the shapes they creates.
But you know the effect it has on you, you feel it through your skin. That right here is the defining word – you feel their dance, and that must be the greatest response of all.
And that is why they do what they do – and that is why we know Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are one of the greatest ice dance teams this sport has ever known.
And, just like their 2016-2017 free dance, Stillness-Oddudua-Happiness Does Not Wait, the one that felt so revolutionary and such a step from everything that had been skated before, this one too pushes the boundaries into an unknown territory of ice dance.
And their companion along the way must be this Icelandic artist, instrumentalist and producer Ólafur Arnalds. Gabriella and Guillaume have moved from Lyon to Montreal, but always kept on eye on him and his creations.
You can tell Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara train with Bruno Marcotte and Meagan Duhamel – she has the same proud, beautiful posture, arms in the air, smile to the ears like Meagan, and they both feed with the energy of the audience: the response of it, the music give them wings to fly; here and there we almost had the impression that Meagan was on the ice.
Plus: the elements, they’re not going for the easy ones, hence the throw triple Lutz, impeccably landed in Sapporo. So many pluses in this partnership, and their smiles, their joy, the beautiful energy this new team has already make them so very likeable, so very enjoyable.
They were a bit slow in parts, lost the stamina and, hence, were prone to small mistakes – but, my, oh my, what a program is this, Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov’s free skate to music from the movie “Master and Margarita”.
The choice is so peculiar, the music is so powerful – and so smartly, so skillfully performed. We applaud them for attacking such a bold theme in their first season in seniors, for being great technicians and equally great interpreters.
And you can tell this was their first senior season – they started it with a lot of confidence, with that air of “we have nothing to loose”, won the gold in Finlandia, the gold in Grenoble – and then, when it became clear a trip to Torino was in stake, they started to feel the pressure, and we felt that as well.
In Sapporo, Anastasia and Aleksandr looked a bit tired in the second part of the program, lacking the experience for this kind of situations, but they pulled themselves and managed to finish the program – and this program is on our favorites-list this season.
This performance in Sapporo was the best Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro ever skated, that’s how we felt. They are such a beautifully-matched pair, they are, and we were in love with their unison already – but this time they let themselves go, they let themselves flow.
And the result was a buttery skate, more like Kirsten’s dress, with sparkles and all. Such a soothing choice of music, above everything – one that embraced their qualities, the smoothness of their gliding.
Colour us impressed.
And they just booked the ticket for their first Grand Prix Final.
Wenjing’s right fist at her back before taking the ice, while Hongbo Zhao encourages them.
When everything has ended, Wenjing’s right palm on her chest, on her heart, for a couple of seconds, to make it come back to regular beats – and we might have done just the same.
In between those moments there was a performance that took our breath away – and made our hearts beat a little faster than usual.
We had Wenjing Sui and Cong Han swim their way into the program, like a ceremonial invite into something that was so big that you needed to be allowed to enter. We had Wenjing missing her triple Toeloop in their side-by-side jumps – but, other than this, everything else was just spot on.
They left no doubts about their greatness – and the second part of the program was skated in such speed, in such character, matching the energy of the music, that, yes, you felt your heart wanted to pop out of your chest.
That here – hearts popping, hearts moved, the dance of hearts, to the exact rhythm of the piano – might just be the leit-motif of this free skate. And Ezio Bosso’s music – Rain, In Your Black Eyes – was the perfect companion to their journey.
And every time we watch them we are more and more impressed.
That perfect ending, to the exact beat of the music, to the exact beat of the heart?
And they even have the time to perfect this by the Worlds in Montreal.
Moulin Rouge has become a warhorse in skating – in all versions, apparently – but Sofia Samodurova shows confidence in her version, and skates a great long program in Sapporo. “Molodets”, you hear people scream.
The “Phantom of the Opera” doesn’t get old either – but we thoroughly loved the middle part of Yuhana Yokoi’s long program, the softness, the quietness of it – before the crescendo (the trademark of this music) takes the stage. Wonderful purple presence.
There’s this beautiful subtlety in the music of the movie “Scent of a woman” – and Mako Yamashita portrays it so well in the first part of her program, shoulders and all. And then the tango becomes more extrovert, and you see her dancing with someone, flying to it even.
Alina Zagitova is such a stunning Cleopatra – she takes you with her in ancient Egypt even before the music starts, only through costume, beauty and overall posture.
And Alina has clearly a better day today – she skates a magnificent long program, and that step sequence is fire. We’re under her spell.
So much focus, so much seriousness – she understands Cleopatra. And because she gets the character, the strength, the sparkles, the toughness, she knows how to put herself in Cleopatra’s golden clothes.
Tremendous qualities in Eunsoo Lim’s skating – she’s such a beautiful skater to watch. If only she’d work on her confidence issues. She clearly doesn’t trust herself, her jumps – and that beautiful gliding can’t do all the work. Sad faces here as well.
Rika Kihira is your example right here that you can jump big – two triple Axels, a marked place (she jumps a triple Salchow there) for her future quad Salchow – and you can also perform big. And her skate is as intricate as her new dress. And she is indeed the international angel of peace – she literally flies on the ice of Sapporo. And those two triple Axel jumps were amazing.
Alena Kostornaia’s first triple Axel (done in combination with a double Toe) deserves a gold medal by itself. A text-book jump, up in the sky. And she is a text-book skater – the ideal skater, really, with natural qualities for the sport. We are stunned with her talent – and her abilities to tell a story.
She’s the real deal.
And though she looked rather preoccupied at start, she sold that program to the fingertips.
Karen Chen is a light on skates, she really is – but when she pops a jump, and then the other, you know her chances to a medal have suddenly vanished. And then the second part of her skate is a struggle, and the Charlotte spiral comes as a reward.
This Schindler’s List long program is so emotional, and Jason Brown is such a tremendous story teller, that you feel your heart heavy and burdened; and yet so grateful to him for embarking onto a story that is so difficult to tell, but so personal at the same time.
We have nothing but love to Jason.
Sota Yamamoto is trying to make up for the lost time – and he does just that on the ice on Sapporo, while skating to “In This Shirt” by The Irrepressibles in his airy, grey shirt. So much flow, so much commitment into his step sequence. Welcome back, Sota.
The Artist is a signature program of Denis Ten – and we miss Denis to the moon and back. But you can tell Koshira Shimada’s program comes from the same camp (Stéphane Lambiel’s one); so much attention to portraying the music, the nuances of it.
Listening to it again, we can actually understand why skaters choose the music from Schindler’s List – and Roman Sadovsky has a version that is mixed with a Prelude by Rachmaninov, and that makes it smoother, softer. And Roman has just the right qualities to skate to it.
And if you expected one Schindler’s List program to be on the podium in Sapporo, well, you were right – except it wasn’t Jason, but Roman who skated a tranquil program, like a quiet journey, in which the piano prevailed, and took home his first ever senior Grand Prix medal.
And he was such a phenomenon on the junior circuit – and we love to finally see him thrive among seniors as well. It took him some time, and time learned him patience, but there you have him now, bronze medalist in Sapporo.
And we are thrilled for him.
A first part that is absolutely sensational from Makar Ignatov in Sapporo, and then he started to get tired, like in Moscow. He doesn’t have the stamina yet for this free skate – he needs to put more power into the step sequence as well, the program seems to stagnate towards the end.
With all energy spent for the first three jumping passes, Makar needs to learn to cope with an entire program. He has all qualities to do it.
Carefully guarded by Pooh, Yuzuru Hanyu takes the ice, to tell us the story of his love for skating.
And that’s a journey into the past, but also a journey into the present, and future of figure skating. And have you ever seen Yuzuru giving up? We sure didn’t. And he fed with the energy of the arena.
And we had goose bumps listening to that music, watching him skate to it. And they love him here in Sapporo, and all around the world.
In the Kiss and Cry, you hear him say: “I want more. I can go further”.
And that right here is the very essence of Yuzuru Hanyu.
Kévin Aymoz is such an inspiration for skaters in Europe – and for all skaters out there. And an inspired skater too – inspired by music, by his own emotions, by our energy. And you hear coach Silvia Fontana screaming after each landing – he has such a big team around, to watch him grow.
In short: Kévin is a true artist. And if you don’t see his wings it means your eyes are closed.
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