Daisuke Takahashi

Home sweep for Japan at NHK Trophy

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Home favorites Daisuke Takahashi and Mao Asada thrilled the crowd in Tokyo Saturday at the NHK Trophy, winning respective Grand Prix titles.

Takahashi, a bronze medalist at the 2010 Olympic Games, used a strong free skate to run away with the title, scoring a 268.31 overall to countryman Nobunari Oda‘s 253.16, who was second. American Jeremy Abbott, who had been seventh after the short program, finished third.

Herself an Olympic medalist in Vancouver (silver), Asada won by a similar 15-point margin in the ladies event, 14-year-old Russian Yelena Radyonova coming in second. Japan’s Akiko Suzuki was third while 18-year-old American Gracie Gold finished in fourth place.

Abbott vaulted himself into third with a spirited free skate which he punctuated by throwing his hand over his mouth in disbelief once he was finished. The third-place finish in the free skate meant he surpassed countryman Adam Rippon, a 23-year-old who settled for fourth.

Max Aaron, the reigning U.S. champion, fell on one of his planned quadruple jumps and told coach Tom Zakrajsek, “I haven’t had a good one yet,” as he stepped off the ice. Aaron was third behind Rippon at Skate America in October, but looked sloppy in his free skate and settled for seventh out of nine skaters in Tokyo.

It wasn’t good for 2013 World Championships bronze medalist Javier Fernandez, either. The Spaniard was making his Grand Prix debut for the season and dropped from second to fifth following an eighth-place finish in the long program, which featured a series of missteps for the 22-year-old.

For Asada, it’s two gold medals in two Grand Prix events, securing her a spot in the Grand Prix Final next month in Japan. Radyonova’s age disqualifies her from competing in the Olympics, though she captured another Grand Prix medal after winning bronze at Skate America last month.

Gold, a Chicago native, was without veteran coach Frank Carroll, whom she started working with in September. Carroll, who has coached the likes of Michelle Kwan and Evan Lysacek, did not make the trip to Japan.

Mirai Nagasu, the 2008 U.S. champion and an Olympian in 2010, was eighth.

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Ladies results
1 Mao ASADA JPN 207.59
2 Yelena RADYONOVA RUS 191.81
3 Akiko SUZUKI JPN 179.32
4 Gracie GOLD USA 177.81
5 Satoko MIYAHARA JPN 170.21
6 Valentina MARCHEI ITA 168.95
7 Alena LEONOVA RUS 161.94
8 Mirai NAGASU USA 141.71

Men’s results
1 Daisuke TAKAHASHI JPN 268.31
2 Nobunari ODA JPN 253.16
3 Jeremy ABBOTT USA 237.41
4 Adam RIPPON USA 233.71
5 Javier FERNANDEZ ESP 230.45
6 Takahito MURA JPN 227.22
7 Max AARON USA 223.35
8 Konstantin MENSHOV RUS 221.32
9 Sergei VORONOV RUS 221.18

Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in World Cup season opener

SOELDEN, AUSTRIA - OCTOBER 22: Mikaela Shiffrin of USA in action during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Giant Slalom on October 22, 2016 in Soelden, Austria (Photo by Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
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Mikaela Shiffrin‘s bid for a first outright World Cup giant slalom victory was denied by World Cup overall champion Lara Gut on Saturday, opening what could be a season-long battle between the two.

The Swiss Gut dominated to win the first race in Soelden, Austria, by 1.44 seconds over Shiffrin combining times from two runs. It marked the second-largest women’s margin of victory in Soelden history.

“It’s a big relief to walk away from today with a podium,” Shiffrin said. “It’s always great to win, but I’m starting off on the right foot. I can be happy with that, but I know I can do better.”

Italian Marta Bassino was third. Full results are here.

“I put myself so much under pressure until this morning,” said Gut, who led Shiffrin by 1.42 seconds after the first of two runs. “Sometimes, it’s horrible. You get into the race, and start thinking instead of just skiing. I’m happy I had a fast first run because the second run was just a fight.”

Shiffrin, the youngest Olympic slalom champion, shared victory with Austrian Anna Veith in Soelden in 2014 and finished second to Italian Federica Brignone last year.

Lindsey Vonn and Veith, both coming back from season-ending knee injuries, skipped Soelden.

Gut and Shiffrin could be the top World Cup overall title contenders with Vonn focusing on speed events and Veith’s readiness uncertain. Shiffrin had finished fifth, sixth and fourth in the overall standings before placing 10th last season, when she missed two months due to a right knee injury.

Gut, 25, won six races across four disciplines last season, showing the kind of all-around prowess that Shiffrin can’t yet match. Shiffrin is the world’s best slalom skier and showed she is elite in giant slalom on Saturday, but she has scant experience in downhill, super-G and super combined races.

“Lara’s given us a good pace to chase,” Shiffrin said. “When she comes down, and she’s that far ahead and just taking every gate like it’s the last gate she’s going to ski, it’s really cool to see.”

The men open their season in Soelden on Sunday (4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET, NBC Sports app; 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The women next race a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 12.

Shiffrin has won 11 straight slaloms dating to 2015, including her last eight World Cup slaloms, the longest streak since four-time Olympic champion Janica Kostelic won 10 straight from 1999 through 2001.


Ashley Wagner tops Skate America short program

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HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (AP) — Ashley Wagner topped the Skate America short program Friday night with 69.50 points, building on her second-place finish from last season’s world championships.

Japan’s Mai Mihara, making her Grand Prix Series debut at 17, was second at 65.75, and U.S. champion Gracie Gold third at 64.87.

The free skate will determine the champion Saturday at Sears Centre Arena (live on NBC and the NBC Sports app at 4:30 p.m. ET). Full results are here.

Wagner performed with a fierce and determined style, delivering a technically solid and entertaining program to “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurhythmics.

“I capitalized on the momentum (from worlds) going into the summer,” said Wagner, the 2012 Skate America winner. “It inspired me to train even harder than I had been because it showed me that my training got me onto that podium. It motivated me and made it a realistic goal to get onto that Olympic podium, and I can almost taste it. It’s a totally new season. I’m hopefully a different athlete from that Worlds event and I think it’s just about building on that from here on out.”

Mihara fell during her warmup, which she said relaxed her during her performance.

“I think for my first Grand Prix event, I did a good job,” she said.

Gold, coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish in the world championships, fell on her triple flip, but otherwise was solid in her performance to a tango.

“I had a hiccup on the triple flip, but I went after everything,” Gold said. “I just need to keep working on the program and just keep getting it out there.”

Gold said the months after the world championships were difficult and affected her training.

“It was a pretty hard summer,” she said. “I had trouble getting going and getting my feet under me for some reason. I felt I had let myself down. No one else felt the intense shame that I felt, but it was just so internal that I had trouble getting back out there. But as soon as I got the momentum going, I’ve been feeling excellent.”

Three-time World champion Mao Asada of Japan, hampered by a knee injury, was fifth.

In pairs, Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took a commanding lead program with a score of 75.24. Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who missed last season with a knee injury to Denney, were second at 67.29, and Canadians Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau followed at 66.49.

Tarasova and Morozov, fifth at the world championships, received high marks on their opening triple twist as well as their lifts, spins and footwork.

“Today we have a short program we did well,” Morozov said. “We have a personal best and were glad to have this moment.”

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