Takahashi, Asada lead at NHK Trophy as Gold skates to fourth

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A pair of Japanese skaters took healthy leads at the NHK Trophy Friday in Tokyo, Daisuke Takahashi and Mao Asada, both medalists at the 2010 Vancouver Games, claiming first place after the short program.

It was a particularly strong showing for Takahashi, who had started his season with a disappointing fourth-place finish at Skate America last month. The reigning Olympic bronze medalist scored the season’s highest short program mark, registering a 95.55. Spain’s Javier Fernandez, a bronze medalist at the 2013 World Championships, was in second with a 84.78.

Asada, who won silver behind Yuna Kim in Vancouver, landed her crowd-pleasing triple Axel and was strong on her spins, the component that set her apart for a Skate America win in October. She claimed first place over veteran countrywoman Akiko Suzuki, scoring a 71.26 to 66.03.

Gracie Gold led the American charge in Tokyo, skating without legendary coach Frank Carroll, whom she began working with in September, in attendance. The 18-year-old stepped out of a triple loop, but scored a 62.83 to put her into fourth place.

Once again Adam Rippon was the surprise of the American men. The 23-year-old, a 2012 U.S. Championships silver medalist, was first for Team USA, placing fourth ahead of Jeremy Abbott (seventh) and Max Aaron (eighth).

Rippon had not factored into the men’s Olympic-team conversation just a month ago, but he finished ahead of reigning U.S. Championships winner Aaron at Skate America, winning the silver there. Abbott, himself a three-time national champion, was a disappointing sixth at Skate Canada and again looked shaky Friday.

In pairs, reigning world champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov were safely in the lead with a 82.03, far ahead of the second-place team of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who scored a 70.13.

Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier were fourth while reigning U.S. champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir placed fifth.

Takahashi’s short program score was the highest of any man this season. Reigning and three-time world champion Patrick Chan had scored a 88.10 at Skate Canada while Takahashi’s countryman Tatsuki Machida registered a 91.18 at Skate America.

NHK Trophy continues Friday night, Eastern Standard Time, with the ice dance short dance, featuring American Meryl Davis and Charlie White and siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani (below). The short dance will stream live on Universal Sports along with the pairs free skate, beginning at 10:05 p.m..

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