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Opportunity knocks at NHK Trophy: preview, TV/stream schedule

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If the year after the Olympics is about new talent emerging, this week’s NHK Trophy presents ripe opportunities.

Japanese 16-year-old Rika Kihira makes her senior Grand Prix debut, a much-anticipated one after she landed two triple Axels in one program in September. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker and Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons, the next generation of U.S. ice dance, can make their moves after the world champions withdrew.

The headliners are more accomplished skaters, like Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno, 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and two-time world medalist Satoko Miyahara, all bidding to clinch Grand Prix Final berths at the fourth of six Grand Prix series stops.

NBC Sports Gold live streams every session starting Friday.

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 12:15 a.m. Pairs’ Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
2 a.m. Women’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Short NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
10:45 p.m. Rhythm Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Saturday 12:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
5:30 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
9:30 pm. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold | STREAM LINK
Sunday 12 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

The women boast the strongest field with four of the top seven skaters this season (Miyahara, Kihira, Mai Mihara and Tuktamysheva). Russia and Japan should make up the podium for the fourth straight Grand Prix.

Kihira is the wild card. Eighth at last season’s junior worlds, she won her senior international debut in September with those two triple Axels. Tuktamysheva is the only other active senior woman with that jump, which she landed cleanly two weeks ago for the first time in nearly three years.

Uno is the clear class of the men’s field. The Olympic and world silver medalist doesn’t have to worry about Yuzuru Hanyu or Nathan Chen until December’s Grand Prix Final. This week it’s American Vincent Zhou and Russian Dmitri Aliev, who were sixth and seventh in PyeongChang. Zhou looks to improve on his fifth place at Skate America, where he was dinged for seven under-rotation calls.

The NHK dance field opened wide with the withdrawal of Olympic silver medalists and world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron on Tuesday. Nobody left finished in the top 12 in PyeongChang nor ranks in the highest, top-six tier of the world this season.

Enter Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean Luc-Baker and siblings Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons — average age: 23, all past world junior champions. They finished fourth and fifth at last season’s nationals behind the block of senior world medalists — Madison Hubbell and Zach DonohueMaia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock and Evan Bates.

The Shibutanis are on an indefinite competition break. Chock is recovering from ankle surgery. The Grand Prix could be a showcase for new talent in the U.S.’ deepest discipline.

Hawayek and Baker make their season debut after Baker, whose mom was a 1988 British Olympic ice dancer, suffered a second concussion in three years in August. The Parsons siblings rank eighth in the world this season — a jump from No. 22 last year — and second among the couples at NHK.

The NHK pairs’ field includes U.S. Olympians Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim and 2016 U.S. champions Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea up against three of the world’s top five teams from Canada, China and Russia.

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season…NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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MORE: Mariah Bell focused on big picture ahead of NHK Trophy

Sam Girard, Olympic short track champion, surprisingly retires at age 22

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Sam Girard, who avoided a three-skater pileup to win the PyeongChang Olympic 1000m, retired from short track speed skating at age 22, saying he lost the desire to compete.

“I leave my sport satisfied with what I have accomplished,” Girard said in a press release. “This decision was very well thought through. I am at peace with the choice that I’ve made and am ready to move onto the next step.”

Girard and girlfriend and fellow Olympic skater Kasandra Bradette announced their careers end together in a tearful French-language press conference in Quebec on Friday.

Girard detailed the decision in a letter, the sacrifices made to pursue skating. Notably, moving from his hometown of Ferland-et-Boilleau, population 600, to Montreal in 2012. His hobbies had been of the outdoor variety, but he now had to drive an hour and a half from the training center just to go fishing.

In PyeongChang, Girard led for most of the 1000m final, which meant he avoided chaos behind him on the penultimate lap of the nine-lap race. Hungarian Liu Shaolin Sandor‘s inside pass took out South Koreans Lim Hyo-Jun and Seo Yi-Ra, leaving just Girard and American John-Henry Krueger.

Girard maintained his lead, crossing .214 in front of Krueger to claim the title. He also finished fourth in the 500m and 1500m and earned bronze in the relay.

“My first Olympics, won a gold medal, can’t ask for more,” he said afterward.

Though Girard was already accomplished — earning individual silver medals at the 2016 and 2017 Worlds — he came to PyeongChang as the heir apparent to Charles Hamelin, a roommate on the World Cup circuit whom Girard likened to a big brother. Girard earned another world silver medal this past season.

Hamelin, after taking individual gold in 2010 and 2014, left PyeongChang without an individual medal in what many expected to be his last Olympics. However, he went back on a retirement vow and continued to skate through the 2018-19 season.

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MORE: J.R. Celski explains decision to retire

Maia, Alex Shibutani extend break from ice dance competition

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Brother-sister ice dance duo Maia and Alex Shibutani will not compete next season, the Olympic bronze medalists announced via U.S. Figure Skating on Friday.

“We’re healthier and stronger than we were after the Olympics, and we’re continuing to push ourselves,” Maia Shibutani said in a press release.

“We’ve continued to skate a lot, and we feel like we’ve benefited from some time away to create in different environments and focus on experiences that can help us grow,” Alex said.

The “Shib Sibs” won the U.S. title in 2016 and 2017. They won their first world medal in 2011 (bronze) before reaching the world podium again in 2016 and 2017 with silver and bronze, respectively.

They most recently competed at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, where they earned bronze both individually and in the team event.

Maia and Alex Shibutani are now the second ice dance medalists from PyeongChang to announce they’ll sit out at least part of next season. Gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada will tour instead this fall and are not expected to return to competition.

The siblings haven’t stayed away from the ice entirely in their break from the sport, though — they’ve also been touring and performing in shows.

The Shibutanis became the second set of siblings to earn Olympic ice dance medals after France’s Isabelle and Paul Duchesnay in 1992.

MORE: How Gracie Gold landed in Philadelphia, thoughts competitive return

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