Japanese Shoma Uno posted his highest international short program score in three years to edge American Vincent Zhou in a battle of Olympic figure skating medal contenders to open NHK Trophy on Friday.
Earlier, Japanese Kaori Sakamoto was first in the women’s short in Tokyo.
She skated after the only Russian in that field, 2020 World junior champion Daria Usacheva, withdrew after falling in warm-ups. Usacheva had flown to Japan in pain and, after the fall, was diagnosed with a fractured hip, according to Russian TV.
Later, the Russian Figure Skating Federation reported that Usacheva suffered an upper leg injury on the fall that wasn’t considered a long-term injury. A press release did not mention a hip fracture.
Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist, landed a quadruple flip and a quad toe loop-double toe combination and earned 102.58 points, breaking 100 internationally for the first time since September 2018. Uno’s short score is second in the world this season behind world champion Nathan Chen, despite the fact that he doubled the back half of a planned quad-triple combo.
Zhou, who beat Chen for the biggest title of his senior career at Skate America, improved on his short program score from three weeks ago. The 21-year-old earned 99.51 points despite a flawed triple Axel.
“After Skate America, I definitely noticed that there was more pressure, more expectation coming into this competition. I think I managed to stay in my own zone pretty well,” said Zhou, who was sixth at the 2018 Olympics and third at the 2019 World Championships before plummeting to 25th at 2021 Worlds.
On Saturday, Zhou must rally to join Chen, Johnny Weir and Todd Eldredge as the only American men to win both of their Grand Prix Series starts in one season ahead of the Grand Prix Final.
“I felt a little bit shaky,” Zhou said. “My legs were a little bit nervous. I think that reflected in the qualify in some of my spins and on the triple Axel. I definitely understand why I didn’t reach 100 points, but overall I’m pretty happy with my performance and with the score and I think it’s a good point to move forward to tomorrow.”
Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu was to headline NHK, but he withdrew last week due to an injury to the right ankle that has sidelined him three of the last five seasons. That means that Hanyu likely will not face Chen or Zhou, the world’s top two ranked men this season, until the Olympics in February.
Sakamoto, the top Japanese woman at NHK after national champion Rika Kihira‘s injury withdrawal, skated clean with a triple flip-triple toe loop combination for 76.56 points. Another Japanese, 17-year-old Mana Kawabe, was second as one of four women to attempt a triple Axel (and the only one of those to land it clean).
Americans Alysa Liu and Amber Glenn were fourth and sixth. Liu, a two-time national champion, fell on her under-rotated triple Axel. Glenn, the 2021 U.S. silver medalist, had her triple Axel downgraded.
In the rhythm dance, world champions Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov led with 86.33, edging Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by .31 of a point. Chock and Bates are in position to make their U.S. record-tying sixth Grand Prix Final and eye their first Grand Prix Series gold in six years.
Reigning world champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Gallyamov topped the pairs’ short, scoring 78.40 to lead by 2.62 points over fellow Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov. Tarasova, a three-time world medalist with Morozov, fell on their side-by-side triple toe loops.
Americans Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc and Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov were fourth and fifth.
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