Shoma Uno distances Vincent Zhou for NHK Trophy title three years in the making

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Shoma Uno won NHK Trophy for his first top-level international figure skating title in nearly three years, distancing American Vincent Zhou in a battle of Olympic medal contenders.

Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist, had the top scores in Friday’s short program and Saturday’s free skate in Tokyo. He landed six quadruple jumps between those two days, totaling 290.15 points to prevail by a whopping 29.46 over Zhou.

“Now I realize that I have come back to a level that I can compete globally,” Uno said. “That’s where I have been before, and I have to go beyond that.”

Uno earned his first Grand Prix Series win since 2018. In 2019, he considered leaving the sport after a disastrous Grand Prix Series. He regrouped, won the December 2019 Japanese Championships over Yuzuru Hanyu and was fourth at the 2021 Worlds.

Zhou, who beat Olympic favorite Nathan Chen at Skate America three weeks ago, singled his planned opening quad Lutz in a sixth-place free skate filled with jumping errors on Saturday.

He finished second overall thanks to his second-place short program, joining Uno and Chen as the first three men to qualify for December’s six-skater Grand Prix Final.

“I’m very disappointed in my performance,” said Zhou, who was sixth at the 2018 Olympics, third at the 2019 World Championships and 25th at the 2021 Worlds. “Thankfully, this isn’t the Olympics, and I think it’s good to get this out of my system now because this is not who I am and not representative of my training.”

NHK Trophy: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Japanese Kaori Sakamoto won the women’s event with the top score in each program, totaling 223.34.

Sakamoto (and everyone else) benefited from the absences of Japanese national champion Rika Kihira and Russian jumping queen Aleksandra Trusova due to injuries.

Americans Alysa Liu and Amber Glenn were fourth and sixth, respectively. Liu, who won national titles at 13 and 14, landed a triple Axel in the free skate (negatively graded) after falling on an under-rotated triple Axel in the short.

Glenn, the 2021 U.S. silver medalist, put her hands on her right leg repeatedly after struggling with jump landings in her free skate.

The last U.S. women’s hope to reach the Grand Prix Final is Mariah Bell, who competes in the last two qualifying events in France and Russia the next two weeks.

Russian world champions Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov won the ice dance with 215.44 points. Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates, seeking their first Grand Prix title in six years, were 4.66 points behind after counting a fall in the free dance.

Sinitsina and Katsalapov handed French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron their only defeat of this Olympic cycle at the January 2020 European Championships, then won worlds last season in the French couple’s absence.

But in their separate Grand Prix debuts this season, the French have a 4.62-point edge over the Russians. The Grand Prix Final should mark their first head-to-head in nearly two years.

Chock and Bates all but clinched their U.S. record-tying sixth career berth in the six-couple Final with a pair of runners-up on the Grand Prix Series this autumn.

World champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Gallyamov of Russia won the pairs’ event with 227.28 points, distancing three-time world medalists and fellow Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov by 14.01.

Mishina and Gallyamov, who won last season’s world title in their senior worlds debut, have competed twice this season. They now own the world’s two highest total scores, both in the 227s.

Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, China’s lone Olympic figure skating medal favorites for Beijing, rank second with three totals in the 223-224 range. Sui and Han, who took silver at the 2018 Olympics and 2021 Worlds, will likely face Mishina and Gallyamov once before February’s Olympics — at the Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara took third at NHK, their second consecutive Grand Prix medal. Their emergence gives the Japanese hope in the Olympic team event, where the U.S., Canada and Russia made up the podium in 2014 and 2018.

Americans Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc and Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov were fourth and fifth. It’s very likely the U.S. qualifies zero pairs for the Grand Prix Final for a fifth consecutive year.

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