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

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America
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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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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

Kyle Smaine
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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”

Ilia Malinin wins U.S. Figure Skating Championships despite quadruple Axel miss

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One year ago, Ilia Malinin came to the U.S. Championships as, largely, a 17-year-old unknown. He finished second to Nathan Chen in 2022 and was left off the three-man Olympic team due to his inexperience, a committee decision that lit a fire in him.

After the biggest year of change in U.S. figure skating in three decades, Malinin came to this week’s nationals in San Jose, California, as the headliner across all disciplines.

Though he fell on his quadruple Axel and doubled two other planned quads in Sunday’s free skate (the most ambitious program in history), he succeeded the absent Chen as national champion.

Malinin, the world’s second-ranked male singles skater, still landed two clean quads in Friday’s short program and three more Sunday. He totaled 287.74 points and prevailed by 10.43 over two-time Olympian Jason Brown, a bridge between the Chen and Malinin eras.

“This wasn’t the skate that I wanted,” said Malinin, who was bidding to become the second man to land six quads in one program after Chen. The Virginia chalked up the flaws at least partially to putting more recent practice time into his short program, which he skated clean on Friday after errors in previous competitions.

FIGURE SKATING NATIONALS: Full Results

Brown, a 28-year-old competing for the first time since placing sixth at the Olympics, became the oldest male singles skater to finish in the top three at nationals since Jeremy Abbott won the last of his four titles in 2014. As usual, he didn’t attempt a quad but had the highest artistic score by 9.41 points.

Brown’s seven total top-three finishes at nationals tie him with Chen, Michael WeissBrian Boitano, David Jenkins and Dick Button for the second-most in men’s singles since World War II, trailing only Todd Eldredge‘s and Hayes Jenkins‘ eight.

“I’m not saying it’s super old, but I can’t train the way I used to,” Brown said after Friday’s short program. “What Ilia is doing and the way he is pushing the sport is outstanding and incredible to watch. I cannot keep up.”

Andrew Torgashev took bronze, winning the free skate with one quad and all clean jumps. Torgashev, who competed at nationals for the first time since placing fifth in 2020 at age 18, will likely round out the three-man world team.

Japan’s Shoma Uno will likely be the favorite at worlds. He won last year’s world title, when Malinin admittedly cracked under pressure in the free skate after a fourth-place short program and ended up ninth.

That was before Malinin became the first person to land a quad Axel in competition. That was before Malinin became the story of the figure skating world this fall. That was before Malinin took over the American throne from Chen, who is studying at Yale and not expected to return to competition.

Malinin’s next step is to grab another label that Chen long held: best in the world. To do that, he must be better than he was on Sunday.

“You always learn from your experiences, and there’s always still the rest of the season to come,” he said. “I just have to be prepared and prepare a little bit extra so that doesn’t happen again.”

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