This week’s NHK Trophy will be decisive for several U.S. figure skaters eyeing spots in December’s Grand Prix Final, the most important competition of the fall and often a preview of March’s world championships.
NHK Trophy, which airs live on Peacock, features American women, a pair and ice dancers vying for the Final, which takes the top six per discipline from the six-event Grand Prix Series. NHK in Japan is the fourth of six events, and skaters compete twice over the series, so some skaters have already qualified.
Ice dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates head the U.S. contingent this week. The three-time world medalists won Skate America last month and will clinch a Grand Prix Final spot by finishing third or higher at NHK.
They would be the first U.S. skaters in any discipline to qualify for seven Grand Prix Finals (if including last year, when the Final was canceled after the qualifying series finished) and the second to compete in six Finals after 2014 Olympic ice dance champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
Bates, 33, can break the record for oldest American to qualify for a Final currently held by pairs’ skater Todd Sand from the 1996-97 season. Bates is already the only U.S. figure skater to compete in four Winter Olympics and the oldest to win a medal (in the team event).
This season, Chock and Bates rank fifth in the world by best total score (202.80). Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who are not in the NHK field, have the best score of 215.70. None of the Olympic ice dance medalists are competing internationally this fall.
NHK Trophy Broadcast Schedule
|Thursday||10:30 p.m.||Pairs’ Short||Peacock|
|Friday||12:15 a.m.||Women’s Short||Peacock|
|2:15 a.m.||Rhythm Dance||Peacock|
|5 a.m.||Men’s Short||Peacock|
|10 p.m.||Pairs’ Free||Peacock|
|11:50 p.m.||Women’s Free||Peacock|
|Saturday||2:50 a.m.||Free Dance||Peacock|
|5:30 a.m.||Men’s Free||Peacock|
|Sunday||4 p.m.||Highlights||NBC | NBC Sports app|
While Chock and Bates are podium regulars, Americans Starr Andrews and Amber Glenn enter NHK coming off their first Grand Prix medals. Andrews, with her silver at Skate Canada two weeks ago, became the first Black American to make a Grand Prix podium. Andrews and Glenn likely need to finish in the top three again this week for any shot at the Grand Prix Final.
It’s a tall order. NHK has arguably the best women’s field of the six Grand Prix events, including world champion Kaori Sakamoto, Skate Canada winner Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, and South Korean Kim Ye-Lim, who was second at Grand Prix France.
Another American, Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion, is not competing at NHK but can clinch her Grand Prix Final spot depending on other skaters’ results this week. At 15, she would be the youngest American to make a Final in 15 years.
World champion Shoma Uno of Japan headlines the men’s field. Uno, who won Skate Canada with 273.15 points, ranks third in the world this season by best total score. American Ilia Malinin, who is not at NHK, leads with 280.37 points.
NHK also has the world’s top-ranked pairs’ team of Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara of Japan. The next-highest-ranked pairs’ team at NHK is the U.S. duo of Emily Chan and Spencer Howe. Chan and Howe, fourth at last season’s nationals, will clinch their first Grand Prix Final berth if they repeat their runner-up finish from Skate Canada.
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