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2019 NHK Trophy Pairs

by Klaus-Reinhold Kany



(26 November 2019) Wenjing Sui & Cong Han, the reigning World Champions in pair skating from China, had been first at the Cup of China and also won the NHK Trophy in Sapporo easily with 226.96 points and with more flow than in China. They are coached by the 2010 Olympic Champion Hongbo Zhao. Lori Nichol of Toronto flew to China more than once to work on their choreography with them and with other Chinese skaters. The 2018 Olympic silver medalists skated their short program to a sexy Blues by Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart (performed by Joe Bonamassa) and had the title “Blues Deluxe“. Their program and elements really were “Deluxe“.

They began with an excellent side by side triple toe loop, followed by an outstanding triple throw flip which had two GOEs of +5 and four GOEs of +4. Next was an excellent triple twist with level 4 and an impressive, elegant and fast step sequence (also level 4), both of which had one GOE of +5 and several GOEs of +4. The Backward Inward Death Spiral and the Reverse Lasso Lift, both with level 4, were very good as well. Only the parallel change foot spin was a bit wobbly and had only a level 2. Their components had an average of 9.4 and they were ten points ahaed the rest of the field. Han explained: “With the performance at this competition we are quite satisfied. However, we still saw that there was a problem with one element, so this is something we want to improve.”

The Chinese pair kept their free program from last season to “Rain, In Your Black Eyes“ by Ezio Bosso because they could show it only in two competitions (Four Continents and Worlds) due to Sui‘s longtime injury. After a very good triple twist Sui fell on the side by side triple toe loop which was planned a combination. This remained their only mistake and later their triple throw Salchow and triple throw flip were outstanding, the three lifts and other elements as well, only the triple Salchow was just clean. The components had an average of 9.4. Sui explained: “I regret the fall on the jump very much, but after that I think we gave our best.“ Han added: “Today we're quite pleased with how we concluded this Grand Prix event in Japan. We were able to bring across the emotion of our programs. We had some issues here like the error on the jump and we hope to fix them and to perform better in the Final.”

Kirsten Moore-Towers & Michael Marinaro from the Canadian school of Bruno Marcotte were the best North Americans again and won the silver medal with 208.49 points. Competing to “Love On the Brain“, the Canadians opened their short program with a good triple twist which had a level 2 and an excellent triple throw loop. The side by side triple toe loop and the Axel Lasso Lift were very good, but Marinaro had some problems with the side by side spin, which therefore had only a level 1. Their components were around 8.5. Moore-Towers commented: “Today we thought that we had definitely a few elements that we improved from our first Grand Prix in Canada, but a few small elements that we lost a lot of levels on. So we left some points on the table there. We’ll be in spin jail when we get home.”

They started their free program to “Carry You“ by Ruelle with a good triple twist and a good combination of one side by side triple toe loop and two double toe loops. The two throws were excellent, two lifts as well, but one a bit wobbly. Death spiral and spin were not perfect. “Overall we're happy with our week,“ Moore-Towers, explained. “Our goal was to qualify for the Grand Prix Final and we've done that. So we're super pleased with our first Grand Prix Final as a team. I think it's every athlete's hope that they will compete the way they train and we're happy to have done that this week. We left a few levels on the table that we'll pick up in a few weeks in Italy.”

Anastasia Mishina & Aleksandr Galliamov, the reigning Junior World Champions, took the bronze medal with 203.35 points which was enough to qualify for the Final after winning the Grand Prix in France in early November. They are coached by Ludmila Velikova and her grandson Vasili Velikov in St. Petersburg. In the short program to “Je suis malade“ (I am lovesick), the triple twist and the triple throw flip were convincing, but Galliamov stepped out of the triple Salchow. The other elements were at least good. He said: “I would rate the performance more positive than negative, but there were some unexpected mistakes that we don't do in practice. When we get home after the competition, we'll analyze and work on them.”

In their free program to “The Master and Margarita“, the Russians made no mistake at all. The sequence of triple Salchow, Euler and another triple Salchow worked very well, the triple throw flip and triple throw loop were excellent and the three lifts good. They have a huge potential, but looked still a bit juniorlike and got components of around 7.8. They even would be allowed to compete in junior competitions this season. Mishina said: “Thanks to the support of the audience everything worked out for us and we hope to come back to Japan. We won't set any goals for placements at the Final. We'll work on the elements to get a higher degree of difficulty and we'll try to skate as clean as possible.”

Alisa Efimova & Alexander Korovin from St. Petersburg in Russia finished fourth with 189.34 points. They competed much better than in China. The students of Oleg Vasiliev opened their short program to “Carmina Burana“ by Carl Orff with a good triple twist, but then Efimova touched down and almost fell on the side by side triple toe loop. The other elements were good. For the free program they used “The Sound of Silence“, originally by Simon and Garfunkel, but in a modern version by Disturbed. Her individual triple toe loop and triple Salchow were shaky, but otherwise they made no mistake.

Riku Miura & Ryuichi Kihara are a new Japanese pair team, but have pairs skating experience with former partners. They began to train with Canadian coach Bruno Marcotte, his wife Meagan Duhamel and their assistants in early August 2019 in Oakville, Ontario. The NHK Trophy was their first international competition. In the faultless short program, they competed to “Wayward Sisters“ from the soundtrack of “Nocturnal Animals“ by Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski. They performed a side by side triple toe loop, a triple throw Lutz and five other clean elements. In the free to “Fix You“ by Coldplay, the triple twist only got the base value because Kihara did not catch Miura correctly and she fell on the triple throw Salchow. But all other elements were clean or even good, therefore they finished fifth with 179.94 points.

Tara Kayne & Danny O’Shea of Colorado Springs placed sixth, earning 178.73 points. In the short, the twist was not landed correctly, Kayne stepped out of the triple Salchow and landed the triple throw loop on two feet and almost fell. The free program was better with nine clean elements, but she stepped out on the triple throw Lutz again and landed a shaky double Axel.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim & Chris Knierim of Irvine, California, are seventh with 173.33 points. In the short program to “At Last“, sung by Beyonce, Knierim fell on the triple toe loop and he almost fell on his back during the death spiral, which therefore did not get any points. The other four elements were good, the twist even excellent. In the free program, they skated to “Drop of Fragnance“ by Maxime Rodriguez and to “Experience“ by Ludovico Einaudi. They started with their usual outstanding triple twist, but then made six serious mistakes: Knierim had a shaky landing on the triple toe loop and could add only a single toe loop (which she doubled). Then he fell on the triple Salchow. Scimeca Knierim stepped out of the triple throw flip after landing on two feet and went down on the triple throw loop. Near the end he had to shorten the last lift abruptly and his change of foot in their spin was not correct. Therefore they were last in the free program.

Nicole Della Monica & Matteo Guarise from Italy were last in the short program because Guarise aborted the lift after Della Monica did not jump off correctly. There were two minor other other mistakes. In the free program Della Monica, who had been injured at her shoulder all summer, stepped out of the side by side triple Salchow, fell on the triple throw loop and landed the triple throw Salchow on two feet. They ended up on eighth place with 171.43 points.

Besides the three medalists of the NHK Trophy, Aleksandra Boikova & Dmitri Kozlovskii, Cheng Peng & Yang Jin and Daria Pavliuchenko & Denis Khodykin qualified for the Final. First alternates are Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov.