NHK Trophy 2014: Highlights and Recap

xiaoyu yu yang jin 14 nhk

The NHK Trophy this year was a good ending before the Finals, not because the skating was superb – in fact, I think I would have been okay with myself had I not watched this competition but because it confirmed a lot of my conjectures that I had about this season going into the GPF.

Men

It seems that Olympic Champion, Yuzuru Hanyu, is faltering a little at the beginning of the season after that disastrous crash at the Cup of China. Hanyu skated weak programs throughout the competition and it was his PCS that salvaged him a good enough result to go into the finals. Personally, I would rather see Hanyu take a little rest, recalibrate and then come back strong rather than skate 2 mediocre programs with inflated PCS. I have too much affection for his good skating to see it get undeservedly rewarded for sloppy skates.

Furthermore, the previously lower-ranked Japanese men decided to make another statement at this competition that they’re no longer willing to sit in the shadows. Fellow countrymen, Daisuke Murakami and Takahito Mura skated strong to finish above Hanyu on the podium. In terms of my comments for these two, I find that Mura has solid jump technique but I would really like to see him express his personality in non-warhorse programs. I think this guy can do better than that and for now, he isn’t going to stand out that much in my memory unless he steps it out next season and define to me who he is on the ice. Daisuke on the other hand, feels like a bit of a washed out version of Daisuke Takahashi. Although the hair and jump technique are similar, Murakami lacks Takahashi’s musicality and skates with a minimum acknowledgement of the music. He’s not a very expressive skater, which makes his programs a little less palatable. I hope to see these two men improve nonetheless as Japan still has an exciting future in men’s figure skating.

As for silver medalist Sergei Voronov, well, he skated. He reminded me of a less exciting version of Brian Joubert in his LP but I’m not sure if that’s really a compliment since only BJou can pull off his own strange programs and make you like it despite yourself. In  his short, he looked like he was channeling Evan Lysacek, costume, windmill arms and all. Again, I’m not sure if that’s a compliment even though I must reluctantly acknowledge that Lysacek is an Olympic Champion.

Ladies

I was sorely disappointed that Satoko Miyahara‘s LP performance was not as solid as her Skate Canada skate but I’m glad that she did finish on the podium. Gracie Gold, on the other hand, deliver two solid albeit boring skates to end up with the gold. What I did like about her performances here is that there was an improvement in her ability to express the music. It wasn’t huge but you could see her being a little more comfortable with the programs and the characters in each of them. Although I would still like to see Gracie’s personality on the ice at some point, I suppose that working on her projection, performance and character this season would be a good goal to aim for, especially since her programs are so dry and boring.

Note: Gracie will not be competing in the GPF due to injury. Rika Hongo is taking her place. The plot thickens…

Pairs

I think Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford is setting a new bar in pairs skating. They’ve gained good momentum from last season, which is good for their PCS but what is setting them apart is their strong technical scores, which may give the judges no chance to deny them the gold at Worlds this year if they skate clean. The showdown between this team and Stolbova & Klimov at the GPF will be a decisive battle in who will have the upper hand when Worlds comes around. I’m still not a fan of either of their programs but I think these two have found a solid recipe to be at the top of the pairs skating world going forward in this Olympic cycle. I also hope that other teams try to up the ante as well to make for a more exciting competition.

Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov still have the most epic program this season but this competition demonstrated that they still aren’t as consistent as we’d like them to be, especially when it comes to their long program. Had they skated solidly, they would’ve been in a better position to compete for the top spot at Russian Nationals but I fear that the window has closed. That LP is still amazing though.

I would like to give a shoutout to the bronze medal team of Xiaoyu Yu & Yang Jin (again). I really love watching this team grow. For some odd reason, they don’t seem to have the big tricks and throw jumps like most of the other Chinese teams but their lines and unison are gorgeous to watch. I think under Bin Yao and Hongbo Zhao, this team has the potential to become the dream team – to have the grace and precision of the Russian pairs teams combined with the huge awe-inspiring tricks of the Chinese teams. Add oil, you two!

Ice Dance

This competition was Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje‘s to lose but these two skated solidly to get the gold with a comfortable margin of 17 points between themselves and the silver medal team. With Cappellini & Lanotte gone, these two are the front-runners going into the finals. Nonetheless, I hope that they still consider changing their programs a little bit since they aren’t as compelling as some of their other work in the past. What has been admirable about this team is how they explore so many different themes with really wonderful programs no matter what their ranking is.

Although the Russian team of Ksenia Monko & Kirill Khaliavin won the silver with very admirable edges but slow skating at times, I think the Russian team that shocked everyone here was Viktoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov. I thought that this team was going to be a lot better than they are since they are under Marina Zueva’s tutelage but this team lacks unison, doesn’t have the right timing when they move together and have no chemistry or presence on the ice. They were also very sloppy and fell 3 times in their FD to end up in last place in that portion of the competition. After this competition, I’m not sure if this partnership will last, let alone flourish but then again, Cheng Peng & Hao Zhang proved me wrong with their performances last season so anything can happen.

What do you think of Sinitsina & Katsalapov? What about the NHK Trophy? Let me know in the comments!

~The Rinkside Cafe

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