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Ando Battles Back to Claim NHK Trophy Title; Joubert Hangs on to Grab the Gold

Miki Ando of Japan came out on top in the ladies event at the NHK Trophy in Nagano, Japan this weekend while Brian Joubert was golden in the men’s discipline. Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China skated to victory in the pairs event while ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White proved gold is their color as they collected their second medal of that hue this fall in the Grand Prix Series.

THE LADIES

There was a lot of shuffling in the standings in the ladies discipline. Russia’s Alena Leonova won the free skate to surge from fifth to second while overnight leader Ashley Wagner (USA) slipped to third. Ando stood in second place following the short program.

Ando also ranked second in the free skate with a score of 106.33 point (48.93 element score/58.40 program component score). She complied a competition mark of 162.55 points, which was enough to push her to the top of the podium for the second time this season. “I stood in the middle of the podium for the first time in Japan [at a Grand Prix event], but I’m not really happy, because my free skating wasn’t competitive,” Ando said.

The 2007 World champion had to overcome a shaky start when she under-rotated and two-footed her opening triple Lutz attempt in her “Cleopatra” routine. Ando went on to complete a double Axel-double toe loop combination, a big triple loop and triple Salchow and a triple Lutz. She fell on the back end of an attempted triple toe-double loop combination. The reigning World bronze medalist received a level four for the flying combination spin, the flying sit spin and the spiral sequence.

“I am pleased to be in the Final, and I will train hard for it and try to become stronger mentally,” Ando said. “I’m looking forward to the finale in Tokyo, so I can show the people in Japan a better performance.”

Leonova turned in an entertaining program to “Chicago” that featured five clean triple jumps, but she stepped out of the triple toe-triple toe combination and her triple Lutz was wobbly. The flying combination spin was graded a level four, while the combination spin and the spiral sequence got a level three. The World junior champion collected 108.51 points (57.07/51.44), setting a season best and accumulating 160.85 points to move up from fifth to second.

“I am very pleased with my free skating. I almost did the triple toe-triple toe combination,” she said. “I just stepped out of it, but I’m still very happy, because this is the first time that I got credit for it in competition.

“If I can go to the Grand Prix Final, it would be another chance for me to present myself, and I want to make up for the mistakes that I made in the short program, like some of the levels.”

Wagner started with a shaky triple flip-double toe combination into her routine to “Polovetsian Dances” and then hit a triple loop and double Axel. She struggled with her jumps in the second half of the program, stumbling on a triple Salchow, a double Axel (in sequence with a triple flip) and singling her Lutz. Wagner picked up some points for solid spins that got level four and threes.

The two-time World Jjnior bronze medalist scored 99.45 points (45.61/53.84) with a competition mark of 155.99 points. “It wasn’t the best program, but I still accomplished some of the goals that I wanted to accomplish here,” Wagner said. “I’m on the podium, so I’m pretty happy with that overall. Going through the program, I think I just was a little bit tired. I’ve been on the road for three weeks. By the time I got to the long program it’s been a long trip.”

Following the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, the skater hadn’t returned home but trained in Austria before coming to Japan.

Yukari Nakano (JPN) slipped from third to fourth place with 152.35 points. She completed three clean triples and strong spins, but she doubled the Lutz, a triple flip was cheated and she fell on an under-rotated triple Salchow. European champion Laura Lepistö (FIN) came in fifth after doubling a Lutz and a Salchow and singling a loop.

Ando collected the maximum of 30 points from her two wins in the Grand Prix series and has qualified for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final. Leonova earned 13 points in Nagano and now has 24. Wagner (11) points collected 24 points as well, but is ranked behind Leonova because of a tie breaker.

Sarah Meier (SUI) withdrew from the ladies event after the warm up due to an acute inflammation of her right Achilles tendon. She stood in 8th place following the short program.

THE MEN

Joubert earned a season best score of 147.35 (70.65 element score/76.70 program component score) and racked up a total score of 232.70 to win the gold medal. “I am very happy about this competition. I’ve never won NHK Trophy,” Joubert said. “We’ve worked a lot a lot, but we had only one week and I wasn’t completely ready. Winning this competition is great, but I still have a lot to work on.”

Johnny Weir (USA) moved up from third place to second and newcomer Michal Brezina from the Czech Republic came from sixth place to grab the bronze medal.

Overnight leader Joubert skated last and knew what his competitors had done and what he needed to do. The three-time and reigning European champion opened his routine to “Ancient Land” by Ronan Hardiman with a solid quadruple toe loop followed by a triple Salchow. He stumbled on the triple Axel but recovered to reel off two triple flips (one in combination with a double toe), a triple Lutz, triple loop-double toe and triple Salchow-double toe. He received a negative grade of execution on both flips because of the take off from the wrong edge.

His flying sit and change sit spin were graded a level four while the footwork and the combination spin were a level two.

Weir, the reigning ISU Grand Prix Final bronze medalist, scored a season best 139.35 points (68.15/71.20) and ranked third in the free skate. His competition mark of 217.70 was enough to move him up a spot and claim the silver medal. He edged Brezina by just 0.22 points. “I was very happy that I was able to push through this week. It is definitely a medal well earned,” Weir commented.

Weir earned a level four for two of his spins and a level three for both step sequences. He landed a triple flip, a solid triple Axel-triple toe combination, another triple Axel and three more triples in his lyrical routine titled “Fallen Angel,” which is set to music from the movies “City of Angels” and “Lady Caliph.”

The only major glitch was a popped loop jump. “Of course there were mistakes that shouldn’t be made later in the season. It [competing in spite of illness] will help me immensely in the season, because I had this very stressful and difficult situation behind me and I came out with a medal,” Weir said.

Brezina stood in sixth place after the short program and turned a playful program to “An American in Paris” by George Gershwin. Brezina got a personal best of 146.68 points (78.78/67.90) and totaled 217.48 points (personal best as well) to jump on to the podium in the first senior-level Grand Prix event of his career. “This is my first senior Grand Prix, and I’m very happy with my medal. I skated almost clean in both programs, which is what I wanted. I hope that I can continue to skate like this in my next Grand Prix, Skate Canada,” Brezina explained.

The reigning World Junior silver medalist nailed six clean triples, including two triple Axels, that all received positive grade of execution marks from the panel of judges. The Czech skater also earned a level four for two spins and a level three for the footwork and the flying sit spin. I knew this (NHK Trophy) was a difficult Grand Prix.,” Brezina said. “I didn’t expect a medal, but I thought of what my father always says, ‘Everybody can beat everybody.’”

Daisuke Takahashi (JPN) finished fourth. He landed five triples, but he stumbled on a quad toe loop attempt, missed a triple loop and toe loop that were downgraded as well (214.29 points).

Jeremy Abbott (USA) plummeted from second to fifth. His routine contained four clean triple jumps, but he crashed on a quad toe attempt, a triple flip and a triple Axel (208.45 points).

Joubert picked up 15 points for his win and collected 24 overall. He will now have to wait and see if that is enough to get him to the ISU Grand Prix Final. Weir (13 points) now has 22 overall and also will know only after the last two events if he qualified for Tokyo. Brezina (11 points) will compete again in two weeks at Skate Canada.

THE PAIRS

Pang and Tong of China scored a personal best 199.65 points to win gold in Nagano. Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov claimed the silver medal, and the bronze went to Rena Inoue and John Baldwin (USA).

Pang and Tong turned in a dynamic performance to “The Impossible Dream” from the musical “The Man of La Mancha.” The reigning ISU Grand Prix Final champions hit their opening side-by-side double Axel-double Axel sequence, the triple toe loop, a high triple twist, throw triple loop and Salchow. The 2006 World champions were awarded a level four for their side-by-side spin, the death spiral, the pair spin, spiral sequence and all three lifts. They collected 132.35 points (69.63 element score/62.72 program component score), a personal best.

They moved up one spot to take the gold in their second Grand Prix event this season. “We achieved a new personal best score today, and that makes us very happy. We skated very well, but there are still some things we can improve. In the three weeks before the Grand Prix Final we will work on solving these issues and then we want to skate our very best there,” Tong said.

Skating to “Valse Sentimentale” by Peter Tchaikovski and to “On the Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss, Kavaguti and Smirnov went for a quadruple throw Salchow, but Kavaguti took a bad fall. The Japanese-born skater needed a medical break before she was able to continue the performance.

“I dislocated my shoulder in the fall and it didn’t go back so easily, therefore we had to stop the performance,” Kavaguti said. “I just thought that I have to finish the program, but now to be honest, it does really hurt now. I skated the program just with my spirit.”

As if nothing had happened, the couple then reeled off side-by side triple toe loops, a triple twist, a double Axel-double Axel sequence and a throw triple loop. The European silver medalists received a level four for their spins, their lifts and the forward inside death spiral.

They posted a season best of 124.15 points (65.39 element score/61.76 program component score). They received a one-point deduction for the fall and two-point deduction for the interruption of the program. Kavaguti and Smirnov totaled 193.05 points and slipped from first to second place.

The couple was forced to withdraw from the exhibition gala.

Inoue and Baldwin’s program to Peter Tchaikovski’s "Piano Concerto No. 1" included side-by-side triple toe loops, a sequence consisting of two double Axels, a throw triple loop and difficult lifts. Only their triple twist was messy and Inoue fell on the throw triple Axel. The 2006 Four Continents champions picked up 106.26 points (59.14/49.12). In addition to the deduction for the fall, they lost a point because of a time violation.

They moved up from fourth to third at 158.78 points overall. “From the beginning of our program we were able to enjoy our skating,” Inoue noted. “Now we have to go back and prepare for our nationals. This will be the height of our season.”

Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett (USA), who stood in third place after the short program, came in fourth after she fell on the throw triple Lutz and he singled an Axel. They completed a throw triple loop and a triple twist (151.43 points).

Mylene Brodeur and John Mattatal (CAN) moved up one spot to fifth. They produced side-by-side triple toe loops, a triple twist and throw triple Salchow (150.71 points).

Pang and Tong pocketed 15 points and have now qualified for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final with the maximum of 30 points. Kavaguti and Smirnov (13 points) most likely will have qualified with 26 points. Inoue/Baldwin (11 points) earned 20 points overall.

ICE DANCE

Davis and White (USA) led from start to finish and won by a 25-point margin of victory over Sinead Kerr and John Kerr of Great Britain who took the silver. Canadians Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier earned the bronze.

Davis and White put out a captivating performance of their powerful “Phantom of the Opera” program. The routine was highlighted by a straight line-rotational lift with many changes of position by Davis, a straight line lift with him skating backwards on one foot while she balanced on his leg, fast twizzles and intricate footwork.

The crowd awarded the couple a standing ovation. The judging gave them 100.79 points (49.50 element score/program component score). Overall the couple racked up 201.97 points and took their second Grand Prix gold medal this season.

“Sometimes it is a little bit tough being the last event the day after everyone else is finished competing. I think we all were able to make the most of it. It was a really good event for all of us. For Meryl and myself, we skated really well, technically speaking we were able to emote,” White said. “At this point, we are getting pretty comfortable with it (the program). The Olympics are still ways away, but I think that we should be able to have a really great program by then.”

Kerr and Kerr produced innovative lifts such as a lift with her doing a handstand on his knee and a straight line lift in a low position. As usual, their inverse lift where Sinead Kerr lifts her brother, was a crowd favorite. However, Sinead Kerr was a little off-balance in the twizzles that were graded a level one. The diagonal step sequence received a level two as well, while the lifts and the spin were a level three. The sister-and-brother team scored 86.16 points (43.00/43.16) which added up to 177.73 points overall.

The Scots claimed their first silver medal on the Grand Prix circuit and the second medal this season. They had won two bronze medals last year. “We were pleased with our technical score; it improved since our last Grand Prix. I did a few silly mistakes. Hopefully that can be improved on for the next one,” Sinead Kerr noted.

John Kerr added: “It would be great (to qualify for the Grand Prix Final for the first time). I think it kind of does depend on the way some other results go, but obviously if we could make it to the Grand Prix Final, it would be an amazing achievement for us. We always want to do everything that’s in figure skating and Grand Prix Final is something that we’ve never done before.”

Crone and Poirier completed interesting lifts including a stationary lift with him spinning on one foot in a deep position, level-four twizzles and a serpentine step sequence that received a level three. The Canadians posted a season best score of 84.51 points (43.20/41.31) and claimed bronze at 165.89 points.

It was the second Grand Prix medal for this young team. They were silver medalists at Skate Canada in 2008. “This was a much stronger performance of our free dance from the last Grand Prix. There are still a few things that we need to fix, and the level of performance can always improve so that’s what we’ll look to work on towards our next competition,” Poirier said.

Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev (RUS) finished fourth with a powerful performance of “Adagio” (160.01 points). Xintong Huang and Xun Zheng (CHN) skated to “Adagio” as well and moved up from sixth to fifth place at 154.90 points.

Davis and White took 15 points and are qualified for the Grand Prix Final with the maximum of 30 points from their two wins. Kerr and Kerr (13 points) now have 24 points from their two events and have to wait and see if they will qualify for the Final for the first time in their career. Crone and Poirier (11 points) collected 20 points in their two events.


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