Brian Joubert and Ashley Wagner took the lead after the short programs at NHK Trophy today in Nagano, Japan. In pairs, Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov captured the lead while Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White are ranked first in ice dance.
France's Joubert put down a strong short program to skate into first ahead of U.S. skaters Jeremy Abbott and Johnny Weir who followed in second and third, respectively.
Joubert earned 85.35 points (46.80 element score/38.55 program component score), significantly improving his score from the Trophée Bompard. “I am very happy with today’s performance," he said. "It was difficult for me after my first Grand Prix. I was very disappointed there, and it was important for me to do this kind of program today."
The French star nailed a strong quadruple-triple toe loop combination and a triple Axel in his fast-paced routine to “Rise” by Safri Duo, but he did a three-turn out of his triple Lutz. The European champion went on to complete two level four spins and level three footwork. "This gives me confidence for the rest of the competition,” Joubert said.
Abbott opened his elegant performance to “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles with a solid triple flip-triple toe loop combination followed by a triple Axel and triple Lutz. The reigning ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final champion was awarded a level four for the change foot sit spin and the flying sit spin and a level three for the combination spin and both step sequences.
Abbott scored 83.00 points (45.40/37.60) and surpassed his previous personal best of 78.26 points clearly. “I was very nervous coming in, because it’s a lot of new firsts for me,” the 2009 U.S. champion admitted. “This is the first full competition I’ve done (this season) and I have a new coach and a lot of new things happen to my life. So I was very anxious to see how it would turn out. My training has been going very well and I felt that I just kept everything the same (like in practice).”
Skating to a program he titled “I Love You, I Hate You,” Weir landed a triple Lutz-triple toe loop, a triple Axel and triple flip. He earned up a level four for two spins and a level three for the combination spin and the circular footwork to post a season best score of 78.35 points (41.70/36.65). “After my season premiere in Russia (Rostelecom Cup) just two weeks ago I was very angry with myself and the way I’ve skated there. So when I went home in the short period between the two competitions I worked very hard to change my mentality.
“When I went on the airplane I got very sick and I’m proud that I could still push through this situation and have a fever and still compete and really show the level of training that I’ve done this summer.”
Daisuke Takahashi (JPN), who competes in his first Grand Prix event since 2007 since missing the last season due to injury, landed a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, a triple Axel and a somewhat shaky triple Lutz, but went down in the circular footwork (78.18 points). Takahiko Kozuka (JPN) completed at triple Lutz-triple toeloop combination, a triple flip and three level-four spins, but crashed on the triple Axel.
Wagner is having a terrific start to her season. She collected silver at Rostelcom Cup in Moscow almost two weeks ago. In Nagano, Wagner skated solidly and capitalized on mistakes by competitors. She won the ladies short program ahead of Japan’s Miki Ando (who won the Grand Prix event in Russia) and Yukari Nakano.
Wagner, a two-time World junior bronze medalist, collected 56.54 points (29.62 element score/26.92 program component score). Her routine set to “Once Upon a Time in America” featured a triple flip-double toe loop combination, a triple Lutz and two level-four spins, but her double Axel was cheated and downgraded.
“I am pretty happy with my short program. Obviously first place is a good place to be, but it was not my best performance. My double Axel was downgraded. That was a little silly of me, but tomorrow in the long program I’ll be able to redeem myself and do a clean double Axel like a senior lady should be able to do,” Wagner said.
Ando is in a close second. The 2007 World champion scored 56.22 points (28.70/28.52).
She opened her program to a modern version of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “Requiem” with a triple Lutz-double loop, but two-footed the Lutz. She fell on the triple flip, but landed the double Axel. Ando was awarded a level four for the combination spin and a level three for the flying sit spin and the spiral sequence, but the layback spin was just a level one.
“The short program was a disaster, not because of the errors on the jumps, but because I couldn’t show the emotion,” Ando said. “I wanted to do a triple-triple combination, but my coach and I decided that I should to a triple-double, and it felt to me like something was missing and therefore I felt weaker. The triple-triple is a key point for winning this season and I’ve done many times.”
Nakano also had trouble with a jump. She under-rotated her triple Lutz and stepped out of it and had no combination. The Japanese skater recovered to hit a triple flip, a double Axel and showed beautiful spins. All three spins received a level four. Nakano earned 54.92 points (28.40/26.52).
“I couldn’t repeat my seasons best from the Grand Prix in France. The mistake I made was very unfortunate. The other elements were good, and this is a good lead for tomorrow,” said Nakano who claimed the bronze in Paris. “Today is today, I’ll forget about it. I’ll start from scratch in the free skating and I’ll make sure to get all the points that I can get.”
European champion Laura Lepistö (FIN) finished fourth after popping the second jump in her planned triple toe-triple toe combination, but she produced difficult spins, a triple loop and double Axel (53.64 points). World junior champion Alena Leonova (RUS) hit a triple flip-double toe combination but fell on a triple Lutz to come in fifth at 52.34 points.
The compulsory dance at the NHK Trophy was the Tango Romantica. Davis and White danced to the lead ahead of Great Britain’s Sinead Kerr and John Kerr and Ekaterina Bobrovaand Dmitri Soloviev.
Davis and White put out a solid Tango Romantica that earned them a season best score of 38.09 (18.90 element score/19.19 program component score). “We felt like it was a good dance today. It was improved since Russia. We tried to add a little bit of romantic flair. We worked on a few things technically and performance-wise since Russia,” Davis said.
Kerr and Kerr skated also well and picked up 35.04 points (17.42/17.62), but didn’t achieve a new seasons best. “I think the Waltz had a bit of time to improve because we did the Waltz in Finlandia (Trophy) as well, so we improved the Waltz for France (Trophée Bompard). For this competition, we felt technically we did it (the Tango) well, but because it was our first time out with it we probably didn’t present as much as we could to. So that leaves something to work on for the future. We were careful to make it tidy,” Sinead Kerr said.
Bobrova and Soloviev produced a nice Tango as well to score 31.72 (16.54/15.18) points. “This is our second competition of the season, we did a competition in Russia before and also did the Tango there. This is our first Grand Prix event this year and we had a nice start as we skated the Tango quite well. We’ll improve it for our next Grand Prix, Skate Canada,” Soloviev explained.
Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier (CAN) finished fourth at 30.51 points. They achieved a seasons best as did Anna Zadarozhniuk and Sergei Verbillo (UKR), who came in fifth with 29.67 points.
Kavaguti and Smirnov grabbed the lead in the pairs ahead of Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China. Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett (USA) came in third.
The couple from St. Petersburg earned a season best of 68.90 points (38.94 element score/29.96 program component score). “We were very active in these past one and a half weeks after the Rostelecom Cup,” said Smirnov. “We wanted to make up for the weaknesses we showed there. We skated quite well today, but it wasn’t ideal yet. We still had some problems with our elements, not all of them were as clean as we wanted them to be."
Performing to “The Swan” by Camille Saint-Saens, Kavaguti and Smirnov's routine was highlighted by their superb side-by-side triple toe loops, a throw triple loop and a triple twist. The reigning European silver medalists were awarded a level four for their spins and the lift while the death spiral and the footwork were graded a level three.
Pang and Tong earned a level four for their spins and the lift. The reigning Grand Prix Final champions picked up 67.30 points (37.74/30.56). “After the Grand Prix in Russia we made a little change to our footwork, because it was a level two in Russia, and now we got a level three, which makes us happy,” Tong said.
Their lyrical program to “The Pearlfishers” by Georges Bizet opened with a mistake as Tong put his hand down while the couple performed with a side-by-side triple toe loops. "We had a small mistake today, the landing of my triple toe loop was not good, hopefully it will be better tomorrow,” Tong said.
They recovered nicely to reel off a high triple twist and throw triple loop and are in position to strike gold.
The Americans were pleased with their performance. “This is our first Grand Prix ever and we felt great. We just switched to this program about a month ago,” rarrett said. “We started out with a different program earlier and it wasn’t quite working for us, so we switched to Firebird and I think it suits us much better. It was a good start today, but there is still a lot of work to do.”
Denney and Barrett skated first out of the eight pairs. Their dynamic routine to “Firebird” included a triple twist, triple toe loop, throw triple Lutz and a level four spin. The backwards outside death spiral received only a level one. The U.S. silver medalists scored 55.20 points (33.08/22.12).
Rena Inouea an John Baldwin (USA) are currently ranked fourth. They completed a throw triple loop and a double twist, but Inoue fell on the side by side double Axel (52.52 points). Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Berzmaternykh (RUS) finished fifth at 51.32 points. They landed a double twist and a throw triple flip, but Krasilnikova stumbled on the side by side triple Salchow.