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The Grand Showdown Set to Begin

The NHK Trophy, the final event of the Grand Prix of Figure Skating series, concluded today in Tokyo, Japan.

Japan’s Nobunari Oda claimed the men’s title with a resounding win over American Johnny Weir. It was a major step back into the international skating game for Oda who scored 236.18 points to Weir’s 224.42. Yannick Ponsero won the bronze with Canada’s Kevin Reynolds placing fourth.

It was not a clean win for Oda who stumbled on his opening quadruple toe loop, stepped out of the triple Axel and fell on the back end of his triple flip-triple toe-double loop combination. “I am delighted to have won,” Oda said. “There was one thing I wanted to challenge myself with, and that was to do a clean quad. I didn’t do it today, but I hope to be able to do it in my next competition.”

Weir, the 2008 World bronze medalist scored a season high for his free skate (146.27 points). “I am very happy with the way today went. I’ve been so sick all week and I was so nervous to go on the ice and not know if I would able to breathe from the beginning to the end of the program,” he said. “But I did somehow find the strength to get through it and I’m very happy that I ended up on the podium. I’m disappointed of course with the mistakes I made at the end of the program.”

Ponsero, 22, earned his first medal on the senior Grand Prix circuit. “I am very happy, because this is my first medal on the Grand Prix. I want to continue like this and I want to become better and better,” Ponsero said.

It was an all-Japanese podium in the ladies event, with Mao Asada skating to gold with 23-year-old Akiko Suzuki claiming silver and Yukari Nakano earning the bronze. Asada left no doubt as to who is the strongest ladies skater in the land of the rising sun. Her overall score of 191.13 points was 23.49 points ahead of Suzuki and 24.26 points over Nakano. Ashley Wagner from the U.S. placed fourth.

Asada, the reigning World champion, attempted two triple Axels in her free skate, one in combination with a double toe. The second Axel was under-rotated and subsequently downgraded. “I am very happy to be in first place today,” she said. “Now the Grand Prix Final is my next goal. This is the first time I did my program without falling and this gives me great confidence.”

Asada and Nakano both earned a trip to the Grand Prix Final.

China’s Qing Pang and Jian Tong (186.06) won the pairs event by an almost 25 point margin over Rena Inoue and John Baldwin (161.49) from the U.S. Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison from Canada won the bronze with 156.76 points.

Italian ice dancers Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali claimed their first Grand Prix title with 176.67 points over French rivals Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat (175.42). The young American team of Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates scored 161.45 points and claimed the bronze, their first senior Grand Prix medal.

“We are so happy that I can’t really describe it,” Scali later said. “It has been years that we have been trying to get something else than a bronze medal (on the Grand Prix). This is our first gold medal and our first NHK Trophy, and we are really proud.” Faiella and Scali will make their first trip to the Grand Prix Final.

One week earlier, Carolina Kostner of Italy claimed victory in the at the Cup of Russia. Rachael Flatt (USA) earned the silver medal and Japan’s Fumie Suguri captured the bronze.

After a less-than-inspiring showing at Skate Canada, Kostner returned to last year’s free program, “Dumsky Trio” by Anton Dvorak. Admitting she didn’t feel comfortable with her new “Swan Lake” program Kostner said: “I was quite nervous as I remembered Skate Canada. I was nervous there too and I was thinking too much and didn’t go well. But when I got into my starting position I felt calmer and after the first two jumps, I gained confidence.”

Kostner, who stood in second place after the short program, opened her long program with a solid triple flip-triple toe loop combination. The Italian star two-footed the triple Lutz-double toe double loop combination, landed two more triple jumps but fell on an under-rotated triple toe loop (in combination with double Axel).

The reigning World silver medalist and two-time European champion performed a lovely combination spin (level four) and flying sit spin (both level fours). Kostner received a season's-best score of 113.70 points (56.22 element score/58.48 program component score) and scored a total of 170.72 points.

Flatt, 16, scored 110.14 points (60.86/49.28), which was a season’s-best and moved up from third to second at 166.06 points total and claim her first medal on the Grand Prix senior circuit. “I thought that I skated very well but it wasn’t my best program,” Flatt said. “I think I still need to improve upon some things, but I had a lot of fun and it was very exciting to have the honor of skating in this wonderful facility. This arena is absolutely incredible. It was great to have such a good program in my second senior Grand Prix.”

Suguri, a five-time Japanese champion, scored 103.74 points (47.26/56.48) and slipped to third with 162.04 points.“I made a lot of mistakes in my jumps,” she said. “I was in a good condition this week and so I am disappointed. I didn’t feel so much pressure today and I wasn’t nervous, but the mistakes happened and I want to work hard for my next competitions.”

Kostner earned a spot in the Grand Prix Final.

France’s Brian Joubert captured the gold at the Cup of Russia with Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic and Alban Préaubert of France finishing second and third, respectively.

Joubert overcome a shaky start into his routine set to “Last of the Mohicans” when he under-rotated his quadruple toe loop and stumbled. He recovered to nail an array of triples and earn 144.68 points (69.48 element score/75.20 program component score), which was a season’s best.

Joubert, 24, was ranked fourth in the free skating, but won the overall title with 230.78 points. “After the boot problems I had in October, I wasn’t yet ready for my free program today. I was very nervous at the beginning, but now I feel more confident,” the said. “I know that I still have to work. I was tense, but I also enjoyed skating. It was a hard competition for me, but I found myself again step by step, although I didn’t win the free skating.”

Joubert will be going to the Grand Prix Final.

In the pairs event in Russia, Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang of China claimed victory. Russia’s Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov took the silver medal while Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov (UKR) earned the bronze.

In ice dance, Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski of Russia scored 187.62 overall points to defeat teammates Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin (184.66 points). Americans Meryl David and Charlie White claimed bronze with 171.61 points.

The Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final will be held Dec. 10-14 in Goyang City, Republic of Korea.

Who is going to the Grand Prix Final:

THE MEN:

Patrick Chan CAN
Takahiko Kozuka JPN
Johnny Weir USA
Brian Joubert FRA
Jeremy Abbott USA
Tomas Verner CZE

THE LADIES:

Yu-Na Kim KOR
Joannie Rochette CAN
Mao Asada JPN
Carolina Kostner ITA
Yukari Nakano JPN
Miki Ando JPN

THE PAIRS:

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy GER
Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang CHN
Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov RUS
Qing Pang and Jian Tong CHN
Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov UKR
Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov RUS

ICE DANCE:

Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder FRA
Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin RUS
Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali ITA
Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski RUS
Meryl Davis and Charlie White USA
Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto USA


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