The night belonged to Yuzuru Hanyu. The Japanese superstar once again laid down a lights-out performance in the short program that gave him an almost unbeatable lead heading into the free skate on Saturday. The 24-year-old did not put a foot wrong as he reeled off a series of tough elements — quad Salchow, triple Axel and a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination. His score of 109.34 points was a surprise not only for Hanyu but also his coaches.
“For today, I give myself a passing grade. It wasn′t my best performance, but at least I can use today′s performance as a baseline to continue training hard and to make sure that I can put out an even better short program in the next competition,” Hanyu said. “I was really trying to feel the music. No matter how nervous I am I always tell myself that the music itself will never change. I tried very hard to put my emotions into the music and have a very positive image about my skating.
“Tomorrow will be a different day, I have a different program so I want to have a different level of concentration. More than anything else, it is important to me to stay in top form and skate strongly until the very end.”
Kévin Aymoz of France opened his program with a step-out on the opening element, a quad toe loop, but pulled it together and went on to execute the remainder of the elements without any further major errors in his routine to “The Question of U” by Prince. “I’m really glad to be in Japan for this competition. Tonight I had a lot of fun skating my short program, even with the mistakes. It was really cool. For tomorrow I just want to do my best and do a clean program,” said Aymoz who sits in second with 91.47 points.
Sergei Voronov brought the audience to its feet with his performance to “Somebody to Love” by Queen and earned a season high score of 88.63 for his efforts. “The day is over and for me ended in a positive way. I am satisfied with my performance,” the 32-year-old said. “Tomorrow will be a new day, new thoughts, new emotions. Overall, I really enjoy coming to this competition because if I continue to compete I will get to see almost all of Japan.”
Canada’s Roman Sadovsky finished fourth with 78.51 and is essentially tied with Makar Ignatov of Russia (78.47). Japan’s Koshiro Shimada sits in sixth with 75.98 points.
Jason Brown had a disappointing outing landing in eighth place after falling on a triple Axel attempt and later on the back end of a triple Lutz combination (73.73 points). He needs to place no lower than fourth to keep his qualifying hopes alive for the Grand Prix Final.
The showdown in the ladies short program came down to two competitors: Russia’s Alena Kostornaia and Rika Kihira of Japan, who finished top two, far ahead of the rest of the field.
Kostornaia once again showed her brilliant blend of technique and artistry from the opening triple Axel in her program. She was rewarded with a personal best score of 85.04 — the highest point total ever awarded for a ladies short program — and is now just one step away from earning a place at her first senior Grand Prix Final.
“The triple Axel is an opportunity to get more points in the short program as quads are forbidden. But it′s also a risk because if it doesn′t work you get less points than for a good double Axel,” Kostornaia explained.
Kihira showed her strengths in her “Breakfast in Baghdad” program, which also included a solid triple Axel. She sits in second with 79.89 points. “In today′s program I was able to land all jumps, and I was able to gain high points. I believe today′s triple Axel was one of the best ones I′ve done, even compared to my practices here,” said Kihira, who may include a quad Salchow in her long program on Saturday.
Karen Chen of the U.S. finished third with a personal best score of 67.21. Russia′s Alina Zagitova failed to execute a combination in her program and currently sits in fourth with 66.84 points. Japan’s Mako Yamashita placed fifth (65.70) ahead of Eunsoo Lim of South Korea (65.28).
2019 NHK TROPHY