Event Previews

NHK Trophy 2021 Preview

This year’s NHK Trophy had seen plenty of drama before the event has even started, with s plethora of withdrawals, including two home favorites for gold, leaving us with some very interesting fields. Former winners of this event, Yuzuru Hanyu and Rika Kihira, both withdrew last week due to ankle injuries, which will come as a real disappointment to local Japanese fans. A few days later, Skate America winner and prospective medalist here, Alexandra Trusova, also withdrew due to injury, which has the knock-on effect of opening up a spot for Grand Prix Final qualification. Other withdrawals were Russia’s Daniel Samsonov, Austria’s Miriam Ziegler / Severin Kiefer and eighth place finisher from Worlds Olga Mikutina, and American dance team Kaitlin Hawayek / Jean-Luc Baker. All were impacted by injury, which adds to the worrying trend of skaters suffering injuries this season, likely caused or exacerbated by changing training conditions as a result of the pandemic. Hopefully athletes are simply being more cautious with recovery times in light of this being an Olympic season, otherwise there will be real concern about missing competitors from the Winter Games.

Men

Everyone is talking about the fight for Olympic gold between Nathan Chan and Yuzuru Hanyu, but with Hanyu withdrawing from NHK due to an ankle injury, this weekend will be a battle for gold between the two men who often live in their shadows: America’s Vincent Zhou and Japan’s Shoma Uno. Zhou came out on top when he took his first Grand Prix victory at Skate America last month, but Uno will be hoping to add a home win of his own. Since 2005, NHK Trophy has only been won by a non-Japanese man on two occasions, so there will be some expectation for Uno to continue that streak. Zhou, meanwhile, could qualify for his first Grand Prix Final by finishing anywhere on the podium, so the pressure will be a bit lower for him. And if Vincent manages to beat Shoma a second time, the conversation about potential Olympic medalists becomes very interesting indeed.

And once again, it’s anyone’s guess who will take the last spot on the podium. Matteo Rizzo and Junhwan Cha both have two Grand Prix bronze medals in their career (one of Rizzo’s at this very event in 2018), Makar Ignatov has a bronze medal from 2019 and a fourth place from Skate Canada two weeks ago, and Alexander Samarin has Grand Prix medals in every color, but had the worst outing of his career this season when he finished 8th at Skate Canada. Like all of the men’s events we’ve seen so far, it will likely come down to whoever stays on their feet the longest, which could be just about any skater here.

SKATER/COUNTRYBEST SCORESNOTABLE RESULTS
Vincent ZHOU
USA
SP: 100.51
FS: 198.50
Total: 299.01
1st 2021 Skate America
3rd 2019 Worlds
3rd 2019 4CC
Shoma UNO
Japan
SP: 104.15
FS: 197.36
Total: 289.12
2018 Olympic silver medalist
4x National Champion
4th 2021 Worlds
Alexander SAMARIN
Russia
SP: 98.48
FS: 177.87
Total: 269.84
2nd 2019 Europeans
4th 2019 GPF
Junhwan CHA
South Korea
SP: 97.33
FS: 175.06
Total: 265.43
10th 2021 Worlds
3rd 2018 Grand Prix Final
Nam NGUYEN
Canada
SP: 87.57
FS: 178.69
Total: 262.77
2015, 2019 National Champion
6th 2020 4CC
Matteo RIZZO
Italy
SP: 93.37
FS: 176.18
Total: 260.53
3rd 2019 Europeans
11th 2021 Worlds
Makar IGNATOV
Russia
SP: 89.79
FS: 165.33
Total: 252.87
2nd 2021 Nationals
3rd 2019 Rostelecom Cup
Camden PULKINEN
USA
SP: 89.05
FS: 155.73
Total: 244.78
2018 Junior National Champion
11th 2020 Four Continents
Tomoki HIWATASHI
USA
SP: 88.09
FS: 159.84
Total: 240.78
2019 Junior World Champion
9th 2020 Four Continents
Sota YAMAMOTO
Japan
SP: 92.81
FS: 157.23
Total: 240.11
2016 Youth Olympic Champion
3rd 2015 Junior Worlds
Kao MIURA
Japan
SP: 59.94
FS: 125.65
Total: 185.50
2nd Japanese Junior Nationals

Women

For once, we don’t need to talk about the potential of a Russian sweep, because there is only one Russian skater at this event. In fact, the entire podium is wide open with the withdrawals of both Rika Kihira and Alexandra Trusova due to injury. There’s real opportunities for both Young You and Daria Usacheva to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, and Kaori Sakamoto or Alysa Liu could even have a shot at qualifying if they take gold here with earlier fourth and fifth place finishes, respectively.

Russia’s only shot of keeping up their gold medal streak is Daria Usacheva. As the only one of the main seven contenders for the Russian Olympic team with no quads or a triple Axel, she’s certainly the most likely to allow someone to break the Russian streak. There are three skaters here with higher career best scores, though in this particular field, Usacheva has achieved the highest score on this season’s Grand Prix.

But with the gold up for grabs, Kaori Sakamoto would certainly like to take a home win and repeat as NHK champion in a year with an actual international field. Japanese women haven’t been quite as dominant as the men at this event, but they have won 13 of the past 19 iterations, with the Russians being, unsurprisingly, the main challengers in recent years.

And while she’s not likely to medal, also keep an eye on Amber Glenn’s performances. With Bradie Tennell still injured, Mariah Bell yet to compete on the Grand Prix, and Karen Chen making mistakes at her first assignment, a place on the US Olympic team is still very much on the table, especially if the triple Axel starts to make an appearance.

SKATER/COUNTRYBEST SCORESNOTABLE RESULTS
Kaori SAKAMOTO
Japan
SP: 77.78
FS: 150.29
Total: 228.07
6th 2021 Worlds
2019 National Champion
Young YOU
South Korea
SP: 78.22
FS: 149.68
Total: 223.23
2nd 2020 4CC
3x National Champion
Alysa LIU
USA
SP: 74.31
FS: 144.93
Total: 219.24
2x National Champion
2nd 2019 Junior GPF
Daria USACHEVA
Russia
SP: 76.71
FS: 140.60
Total: 217.31
2nd 2021 Skate America
2nd 2020 Junior Worlds
Eunsoo LIM
South Korea
SP: 72.91
FS: 132.66
Total: 205.57
10th 2019 Worlds
8th 2020 Four Continents
Amber GLENN
USA
SP: 67.69
FS: 133.45
Total: 201.02
2nd 2021 Nationals
9th 2020 4CC
Seoyeong WI
South Korea
SP: 66.48
FS: 127.85
Total: 193.30
6th 2020 Junior Worlds
2018 Jr. National Champion
Rino MATSUIKE
Japan
SP: 66.42
FS: 126.62
Total: 193.03
2021 Jr. National Champion
3rd 2020 NHK Trophy
Mana KAWABE
Japan
SP: 65.84
FS: 133.22
Total: 186.52
4th 2020 Youth Olympics
11th 2020 Junior Worlds
Nicole SCHOTT
Germany
SP: 64.09
FS: 120.93
Total: 182.71
18th 2021 Worlds
18th 2018 Olympic Games

Pairs

Eyes around the world will be on reigning World Champions Mishina and Galliamov in their first Grand Prix outing of the season as they face off against a revitalized Tarasova and Morozov, who have looked like one of the teams to beat this season. Tarasova and Morozov’s total score from Skate America was just five points shy of Mishina and Galliamov’s Worlds-winning scores, so they’re already skating at a very high level this early in the season.

Meanwhile, many eyes at the event will be on the home team of Miura and Kihara as they look to achieve their second Grand Prix medal and possibly punch a ticket to the Final. Miura and Kihara would be the first Japanese pair to medal at this event since Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran in 2011. Their main competition will be from Cain-Gribble and LeDuc, looking to build on their bronze medal performance from Skate Canada.

TEAM/COUNTRYBEST SCORESNOTABLE RESULTS
Evgenia TARASOVA / Vladimir MOROZOV
Russia
SP: 81.21
FS: 147.26
Total: 228.47
2x European Champions
3x World medalists
3x National Champions
Anastasia MISHINA / Aleksandr GALLIAMOV
Russia
SP: 75.79
FS: 153.37
Total: 227.59
2021 World Champions
3rd 2019 GPF
Riku MIURA / Ryuichi KIHARA
Japan
SP: 72.63
FS: 135.57
Total: 208.20
2nd 2021 Skate America
10th 2021 Worlds
Ashley CAIN-GRIBBLE / Timothy LEDUC
USA
SP: 76.23
FS: 129.66
Total: 205.58
9th 2021 Worlds
2019 National Champions
Minerva Fabienne HASE / Nolan SEEGERT
Germany
SP: 70.43
FS: 123.18
Total: 188.37
5th 2020 Europeans
2021 Nebelhorn Champions
Evelyn WALSH / Trennt MICHAUD
Canada
SP: 62.73
FS: 116.83
Total: 177.58
12th 2021 Worlds
2nd 2019 & 2020 Nationals
Audrey LU / Misha MITROFANOV
USA
SP: 63.87
FS: 107.75
Total: 168.50
5th 2018 Junior Worlds
2018 Jr. National Champions

Ice Dance

In this particular ice dance field, the first and second place teams are virtually certain, while the bronze medal is up for grabs. The reigning World Champions Sinitsina and Katsalapov have their first Grand Prix outing here and the big point of interest will be how they stack up against what we saw from Papadakis and Cizeron last week. The Russians will be starting from a more difficult place; they withdrew from a Russian Cup event a month ago due to a back injury for Katsalapov that left him unable to even put on his own socks, according to coach Alexander Zhulin. However, they also missed most of last season due to injuries and COVID diagnosis for both, so we know they can recover from such setbacks. Even a weakened Sinitsina and Katsalapov will be favorites for gold here.

In the silver medal position we have Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who will qualify for the Grand Prix Final with another second place finish to add to their result from Skate America.

The bronze medal is where things get interesting. The team with the third highest personal best score are the Brits Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson, who had a really rough outing at Skate Canada and finished all the way down in seventh. They need some strong redemption skates here to get their season back on track, and a bronze medal would certainly held right the ship. They’ll be threatened by the Spanish team, Sarah Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin, who also need to make an impression after Smart and Diaz medalled at Skate Canada and made their Zorro free dance a fan-favorites in their Grand Prix assignments. The two teams are competing for Spain’s sole Olympic spot. An outside challenge could also come from Canadians Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha, who have a personal best score within a point and a half of the Spaniards, though their scores from this season have been substantially lower so far.

Outside of the podium places, one of the most intriguing face-offs of this event will be between the home teams of Komatsubara/Koleto (aka Team Koko) and Muramoto/Takahashi. Komatsubara and Koleto have been the reigning national champions for the past three seasons with no real competition and are the team consistently representing Japan internationally. Kana Muramoto, a 4CC bronze medalist and 2018 Olympian, and Daisuke Takahashi, an Olympic medalist and World champion in singles skating, teamed up at the end of the 2019/2020 season, just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic to derail their debut season. Muramoto and Takahashi have yet to compete internationally, but were within three points of Komatsubara and Koleto in the rhythm dance at last year’s nationals and still finished second overall with mistakes in the free dance. If they’ve improved enough to get close to Team Koko, competition for Japan’s sole Olympic spot will get very interesting. Takahashi cited a desire for Japan to have a team at the Olympics as motivation for switching disciplines, but with Tim Koleto getting Japanese citizenship last year, both teams are now eligible. It’s a rarity for Japan to have two ice dance teams competing on the Grand Prix, so to have two in an interesting competition is a real gift for the home crowd.

TEAM/COUNTRYBEST SCORESNOTABLE RESULTS
Victoria SINITSINA / Nikita KATSALAPOV
Russia
RD: 88.73
FD: 133.02
Total: 221.17
2021 World Champions
2020 European Champions
Madison CHOCK / Evan BATES
USA
RD: 85.76
FD: 129.01
Total: 213.18
4th 2021 Worlds
2nd 2019 GPF
Lilah FEAR / Lewis GIBSON
Great Britain
RD: 77.42
FD: 119.50
Total: 196.92
7th 2021 Worlds
3rd 2019 Skate Canada
Sara HURTADO / Kirill KHALIAVIN
Spain
RD: 77.03
FD: 117.39
Total: 193.47
11th 2021 Worlds
12th 2018 Olympics
Marjorie LAJOIE / Zachary LAGHA
Canada
RD: 76.43
FD: 115.68
Total: 192.11
14th 2021 Worlds
2019 Junior World Champions
Alexandra NAZAROVA / Maxim NIKITIN
Ukraine
RD: 75.46
FD: 113.18
Total: 188.64
20th 2021 Worlds
10th 2021 Europeans
Sofia SHEVCHENKO / Igor EREMENKO
Russia
RD: 69.59
FD: 108.49
Total: 178.08
2018 Jr. GPF Champions
3rd 2019 Jr. Worlds
Misato KOMATSUBARA / Tim KOLETO
Japan
RD: 68.02
FD: 100.82
Total: 167.81
19th 2021 Worlds
3x National Champions
Kana MURAMOTO / Daisuke TAKAHASHI *
Japan
RD: 64.15
FD: 93.10
Total: 157.25
2nd 2020 Nationals
3rd 2020 NHK Trophy
* Scores from 2020 NHK Trophy, which didn’t count for ISU personal best scores

How to Watch

NHK Trophy runs November 12-14 in Tokyo, Japan (may start the evening of the 11th, depending on your time zone).

Starting Orders and Results | ISU Color Schedule | Time Zone Conversions

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