Hanyu Yuzuru, Asada Mao and more: 8 iconic moments from ISU Grand Prix of Japan

International figure skating is back in Japan with NHK Trophy this weekend. We look back at some of the most iconic moments from the event’s past, featuring Hanyu Yuzuru and more.

By Nick McCarvel

“I’m very, very excited right now. I don’t know what to say.”

Those were the words of double Olympic figure skating champion Hanyu Yuzuru at the conclusion of Japan’s Grand Prix stop, NHK Trophy, in 2015, after Hanyu had roared to a world record-setting weekend of figure skating.

Normally the last stop of the Series before the Grand Prix Final, NHK Trophy has provided a plethora of memorable moments – from Hanyu to Asada Mao to Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and beyond.

With the event set for this coming weekend, but limited to only Japanese athletes and those that train nearby, we take a look at a few of its most memorable moments from the past.

4-time champ Hanyu: A record-breaking 2015

Hanyu was already the Sochi 2014 champion but continued to raise the bar for himself, which was never more apparent than in Nagano for NHK Trophy in 2015, where he would skate chill-inducing programs that set the world records in the short program (106.33), free skate (216.07) and overall score (322.40).

He would go on to break those records just two weeks later at the Grand Prix Final.

His programs – “Chopin Ballade No.1” and “Seimei” – were the ones he would eventually use during the 2017-18 season as well, which culminated with his PyeongChang 2018 triumph.

Hanyu would let out a small fist pump after landing his final jump of the free skate, a triple Lutz, having hit three quadruple jumps earlier in the skate. He then brought the audience to its feet in the closing seconds... A performance for the ages.

Overall, Hanyu has four NHK titles: 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2019. The Japanese star won't be adding to that haul this weekend after announcing his withdrawal from the 2020/21 ISU Grand Prix series .

Asada’s 2006 triumph: A record

Smashing world records appears to be a habit of Japanese skaters at their home Grand Prix, further evidenced by Asada Mao’s brilliant 2006 skating.

Having been too young to compete at the Olympic Games Torino 2006, Asada would win NHK on debut, setting a world record with her 199.52 overall total score at the age of 16, bolstered by her triple Axel in the free skate. The record would stand for nearly three years, until it was broken at the world championships in 2009 by Kim Yuna.

Overall, Asasa would win four times in seven appearances at her home Grand Prix.

2016: Virtue and Moir on the comeback trail

Having taken two full seasons away from competing, Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Olympic champions in 2010 and silver medallists in 2014, were back in full force for the 2016-17 season, NHK Trophy being just their third event since returning.

But skating brilliantly in both their rhythm and free dances, Virtue/Moir set a new world mark in both the rhythm dance (set to a Prince medley) and overall score.

It would be the beginning of Virtue/Moir’s golden return: They won 12 of 13 events they skated in between 2016 and 2018, culminating with their second individual Olympic gold in PyeongChang, while also helping Canada to gold in the figure skating team event.

Takahashi Daisuke: 5-time singles champ – and making dance return

One of the big storylines this coming weekend will be the official return of Takahashi Daisuke, the Vancouver 2010 bronze medallist in singles – back as an ice dancer.

Takahashi has teamed up with Kana Muramoto in a much-talked-about switch into ice dance, the duo coached by Marina Zueva.

His most successful Grand Prix in singles was no doubt NHK Trophy, winning the event five times and adding a silver (2012) and a bronze (2005). His 95.55 in the short program at NHK in 2013 remains his personal best.

Pairs: Three-peat champions include Duhamel and Radford

There will be no pairs competition at NHK Trophy this weekend, with travel being limited due to COVID-19 and few international top-level pairs teams based in Japan.

But in its history, NHK has seen a trio of pairs teams win back-to-back-to-back titles, most recently by Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, from 2014 to 2016. Their first two victories would come amidst back-to-back seasons in which the duo won two world titles, losing just once in 13 competitions.

Pang Qing and Tong Jian won three titles back-to-back-to-back from 2008-10 in a time where they also won the silver medal at the 2010 Winter Games, while their Chinese counterparts, Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo won three straight from 2000-02, a span which also included their bronze at Salt Lake City 2002.

Ito Midori’s NHK Trophy legacy

No one skater has had as much sustained success at the event as Ito Midori, the triple Axel-jumping Japanese skater who would go on to win Olympic silver at Albertville 1992.

Between 1984 and 1991 she won six NHK titles in eight appearances, only losing to Katarina Witt in 1986 and 87.

In 1988, she became the first woman to land the triple Axel in international competition at NHK Trophy, beating out Kristi Yamaguchi for gold.

2018: Kihira, Miyahara go 1-2 with big scores

In 2018, Kihira Rika and Miyahara Satoko went 1-2, the first sweep for Japanese women since Asada and Suzuki Akiko won gold in silver in 2012.

Kihira, just 16 at the time, rocketed from fifth to first after the short program, hitting two triple Axels – one in combination – in her free skate. It was her senior debut on the Grand Prix circuit.

She scored a 224.31 and Miyahara registered a 219.47, Kihira’s 87.17 technical score in the free skate the highest ever (at that time).

2019: Big scores abound

After the ISU made changes to the Grade of Execution scores (GOEs) ahead of the 2018-19 season, many of the highest scores in the sport’s history have since been recorded.

Last year was a big one at NHK for just that: Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron set records in ice dance, becoming the first dance team to score over 90 points in the rhythm dance (90.03). Their 136.58 in the free would bring them to 226.61 overall, still a record today.

Russia’s Alena Kostornaia scored a 240.00 for her career best, which she would top weeks later at the Grand Prix Final with a world record that still stands (247.59).

And China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong scored a 81.27, the second-highest short program score in pairs, their 226.96 earning them a second NHK title in three years.


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