Yuzuru Hanyu eases to NHK Trophy triumph

The double Olympic champion was not quite at his best, but still won by 55 points with Kevin Aymoz's second place securing him a GP Final berth

By Rory Jiwani

It was mission accomplished for Yuzuru Hanyu at the NHK Trophy.

The figure skating Olympic gold medallist from Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 was far from foot-perfect in his free skate on Saturday, but was still very much the best man on show in Sapporo.

He told Kyodo News afterwards, "The energy of the home fans propelled me here and I think that energy will be a springboard for me going into the Grand Prix Final."

Hanyu won by a massive 55 points from France's Kevin Aymoz, who joins the Japanese at next month's Grand Prix Final in Turin.

In third place was Roman Sadovsky with the Canadian achieving his first podium finish at a senior Grand Prix event.

Sergei Voronov was fourth, with Skate America runner-up Jason Brown missing out on the Grand Prix Final after finishing fifth.

No worries for Hanyu

Four weeks after his convincing victory at Skate Canada, Hanyu established an 18-point lead in the short program on Friday to all-but clinch his place in the Grand Prix Final.

The Japanese had expressed concern that he might injure himself in his second Grand Prix assignment as he had in the previous two years.

But he booked his place in Turin with the minimum of fuss.

Hanyu's opening quad loop was not his smoothest, but the subsequent quad Salchow was excellent as he settled into his skate to 'Origin'.

After a fine quad toe loop, there was a bit of a hiccup as he doubled what was supposed to be another quad toe loop at the start of a combination.

But the Japanese hero then produced a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combo to get back on track for his second Grand Prix victory in the season.

He scored 195.71 for a total of 305.05, 17 points down on his winning score from Skate Canada but more than good enough to triumph in Sapporo after Alena Kostornaia had won the ladies' singles.

The 24-year-old was pleased at avoiding the mishaps of previous campaigns, telling Kyodo News, "I was really able to concentrate on my quad Lutz and Salchow, and I think that was enough.

"I messed up on the combinations, so it wasn't the prettiest performance but I leave here in good physical shape."

Yuzuru Hanyu acknowledges the crowd after his free skate at the 2019 NHK Trophy in Sapporo

Hanyu was in a contest of his own, with the battle on for second place.

Jason Brown needed something special to make the podium and reach the Grand Prix Final.

He showed his trademark artistry in his dance to music from the film Schindler's List, but falls on a triple Axel and a triple loop late on proved costly.

The American scored 157.54 for a total of 231.27 which held the lead until Roman Sadovsky took over.

The Canadian, also skating to a piece of Schindler's List music, landed a fine quad Salchow to start and put together a strong performance.

A hand down on his closing triple Lutz was a slight setback but 168.99 was a huge career-best for the Toronto native, as was his total of 247.50.

After Hanyu's victory lap, Kevin Aymoz took to the ice with just one skater following him.

He knew that if he beat Sadovsky's total, he would make it onto the podium and qualify for Turin.

As in Friday's short program, the Frenchman wasn't perfect with his opening quad toe loop.

And his jumping was slightly haphazard at times, with the pressure of the situation appearing to tell.

The 22-year-old shrugged his shoulders at the end of his skate and his emotions got the better of him in the kiss and cry as he awaited his mark.

A score of 158.55 saw him go third in the free skate, but his total of 250.02 took him into second overall, behind Hanyu.

Upon realising he had guaranteed himself a podium finish, Aymoz broke out into a huge smile, followed by tears of joy as he backed up his third place at the Internationaux de France.

Afterwards he told ISU.org, "Today was hard for me to fight, to I give the best I could. I'm just happy to be there and skate.

"It's going to be my first Grand Prix Final. It wasn't the main goal of my season, so I'm just going to take the experience of this competition to maybe get the podium in a few seasons."

Third overnight, Sergei Voronov started with an excellent quad toe loop-triple toe loop but singled a triple Axel before landing the jump in combination with a double Axel.

The rest of the Russian's jumping was a little below-par and he slipped to fourth overall, leaving Sadovsky with an unexpected podium finish after his 10th place at Skate Canada.

It meant that Hanyu and Aymoz join Nathan Chen, Russian pair Alexander Samarin and Dmitri Aliev, and China's Jin Boyang in the Grand Prix Final.

From what we have seen so far this season, it looks set up for a tantalising duel for gold between Olympic champion Hanyu and world champion Chen.


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