Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Other Things-We-Didn't-See-Coming in Osaka: 2014 NHK Trophy in Review

I’ve decided that this year’s NHK was about surprises.

(OK, MOST of this season’s GPs were about surprises, as is often the case in a post-Olympic season, but go with me on this.)

In fact, I’ve boiled it down to TEN NHK surprises. Here they are:

1) Daisuke won!! I thought he retired?! (Oh wait, not THAT Daisuke..) OK—Murakami won!! Wow! When’s the last time she did this well?? (Oh wait, not THAT Murakami...)

The moral of this story is: if Daisuke Murakami continues to skate as solidly as he did at NHK, he might need to change his name. Poor guy. By the way, in case you were wondering (I certainly was)... his best GP finish prior to this event was 5th, at Skate America... four years ago!

2) Yuzuru Hanyu competed, only 3 weeks after slamming into a fellow human at high speed. And, while holding his own better than some might have expected, didn’t skate anywhere close to his best and finished 4th. And (thanks in part to Murakami’s unexpected victory) managed to squeak in as a qualifier for the GP Final.

Actually, only one of those three statements came as a surprise to me.

3) Eighth-place finisher Jeremy Ten (Canada), at age 25, landed his quad toe for the first time in competition—with an immediate step or three turn-out, as I recall, but landed just the same—and to follow his Twitter feed right after NHK was to know that he couldn’t care less about anything else. It was a fun thing to see.

4) Josh Farris returned to the circuit after missing his previous GP assignment due to injury, but his jumps didn’t return with him.  The look of “Oh NO, what just happened?!” On Farris’ face after the FS was pretty painful to witness. All I could think was better this happen at NHK than Nationals... I know he’s using last season’s Schindler’s List FS, but the quality of movement in his new short program (to Ed Sheeran’s “Give Me Love”) was really stunning. There’s a new maturity to his look, too. Made me really want to see him do great things at Nats.

5) On the ladies’ end of things, the door was wide open for a non-Russian teenager to (for ONCE this Fall) grab the spotlight, as well as a victory. Except they didn’t.  I know Gracie Gold won, but it was mostly on the strength of her short program. Same thing for Alena Leonova—and yes, I give her big props for proving everyone wrong yet again (including me) and delivering just when she’d been counted out of the running. But neither one skated “lights out” in the free... and those nipping at their heels after the SP either skated a little subpar (Satako Miyahara) or a little more subpar (Kanako Murakami) in the free skate.

6) Edmunds stumbles again! Just as she did at Cup of China, Polina Edmunds had a great free skate—but it was the follow-up to a meager SP, and this time she ended up nowhere near the podium. When she gets to Nats, she needs to remember her short program from a year ago rather than a couple months back...

7) Li Zijun is using “my” music for her SP! I missed watching her at Cup of China, so it was truly a surprise to hear “Waltz of the Flowers” from Nutcracker (a.k.a. the music I used for my first-ever competitive program) when she took the ice. Can that really be the first time I’ve heard someone else use it?

8) Not much of a pairs showdown, was it? Sixteen points separating the winners (Duhamel/Radford) and second place (Kavaguti/Smirnov)? And Kav/Smir actually finished behind the Chinese team of Yu/Jin in the free skate?  Guess the real showdown will be in Barcelona...

9) Penny! Nick! Noooo! Or so I wailed when Nick Buckland went down (and even had a slippery time getting back up) in the final minute of their free dance. They were in second—second!!—heading into that, with a chance to make the final. GAH. And I like this FD SO MUCH for them...

10) Nikita & new partner, Nooooo! But also a little bit of KarmaHee. Or so I gasped (and then giggled) when Sinitsina/Katsalapov collapsed and crashed on one lift in that way we always fear and seldom see... then aborted another lift altogether. I haven’t followed the Ilinikh/Katsalapov breakup as some of y’all have, but from what I gathered at Rostelecom Cup, sympathy is heavily on Ilinikh’s side. Good thing Katsalapov’s FD flop didn’t happen in the home country, huh?

So there’s NHK in a 10-point list for you.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some GPF predictions to cobble together... 

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