The ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series concluded with NHK Trophy, the sixth and final of the qualifying events leading up to the Grand Prix Final. The event was held Nov 29 – Dec 3 at the Big Hat Arena in Nagano City, Nagano, Japan. Over 60 skaters from 15 different countries competed for points and monies totaling $180,000 in U.S. dollars. The points went toward qualification for the Grand Prix Final, to which the top six competitors in points standings from each discipline will be invited to compete for a total purse of $272,000 U.S. dollars. The Grand Prix Final will be held Dec 14-17, 2006, in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In the Pairs event, China’s Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao and Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang captured the gold and silver medal, respectively, while Valerie Marcoux and Craig Buntin of Canada won the bronze.
Shen and Zhao opened their routine to Romanza by Salvadore Bacarisse with solid side-by-side triple toeloops, followed by an excellent throw triple toeloop, and a very good level four spiral sequence. The team lost unison during the side-by-side flying camel spin when Zhao caught an edge on the ice, but the two-time and reigning Olympic bronze medalists quickly recovered to produced a triple twist, a difficult lift, and a very good level four pair combination spin, earning 65.58 points for a first place finish after the short.
“We’re not very satisfied with today’s performance, because of the mistake in the spin,” said Zhao. “I got stuck in a rut on the ice, caught the edge and twisted my foot. The first mark was rather low because of the mistake. We also didn’t have much practice time here in Japan and the quality of the ice wasn’t too good.”
Skating to Spanish Caravan and Hello I Love You by The Doors, teammates Zhang and Zhang opened their routine with a huge lateral triple twist and a very good throw triple loop, but then Hao fell on the side-by-side triple Salchows. Despite the mistake, the 2006 Olympic silver medalists went on to deliver a very good difficult lift, a very good level four spiral sequence, and two good level four spins, placing second with 63.82 points.
“I’m not happy because of the fall,” said Hao, adding that he hopes they can show their best tomorrow during the free program. Dan added: “For us, improving our performance is more important than the placement.”
Marcoux and Buntin produced a good routine to Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, despite a fall by Marcoux on a throw triple loop. Their program included solid side-by-side triple toeloops, a level four double twist, a level four spiral sequence, a difficult lift, and good spins. The three-time and reigning Canadian Champions placed third after the short with 55.62 points.
“It was the timing between both of us,” said Marcoux, referring to the fall, “we were not together. But I have really no excuse.” “We were a little bit shaky, but our practices have been going well this week and I hope we can go out and enjoy the program tomorrow,” Buntin added.
Teammates Utako Wakamatsu and Jean-Sebastien Fecteau delivered a good routine to Here Comes Santa which included side-by-side triple toeloops, but Wakamatsu touched touched down with her hand on the throw triple loop. The 2006 Four Continents silver medalists placed fourth with 53.40 points.
Russia’s Julia Obertas and Sergei Slavnov placed fifth (48.62 points). Obertas fell on the opening side-by-side triple toeloops as well as the throw triple loop.
USA’s Julia Vlassov and Drew Meekins were sixth (45.96 points).
Overnight leaders Shen and Zhao opened their Meditation routine with a side-by-side triple toeloop-double toeloop combination, followed by solid side-by-side double Axels, an excellent triple twist, a very good difficult lift, and a forward-outside death spiral. While the 2006 Cup of China Champions also produced an excellent throw triple Salchow and throw triple loop, the exit on the last lift was shaky and they also received a two point deduction for exceeding the program time limit of 4:40 by 6 seconds. Nevertheless, the former World Champions earned 125.39 points for a first place finish in the long and overall (190.97 points) to win the gold.
“I wasn’t feeling so well,” said Shen. “I have a foot injury [right heel] and then I got a toothache tonight and my cheek was swollen. It’s better now, but I couldn’t skate so well tonight.” Of the time violation, Zhao said: “We didn’t have enough time for the last lift left, and we got the two points deduction. But we’re very happy with our first place here at NHK Trophy since we haven’t won this event in four years.”
Skating to The Offspring of Dragons by Hou De Jian, Zhang and Zhang nailed their opening throw triple Salchow, but they both doubled a triple loop in the side-by-side double Axel-triple toeloop combination. Dan later doubled her jump on the side-by-side triple Salchows, but the current World silver medalists produced an excellent triple twist, three difficult lifts, and a very good throw triple loop. The defending champions also displayed good spins, earning a score of 118.05 for a second place in the long and overall (181.87).
“I’m not so satisfied because it wasn’t perfect,” said Dan Zhang. “I hope we’ll do better at our next competition. We didn’t have so much practice time to prepare for this event.”
Performing to to L’Amour by Osvaldo Montes, Marcoux and Buntin completed their opening triple toeloop-double toeloop sequence and a good double twist, however, Marcoux touched down with her hand on the side-by-side double Axels as well as the throw triple loop. Despite the mistakes, the 26-year-olds produced a throw triple Salchow and three difficult lifts, earning 107.05 points for a third place finish in the short and overall (163.37 points) to win the bronze.
“We’ve been struggling with a couple of injuries over the past few weeks,” said Buntin. “Unfortunately, we weren’t able to do all the training we needed to do to be able to get here. We fought from the beginning to the end of that program.”
On qualifying for Grand Prix Final for the first time in their career, Buntin said. “It’s huge. It’s something that we, at the beginning of the season, listed as one of our goals. I think we had expected to skate maybe a little bit better in all our Grand Prix events but to accomplish it and to be able to tick it off the list of goals having been accomplished this season, we’re really happy. It’s a big step in our career.”
Wakamatsu and Fecteau placed fourth (92.01 points) after a flawed routine that included a fall on the throw triple loop and side-by-side toeloops.
Vlassov and Meekins, who stood in sixth after the short, placed fifth in the long (89.49 points) and overall (135.45 points).
Obertas and Slavnov slipped from fifth to sixth overall (132.19 points). Obertas fell on the throw triple loop and throw triple flip, as well as on a jump combination.
NHK Trophy was a scoring event for all pair entries.
All teams who made the podium at this event qualified for the upcoming Grand Prix Final. Other teams that qualified include: Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov (RUS), Rena Inoue and John Baldwin (USA), and Aljona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (GER).