Home Figure Skating News Ava Marie Ziegler takes surprising win at NHK Trophy

Ava Marie Ziegler takes surprising win at NHK Trophy

by Paula Slater
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Ava Marie Ziegler takes surprising win at NHK Trophy

USA’s Ava Marie Ziegler took a surprising win in the second Grand Prix of her career at 2023 NHK Trophy.

2023 NHK Trophy: Women

USA’s Ava Marie Ziegler took a surprising win at the 2023 NHK Trophy on Saturday in Osaka, Japan. Teammate Lindsay Thorngren pocketed the silver, while Nina Pinzarrone of Belgium earned the bronze.

This was a solo event for Ziegler. With a bronze-medal win, Pinzarrone has qualified for the Grand Prix Final in Beijing. Thorngren, who was fifth at Skate Canada, is currently the second alternate.

Ava Marie Ziegler

Ziegler was fifth (62.04) after the short program heading into the free skate. Her routine to “Jazz Man” featured a strong double Axel, as well as three level-four spins. However, she received an edge call on the frontend of a triple Lutz while the back end was underrotated. The 17-year-old managed a triple flip, and the change combination spin received grades of execution (GOE) ranging between -1 to +2.

“I didn’t struggle with the jetlag because my adrenalin was just so high,” said the 2023 Cranberry Cup silver medalist. “I could feel that my program was well-received, and I enjoyed it a lot. I’ve been really enjoying my training recently, working on my confidence and consistency.”

“This is my first time in Japan and it’s just amazing!” she added. “I love the culture, and everything is just so beautiful!”

Her free skate to music by Christina Aguilera featured a very good triple flip-double Axel-double Axel sequence. She also landed another six triple jumps with the only error being an edge call on the front end of a triple Lutz-double toe. The 2022 U.S. Junior silver medalist was otherwise very solid, earning level four on all her spins and footwork. She skated to a new personal best of 138.46 points, beating her previous one by 27 points. With a total score of 200.50, she catapulted from fifth to first overall.

“This is the moment I do this sport for!” said Ziegler. “To put out a clean skate in front of this amazing crowd. You put in so much hard work and today it paid off. Last year I was really struggling and kept finding the love for the sport again. This is what this free skate is about. It feels so rewarding to skate it like this in front of this crowd! I am so happy! When the number 200 came up it felt surreal!”

“I feel super excited, relieved and happy!” she summed up. “This will help me with my confidence leading up to the next events. I am going to stay humble, but will use this experience to get better in the future. My goal as a skater is to make people feel emotions when I skate.”

Lindsay Thorngren

Thorngren took a surprising lead with her eloquent short to “Windmills of Your Mind.” The only mistake was an edge call on a triple flip and took a one-point deduction for a time violation. The 2022 World Junior bronze medalist landed a triple Lutz-triple toe and double Axel while displaying very good level-four spins and footwork throughout. All elements, except for the flip, received many GOEs and she scored a season’s best of 68.93.

“I feel really good today,” said the skater who place fifth at 2023 Skate Canada. “I enjoy skating here so much. It’s my first time competing in Japan and the venue here is so huge and beautiful! Probably the biggest crowd I ever competed in front of! I actually had a bit of an issue this morning. I hurt myself a bit during off-ice jumping. That’s why I was late for practice, but it’s good now.”

The 2023 Cranberry Cup champion opened her free skate to a Twighlight medley with a triple Lutz-triple toe. She then fell on a double Salchow and landed a triple flip on the quarter that received an edge call. However, the rest of the program was solid. She produced three more clean triple jumps, including a triple Lutz-double toe-double loop, while displaying level-four spins and foot work throughout.

“I feel really good,” said Thorngren. “NHK Trophy was an amazing experience for me. I learned a lot during the competition. I want to thank everyone who helped me through this. I want to keep improving and I am happy with the experience I gained.”

The skater explained that she learned she could “push through anything and can overcome everything.”

“I sprained my ankle ahead of the short program practice, but with the help of my team, I was able to push through and overcome this,” she shared. “I am super grateful for the team, because without them I wouldn’t be here today!”

Nina Pinzarrone

Pinzarrone underrotated the frontend of a triple Lutz-triple toe in her short to “Charms” from the W.E. soundtrack. The double Axel and triple loop were clean, and she received a level-four for two spins. The 2023 Grand Prix de France silver medalist placed second with 63.44 points.

“It was quite good,” said Pinzarrone. “I am a bit disappointed with the score, so I know I have to work even harder. I enjoyed my performance and the crowd cheering for me. I know I will have to fight tomorrow, but mainly also enjoy it!”

The skater, who just turned 17, added that doesn’t feel pressure and “rather enjoys the process of rising higher in the rankings.”

The skater from Brussels put out a good free skate to music from Spartacus, but it wasn’t without flaws. She landed a total of four solid triple jumps, but underrotated the front end of a triple Lutz-triple toe(q). She also landed the first two jumps of a triple loop-double Axel-double toe sequence on the quarter. The level-four layback spin was excellent and received very high GOEs, as did her level-four change combination spin. It was enough, however, as she placed second in the free skate and overall (198.73).

“Ahead of the season I never would have thought that it would have been possible for me to qualify for the Final,” said Pinzarrone. “I am in shock. Of course, after the second place in France, I knew it would be a possibility. I was a bit nervous going into the skate today and I knew the others skated well. But once I was on the ice, I felt good.”

“For the Grand Prix Final, I want to clean up my jumps and the little mistakes,” she added. “I feel so excited! It’s also so cool that for the first time in history two Belgian women qualified for the Final!

Haein Lee

South Korea’s Haein Lee struggled a bit in her short program to “Seirenes” and “Haktan Gelen Serbeti.” The 2023 World silver medalist underrotated the backend of a triple Lutz-triple toe and received an edge call on a triple flip. The sit spin also received GOEs ranging from -3 to +1.

The skater, who finished fourth at Grand Prix de France, was not happy.

“Basically everything, the jumps, spins, and step sequence was not good,” Lee pointed out. “After the Grand Prix in France I was “literally dead.” I was so disappointed in myself. But I am ready to fight tomorrow. I know I can still make it to the Final and that is my goal. I want to aim for the podium. Tomorrow, I want to show clean jumps and show my skating to the audience.”

The 2023 Four Continents champion made more costly errors in her free skate, underrotating five triple jumps. The spins and footwork were very good, but it wasn’t enough. She placed sixth in the free skate (126.02) and slipped to fourth overall (188.95).

“I feel better than yesterday,” said Lee. “I did my best! I feel okay, I can still go to the Final next year.”

The skater likes her new costume which was changed to have it “fit the style of the program more.”

Her next two competitions will be the Korean ranking competition and then Korean Nationals during the first week of January.

Yuna Aoki

Japan’s Yuna Aoki was eighth coming into the free skate after scoring a new personal best (58.28) Grand Prix debut. However, the jumps were not clean. She underrotated both jumps in a triple Lutz-triple toe and double Axel. She also received an edge call on the triple flip.

“I lacked the rotations, but I could land the jumps comfortably,” the 21-year-old observed. “Before the Axel, I was very scared, but after that I could skate with confidence. The Axel and the other elements weren’t perfect, so I want to improve the smaller technical issues until the next competition.”

“I was told by my coach not to think too much,” she added. “I had an injury and many other hurdles to overcome, but thanks to everyone around me, I made it here. I am very happy about my result, but I don’t want to become careless. Many people are watching from all over the world, so I’m thankful to present my own choreography at an international competition. It’s the first time I competed with my own choreography. In the past, I had already choreographed a program at a festival, but it was the first time I thought about a program composition for a competition.”

Akoi also earned a personal best for her free skate which featured three clean triple jumps. All of the spins and footwork were also graded a level four. The errors came when she received an edge call on the backend of a double Axel-Euler-triple flip and solo triple flip. She also landed the first jump of a triple Lutz-double toe on the quarter. She placed fifth in the free skate (126.18) and rose to fifth overall (184.46).

“I calmed down and could pull everything off like in training,” said Aoki. “I’m very happy to have been able to show my personal skating skills without mistakes on such a big stage. I was very nervous, and my legs were trembling, so my coach told me to enjoy, and I relaxed.”

“NHK is a big stage,” she added. “The short and free programs were better than at the East Japan Championships. That made me more confident. I’m sure I will be nervous at the nationals, so I want to use this gained strength.”

Anastasiia Gubanova

Anastasiia Gubanova of Georgia was 10th (55.80) coming into the free skate. Her routine to Caruso featured six clean triple jumps, including a triple flip-triple toe and triple Lutz-double Axel sequence. Only the Salchow was underrotated and she landed the last jump of a triple flip-double t0e-double to on the quarter. The 20-year-old rose to sixth overall (184.32).

“After the disappointment in France and yesterday, I am very happy about how it went today,” said the 2023 Lombardia Trophy champion. “With the support of my coaches and another special person, I managed this turnaround. We made the base value of my program higher, but it’s easier for me to skate this layout. Not sure if I will have another competition before Europeans, but I am planning to create a new exhibition number.”

Yelim Kim

Yelim Kim of the Republic of Korea finished seventh in both the short program and free skate, placing seventh overall (183.19). The hook of her boot had broke during practice the day before the short program, and the skater said she was a bit nervous as a result.

“I feel 80% satisfied about my performance today,” she said of her free skate. “My practices here really didn’t go that well, so I am fine with how it went today. I think I improved from the last competition. I am quite satisfied with my first four jumping passes, and I hope I will be able to fix the second half at the next competition.”

During the free skate, the 2023 Four Continents silver medalist hit the boards after landing a triple Lutz-triple toe but didn’t go down.

“I was so surprised with the little scary moment at the boards at the beginning of the program,” said Kim. “I think I had too much speed.”

Next up for Kim will be the Korean ranking competition. The result there will be the deciding factor on who competes at the upcoming 2024 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships.

Mai Mihara

This was a solo event for Japan’s Mai Mihara who was scheduled to begin the season at the 2023 CS Finlandia Trophy in October. However, a lingering right ankle injury forced her to withdraw from that event as well as Cup of China.

“I was very sad not to compete in China,” said the 2022-23 Grand Prix Final champion. “Many people were supporting me, so I really looked forward to NHK Trophy and tried my best.”

In Osaka, the two-time Four Continents champion finished fourth (62.82) in the short program. She landed a solid double Axel, but received an edge call on the first jump of a triple flip-double toe. Two of her spins and the footwork were graded a level four, earning many GOEs, but a triple Lutz was underrotated.

“After the double Axel, right before the flip, I decided to attach the combination jump,” Mihara explained. “Even although I couldn’t actively train it on the ice, I had over-thought many different scenarios. What combination I could do with which jump, etc.”

“I’m 24 years old now,” she added. “Many of the foreign skaters are in their teens, so I have a longer skating career. I thought a lot about my experiences and how I could incorporate them into my skating. I thought about the last season and my skating life so far and I told myself that I didn’t want to quit because of this injury.”

Mihara finished ninth in the free skate after taking a fall on a triple loop and underrotating six other jumps. With a total score of 172.64, she slipped to eighth overall.

“I’m not scared of skating, but since I returned to the ice, I’m a little scared of jumping, so I tried to focus on every single jump,” said Mihara. “I know that when I’m tired, my legs wouldn’t follow, especially when it comes to the second half, so I made the combinations at the beginning.”

“I was very worried, but I really wanted to skate, do my best and not give up,” she summed up. “I’m happy I made it. Still, I need more training to make it to the top. That’s my goal. I have another month until Nationals, so that’s what I’m thinking about.”

Rounding out the top 12

Japan’s Wakaba Higuichi, who stood in 11th after the short program, placed eighth in the free skate and ninth overall (165.69).

“I didn’t feel bad, so I didn’t change anything,” said Higuchi of her free skate. “Since I returned (to figure skating), it was the first time I tried the triple Axel. (I couldn’t land it) but I incorporated all my feelings. My rotations lacked and I fell, so in view of the Nationals, I want to work on that.”

Higuchi revealed she wasn’t able to the land the triple Axel in training but was curious how it would turn out today.

“If I managed to hit it, it would connect to better results,” she pointed out. “I have practiced the Axel since the Grand Prix in France, but I didn’t feel confident, so I’m very happy I challenged myself today. It was very different from yesterday. There were some small mistakes, lacking rotations, but looking from the outside, I think it was a good performance.”

Seoyeong Wi of the Republic of Korea earned a season’s best in the short for sixth place, but struggled in the free skate, finishing 11th. She was 10th overall (158.15).

France’s Lea Serna placed 11th (156.04) ahead of Lindsay van Zundert of The Netherlands (125.82).

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