Osaka, Japan

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The ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK Trophy in Osaka (JPN) was the last of the four remaining ISU Grand Prix series events in the 2020/21 season and turned out to be an exciting event. 

Memorable debuts characterized NHK Trophy. 2020 ISU World Junior silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama (JPN) dazzled in his first senior ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating event and skated off with the gold with almost 50 points to spare. He also debuted two new programs in international competition: “Vocussion” in the Short Program and “Avatar” in the Free Skating.

“This was my first big senior competition and being in first place really builds my confidence. I think it is a good step for the next competition,” the 2020 Youth Olympic Games Champion said. “The jumps were better than in practice, but I am still surprised to have gotten such a good score. I believe I was able to combine my jumps and steps well with my expression.”

Bronze medalist Lucas Tsuyoshi Honda (JPN) came fresh from winning the National Junior Championships and left a very good impression in his first senior ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating as well. “I was surprised I was third yesterday (in the Short Program) and today (in the Free Skating) I knew that if I am in first after my performance, I would make the podium. I didn’t really worry about the placement today. I just wanted take in the atmosphere,” the 18-year-old commented.

Another newcomer, newly minted Japanese Junior Champion Rino Matsuike, skated to the bronze medal in the Ladies competition with excellent performances. “I have always aspired to be at NHK Trophy. So to come here and be on the podium is like a dream come true. It is something I’ll never forget and it is a real confidence booster for me,” Matsuike shared.

There was a lot of attention on the competitive debut of Japan’s new Ice Dance team Kana Muramoto/Daisuke Takahashi as Takahashi is no other than the 2010 ISU World Figure Skating Champion and 2010 Olympic bronze medalist in Single Skating. The new couple danced to “The Mask” and “La Bayadere” and was very well received by the crowd. They finished in third place.

“We are happy to have made our debut,” Muramoto said. “We were calm but made mistakes we never do, so there are many things to work on, but I feel that we can do better in the next competition. We are a team that has just started. We are all excited and coaches are telling us that we will bring a new breeze into this world so we are just excited to have started”, she continued.

“Everything (about Ice Dance) is difficult,” admitted Takahashi. “I had to start from scratch, because it is completely different from Single Skating. Now I learned something about this discipline and I have a lot of respect for Ice Dancers,” he added.

There were more highlights at NHK Trophy. Kaori Sakamoto of Japan scored a runaway victory in the Ladies event by almost 30 points ahead of runner up Wakaba Higuchi to claim her first ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating gold medal. Sakamoto lit up the arena with her smile and her spectacular performances to “Concerto En Re Mineur” by Johann Sebastian Bach and “Bach a la Jazz” in the Short Program and “The Matrix” in the Free Skating.

“The past season was very frustrating for me. During the six weeks quarantine I worked hard off the ice and it paid off. It was tough, but I told myself I need to go through it. I want to be able to smile at competitions. This was what I was able to do today and it makes me very happy,” Sakamoto said.

Higuchi was proud of landing her triple Axel for the first time in competition (it was slightly underrotated) and also proud of trying it for the first time in the Short Program. “The triple Axel made me really happy. Finally I landed it in competition,” the 19-year-old commented. “NHK Trophy was a great experience for me, because many skaters competed that will be also at Nationals.”

2017 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Champion Mai Mihara (JPN) returned to international competition after missing the entire past season as she recovered from health problems. She turned in two inspiring performances to finish fourth.

“After the last jump and the following spin, I got a lot of applause and I welled up. The applause was louder than the music,” Mihara said. „I want to let the audience know that I am really grateful for their support. The warm welcome, all the banners and the spectators that gave me a standing ovation really touched me.”

More touching moments came in the Ice Dance event when Misato Komatsubara/Tim Koleto (JPN) danced off with gold. The husband-and-wife team had picked suitable themes with their programs – “Dreamgirls” for the Rhythm Dance and “Love Story” for the Free Dance. Koleto obtained Japanese citizenship just before NHK Trophy which brings the couple one step closer to their Olympic dream.

“In the warm up, they announced that I received Japanese citizenship and I had this great applause with everyone celebrating that I have become Japanese. When they announced it, Misato thought maybe I was going to cry, because I was about to cry,” the American-born dancer said. “It was very special, especially this year with everybody in such a difficult situation, that I was able to share that moment not only with Misato on the ice, but in front of everyone. I am very honored to step on to the ice as a Japanese citizen and I hope I can do my best in the future.”

Following a decision of the ISU Council due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and travel restrictions, the Grand Prix events were primarily domestically run events with domestic skaters and skaters who train in the host country or respective geographical region competing. Except for Korea’s You, only Japanese skaters competed at NHK Trophy. No Pairs event was held. Overall, 28 skaters/couples that represent two ISU members competed at NHK Trophy.

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ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating 2020

The ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final that was to be held as an Olympic Test Event on December 10-13 has been postponed. The ISU, in consultation with all stakeholders and considering the pandemic developments, is evaluating the continuation of the 2020/21 season.