Figure Skating

NHK Trophy: Muramoto/Takahashi second after rhythm dance on ice dance debut

Komatsubara/Koleto lead ice dance; Sakamoto Kaori wins ladies' short with You Young a surprise 12th

By ZK Goh ·

Muramoto Kana and Takahashi Daisuke (64.15 points) placed a credible second in the rhythm dance just six points behind leaders Komatsubara Misato and Tim Koleto in their ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating ice dance debut at the NHK Trophy.

Skating to music from "The Mask", Muramoto/Takahashi presented a routine that belied the fact Takahashi, the Vancouver 2010 men's singles bronze medallist, only switched to ice dance and started skating with Muramoto in January.

It was an elegant dance, albeit not the most polished. However, it did impress the fans, who gave the pair a standing ovation.

"I was pretty nervous at the morning practice but I felt pretty calm in competition. I had a few hiccups but didn't make any huge mistakes so all things considered, the performance went well," Takahashi told media afterwards.

"I didn't know figure skating could be this different - singles and ice dance is that different. When you're preparing for competition in singles, you have to take the good and bad all on your own. But now, say if I'm not in the right place mentally, I have Kana here to help me out.

"I'm glad the first skate is behind me. I saw our marks and I now know where we need to improve.

"I'm relieved but also looking forward to seeing how I can get better from here on." – Takahashi Daisuke

For her part, Muramoto added: "We hadn't competed at all so we just did not know how people were going to look at us. So given that, a 64 gives us a lot of confidence. We weren't perfect but I thought it was a good result.

"We only recently completed our programme. We've come into the (competition) not having skated for around two months so we're pretty happy with how we did here.

"We won't worry about the score tomorrow and show the crowd what we can do. Rhythm dance is totally different from the free and I hope we have a good skate."

Koleto and his wife Komatsubara are the favourites in the three-couple competition, being the only team to have prior Grand Prix experience.

Unsurprisingly, the Montreal-based dancers put in the most technically complete rhythm dance of the three teams, scoring 70.76 points overall and some five points more than Muramoto/Takahashi in technical score.

Their training partners Fusake Rikako and Canadian-born Cho Eichu (also known as Oliver Zhang) rounded up the competition, on 63.46 points.

Ladies: Sakamoto elegant, You suffers

Earlier, Sakamoto Kaori put in a flawless skate to lead the ladies' event after the short program, scoring 75.60 points.

The 20-year-old was the only skater of the 12 competitors to score more than eight points in each of the five program components in a strong artistically-minded skate.

Sakamoto, who finished sixth at PyeongChang 2018, also landed a clean double Axel, triple Lutz, and triple flip-triple toeloop combination – the only one of the last three skaters on the ice in the session to successfully nail her elements.

She gave herself a big first pump after completing her routine and had a beaming smile that told the story.

"I included the Lutz in my short program for the first time in like five years. I didn't make any mistakes so I can exhale a bit," she told media afterwards.

"I thought I may have been a little overaggressive on the first turn of the triple-triple. I've been landing it in training but I probably cut it too close today. But it's OK.

""I was reminded of what competing is actually like. The motivation is totally different, skating in front of a crowd as opposed to empty stands. I had a really good time."

Higuchi Wakaba was second (69.71) despite falling on her opening triple Axel.

The big surprise was Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games champion You Young of South Korea, the lone non-Japanese in the event.

You suffered mistakes on all three of her jumping elements, falling on her under-rotated triple Axel and under-rotated triple Lutz. She also attempted a triple flip-triple toeloop combination, but under-rotated the toeloop.

That, coupled with the two-point deduction for her falls and program component scores, placed a visibly-disappointed You in last place (55.56) of the 12 skaters, and leaving her with a lot of work to do in Saturday's free skate to reach the podium.

"t was my first competition of the season so I think I was more nervous than usual," she explained.

"I had a lot of mistakes and I panicked a little. It was a really weird performance. After my triple Axel I was in a deep panic. I didn't know how to jump.

"Sorry that I disappointed. Since the free programme is left I will try my best. I hope there is a good result."