No new No. 1, but Takahashi, Kostner move up
Delobel and Schoenfelder also advance after NHK win
|Carolina Kostner landed this jump en route to winning the NHK Trophy ladies gold and moving up to fifth in the icenetwork.com World Rankings. (Getty Images)|
Daisuke Takahashi moved up to No. 2 in the rankings after his win in Sendai, Japan. The Okayama native still trails Frenchman Brian Joubert overall, but Takahashi has arguably been the best skater in the world this season.
Takahashi established two new ISU Grand Prix season highs with his 156.33-point free skate and 234.22-point total. He also joined Johnny Weir as the only two-time Grand Prix gold medalists for the 2007-08 series.
Joubert won his only Grand Prix appearance this year, taking the gold at Skate Canada in November, but his was the lowest winning score (213.62) of the season. The American Weir remained in fifth place in the rankings, but he and Takahashi have clearly established themselves as the cream of the men's crop this year, and they will undoubtedly be the favorites at the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, in two weeks. Evan Lysacek and Stephane Lambiel round out the top five at Nos. 3 and 4, respectively.
The surprise of the week was the outstanding performance by Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic, who had struggled thus far this year. He skated poorly in two lower-tier events at the beginning of the season and finished sixth at the Trophee Eric Bompard, but the reigning European silver medalist returned to top form in Japan, earning the silver medal in the process.
Unfortunately, his performance went unrewarded in the rankings, as he remained in 12th place. American Stephen Carriere also stayed put at No. 11 despite winning the bronze medal at the NHK Trophy, his first senior-level medal.
The top four women remained the same in this week's rankings, but a newcomer moved into the top five. After her first ISU Grand Prix gold medal, Italy's Carolina Kostner moved up four places to the fifth spot.
Like Verner on the men's side, Kostner's performance at the NHK Trophy was a bit of a surprise. The 2007 European champion had skated in two lower-tier events before the start of the ISU Grand Prix Series and met mixed results. She cruised to gold at the Nebelhorn Trophy on her training ice but took only the bronze medal at the Finlandia Trophy, an event in which she was the clear-cut favorite.
But in Japan, at an event where the bigger ladies' story was 2007 world champion Miki Ando breaking down on the ice, Kostner proved to be the best skater there. Her 61.24-point short program was bested only by world No. 1 Yu-Na Kim at the Cup of Russia. So Kostner will definitely pose a threat at the upcoming Grand Prix Final.
Switzerland's Sarah Meier also had her best showing of the year, earning the silver medal in Japan and moving up two places to No. 8. Japan's Nana Takeda entered the rankings at No. 17 after winning the NHK bronze medal.
The NHK Trophy was hyped as a major battle between veterans Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France and rising stars Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. The French couple won an extremely close competition (197.54-196.89), despite winning only the compulsory dance, and moved up to No. 2 in the rankings.
Like in the men's standings, the top-ranked dance team is there mostly due to points earned prior to the Grand Prix Series. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto continue to hold the top spot, but they will most likely not be the favorites at the Grand Prix Final in two weeks. Their two gold medal-winning scores this season were the lowest winning scores of the year.
Delobel and Schoenfelder joined the Americans as two-time gold medalists this week. Virtue and Moir, who remained at No. 4, performed only the second 100-point free dance of the season, scoring 100.18 points to almost overtake the French duo. These two teams, plus Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, who own the most impressive performance of the year -- a 205.24-point domination at the Cup of Russia -- have more impressive resumes than the Americans heading into the Grand Prix Final. That competition in Turin will pit all four teams against each other, head-to-head, and the No. 1 ranking could be up for grabs.
The top four pairs stayed in place this week, because NHK gold medalists Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy were competing in their third event of the season and thus could not earn points for their strong performance. They remain in the third position behind the two Chinese couples -- Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang and Qing Pang and Jian Tong.
NHK silver medalists Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker did receive points for their showing in Japan. Though they are still a step behind the top three couples in the world, the young Americans moved up to No. 5, leapfrogging Canada's Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison, the bronze medalists from last weekend.
The bloom is definitely off the rose for the Canadians, who were the hot pair at the beginning of the Grand Prix Series after their gold medal at Skate America. Their winning score in Reading, Pa., was the lowest gold medal-score of the season. The young couple will get another shot at the world's best at the Grand Prix Final, where they'll have to prove that their victory over Pang and Tong in October was not a fluke.
The Ukraine's Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov finished fourth at the NHK Trophy and moved up to seventh in the world rankings, just behind Dube and Davison.