Shibutanis claim ice dancing gold at NHK Trophy

Kavaguti-Smirnov team earns pairs victory; Suzuki wins ladies

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani needed every one of their 151.85 points to win at NHK Trophy.
Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani needed every one of their 151.85 points to win at NHK Trophy. (Getty Images)


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By International Skating Union
(11/12/2011) - Maia and Alex Shibutani (USA) pulled up from third to edge out Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada by 0.09 points for the gold medals at 2011 NHK Trophy. Russia's Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov earned the bronze.

Performing to "In the Mood" and "Moonlight Serenade" by Glenn Miller, the Shibutanis produced fast twizzles and strong lifts, earning a Level 4 for five out of seven elements. The brother-and-sister team posted a season-best 92.83 points in the free, 151.85 overall.

"We are very happy with our performance today," Maia Shibutani said. "We think it was a lot stronger than last week. Obviously it's still early in the season and we have a lot to build."

"This week we came here to skate for ourselves and all of the fans here," Alex Shibutani said. "The result wasn't so important to us. It was a new experience to do two Grand Prix in a row."

Weaver and Poje's dance to "Je suis malade" was highlighted by difficult lifts and smooth footwork. The Skate Canada silver medalists picked up a Level 4 for the lifts and the twizzles, but they received a one-point deduction for an extended lift. The Canadians scored 91.69 points for the free dance and remained in second place overall at 151.76 points.

"We felt great from the warmup this morning until this afternoon," Weaver explained. "We just were in the zone, ready to perform the program. We felt the passion and emotion of this free dance which is one of the most important aspects. We lost a few points technically, and those things we'll review. We did lose one point for an extended lift, which is still frustrating."

Overnight leaders Ilinykh and Katsalapov danced to a modern arrangement of "Ave Maria." They, too, had Level 4 for the four lifts and the twizzles, but there were a few shaky moments in the performance. With a free-dance score of 87.65, they dropped to third at 149.48 points.

"For me and Elena it was a really good beginning of the season," Katsalapov said. "Yes, our free dance was not so good, but we know our goal and we know which way to go. So, next time, it will be much better."

Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi (GER) finished in fourth place with 136.12 points followed by Lorenza Alessandrini and Simone Vaturi (ITA) in fifth with 133.29 points.

The Shibutani team and Weaver and Poje also booked their tickets to the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final.

Yuko Kavaguti, Alexander Smirnov (RUS) skate to pairs gold

Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia surged from fifth place to win the pairs title. Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran of Japan claimed the silver, while Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy settled for the bronze.

Kavaguti and Smirnov recovered from a faulty short program and produced a triple toe, triple twist, triple throw loop and a Salchow in their routine to "Clair de Lune." The 2010 European champions scored 122.49 points, slightly improving on their season's best from last week, totaling 177.51 points.

"We feel great about our performance today," Smirnov said. "And I am glad that we were able to pull ourselves together after the unfortunate short program yesterday."

Takahashi and Tran's program to "Concerto de Québec" included a triple twist, Level 4 spins and lifts, as well as a throw triple Salchow, but Takahashi underrotated both solo jumps. The two-time world junior medalists earned 114.20 points and remained in second place at 172.09 points.

"We were able to show some strong skating, but I know that there are errors that we want to fix," Takahashi said. "So I will work on those areas as the season progresses."

Savchenko and Szolkowy opened their program to the soundtrack of "Pina" with a huge throw triple flip, but they made errors on the side-by-side jumps and aborted a lift. The three-time world champions earned 112.45 points to accumulate 171.68 overall.

"We are not very happy," Szolkowy said afterward. "We wanted to skate better than yesterday, but it turned out the other way round. Sometimes there are days like that, and it happened to us."

Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek (ITA) slipped from third to fourth at 163.83 points, and Caydee Denney and John Coughlin (USA) placed fifth (163.75 points).

Kavaguti and Smirnov, and Savchenko and Szolkowy, have qualified for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final.

Akiko Suzuki (JPN) takes ladies title

Akiko Suzuki of Japan captured the ladies gold, and teammate Mao Asada moved up to second to claim the silver medal. The bronze went to Russia's Alena Leonova.

Skating to "Die Fledermaus", Suzuki, the overnight leader, started strongly with a triple Lutz, double Axel-triple toe and triple loop, but then singled two jumps. With 119.43 points, she was ranked second in the free skating, but she held on to first place at 185.98 points overall.

"I am happy to have won the NHK Trophy for the first time, but I am not satisfied with my program," said Suzuki. "I did three good triple jumps, but then I made a mistake on the first jump in the latter half and panicked."

Asada gave a strong performance of "Liebestraum" by Franz Lizst, hitting five triple jumps and three Level 4 spins. The 2010 Olympic silver medalist won the free skate with 125.77 points, moving up one spot with 184.19 points total.

"For me, the NHK Trophy was the first competition of the season," the 21-year-old said. "I started my season late, and I practice a lot. I got confidence from that, and hopefully this result will give me momentum for my next competition in Russia."

Leonova landed a triple toe-triple toe combination and two triple flips in her program to "Adagio for Strings" and "Requiem for a Tower," but she missed a loop to score 108.92 points. The skater from St. Petersburg accumulated 170.68 points overall.

"It is a little unexpected that I am [at the press conference] right now, as I didn't skate my best," Leonova admitted. "But I am happy to have won the bronze medal. I want to learn from my mistakes and avoid them in my next competition."

Ashley Wagner (USA) came in fourth with 165.65 points, and Elene Gedevanishvili (GEO) placed sixth.

Suzuki has now qualified for the Grand Prix final.

Daisuke Takahashi (JPN) leads men's after short program

Daisuke Takahashi of Japan skated to a 10.66-point lead over teammate Takahiko Kozuka in the men's short program. Brandon Mroz (USA) is currently ranked third.

Takahashi put out a strong performance to "Garden of the Souls," reeling off a triple flip-triple toe combination, a triple Axel and a triple Lutz. The 2010 world champion collected a career-high score of 90.43 points.

"I am surprised myself about this score," Takahashi said. "I never would have thought that I [would] get a score this high. Maybe I couldn't perform a 100-percent, but I thought that there was a good chemistry in the performance. With each competition, step by step, I am improving."

Kozuka's jazzy routine to "Inner Urge" featured a triple flip, triple Axel and triple Lutz-triple toe-loop. The reigning world silver medalist picked up a season best as well with 79.77 points.

"There were some shaky, dangerous moments. Tomorrow I will avoid such little mistakes and instabilities," Kozuka promised.

Mroz opened his routine with a quadruple Lutz. The landing was a bit scratchy, but on one foot. Mroz became the first man to perform the quadruple Lutz in an ISU competition after landing it two months ago in a national event. The American received 74.83 points.

"For me, it was little shaky, too," he said. "I was fighting. It was great to get the Lutz done. It was a step in the right direction."

Konstantin Menshov (RUS) was not far behind in fourth place at 74.67 points, and Tatsuki Machida (JPN) came in fifth with 72.26 points.

The NHK Trophy concludes Sunday with the men's free skate and the Exhibition Gala.