Kaori Sakamoto (centre) claimed her first ISU Grand Prix win at the 2020 NHK Trophy ©International Skating Union (ISU)
Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto of Japan scored a runaway victory with almost 30 points to spare at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK Trophy in Osaka (JPN) on Saturday, claiming the first Grand Prix title of her career. Teammate Wakaba Higuchi earned the silver medal while newcomer Rino Matsuike, also from Japan, climbed from fourth to take bronze in her senior Grand Prix debut.
Kaori Sakamoto thrilled the audience with a brilliant routine set to "The Matrix" ©International Skating Union (ISU)
Overnight leader Sakamoto skated last and ended a high-level Ladies competition on a high note with an exciting performance of her innovative program to “The Matrix”. The 2018 ISU Four Continents Champion reeled off a triple flip-triple toe, triple Lutz, Salchow, double Axel-triple toe-double toe and triple flip-double toe. Her spins and step sequence garnered a level four. Sakamoto crushed the competition with her Free Skating score of 153.91 points and totaled 229.51 points.
“Last season I was not able to skate this program clean, because I lacked stamina. 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 never want to feel the same I did last season,” Sakamoto said.
Wakaba Huguchi took the silver medal at the NHK Trophy with a stylish Flamenco routine ©International Skating Union (ISU)
Higuchi opened her characteristic Flamenco routine with a slightly underrotated triple Axel and followed up with a triple Lutz-triple toe that was also slightly underrotated. She landed three more clean triples and got a level four for two spins and the footwork. However, the 2018 World silver medalist left some more points on the table when she doubled a Salchow and a Lutz. The 19-year-old was ranked fourth in the Free Skating with 131.27 points, but remained in second overall at 200.98 points.
“The triple Axel made me really happy. Finally I landed it in competition,” Higuchi noted. “I was able to link into the next jump so that was good. However, it was difficult to maintain my focus since I was getting tired so I will need to improve that for Nationals,” the Tokyo native shared.
Rino Matsuike claimed bronze on her senior ISU Grand Priy debut ©International Skating Union (ISU)
Matsuike, who just turned 16 last month, put out an inspiring performance to “Perhaps Love” by Jones Denver that featured six clean triples including two triple-triple combinations in the second half of the program. The newly minted national Junior Champion scored 133.23 points in the Free Skating and accumulated 198.97 points to make the podium in her international senior debut.
“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 told the post-event press conference.
2017 ISU Four Continents Champion Mai Mihara (JPN) moved up from seventh to fourth place with an inspiring performance and 194.73 points. Mako Yamashita (JPN) went for a quad Salchow, but it was not clean and downgraded. She slipped from third to fifth at 186.13 points. Mana Kawabe (JPN) finished sixth. 2020 Youth Olympic Games Champion Young You (KOR) pulled up from 12th and last place to seventh (181.73 points).
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ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating 2020
· ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final postponed
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.
About ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series
The ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series started in 1995 (previously known a s the ISU Champions Series) and consists of six invitational international senior events and the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final. Due to the current situation, the usual selection criteria do not apply. Please see the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating page for further information.