by Anne Calder | Photo by Robin Ritoss

Hiroshima, Japan first hosted NHK Trophy in 1991. The ice dance podium included Russian gold and silver medalists Maya Usova & Alexander Zhulin and Oksana Grishuk & Evgeny Platov. Italy’s Stefania Calegri & Pasquale Camerlengo won bronze.

Hiroshima again sponsored the event November 9-11, 2018. On the 40th Anniversary of the first NHK Trophy, nine ice dance couples from seven countries competed for prize money and GP Final qualifying points. The reigning World Champions, Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France, withdrew due a back injury.

The teams were in the following order after the rhythm dance: Russia’s Tiffany Zagorski & Jonathan Guerreiro and Americans Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker and Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons.

Rhythm Dance

Zagorski & Guerreiro jumped out to a five-point lead over Hawayek & Baker with a strong technical dance, hitting seven of eight pattern key points. The Russians won the battle of the level 4 twizzles with higher GOEs. The 75.49 score was a personal best.

Hawayek & Baker struggled with the pattern dance, completing only one of the eight key points successfully. Their midline footwork scored all +4 and +3 for a 3.18 GOE – the highest step sequence in the RD segment. The program scored 70.71.

The Parsons had a higher base value and TES than their American teammates. They hit five of the eight key points, but labored with the second pattern and received lower GOEs. The score was 69.07, just a slim margin out of second place.

Teams four-six were: China’s Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu (66.27), Canada’s Carolane Soucisse & Shane Firus (66.01) and Anastasia Skoptkova & Kirill Aleshin of Russia (64.53).

Free Dance

What a difference a day makes!

Great Britain’s Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson performed a fantastic 70’s Disco program that dazzled the audience and awed the judges. A highlight was the final choreographic sliding movement that earned six #5s and two #4s for a 3.91 GOE score. The Montreal-based couple was second in the free dance and had the highest TES. They vaulted from seventh to fourth and finished only 1.44 off the podium with two personal best scores – 113.29 (FD) and 177.20 total.

Hawayek & Baker won the free dance and their first Grand Prix gold medal in their opening competition of the season.

“I had an injury back in August, [a second concussion in three years], and it really set us back,” Baker explained. “Right now with our coaching team we decided it was best for our 4-year plan to make our first appearance here at NHK – to make sure I have full recovery.”

Their music, “Trampoline Theme” and “In this Shirt” was by the Irrespressibles. The level 4 twizzles were rewarded with all +4 GOEs. The remaining elements received +2, +3 and +4’s. The program scored 113.92 (FD) and 184.60 total.

“We have a lot we can improve on before we have another competition in France,” Hawayek said. We have just about a week to discuss things with our coaches where we missed out on some points, and where we can build on our program. That’s the plan to just review the score sheets.”

Hawayek & Baker next compete in Grenoble, France, where they will face tough competition for one the remaining Final spots.

Zagorski & Guerreiro were fourth in the free dance and lost the gold by a slim 1.58 points, but their RD lead was enough to guarantee them second place and the silver medal. The “Blues for Klook” program was choreographed by Christopher Dean and scored 107.56.

The Russians had the highest base value, but Guerreiro’s stumble on the twizzle and the extended lift deduction were costly. A win would have guaranteed them a spot at the Final. Now they must wait for the last GP event to learn whether or not they will qualify. The 183.05 was a personal best score.

“You always want to do your best skate. It was nice to be leading into the free dance, but everything is a learning curve,” Guerreiro said. “We also were not as prepared for this year because of injuries. At Skate America, we prayed that we could get to the end by ourselves. This time we prayed a little less, but maybe we should have prayed a little more.”

Parsons & Parsons won their first GP medal – bronze. The siblings brought a personal interpretation to “To Build A Home” and earned level 4 spins, lifts, and twizzles. The free dance scored 109.57; the total was 178.64.

“It didn’t go quite as planned, but I think we’re going in the right direction,” Rachel said.  “It’s a pretty quick turnaround before our next competition.”

The 2016 Junior GPF gold medalists next head to Internationaux de France in Grenoble, France with 11 points and a long shot for the Senior Final. 

Carolane Soucisse & Shane Firus (CAN) were fifth with 169.84 and Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu (CHN) dropped to sixth with 167.96.

ICE CHATTER

  • Jonathan Guerreiro and partner, Tiffany Zagorski, earned the silver medal in 2018. His mother, Svetlana Liapina and partner, Gorsha Sur, earned the silver medal in 1987 – 31 years ago. Renee Roca & Gorsha Sur were the 1993 and 1995 US National Ice-dance Champions.
  • For the second GP event this season, five of the ice dance teams train at Gadbois Centre in Montreal, QC Canada.
  • Since the first NHK Trophy in 1979, Marina Anissina & Gwendal Peizerat (FRA) won the event five times. Meryl Davis & Charlie White (USA) were four-time winners.
  • Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker (2014), Rachel Parsons & Michael Parsons (2017) and Anastasia Skoptcova & Kirill Aleshin (2018) were all World Junior Champions.

Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker have won two GP medals – both at NHK. After their free dance, the Americans shared their thoughts with the Japanese audience.

“It was yet another competition in Japan where we felt such incredible support from the audience and the organizing committee and everything Japan has done to put this competition together,” Hawayek said.

“It’s such an honor to be here again. We love performing for the Japanese crowd, so thank you,” added Baker.