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Figure Skating

Shoma Uno, Yuma Kagiyama Vie for Spots in Grand Prix Final at NHK Trophy

Japanese skating stars Uno and Kagiyama target strong performances at the NHK Trophy in the run-up to December's GP Final in Beijing.

Two-time world champion Shoma Uno and Beijing Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama ran through their free skates during the official practice session for the NHK Trophy on Thursday, November 23. 

This was a day before the short program at the NHK Trophy in Kadoma, Osaka Prefecture, was scheduled to begin, and they emerged without injury.

Uno, who will turn 26 in December, worked on his routine to "Timelapse" and "Spiegel im Spiegel" during the 45-minute session and landed three of his four planned quadruple jumps before falling on a triple axel.

On November 11, Uno finished second behind European champion Adam Siao Him Fa at the Cup of China in Chongqing. He  will be looking to lock up a spot in the Grand Prix Final (December 7-10) in Beijing with a first- or second-place result this week. 

In December 2022, Uno won the GP Final in Turin, Italy.

NHK Trophy
Shoma Uno trains on November 23. (KYODO)

A win by Uno in Osaka would be the 10th of his career in the GP. But he said that in itself was nothing special.

"To be honest, I don't have any particular feelings for it, but if you have high expectations, I want to do my best to live up to those expectations," Uno stated at a press conference following practice.

NHK Trophy
Yuma Kagiyama gets ready for the NHK Trophy on November 23. (KYODO)

Kagiyama Makes Preparations for NHK Trophy

The 20-year-old Kagiyama went through his paces to "Rain, in Your Black Eyes" and hit his opening quad salchow, but doubled his planned quad toe loop and did not attempt another four-rotation jump while his music was on. He did hit four three triples, however.

Kagiyama was third behind Siao Him Fa and Ilia Malinin at the Grand Prix de France in early November, and can lock up a berth in the GP Final with a victory on Saturday.

"My goal is to complete the short program and free skate without any mistakes, perform to my satisfaction, and earn a spot in the Grand Prix Final," Kagiyama commented. "I will do my best."

If Uno wins and Kagiyama ends up in second place, Kagiyama's path to the GP Final becomes more difficult, as that would give him a total of 24 points in the standings, the same amount that France's Kevin Aymoz and Shun Sato have. This would mean a tiebreaker to decide who gets the ticket to China.

NHK Trophy
Wakaba Higuchi (KYODO)

Higuchi Having Issues with Triple Axel

Wakaba Higuchi, who finished fifth at the Grand Prix de France, has only a remote chance of qualifying for the GP Final. The 22-year-old would need to be victorious and then win a tiebreaker with South Korea's Chaeyeon Kim, who has 22 points, with Belgium's Nina Pinzarrone (13 points) finishing fourth or lower in Osaka.

If Higuchi wins and Pinzarrone comes in fourth, that would create a three-way tie at 22 points with Kim. South Korea's Haein Lee has nine points and could also qualify for the GP Final with a win or possibly a second-place showing that would give her 22 points.

This outcome seems unlikely though, after Higuchi trained for her free skate of "Fix You" and "Paradise" on Thursday. She landed a double axel and hit four triples while the music played. Afterward, according to observers, she attempted to cleanly land a triple axel but was unsuccessful on 10 different attempts.

"I want to try the triple axel in the free skate," Higuchi remarked. 

She added, "I haven't been able to land it properly in practice, but I want to start doing it from this event so I can keep trying more and more."

NHK Trophy
Mai Mihara (KYODO)

It's just a shoe!

Mihara to Make GP Season Debut

Mai Mihara will be making her GP season debut at the NHK Trophy, after having to withdraw from the Cup of China due to a right ankle injury. Mihara worked on her free skate to the soundtrack from "The Planets" and landed two triples. But she singled a planned triple flip and doubled a planned flip triple flip and a triple lutz.

The 24-year-old Mihara won the GP Final last season in the greatest victory of her career, but won't be able to make it this season with points from just one competition.

"I'm sure I will be very nervous, so I will try to stay calm," Mihara said before adding, "I will try to enjoy the competition and skate with a smile on my face."

Mihara revealed that she started to have pain in the ankle near the end of the summer and it got worse before the Cup of China.

"No matter how much it hurts, keep in mind that you will never give up and do your best until the end, and enjoy skating while being grateful to be able to skate in front of the fans," Mihara declared.

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Author: Jack Gallagher

The author is a veteran sports journalist and one of the world's foremost figure skating experts. Find articles and podcasts by Jack on his author page, and find him on X (formerly Twitter) @sportsjapan.

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