Action Continues on Day Two of NHK Trophy

by Salvatore Zanca, special to U.S. Figure Skating Online

Julia Vlassov and Drew Meekins
Photo by Getty Images Sport
2006 NHK Trophy Results and Photos

(12/1/06) - Julia Vlassov & Drew Meekins recovered from a poor Grand Prix series debut with one of their best performances (even beating former European medalists!) in the pairs short program on the second day of NHK Trophy in Nagano, Japan.

Melissa Gregory & Denis Petukhov lost a little ground in their battle with Russians Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski in ice dancing, and Bebe Liang and Christine Zukowski are fourth and seventh, respectively, in a ladies event dominated by the Japanese.

Vlassov and Meekins can be proud of their performance in Japan after their Cup of China presentation, when she fell twice and their spins were off.

They finished in fifth place, ahead of Russians Julia Obertas and Sergei Slavnov, who once finished second at the Europeans Championships but who made several mistakes in the free skate at NHK.

It was a good comeback for Vlassov and Meekins, the World junior champions.

“In China we got ahead of ourselves with the whole senior GP experience,” Meekins said. “Being with the top teams in the world, we were pretty nervous, and it got the best of us there.

“Here we were better prepared because of the experience and tried to focus on our own skating, and it worked better for us.”

“Going into this we knew what to expect,” Vlassov said. “We were just skating for ourselves, and it worked pretty well today.”

Indeed it did. They completed everything they planned until the final minute, when she touched down on a throw triple Salchow and both had trouble with the footwork.

They had a hard time remembering when they skated better.

“I can't think of any that stand out where we hit everything, but this was pretty close,” Meekins said.

At the top, the Chinese went one-two, with Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao winning over Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang.

Shen and Zhao were very excited after they finished. He gave her a big hug and lifted her off the ice, and she responded with a rare smile.

“I caught the flu last night, and my cheeks were swollen, and I was worried I wouldn't skate well,” Shen said.

They needn't worry, for they skated beautifully.

They placed their two throw moves near the end of their program instead of at the beginning, and they ended their program with a one-handed lift.

They were hit with a two-point deduction for ending well past the music but still had more than enough to beat the Zhangs, scoring 190.97 to the Zhangs' 181.87.

Third place went to Canadians Valerie Marcoux and Craig Buntin, who amassed 163.37 points.

All three couples made the Grand Prix Final, Dec. 14-17 in St. Petersburg, Russia, along with Rena Inoue & John Baldwin, Russians Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, and Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.

The Canadians were very happy to get to the final.

“It is something at the beginning of the season we had listed as one of our goals,” Buntin said. “To accomplish it, to be able to take it off the list of our goals, we are really happy. It is a big step in our career.”

Ice Dancing
With a new program, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon of Canada doubled their lead in the original dance over Russians Khokhlova and Novitski, who, in turn, added about a half a point to the margin between themselves and Gregory and Petukhov.

The Canadians carry a score of 98.51 into Saturday's free dance. Khokhlova and Novitski are at 88.81, while Gregory and Petukhov stand at 88.18.

Gregory invoked an old saying to convey that he and Gregory are ready to overtake the Russians, whom they beat at last year's World Championships but whom they finished behind at the Olympics. “It is not over until the fat lady sings,” Gregory said. “And the fat lady will sing tomorrow.”

Then she got serious in evaluating their performance. Gregory said they improved upon their outing at Skate America, where they took second.

“The quality was there, and we got higher levels this time,” Gregory said.

“We got a level four on the footwork,” she continued. “It is the first time we have gotten a level four on our footwork, so we are very pleased with that.”

Meryl Davis & Charlie White, and Trina Pratt & Todd Gilles are in fourth and eighth, respectively.

Davis and White were pleased with their standing.

“Going into seniors, we didn't know what to expect,” White said. “It has been a pleasant surprise. We have been working hard.”

Dubrueil and Lauzon were pleased with their new OD.

"They said (our old) music was too lyrical," Dubreuil said. "You couldn't really hear the beats."

"So we decided to start from scratch and use music that has a lot more beats," she said.

Liang is looking up at a trio Japanese ladies -- Mao Asada, Fumie Suguri and Yukari Nakano –- after the short program.

Liang fell hard on a triple flip but did everything else to score 50.52 points.

“I had a mistake on the flip, so there is room to improve,” she said. “I was glad I was able to do the rest of the elements.

While the three Japanese ladies are looking for berths in the Grand Prix Final -- only two will go depending on the finish -- Liang just wants to improve on her Cup of China performance, where she fell three times in the free skate.

“Every competition is a learning experience,” Liang said. “I don't take it as something bad that happened to me. I take it as a step forward. I learned to keep going no matter what happens.”

“The long was a step forward,” she continued. “I pulled everything in, and I know I can do all the things in my program.” Zukowski had trouble with her opening combination, sliding on both her triple toe and double toe while trying to do a triple-triple combination. She also stepped out of a triple Lutz.

The woman everyone is chasing is Asada, who repeated her showing at Skate America, where she also led after the short program. However, she faltered in the free skate there and dropped to third behind Miki Ando and Kimmie Meissner

Asada knows what went wrong in Hartford. She botched her triple Axel at the beginning, and things turned sour from there.

"I would like to do the triple Axel again," Asada said. "I think if I do it, the rest of the program will go well."

Asada scored a personal-best 69.50, well ahead of Suguri's 61.92.

Suguri didn't have any major mistakes, but her program lacked the difficulty of Asada's. Asada did a triple Lutz-triple loop combination, earning her 11.30 points. Suguri's triple Lutz-double toe loop was valued at 7.90.

Nakano, who also has done a triple Axel in the past, fell out of a camel spin.

Asada needs to win to make the Grand Prix Final. Canada's Joannie Rochette -- who has a win and a fourth-place finish, good for 24 points -- is on the bubble. Whether or not she makes the final depends on the order in which the Japanese finish.

Ando, Yu-Na Kim of South Korea, Julia Sebestyen of Hungary and Sarah Meier of Switzerland are already in the final.