Golden Skate

Zabiiako and Enbert lead Pairs at NHK Trophy

Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert

Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert of Russia perform their Short Program at 2018 NHK Trophy. 

2018 NHK Trophy

Pairs Figure Skating

Just one week after winning the Grand Prix of Helsinki, Russia’s Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert of Russia took the lead after the Pairs Short Program at 2018 NHK Trophy on Friday in Hiroshima, Japan, with a season’s best of 73.48 points. China’s Cheng Peng and Yang Jin are in a close second with 70.66 points.

The top two teams were solid, both producing triple twist, side-by-side triple toes, and a throw triple loop. The difference came with mostly with the Program Component Scores.

“This is our second Grand Prix,” said Enbert, “and we were able to review changes to the program only once before leaving for Japan. We reviewed mistakes since leaving Finland, and we want to be more confident and want to change them in a positive manner.”

“We felt today was not bad,” said Yang. “The twists and jumps were good, but some details were not perfect. We felt it was not too bad.”

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, who won the bronze medal at Skate Canada in their native country, collected 67.70 points to the music of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” The team had a less than par catch on the triple twist, a touch down on their side-by-side triple toes and a slight two-footed landing on a throw triple loop, however, showed a good lift and combination spin.

“I’m a little disappointed today,” Moore-Towers said. “We’ve been training really well this week, better than at Skate Canada, so we were expecting a pretty lights out performance. It wasn’t the worst short program ever, but we lost a lot of points in a lot of places, so we need to be a little more assertive tomorrow.”

Still in the medal hunt in fourth with a a season’s best of 64.75 points are USA’s Alexa Scimeca Knierim & Chris Knierim, who were in the same position at Skate America last month. The 2018 Olympians earned high grades of execution (GOEs) and levels in most elements, however, took a fall on the side-by-side triple Salchows and were out of synch on their final pair spin.

“We have a handful of improvements from Skate America,” said Scimeca Knierim. “Not only were the levels better, but the actual feeling of the program was a lot better. There’s a lot of good things to be proud of for us. We spent two weeks with Todd (Sand) and Jenni (Meno) in California and really increased the number of repetitions, and I think that resulted in us feeling more comfortable in the program.”

Fellow Americans Tarah Kayne & Danny O’Shea are currently fifth with 59.00 points, also a new season’s best. The Four Continents champions under-rotated a triple Salchow during the short program.

“Our short program is brand new,” Kayne said. “We just got it after our first competition at [Finlandia Trophy], so it’s about two weeks old, and I think we’ve spent about a week getting it choreographed. Overall, we’re pretty happy, with some silly mistakes, but we have a new coach (Dalilah Sappenfield) and we moved to Colorado.”

“I’m happy with the program,” said O’Shea. “We’ve improved a lot since Finland, and we’ll keep improving. The triple twist is a level two, so we’re happy about that, and I enjoyed skating this program.”

Also, appearing in their first senior Grand Prix event are defending U.S. Junior champions Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov, who are in seventh with 52.35 points.

“It’s such an honor to represent Team USA and be invited by the ISU,” Mitrofanov said. “We just hope we are able to do our job. It’s the big leagues, so we definitely need to step up our game. We’re the underdogs right now, and we just need to keep our heads down and keep working.”