Russia’s two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva dazzled fans with unrivalled grace Friday in the short programme section at NHK Trophy, while men’s field saw Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu withdraw due to an injury.Medvedeva, 17, overwhelmed her rivals with technical finesse and emotional skating to “Nocturne” by Frederic Chopin, collecting 79.99 points at Osaka’s Municipal Central Gymnasium.
It gave her a 5.42-point lead against closest rival former world champion Caroline Kostner with 74.57. The Italian veteran returned to the competition last year after sitting out two seasons. Russian Polina Tsurskaya followed with 70.04.
Medvedeva said she managed to stay “relatively calm” during her programme with smooth spins and steps before she began leaping for a triple flip-triple toeloop combination, a triple loop and a double Axel. Immediately after the performance, she said she was already turning her focus on Saturday’s free skating.
“Even though today was definitely important, the main work and the main fight will be tomorrow,” she said. “My main aim is to skate worthily in the free skating programme so as to please the audience,” she said. In the men’s field, Russian veteran Sergei Voronov showed off soaring, dynamic jumps and spins that got him 90.06, followed by Alexei Bychenko of Israel with 85.52.
But it was Hanyu’s absence that disappointed home fans and competitors alike. Hanyu, winner of NHK Trophy in the past two years, pulled out at the last minute after damaging ankle ligaments in a fall during practice on Thursday.
The accident hit the 22-year-old three months ahead of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where he is set to defend his title. He said he will now focus on treatment and building up to the national championships in December, suggesting he has no concerns about being fit for the Olympics.
“Now I will focus on my treatment and will work hard toward the nationals,” he said in a statement. Hanyu fell and twisted his right ankle while attempting the ultra-tough quadruple lutz in practice. He was able to skate off the ice and walk unassisted, but was limping. Shortly afterwards, he returned to the ice and resumed practice but did not jump.