The NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan opened Friday with the Short Dance, Pairs and Ladies Short Program. The NHK Trophy is the fourth of six events in the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series.

Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) dance to lead
Russia's Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov danced to a narrow lead in the Short Dance followed by Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje of Canada and Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA).
Ilinykh/Katsalapov put out a characteristic Samba and Rhumba, picking up a level four for the twizzles and the rotational lift. The 2010 World Junior Champions scored 61.83 points. It was amazing to skate today, even though we were a little bit sleepy because there is an eight-hour time difference to Moscow, Katsalapov said. This is our first event of the season, and we are so excited to be back in Japan. Our first Grand Prix last year was in Japan as well. It is really cool to compete here and we love to start our season here, Ilinykh added.
Weaver/Poje started out with a solid Rhumba and had a level-four for the second pattern, but there were wobbles in the twizzles and the side by side circular footwork. As a result, the Canadians were awarded 60.07 points, about three points below their seasons best. It wasn't our sharpest skate today, we lost several technical levels, but it is just a stepping stone. It is still very early and we are not worried, because we have a great free dance to perform tomorrow, Weaver told the press.
Shibutani/Shibutani delivered a clean performance to an upbeat Samba, but lost a point due to an extended lift. The World bronze medallists still had a seasons best with 59.02 points. We were pleased with our performance today. We feel that it was stronger than last week at Cup of China. In the few days we've had to train I think we've made some good improvements and we're looking forward to the free dance tomorrow. We know we've got a strong program, Maia Shibutani commented.
Nelli Zhiganshina/Alexander Gazsi (GER) finished fourth with 55.69 points and Lorenza Alessandrini/Simone Vaturi (ITA) follow in fifth at 54.37 points.

Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy (GER) capture Pairs Short Program
Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy of Germany captured the Pairs Short Program. Japan's Narumi Takahashi/Mervin Tran came second while Italians Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek were third.
Performing to the Angels and Demons soundtrack, Savchenko/Szolkowy went for the throw triple Axel again, but she fell. The couple completed a triple twist, a difficult lift and level-four footwork to earn 59.23 points. As everybody could see, our Short Program was not the way we planned to skate. We take it step by step, maybe next time, Szolkowy said. Of course we were working on the throw and it was getting better and better. Therefore we decided to try it again, he continued.
Takahashi/Tran's program to Imagine by John Lennon was highlighted by a triple twist and throw triple Salchow, but she crashed on the triple toe. The two-time World Junior medallists earned 57.89 points. We made a mistake soon after starting, however, we didn't give up and kept focusing on each of the elements very carefully, and I think that kind of care and attention showed in the result of the short program today, Takahashi noted.
Berton/Hotarek put out a solid program to Harlem Nocturne, completing a side by side triple toeloop, a throw triple loop and a level-four death spiral to collect 56.23 points. We are surprised being here with the others. We just try to do our best, skate, having fun and skate for the public here in Japan. We are happy to be here and we'll step it up and try to skate even better tomorrow, Hotarek told the post-event press conference.
Caydee Denney/John Coughlin (USA) are currently ranked fourth at 55.48 points and Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov (RUS) came fifth after she fell on an underrotated triple toeloop (55.02 points).

Akiko Suzuki (JPN) leads Ladies after Short Program
Akiko Suzuki of Japan took the lead in the Ladies Short Program. Russia's Alena Leonova placed second and Mao Asada of Japan finished third.
Skating to a modern arrangement of the Hungarian Rhapsody, Suzuki hit a triple toe-triple toe combination, a triple Lutz and double Axel to achieve a new seasons best of 66.55 points. I am very happy with my Short Program, especially with my three jumps. I was able to land them perfectly, Suzuki noted.
Leonova's program to Pirates of the Caribbean featured a triple toe-triple toe as well and a triple flip. The National silver medallist earned 61.76 points, a new seasons best. I have a 100 percent today, I did my jumps and I am also pleased with my levels. I was able to avoid all the mistakes that I did at Skate Canada, the Russian said.
Asada debuted her Sheherazade Short Program in competition and completed a triple flip-double loop and a triple loop, but singled her planned triple Axel. The two-time World Champion scored 58.42 points. The jumps affected my result today, but my goal is to go with the flow when it comes to the first jump and let the program flow. I think I did that today, Asada commented.

Elene Gedevanishvili (GEO) came fourth at 57.37 points and Ashley Wagner (USA) is currently ranked fifth with 55.88 points.

The NHK Trophy continues Saturday with the Free Dance, Men's Short Program, Ladies and Pairs Free Skating. For full results, please refer to