The NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan continued Saturday with the Free Dance, Pairs and Ladies Free Skating and Men's Short Program. The NHK Trophy is the fourth of six events in the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series. 5 733 spectators followed the competition in the sold out Makomanai Sekisui Heim Ice Arena in Sapporo.

Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) claim dance gold
Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) pulled up from third to edge out Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje of Canada by 0.09 points for the gold medal. Russia's Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov earned the bronze.
Performing to In the Mood and Moonlight Serenade by Glenn Miller, Shibutani/Shibutani
produced fast twizzles and strong lifts, earning a level four for five out of seven elements. The brother-and-sister team posted a new seasons best of 92.83 points which added up to 151.85 overall. We are very happy with our performance today. We think it was a lot stronger than last week. Obviously it's still early in the season and we have a lot to build, Maia Shibutani said. This week we came here to skate for ourselves and all of the fans here. The result wasn't so important to us. It was a new experience to do two Grand Prix in a row, Alex Shibutani added.
Weaver/Poje's dance to Je suis malade was highlighted by difficult lifts and a smooth footwork. The Skate Canada silver medallists picked up a level four for the lifts and the twizzles, but they had one-point deduction for an extended lift. The Canadians scored 91.69 points for the Free Dance and remained in second place at 151.76 points. We felt great from the warm up this morning until this afternoon. We just were in the zone, ready to perform the program. We felt the passion and emotion of this free dance which is one of the most important aspects. We lost a few points technically and those things we'll review. We did lose one point for an extended lift which is still frustrating, Weaver explained.
Overnight leaders Elena Ilinykh/Nikita Katsalapov danced to a modern arrangement of Ave Maria. They, too, had level four for the four lifts and the twizzles, but there were a few shaky moments in the performance. With a free dance score of 87.65 they dropped to third at 149.48 points. For me and Elena it was a really good beginning of the season. Yes, our free dance was not so good, but we know our goal and we know which way to go. So next time it will be much better, Katsalapov noted.
Nelli Zhiganshina/Alexander Gazsi (GER) finished in fourth place with 136.12 points followed by Lorenza Alessandrini/Simone Vaturi (ITA) in fifth with 133.29 points.
Shibutani/Shibutani and Weaver/Poje also booked their tickets to the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final.

Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov (RUS) skate to Pairs gold
Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov of Russia surged from fifth place to win the Pairs title. Narumi Takahashi/Mervin Tran of Japan claimed the silver while Germany's Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy settled for the bronze.
Kavaguti/Smirnov recovered from a faulty Short Program and produced a triple toe, triple twist, triple throw loop and Salchow in their routine to Clair de Lune. The 2010 European Champions scored 122.49 points, slightly improving their seasons best from last week and totaled 177.51 points. We feel great about our performance today and I am glad that we were able to pull ourselves together after the unfortunate Short Program yesterday, Smirnov said.
Takahashi/Tran's program to Concerto de Québec included a triple twist, level four-spins and lifts as well as a throw triple Salchow, but Takahashi underrotated both solo jumps. The two-time World Junior medallists earned 114.20 points and remained in second place at 172.09 points. We were able to show some strong skating, but I know that there are errors that we want to fix. So I will work on those areas as the season progresses, Takahashi commented.
Savchenko/Szolkowy opened their program to the soundtrack of Pina with a huge throw triple flip, but they made errors on the side by side jumps and aborted a lift. The three-time World Champions got 112.45 points and accumulated 171.68 overall. We are not very happy. We wanted to skate better than yesterday, but it turned out the other way round. Sometimes there are days like that and it happened to us, Szolkowy told the press.
Stefania Berton/Ondrej Hotarek (ITA) slipped from third to fourth at 163.83 points and Caydee Denney/John Coughlin (USA) placed fifth (163.75 points).
Kavaguti/Smirnov and Savchenko/Szolkowy have qualified for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final.

Daisuke Takahashi (JPN) leads Men after Short Program
Daisuke Takahashi of Japan skated to a 10.66-point lead over teammate Takahiko Kozuka in the Men's Short Program. Brandon Mroz (USA) is currently ranked third.
Takahashi put out a strong performance to Garden of the Souls, reeling off a triple flip-triple toe combination, a triple Axel and triple Lutz. The 2010 World Champion collected a new seasons and personal best score of 90.43 points. I am surprised myself about this score, I never would have thought that I get a score this high, Takahashi said. Maybe I couldn't perform a 100 percent, but I thought that there was a good chemistry in the performance. With each competition, step by step I am improving, he added.
Kozuka's jazzy routine to Inner Urge featured a triple flip, triple Axel and triple Lutz-triple toeloop. The reigning World silver medallist picked up a seasons best as well with 79.77 points. There were some shaky, dangerous moments. Tomorrow I will avoid such little mistakes and instabilities, Kozuka promised.
Mroz opened his routine with a quadruple Lutz. The landing was a bit scratchy, but on one foot. Mroz became the first man to perform the quadruple Lutz in an ISU competition after landing it already two months ago in a national event. The American received 74.83 points. For me, it was little shaky, too. I was fighting. It was great to get the Lutz done. It was a step into the right direction, he commented.
Konstantin Menshov (RUS) is not far behind in fourth place at 74.67 points and Tatsuki Machida (JPN) came fifth with 72.26 points.

Akiko Suzuki (JPN) takes Ladies title
Akiko Suzuki of Japan captured the Ladies gold as teammate Mao Asada moved up to second to claim the silver medal. The bronze went to Russia's Alena Leonova.
Skating to Die Fledermaus, overnight leader Suzuki started strongly with a triple Lutz, double Axel-triple toe and triple loop, but then singled two jumps. With 119.43 points she was ranked second in the free skating but overall held on to first place at 185.98 points. I am happy to have won the NHK Trophy for the first time, but I am not satisfied with my program. I tdid three good triple jumps, but then I made a mistake on the first jump in the latter half and panicked, Suzuki explained.
Asada gave a strong performance of Liebestraum by Franz Lizst, hitting five triple jumps and three level-four spins. The 2010 Olympic silver medallist won the Free Skating with 125.77 points and moved up one spot at 184.19 points. For me the NHK Trophy was the first competition of the season. I started my season late and I practice a lot. I got confidence from that and hopefully this result will give me momentum for my next competition in Russia, the 21-year-old shared.
Alena Leonova landed a triple toe-triple toe combination and two triple flips in her program to Adagio for Strings and Requiem for a Tower, but she missed a loop to score 108.92 points, a seasons best. The skater from St. Petersburg accumulated 170.68 points overall. It is a little unexpected that I a here right now (at the press conference) as I didn't skate my best. But I am happy to have won the bronze medal. I want to learn from my mistakes and avoid them in my next competition, Leonova said.
Ashley Wagner (USA) came fourth with 165.65 points and Elene Gedevanishvili (GEO) placed sixth.
Suzuki has now qualified for the Grand Prix Final.

The NHK Trophy concludes Sunday with the Men's Free Skating and the Exhibition Gala. For full results, please refer to