Japan's Uno back on top after NHK Trophy win

·3-min read

Japan's Shoma Uno said he was "back fighting at the top" of figure skating after winning the NHK Trophy on Saturday -- his first major title in almost three years.

Uno, the silver medallist at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, claimed a personal-best score of 290.15 in Tokyo, beating American Vincent Zhou into a distant second.

Uno's last major win came at the Four Continents in February 2019, and he thought of quitting skating during the barren spell that followed.

But he said he had got his mojo back after qualifying for next month's Grand Prix final with Saturday's victory, which came in the absence of injured Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

"I haven't been able to stand on the podium for a few years, and finally I'm back fighting for a place at the top again," said Uno.

"I don't want to be satisfied with this result. I want to keep aiming higher."

Hanyu withdrew from the competition last week after injuring an ankle ligament in a fall in practice.

Zhou was looking for his second Grand Prix win of the season, after claiming the Skate America title ahead of Uno last month.

But a mistake-riddled free skate left him far adrift in second place on 260.69, ahead of South Korea's Cha Jun-hwan on 259.60.

"I really wish I could have done better and capitalised on my opportunity here, but thankfully this isn't the Olympics," said Zhou, who also qualified for the Grand Prix final.

"I think this is good to get this out of my system now, because this is not who I am."

- "Good direction" -

In the women's competition, Japan's Kaori Sakamoto cruised to victory on 223.34 points, well clear of second-place Mana Kawabe's 205.44.

Sakamoto is performing a new free skate routine this season -- to "No More Fight Left In Me" and "Tris" -- and she admitted she felt "lost" over the summer as she tried to get to grips with it.

But she said she is now "going in a good direction", having also finished fourth at Skate America, and she looked set to qualify for the Grand Prix final.

"If I think back to where I was a month ago, I wouldn't have imagined I could perform as I did today," she said.

Kawabe was a late replacement for the injured Rika Kihira, and she seized her chance to claim second in the short programme.

The 17-year-old fell early in her free skate but recovered to win the silver medal ahead of third-place You Young of South Korea.

"I made a mistake on my axel but I was able to put that behind me and skate calmly, and I think that's where I have grown as a skater," Kawabe said.

"That was a personal best overall score so I'm very happy."

Russia's Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov won the pairs title with a score of 227.28 -- the highest of the Grand Prix season so far.

The world champions, who were making their first appearance of the season, finished ahead of compatriots Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who scored 213.27.

There was also success for Russia in ice dance, with Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov topping the podium with 215.44 points.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the United States were second on 210.78, while Britain's Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson were third on 191.91.

amk/lb

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