Japan star Hanyu leads NHK Trophy

Sapporo (Japan) (AFP) –


Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu overwhelmed his rivals at the men's short programme in the NHK Trophy on Friday, stepping closer to winning a ticket for next month's Grand Prix finals.

The Japanese figure skating star, who won the Skate Canada crown in late October, smashed 109.34 points with no others reaching the 100-point mark in Sapporo, where the free programme will be held on Saturday.

Kevin Aymoz of France came to second with 91.47 points as Russia's Sergei Voronov was in third with 88.63 points.

Hanyu opened with a superb quadruple Salchow and delivered a triple axel in style, wowing the home crowd.

Then he nailed a clean combination of quadruple toeloop and triple toeloop with his elegant spins and steps, prompting frenzied local fans to throw him flowers and stuffed dolls at the end of his performance.

Hanyu, however, voiced his dissatisfaction.

"I could have done better," the 24-year-old said.

"To be honest, I'm a little bit frustrated," he said. "But the short is the short. I want to display what I have done in the free."

Hanyu aims to book his place at December's Grand Prix Finals in Turin, a showdown by top skaters after the six-round Grand Prix series.

Double world champion Nathan Chen of the US and Russian Alexander Samarin have already qualified.

On the women's side, Russian young star Alena Kostornaia produced a flawless triple Axel to snatch the lead after the short programme.

The 16-year-old, who has clinched her second senior medal earlier this month in only three competitions, claimed a record 85.04 points in the short.

Defending champion Rika Kihira was in second place with 79.89 points as she succeeded in landing a triple axel but slightly fluffed her triple loop.

The 17-year-old Kihira described the day's performance as "so-so."

"I hope to show a much better performance in the free programme," she said.

Reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova, who finished third at the French leg of the series, placed fourth with 66.84 points following her flopped jumps.