Japan's Uno takes lead in Hanyu's absence at NHK Trophy

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Japan's Shoma Uno capitalised on injured Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu's absence to claim the lead at the NHK Trophy in Tokyo after Friday's free skate.

Japanese superstar Hanyu withdrew last week from the Grand Prix event after damaging an ankle ligament in a fall in practice.

Uno wasted no time in grabbing the spotlight in his absence, scoring 102.58 to lead Vincent Zhou of the United States and Cha Jun-hwan of South Korea.

Uno won silver at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics but struggled afterwards, and said that he thought of quitting skating at one point.

He said his main aim for the NHK Trophy was to "grow into a skater who can compete at the top level".

"I'm not saying I don't mind making mistakes at this competition, but I don't want to be scared to make mistakes -- I want to go for it a bit more," he said.

Zhou won the Skate America title last month, beating Uno into second place.

The American said he "definitely noticed that there was more pressure" going into the NHK Trophy, but had no complaints about his score of 99.51.

"I felt a little bit shaky, my legs were a little bit nervous -- I think that reflected in the quality of some of my spins and the triple axel," he said.

"I definitely understand why I didn't reach 100 points, but overall I'm pretty happy with my performance and my score."

- 'My legs felt wobbly' -

In the women's competition, Japan's Kaori Sakamoto led after the short programme ahead of compatriot Mana Kawabe and South Korea's You Young.

Russia's Daria Usacheva fell in the warm-up and withdrew injured after being carried from the ice.

The 15-year-old was expected to contend for the title after finishing second at Skate America in her Grand Prix debut.

Instead, it was Sakamoto who laid down a marker with an assured short programme that earned her a season-best score of 76.56.

"I was nervous during the six-minute warm-up and my legs felt wobbly, but I settled down after landing my jumps and I felt good going into my routine," said Sakamoto.

Kawabe was a late entry to the competition after replacing Japan's Rika Kihira, who withdrew injured last week.

But she grabbed her chance with both hands to claim a personal-best score of 73.88, two weeks after finishing last in the short programme at Skate Canada.

"My score was a lot higher than the target I had set for myself, so I'm happy about that," said Kawabe.

"Being in second place gives me confidence, and I want to work hard to keep my position after the free programme."

In pairs, Russian world champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov led after the short programme with a score of 78.40, ahead of compatriots Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov on 75.78.

In ice dance, Russia's Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov -- also world champions -- were in first after the rhythm dance with a score of 86.33.

Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates were second on 86.02.

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