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Japan's Kaori Sakamoto wins NHK Trophy in near-perfect skate

Kaori Sakamoto produced a near-flawless free skate on Saturday to win the women's NHK Trophy, the final event of the figure skating Grand Prix series.

Skating to music from the movie “The Matrix,” Sakamoto, who was first after the short program, landed a double axel and followed with a triple flip, triple toe loop combination en route to a score of 153.91 for a total of 229.51.

“I was nervous but was able to execute the free skate as I did in practice,” Sakamoto said. “I hope this result will give me confidence for the Japan nationals.”

Kaori Sakamoto of Japan reacts after she performed in a free skating of an ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating competition in Kadoma near Osaka, Japan, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. (AP PhotoHiro Komae)

Sakamoto also landed a triple lutz, a triple salchow and a triple loop as well as two more combination jumps.

Wakaba Higuchi, the 2018 world silver medalist who was second after Friday’s short program, landed a triple axel at the start of her free skate and was second overall with 200.98 points despite finishing fourth in the free program. Rino Matsuike was third with 198.97 points.

The NHK Trophy normally draws competitors from around the world but was limited to mostly Japanese skaters because of travel restrictions put in place because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Rino Matsuike of Japan performs during a free skating of an ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating competition in Kadoma, near Osaka, Japan, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. (AP PhotoHiro Komae)

Despite concerns about the coronavirus, there was a near-capacity crowd on hand for Saturday’s program. Japan has managed to keep the virus under control so far but is experiencing a recent surge in cases.

The Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final that was to be held as an Olympic test event on Dec. 10-13 in Beijing has been postponed. The Grand Prix events in Canada and France were cancelled due to COVID-19.

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Kaori Sakamoto of Japan performs during a free skating of an ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating competition in Kadoma, near Osaka, Japan, Saturday, Nov. 28, 2020. (AP PhotoHiro Komae)