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Great Performances and Record Scores at ISU Grand Prix Final in Barcelona

by Tatjana Flade

The ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final returned to Barcelona after the big success of the event the year before. There were some minor changes to the backstage set up and there was room for more spectators, but basically everything was done the same way and again very successfully.

There were some spectacular performances to be seen, especially in the senior competitions, but also the juniors proved that they deserve attention.

The Cosmic Journey Continues

Yuzuru Hanyu continued his cosmic journey into point regions where no man has gone before in Barcelona. The Olympic Champion started with a new record in the short program that was clean with quadruple Salchow and quadruple-triple toe loop. The judges awarded him +2 and +3 GOEs for all elements and 22 times a perfect 10.00 for the components – even all judges pressed 10.00 for performance & execution. That added up to 110.95. “I don’t care about the score alone, but this huge score makes me happy at the same time. I was so nervous but I was using that nervousness in a positive way. I am a little bit upset about my step sequence, though,” the perfectionist said. The footwork was rated “only” a level three.

The atmosphere in the free skating was electric. The 5,500 spectators in the sold out rink already had warmed up with applause and cheering as the other men had put out excellent performances, and the Japanese top star even topped that. Again, he skated clean with three quads, two triple Axels, four more triples, strong steps and spins. He got 219.48 points, another record score, obviously, and the 21-year-old raised his own total record score to 330.43 points.  However, his reaction at the end of his performance was clearly more restraint than at NHK Trophy. “Not all my jumps were perfect,” Hanyu explained. “I felt very nervous before my performance because I heard the loud audience for Javi’s performance. I always want to perform my best and be number one of course, but for the free program today I put pressure on myself from getting the world record and my performance at NHK Trophy. But during the free program I was actually released from this pressure, and I felt like I can only do what I can do for now and so I managed to perform quite well I think, and everyone gave me energy to help me give that performance,” he added. A journalist asked him at the press conference what wasn’t perfect today. “My step sequence was level 3, also I need to perfect my English,” he answered jokingly.

The 2014 World Champion was the absolute super star in Barcelona. Groups of Japanese fans, mostly young women, waited in the hotel lobby and outside the ice rink to catch a glance of their idol. Armed with cameras and smartphones, they followed him on the short walk from or to the hotel and filmed each step. Therefore Hanyu was always escorted by his team and even two bodyguards in public areas. The skater is probably happy when he’s back in Toronto where not many people recognize him.

Javier Fernandez knew after the short program that the silver medal probably is the best possible result for him. “After the short program Yuzuru was really far away already (in points) and coming in today I was like, I’m just going to skate like myself and see what happens, if he does a great program there is nothing I can do. Our free programs are so close technically, with almost the same elements, that if he skates well it is impossible for me to get 20 points more than him,” the World Champion said. “So I was really calm and thought, I am just going to skate and do my best. I think I skated great, I did everything that was planned in the program and it has been a long time since I performed a clean free program so I was glad I could do that at this competition and show the people I can skate well and I can skate clean.” In the short program, the Spaniard stepped out of the quad Salchow and reduced his combination to triple Lutz-double toe so that he had 20 points less than Hanyu. In the free skating indeed everything worked out, the three-time European Champion only stepped out of a quad toe at the beginning of his playful routine to “Guys and Dolls”. He was rewarded with a new personal best of 201.43 points and became the second man in history to crack 200 points in the free skating. Hanyu’s records are not discouraging for him. “For me this is an inspiration. I’m now considering to include a second quad in my short program and another triple Axel in my long program,“ he commented. Javier’s girlfriend Miki Ando, the two-time World Champion from Japan, had come to Barcelona to support him and surprised him (and many others) with a performance in the exhibition gala that was kept secret until the last moment.

One year ago Shoma Uno clearly won the Junior Final and now he stood already on the podium in the senior Final. The Japanese ranked fourth in the short as he had fallen on the quad toe, but he made no mistake in the free skating. The reigning World Junior Champion often lands his triple Axel and quad toeloop deep in his knee, but still gets high GOEs. “I am satisfied with my free program performance today, and very happy with how I skated tonight. But I still think about my short program and regret that, so that will be my assignment to work on for my next competition,” the 17-year-old noted. His next competition will be Japanese Nationals. “I don’t have much time till Japanese Nationals but I think I have a lot of things to work on. It would be nice to repeat the performance I gave today but at the same time today’s performance was not really my maximum, I think I can do better and so I would like to prove that,” Uno commented.

Patrick Chan experienced a worst case scenario in the short program – he tripled his planned quad toe and then added a triple toe for a combination to the triple Lutz – but it is not allowed to repeat the same triple jump (unless in a combination, for example triple toe-triple toe). So the Olympic silver medalist received zero point for the combination. But that wasn’t enough – he also touched down on the triple Axel and did not get credit for his change camel spin as he didn’t hold the position long enough. 70.61 points and last place in the short, ouch! “It was a shame because it’s such a great program, but I’m glad I fought for the triple Axel and the triple-triple (lutz-toeloop), even though it didn’t count. It’s frustrating when you fight for it and it doesn’t count. But I added the combination because you never give up, you try to do what’s best,” the three-time World Champion shared. It would help to be a little bit more aware of the rules even though Chan defiantly said that he didn’t study the rulebook before he went out.

The Canadian rallied back with a strong free skate, similar to Skate Canada. He did everything as planned, only tripled the second planned quad toe. He said that he feels comfortable in his Chopin long program, but the short to “Mack the Knife” is a little different for him as it corresponds more to his off-ice personality. However, the program really had great potential and hopefully he’ll stick to it, although it didn’t go well in all three Grand Prix events.

Boyang Jin once again gained huge points with his quad Lutz and quad toe in the short and ranked third in the segment, but he stumbled on the quad Lutz and the quad Salchow in the free so that he couldn’t yet realize his dream to become the first skater to land four clean quads in the program. Like Uno, Jin came straight from the juniors to join the top skaters in the senior Final. Daisuke Murakami of Japan was another newcomer and turned in a solid short program. The California based skater made errors on his two quad Salchows in the free skating but then came back strong in the second half of his program. “This is my first senior Grand Prix Final experience. It was clearly not my best performance today. I think I was over thinking about my results more than my skating, so I thought too hard on my first two quads, and I started rushing, but thankfully I regrouped and did a clean second half of my program,” Murakami said.

Medvedeva’s Rise

Evgenia Medvedeva had won the Junior Final a year ago and like Uno celebrated a break through at the senior level right away. The 16-year-old pointed out that her success is the result of hard work: “Last year I was sat in the same place, in the same room in this press conference as a junior, and now I am here as a senior. I made the step up and that’s a very nice feeling, so I’m happy. I tried to perfect what I do and it has worked, I have started to skate better and more like an adult. I have actually worked more on choreography than elements, and paid more attention to that because this is a higher level and I need to look older and prettier on the ice. Of course I worked on all the elements as well, but on the choreography a little bit more.”

Medvedeva’s jumps are high and light, in practice she likes to entertain the audience with combinations such as triple flip-triple toe-triple toe that she isn’t doing in competitions, because they wouldn’t bring her extra points. Her coaches and choreographers smartly have selected elegant, lyrical programs to make the skater look more adult. The World Junior Champion impressed in Barcelona with two clean, well presented programs and was rewarded with personal best scores. Her 222.54 total score is ranked third only behind Yuna Kim and Adelina Sotnikova, who earned more when they won their Olympic titles in 2010 and 2014 respectively.

Satoko Miyahara shone in Barcelona as well with excellent performances. The Japanese skater would have deserved to be second in the short program, but she was fourth as the Technical Panel penalized her with an edge call on the triple flip, something that she usually doesn’t get. Her jumps are not as high and easy looking as for example Medvedeva’s, therefore she doesn’t get these high GOEs, but her spins are extraordinary. There were no “edge” deductions in the free skating and Miyahara again put out a strong and clean performance that carried her to the silver medal, also because Elena Radionova and Mao Asada made mistakes. Shy as always Satoko just commented that she was happy and surprised about her score, but that she still can improve on her performance.

Radionova, who said that she has grown about seven centimeters, is fighting puberty. She didn’t do her combination with the triple Lutz as planned in the short program, because the jump was shaky. But she was gutsy enough to pull off a triple loop-triple toe later in the program. The World bronze medalist seemed to hold back a little in the “Titanic” free skating and fell on an under-rotated triple loop, but she mastered her two triple-triple combos. “Really when you are smaller it is easier to do things, but I haven’t felt that, I can see more pluses that come with age than minuses, I just need to get used to my body,” the 16-year-old offered.

Ashley Wagner once again was between flop in the short program and top in the free skating. After she stumbled on the triple flip in the short she tried to add a triple toe to her triple loop, but she well and the jump was downgraded. The U.S. Champion had nothing to lose in the free skating and convinced with a powerful and clean performance to “Moulin Rouge,” but it was not enough to reach the podium and she ranked fourth. “I have that unfortunate quality of skating my programs like two different people. I think that part of my problem right now is that I don’t have any explanation why. This competition shows I’m human and make mistakes under pressure. But to beat my Personal Best by eight plus points shows I’m an improved athlete even from October in Canada. But there’s a long road ahead because I can’t afford to have a horrific program and then do OK. I think the long program is less daunting for me because there’s more room for error and more room to put those errors right. But you can’t be a long or short program skater. You have to be the whole package,” Ashley analyzed.

Gracie Gold wasn’t at her best. In the short she showed no attack when going into her triple flip so that it was not surprising when she doubled the jump. In the free, the American even popped the flip and stumbled on other jumps to finish fifth. “I’m the loser, there’s not much else to say. We will definitely go back and reevaluate the jump content of the program, because I’ve only really done one clean program this season and at this point (in the season) you should really be clean. I’m quite far behind in that regard, my consistency is lacking for reasons we don’t really know. I am a good skater but competition is a different matter,” Gracie said.

Mao Asada landed a beautiful triple Axel in the short program, but the technical panel deemed both jumps in her triple flip-triple loop combo under-rotated. On top of that the Japanese star popped the Lutz. The three-time World Champion still was third in the short program, but in the free she managed only three clean triples. She also stumbled (and under-rotated) on the triple Axel and dropped to sixth. “I’m very disappointed because I couldn’t perform the way I was aiming for. I had lots of mistakes, I have to change my mind and do better at the next competition,” the 25-year-old told the press. She was invited to the Exhibition Gala but had to withdraw as she was sick. Maybe she felt already the illness in her long program.

The Man and the Shadow

Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov didn’t have a good start into the season at Skate America and quite a few people were quick to write them off as the one-hit-wonders from the Olympic season. However, the Russian duo proved at Rostelecom Cup and now again at the Final that writing the off was premature. The Olympic silver medalists impressed with flawless, choreographically demanding and expressive programs in Barcelona. The side by side jumps and throw jumps were absolutely precise. The triple twist is not their best element, but it was okay. Especially their free skating titled “The man and the shadow” to the "The Unknown Known“ by Danny Elfman is something special, interesting and unusual. Stolbova’s short hair cut adds to the fresh image of the team. And what about quads? Even thought the team from Moscow won the Final clearly without any quads, they are aiming for them in the future. “We think pair skating is moving forward and more and more couples do quads and now in this competition it was enough to do a clean program with good jumps but in future I think we need to do more high level elements like a quad throw. So I think we will move on and add it to our program,” Klimov told the press. The couple has been working on the throw quadruple Salchow and hopes to be able to show it by the end of the season.

World Champions Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford had to settle for the silver medal. Duhamel fell in the short program on the throw triple Lutz. “The fall on the throw was a complete fluke for us, it’s never happened before and I doubt it’s going to happen again, and I’m sure we’ll do it well tomorrow,” Duhamel stated. She didn’t fall, but she stepped out of it in the free skating, but on the other hand she landed the throw quadruple Salchow. The side by side triple Lutz and the other difficult elements also went well, but the Canadians seemed to focus too much on the execution of their elements. However, they were pleased to have put out a strong skate. “Eric and I are really proud about our performance today. We felt more comfortable with this program and we executed our program much better than the short program and we are proud to have this medal,” Meagan said.

Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov convinced with a clean short program, but she crashed on the triple toe loop and double Axel in their powerful “Manfred” program. The skaters pulled themselves together after that, completed a quadruple throw Salchow, but decided not to risk the throw quadruple loop this time. There were no further mistakes, but they slipped from second to third. “Not everything worked well today. But we are still pleased with the way we emotionally we skated today and that we finally have won a medal at the Grand Prix Final. We’ve been so many times at this event,” Smirnov pointed out.

The young Canadians Julianne Séguin & Charlie Bilodeau had come into the Final only thanks to the “Bordeaux rule” as they had placed 7th in the qualification, but they proved that they belonged here with two solid performances. The only major error was her fall on the throw triple Lutz in the free skating. She actually always has a strange lean in this throw but most of the time manages to land it safely. The 2014 Junior Grand Prix Final Champions also were part of the “junior gang” that made it to the senior final in their first year on the senior circuit.

China’s Xiaoyu Yu & Yang Jin and Cheng Peng & Hao Zhang made a few errors to place fifth and sixth. Both girls missed the throw quad Salchow in the free skating, but Peng & Zhang performed a quadruple twist. “Today’s performance wasn’t ideal. I think that’s maybe because that we were focusing too much on the competition. It’s something we need to work on. For us there’s especially a lot to improve on our performance part, the choreography and the step sequence,” Jin noted.

“We try to see this competition as an opportunity for exercise. Pair skating now is taking more difficulty and we need to keep up with that. So even though now we make mistakes and we are not performing consistently, we need to come to the competition to try our best and keep improving,” Zhang offered.

Alexa Scimeca & Chris Knierim didn’t have a good competition. They fell four times in the free skating – he on the triple Salchow, she on the landing of the quadruple twist and then both on the triple toe. “If we could afford that skate at any competition this season it would be here, because there’s really nothing on the line for us. I’m not really sure what happened this week; the practices have been a little scattered too, but this doesn’t define us,” Scimeca commented.

Passion Prevails

The Ice Dance competition was at a very high level as well and promises more excitement for the rest of the season to come. There is not much of a difference in points between the top teams and the result of the next competition could be different.

However, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje might have a little advantage over their rivals in terms of the connection between the partners and between them and the audience. Here the spectator can feel the passion and the emotion between man and woman on the ice, especially in the dramatic free dance to „On the Nature of Daylight“ and “Run”. But the short dance to Waltz and Polka by Johann Strauss was also performed very well. The sweeping Waltz rhythm just suits the tall, attractive couple perfectly. “We were really in the zone today, I think we were missing some emotion at Cup of Russia and today that was really what we injected into it. We skated with our hearts and when you skate with your heart on the line like that you can go home happy,” Weaver said.

Madison Chock & Evan Bates always look a bit pale in direct comparison, although they have developed a lot. Their short dance to Foxtrot and Waltz was elegant and their Rachmaninov free dance is very sophisticated, but Chock wobbled on a twizzle. Following their defeat at Cup of China, the World silver medalists revamped the choreography of their free dance. “I think we’ve had a really, really challenging time getting this program ready for this event. We’ve re-choreographed about half this program in the last three weeks. To come to a Grand Prix Final where you’re expected to be in tip top shape with a program that feels so new is challenging. We made some mistakes and there are improvements to be made. It’s going to be a lot of work,” Bates stated. But overall their free dance is beautiful to watch.

Cappellini & Lanotte’s cheerful and upbeat style in „The Merry Widow“ short dance and the „La Dolce Vita“ free dance was well received and they also skated really well. The Italians have established themselves as the top European team, but they don’t want to relax. This bronze was their first medal in the Grand Prix Final. “It is rather special for us to be at this final as it is our first time qualifying again after last year and our first medal, so this is one competition we won’t forget easily. It was not a very easy performance today so we are definitely looking to improve a few things, especially in the short program but also the free as we feel we left a few points on the table so we definitely want to change that for the future,” Cappellini shared.

Maia and Alex Shibutani were a highlight especially in the short dance to „Coppelia“, but since the two Waltz patterns merited „only“ a level three, the siblings didn’t make the top three. They performed very well once more in the free dance to “Fix You,” although Alex had been taken ill over night and felt so bad that he was unable to come to the mixed zone. “I am just so proud of Alex, he is not with me right now (in the mixed zone) because starting late last night he was not feeling well and he has been extremely sick since then. We weren’t able to do much at practice but he said from the start he wanted to push through. He is not just my partner, he is my brother, he is family, so to see him struggle is very hard for me. I am so proud of him, to have skated like that when he is so sick. To me that performance shows we have gotten so much stronger over the years. It gives us the confidence to come back and skate it so much better,” Maia Shibutani told the media.

Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev of Russia turned in two strong performances as well, maybe they lacked a little bit of speed. Both the short dance to Waltz and March and the free dance to “Anna Karenina” are characteristic and were also technically strong. “We felt more confident than in our previous events. I was more nervous than in Japan, but I was able to pull myself together better. We’d give us a five out of five for this program. We were able to put everything together from beginning to end – the emotions, the technique, the transitions, the quality of the elements. It was not ideal yet and we know what we have to work on. It is motivating for us that they hold back our scores a bit. It is explainable, because we sat out one season. The other teams did not stagnate in this time and this season we’re still catching up with everybody else,” Soloviev said.

Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue competed in their first Final. They edged out Bobrova & Soloviev for fifth place in the Short Dance, but then slipped to sixth in the free dance. He fell early into the program to “Adagio for Strings” by Daft Punk on a transition move and after that the US-duo seemed to hold back a little. “I think we managed very well with the mistake we made. It took us by surprise. My foot was an inch different form usual so I went into his path and he went down. It was a complete fluke but we did push through because we’ve practiced so well and I think we pulled it back. But of course the judges didn’t get to see our program uninterrupted and so it hit our scores,” Hubbell explained.