Shen and Zhao take third Grand Prix Final title

Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China maintained their lead to win the their third title, while teammates Qing Pang and Jian Tong rose up from fourth to second overall to claim the silver. Germany’s Aliona   Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy slipped from second to third  for the bronze.

Shen and Zhao delivered a poetic routine to Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor which featured strong side-by-side triple toes, excellent throw jumps, and a  rare forward outside death spiral. The three-time World Champions earned  a personal best of 138.89 points, as well as a new record total score of 214.25 points.

“Our program was really good today,” said Zhao. “it felt awesome. Each lift, the twist, the throws felt perfect and we felt more power. Coming back  wasn’t easy. It was very hard. When we returned to practice, it was hard on our bodies. It hurt, but we are skating with our hearts.”

“We have to continue to train harder and to polish our program with Lori Nichol,” continued Zhao when asked about the upcoming Olympics. “We still need to skate with more power and we need to skate with our heart.”

Teammates Pang and Tong rallied back with an intense routine to The Impossible Dream which featured solid  throw jumps and difficult lifts. The defending champions earned a new personal best of  133.82 points for their long program, as well as a new personal best total (201.86 points).

“There is just one thing that I’m not too happy with, and that is the small mistake with the second solo jump (toeloop),” said Tong. “But in spite of that, we’re really pleased with today’s performance. I got the feeling that we lost some power in the second part. Maybe we’ve spent a little bit too much energy throughout the performance, but as it went really well, we’re very happy. That was my feeling when I jumped up at the end of our program.”

Maria Mukhortova and Maxim   Trankov of Russia gave a strong performance to Love Story, placing third in the long program with a new personal best of 128.57. The World bronze medalists produced strong lifts and jumps. However, with a total score of 198.35 points (also a personal best), the team slipped to fourth overall.

“We are quite tired,” said Trankov. “Our last competition was Skate Canada and there was not enough time in between. In addition to a lot of traveling, we had to go get our visas to Japan. Each competition is different. At Skate Canada, I had problems with my pants. It was a pleasure skating here. Now that the first important competition is over, we have to go home and word hard again in preparation for Russian Nationals, Europeans, and the Olympic Games.”

Savchenko and Szolkowy placed fourth in the long program with 127.24 points, and with a total score of 200.38, placed third overall. Savchenko did not complete the opening  triple toe-triple toe sequence and also stumbled on the throw triple flip. Otherwise the two-time and reigning World Champions delivered very good lifts and spins.

“It was quite bad,” said Szolkowy, “but I almost expected it to turn out like that. We were not completely concentrated. I don’t know exactly what was the reason for that. Maybe it was the quick turn-around between Canada, Germany and Japan.”

Szolkowy doesn’t feel there is a problem with the side-by-side triple toeloops. “It’s just that we were lacking determination this time. I already realized that in the short program when I touched down with my hand on the triple toeloop.”

Russia’s Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov moved up from sixth to fifth overall, while Dan Zhang Hao Zhang of China finished in sixth place.

Kavaguti was disappointed that their marks were lower than what they received at NHK. “But I feel I was supported by the audience and felt a sense of togetherness with them. After yesterday’s poor performance, I tried to change my mind set by having something delicious to eat – my mother’s home cooked food.”

The Russian Champions did not attempt the quad throw Salchow as they didn’t have much training time after NHK. “We [also] wanted to see what kind of points we would get if we did a triple,” explained Kavaguti. “It’s something we needed to do heading into the Olympic Games. After this, we’ll review the mistakes we made and correct them and try to get pluses on our elements in preparation for Russian Nationals and Europeans.”

Hao was not happy with their performance. “I don’t know what went wrong. We got medals in the past GPF, so I’m so disappointed about our performance today. We can’t keep skating like this (mistakes). If we can’t do a good performance and won’t be in the top six, I think we’d rather not go to the Olympics. But, of course, we still have two months to prepare, so we’ll work hard to overcome  this bad condition. So please support us!”

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