Golden Skate

Ando leaps to first to capture gold

Miki Ando of Japan, shown performing to Grieg's Piano Concerto in A minor, catapulted from fifth to first place overall at Cup of Russia.

Despite finishing fifth in the yesterday’s short program, Miki Ando of Japan managed to overcome both this set back and a recently sustained injury to capture the Ladies title.

Teammate Akiko Suzuki slipped to second, while USA’s Ashley Wagner maintained third to win the bronze.

Ando, who collided with another skater in practice five days ago, pulled a muscle in her back.

“Yesterday it was just numb,” the student of Nikolai Morozov. “Today I started to feel more pain. I tried to put tape on it. It helped a bit, but it is not an optimal solution. So my goal for today was to avoid showing people that I was in pain.”

The deliberation and caution showed through the most of her performance, which featured five clean triple jumps and was clearly the best in the event.

“I am very surprised to finish first,” said the defending champion. “My back really hurts and before the start of the competition, I was not even sure if I would be able to do it, but I decided to skate.”

“Tonight I was just trying to do one element at time, and with my back really hurting, I could not skate that well,” she continued. “But I did not make any big mistakes, so I think I did a good job for this competition.”

The Japanese has a lot to accomplish in a few weeks before the Grand Prix Final.

“First of all I have to take care of the injury and I think I might have some time off,” Ando said. “Then I have an idea on how to change the short program, because at the moment I get tired and my footwork is not so exciting. I might make a new program.”

The former World Champion also wants to work on her triple-triple combination.

“I have tried it in China, but it was not counted,” said Ando. “This time I could not do it because of the injury, but I’m looking forward to be able to perform it.”

“The long program is hard to skate and also I made mistakes,” admitted Ando. “I popped the second toe [in combination with a double Axel]. It is a big challenge for me to do those jumps in the second half of the program, so this is something I really want to work on before the GPF. The levels of the footwork and spins is better here than in China, but last year they were even higher and I want to work on it. Hopefully they will get higher GOEs and I will impress the judges more. And I think I need more speed for the program components score.”

Suzuki also secured a spot in the Final. She received an edge call on her opening triple Lutz, popped the second one into single, and got her final triple Salchow called ‘underrotated’. The Japanese silver medalist did, however, land a beautiful double Axel – triple toe loop combination and her exuberant approach to the execution of every move fit perfectly into the style of her Fiddler on the Roof long program.

“As far as the long program goes I’m satisfied with my skating,” said the Suzuki. “I skated better than in China. But there were mistakes on the jumps and my levels in the spins were low, so there is still something to improve. From the two competitions I have done my homework. [My goal] for the Final is to avoid making mistakes in the second half and to increase the levels of spins, but I’m happy to qualify for it for the second year in the row.”

Suzuki credits a strong rivalry within the country for her success. “It helps to have all those strong skaters and I’m very very happy when I can compete with them and beat them!”

Wagner seemed to be thrilled with her outcome.

“I was very happy with my performance today,” said the student of Priscilla Hill. “I was praying to skate as well as I actually did. I came to Russia as part of a learning experience, and today I did my double Axel – triple toe loop combination well. It was huge for me today. Overall, there were some mistakes, but I’m very happy with what I accomplished.”

Wagner’s new long program to Malaguena brings to forefront the passion she has for skating, as well as her power and ability to fully immerse herself in her moves. It seemed that there was only one distraction from the overall smooth performance: a fall on the final triple flip. The technical panel has been slightly more discerning, however, and marked her triple Lutz as underrotated and taken off on the wrong edge.

Still, the competition was an excellent foundation for the future for the U.S. bronze medalist.

“I’m planning on building on it for my next big event – US Nationals,” explained Wagner. “I started the season very slowly. NHK Trophy was not good. I came to Russia planning to skate better and I accomplished that. I need to get out on the ice and skate as I did here. I was calm, I did everything. If I skate like that, hopefully I will qualify in my own country.”

A notch below the top three, three other skaters finished within one point from one another.

USA’s Agnes Zawadzki slipped to fourth place with a performance which featured a strong double Axel – triple toe loop combination and a good triple Lutz – double toe, but had no other clean triple jump. Valentina Marchei of Italy pulled up to fifth place, while Russia’s Sofia Biryukova finished sixth, ahead of more her more experienced teammates Ksenia Makarova and Alena Leonova.

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