Leonova takes short program at Worlds

Alena Leonova

Alena Leonova of Russia performs to "Pirates of the Caribbean" at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships.

The 2012 World Figure Skating Championships continued with the Ladies Short Program. Russia’s Alena Leonova, whose best achievement to date was a bronze medal at the ISU Grand Prix Final, won the event, followed by Japan’s Kanako Murakami. Carolina Kostner of Italy, this season’s ISU Grand Prix Final and European Champion, finished third.

Leonova nailed her three jumping passes, including a triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination, in the first 40 seconds of the program and went on to entertain the audience with her interpretation of the Pirates of the Caribbean theme.

The student of Nikolai Morozov could have used better flow across the ice, especially in the second half of the step sequence, however, her energy and exuberance were unmatched.

Over the course of the season, Leonova has had plenty of time to polish minutiae details of expression and mimics, which allowed her to draw the audience into her performance and then capitalize on their enthusiastic support.

Leonova earned a season’s best of 64.61 points (the third highest score of the season in the world) and the highest technical score of the afternoon to win the event.

“Naturally, as I did 100 percent today, I am very happy,” exclaimed the skater at the press conference. “However, I have to say that I am more pleased with the excellent execution of jumps and high levels I got for spins and steps than I am with the fact what I won the event. It is the best performance of the season and maybe the best performance of my career. The cleanest one, not a single mistake, so I am very happy.”

The 2012 Russian National Championships bronze medalist said that engaging the audience was a part of the plan right from the start.

“Right from the beginning, when we started to choreograph this program, I wanted to put a lot emotions into it,” the 21-year-old explained. “I tried to copy everything Nikolai (Morozov) was doing.”

“Today I have also tried to give my best and I am very happy that my emotions reached the spectators,” she continued. “There were not so many people today, because it’s a weekday and people are at work, but still the audience was very supportive. I felt their support at the warm up and a lot of Russian fans came here. It was a pleasure to perform here.”

Leonova, who is better known for her comebacks in free skating than for delivering solid short programs, said that her plan is to put today’s result out of her mind.

“The first thing my coach told me in the kiss’n'cry was to forget the way I have skated today and not to think about the placement,” she said. “Well, he did congratulate me first, of course, but still what he told me was to take a break, go to the sea and relax.”

“At first I was a bit upset when I learned that we will have a day off between two programs,” she continued. “It has been a while since I had to deal with such a schedule, but after the end of the performance I really felt that I needed this break, a time off. I will train a bit, root for our guys tomorrow, but I also plan to take a stroll and enjoy the weather, which is really great here.”

In contrast to the Russian, Murakami displayed an excellent flow throughout her routine to “Violin Muse”, however, her expression was somewhat uneven varying between a determination to deliver clean elements and genuine expression of the music.

Murakami’s technical content was identical to Leonova’s, which was reflected in only a 0.03-point difference between them in the technical score. However, the lower program components put her close second with 62.67 points in total.

“Since my arrival in Nice, I was not skating well,” confessed the 17-year-old at the press conference. “So, I had that uncertain feeling before the competition, but I was able to perform well today and I am very satisfied right now.”

She believes her coach’s advice, along with the strength of the Japanese Ladies programs, are responsible for her success.

“As I have said I did not have good practices here,” Murakami explained, “but my coach encouraged me and helped me to change my mindset and skate well. We have many strong skaters in Japan, and I have learned so much from them. Maybe they are one of the reasons I am sitting here right now.”

The 2010 World Junior Champion also feels that she will benefit from a break.

“I like having one day in between two programs,” she said. “I can recover from the tiredness.”

Kostner landed a flawless triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination, but then popped a triple loop out of steps into a double. The mistake was enough to put her into the third place, even though in the past judges often allowed Kostner’s superior skating skills and choreography to overcome even greater odds.

This time, however, they only gave a perfunctory nod to the overall quality of her routine to Allegretto by Dmitri Shostakovich, making her the only skater to earn more than 30 points for the program components score. However, only a 0.77-point advantage over Leonova in this aspect was not enough to compensate for the difference in the technical content.

It did not help that the student of Michael Huth also only earned a level three for two of her spins. In the end, the European Champion picked up 61.00 points and was the last skater to score above the 60-point benchmark.

“I have mixed feelings about my program,” said the six-time Italian Champion. “On the whole, it was really good, but I made a mistake on a jump which made me quite angry at first because it was one of those jumps I have not missed in ages.”

“I guess one needs a mistake like this to bring one back to earth and to tell you that you have to keep focus till the end,” lamented the 25-year-old.. “This is something I am going to focus on on Saturday.”

Kostner arrived late and had limited chances to practice on the main rink, but she had no complaints about it.

“I arrived in Nice only on Tuesday evening,” she explained, “so on Wednesday I had a practice on the practice rink and this morning I had a practice here. I cannot complain, though, I like the ice, it is very smooth.”

The veteran skater, who is making her 10th appearance at this event, said it took a while for Shostakovich’s music to grow on her.

“When Lori (Nichol) first proposed this music to me last season, I was not ready; I felt it was just noise,” Kostner joked. “However, this season we listened to it again and I changed my mind. We had too much fun choreographing the program. What is special about figure skating is that you can create something new. This program helps me to find new ways of being me, so I learned to love it. ”

The skater, who has won four European titles, two World bronze medals, and one World silver medal, says that her goal now is to simply enjoy figure skating. A chance to win the the elusive World title would merely be icing on the cake.

“After the Vancouver Olympics I wanted to stop skating,” said Kostner. “I actually stopped for a while, but then I realized that I missed it a lot. I missed skating and I missed my life as an athlete, so I started skating again.”

“My goal now is to enjoy skating, not to win medals,” she summed up. “I love what I am doing and know that I am not going to do it forever anymore. I love that I still have a chance to win a medal.  I work hard for it everyday, but I am just trying to do my best and let the judges decide about the placement.”

Japan’s Mao Asada fell on an underrotated triple Axel attempt which was downgraded by the technical panel. However, even with such a disappointing mistake at the beginning of the program, her performance was once of the finest this afternoon. With no triple-triple,  she only received the fifth highest technical score of the night and finished fourth with 59.49 points.

“I was a little worried about the triple Axel because I haven’t done it well since I got to Nice in the practice or in the warm up,” said the student of Nobuo Sato. “I am really disappointed about today’s performance. I felt a lot of support from the audience and I wanted to show my best to raise to their expectations. I’ll just try to put this performance aside and change my mindset for the free skating.”

Teammate Akiko Suzuki is right behind Asada with 59.38 points. She opened her performance to Hungarian Rhapsody with a triple toe loop – triple toe loop combination, but doubled a triple Lutz.

“I did not feel good today,” said the 2010 Four Continents silver medalist. “I know I was nervous and tense, but I wanted to turn the nervousness into positive energy. I focused on my triple toe-triple toe too much maybe. I was not thinking ahead about other elements, and this may be the reason why I made the mistake on the Lutz. I am disappointed with what I did today. I’d like to use the crowd’s energy in my free skating performance.”

Russia’s Ksenia Makarova delivered a season best performance of her lyrical routine to Maria and the Violins Strings in which the skater aptly portraits an artist who struggles to produce a picture perfect enough to match her imagination. After struggling with consistency all season long , this time the former national champion was finally able to deliver a flawless program to get 58.51 points for a sixth place finish.

“I am very satisfied with my performance,” said the student of Evgeny Rukavistin, whose participation in the World Championships was in doubt after her less than stellar performances in the long program at the National Championships in December and the European Championships in January.

“I didn’t have more pressure this time than before,” the 19-year-old claimed. “I didn’t feel I had to prove anything. I just wanted to stay clean and skate for myself. ”

“My preparation was more to stay healthy,” said the former Russian Champion. I was sick after Europeans and a little injured, but I am perfectly fine now. In the free skate, I want to show my triple Lutz, which I learned not too long ago, and of course I want enjoy skating here again, just as I did today.”

Elene Gedevanishvili from Georgia opened her routine by nailing the hardest combination jump of the afternoon – a triple Lutz – triple toe loop, which alone earned her 11.10 points, but she singled Axel later in the program. She is seventh with 58.49 points.

“I felt my performance was good and I enjoyed skating the program today,” said the 22-year-old. “It wasn’t perfect – I was upset about my double Axel. I guess I got a little too excited and I stopped feeling my feet.”

“I want to skate a solid free skate like I’ve been skating all year,” shared the student of Brian Orser. “I’ve worked really hard for this competition and I hope it’s going to show.”

USA’s Ashley Wagner finished in a somewhat distant eighth  (56.42) after she stepped out of her triple flip landing, which was supposed to be the first jump in a triple-triple combination.

“Overall it was a really long waiting period,” said the U.S. Champions,  who was last to skate in her warm up group. “I guess that’s why I struggled with the triple flip, but I think I came back extremely strong with that performance, considering the level of pressure at this competition and the high level of competition.”

“I think what I accomplished was pretty big considering I didn’t have the strongest elements today,” observed the 20-year-old. ” A clean free skate program is going to get me where I want to be and I just have to go out, keep focused, and I’ll be set.”

Wagner is followed by China’s Kexin Zhang, who posted the third highest technical score of the night and earned 55.00 points overall.

“I think I did well today – it was my best score of the season and I’m happy I landed all my jumps, including my triple-triple,” said the 16-year-old debutant. “I like France and hope to have time to visit some sights while I’m here. I’m not thinking about my final placement, but hope to skate as well in my free skate tomorrow.”

Viktoria Helgesson from Sweden rounds up top ten with 54.19 points.

In the most heart-breaking performance of the afternoon, USA’s Alissa Czisny missed all three jumping passes in her routine to finish 16th with 48.31 points. The student of Yuko Sato and Jason Dungjen was in tears at the end of her skate and was at loss to explain what has happened.

“I want to thank the audience for being great even though I wasn’t my best today,” she said the two-time U.S. Champion. “I don’t really know what happened. The jumps weren’t there. I have to take what I’ve learned to do and use that in the free skate.”

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