Golden Skate

Asada nails Short Program at Grand Prix Final

Mao Asada at the 2012-13 Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating

Japan’s Mao Asada performs to Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” at the 2012-13 ISU Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating.

In the first event of the Senior part of the 2012-13 ISU Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating, Japan’s Mao Asada edged out USA’s Ashley Wagner for the lead, while teammate Akiko Suzuki finished third.

Skating last, Asada was upbeat and entertaining in her routine set to I’ve Got Rhythm by George Gershwin. She landed a floating double Axel and a triple flip-double loop combination, and picked up a level four for all her non-jumping elements.

Despite her technical proficiency and excellent skating skills, the Olympic silver medalist’s program appeared to be almost superficial for a skater of her caliber. The student of Nobuo Sato was relaxed and carefree throughout, and was obviously enjoying her performance.

However, the program did not require her to demonstrate her ability to interact with her music on a more profound level to the extent to which some of her most memorable routines have in the past.

“The short program of this season was made in a way that I should be able to enjoy skating,” explained Asada. “Every time I come to the rink and practice, I enjoy skating. At every practice, I’m always skating with a smile on my face and this season, especially in the actual competition, I think I’m able to convey my joy and happiness thorough this program.”

She scored 66.96 (35.02/31.94) points, picking up the highest sums for both the technique and program components.

“I’m very glad that I performed all my jumps well,” summed up the 22-year-old. “While preparing for the competition, I tried to get rid of negative thoughts and skate the way I always do. The main goal for me is to focus on the upcoming free program and to tackle pre-skate jitters. I’ll try to relax before the free skating.”

Wagner, who was the front-runner after winning two events with impressive scores, had to settle for a runner-up position in Sochi. She was also flawless, and earned a level four for all her spins and steps, but a slight disadvantage in the basic value of the program (28.94 for the American vs. 29.31 for the Japanese), as well as a 0.5 point difference in Asada’s favor in program components scores, put her in second place with a score of 66.44 points (34.95/31.49) points – a new personal best.

The contrast between the two skaters could not have been more pronounced. Where Asada was cheerful and easy-going, Wagner, who skated to the famous Red Violin soundtrack, was sinister and sophisticated. The complex choreography of her routine required total commitment and perfect body line, and the student of John Nicks was up to the task.

“I’m very excited about my personal best,” said Wagner. “I wanted to mainly improve on my spin levels. The last two competitions I didn’t have my spin levels and I proved to myself that I’m capable of doing it in competition here for the short. So hopefully I can make that happen in the long program.”

“I think it was a great program,” added the US champion. “All this Grand Prix season I’ve had solid performances, and this time I was able to squeeze three more points out of that short program. I think I’m in a great place going into tomorrow.”

Ironically, Asada and Wagner were the only two skaters among the sixth finalists not to attempt a triple-triple combination.

“It’s a day by day type of a deal,” said the 21-year-old about her progress with the element. “I prefer to go out onto the ice and compete a program that I’m one hundred percent confident in, and I think that going into this competition with a triple-triple was too early.”

The Four Continents champion does not believe it will be necessary for a victory tomorrow.

“I think the one that’s going to be on top of the podium is who skates the cleanest,” she said. “I have to figure out if that’s going to help to get there or not. This past season I’ve had three really solid long programs, and I think if I kind of keep continuing on that trend, I’ll be very pleased.”

Suzuki, who made major mistakes at her both Grand Prix events, told the press before the start of the competition that her focus will be on skating a clean short. In order to achieve it, the student of Hiroshi Nagakubo replaced her triple Lutz out of steps with a triple flip. It certainly helped.

While the 2012 World silver medalist was not entirely clean (she stumbled during her flying camel spin), she landed and fully rotated all her jumps, picking up 65.00 (34.63/30.37) points for her effort.

“Of course in the two short programs in the Grand Prix series I didn’t do well, so it pushed me back and I needed to catch up with my free program,” Suzuki explained. “I started to have a negative mind set about my short program that I might not be able to do this very well. This actually helped me to change my mind set completely, and I have nothing else here anymore, so I all I had to do was to be aggressive and put my energy into that.”

Aggressive was certainly a very appropriate word to describe her performance to the Kill Bill and Once Upon a Time in Mexico soundtracks. The 27-year-old broke away from ‘ice princess’ image female skaters are still expected to adhere to, and showed a lot of fighting spirit in her sharp and brusque moves.

“I like my short program,” said Suzuki. “It’s very dynamic and cheerful, so I try to be equally energetic while skating it.”

The judges, unfortunately, were not quite convinced. Despite the intensity of her performance, she only earned the fourth highest program component score.

Finland’s Kiira Korpi, for whom this is the first ISU Grand Prix Final of her career, had to overcome a lot of difficulties just to skate in Sochi.

“After the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow I hurt my back,” she explained, “so I had to be off the ice for one week. Then I started training again, and I got a stomach flu, so I did not really have so many training days. Even last week, I was a bit uncertain if I would be in [good] physical condition to come here, but luckily I beat the flu and I was able to come.”

Considering the circumstances her performance to The Girl with Flaxen Hair by Claude Debussy was quite strong. Her only mistake was underrotating the second jump in a triple toe-triple toe combination.

“It was not perfect,” admitted the 24-year-old, “but I think I did a good job. My preparation for this event was not very good, so I am happy that I still can do a pretty good performance.”

She scored 63.42 (32.67/30.75) to become the last skater to score above 60 points.

“It’s not my personal best, but it is the best result this season,” the 2012 European silver medalist told the press, “so of course I am happy about it. Tomorrow, I just want to do a good program. I will try to fight until the end and show my best.”

The lone representative of the hosts, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, was once again unable to deliver a clean short program. The student of Alexei Mishin returned to last season’s program to Dark Eyes, which, according to her, ‘is more comfortable’. However, she still opened up the second jump of her planned triple toe-triple toe in the air. In the end, it became a flawed 3-2 combination. Nevertheless, she managed to pick up 56.61 (29.12/27.49) points.

“I didn’t skate very well, so I didn’t expect to get high marks to be honest,” said the 15-year-old. “I’ll try to make up for it in the free program. I didn’t feel that well this morning, and the morning practice didn’t go as well as I was hoping for. I still feel the effects of a recent cold, and I couldn’t quite regain the good form that I had after Paris.”

USA’s Christina Gao crashed on her opening triple toe, and later underrotated her triple loop to finish sixth (48.56).

“I did not skate my best, and that was pretty disappointing,” said the skater, who was a last-minute addition to the roster following the withdrawal of Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia. “I am just really happy to be here, and to get a chance to be at the Grand Prix final is great.”

“I didn’t have much time to prepare, but no excuses,” added the Skate America silver medalist. “I’ve been well-trained all year, and today my legs were a little shaky. The same thing happened at my Grand Prix in Paris and I missed the triple-triple. I think I didn’t get a good entrance again which is disappointing.”

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