2023 Grand Prix Espoo: Men
Japan’s Kao Miura captured his first Grand Prix gold in Espoo, Finland, on Saturday afternoon. Teammate Shun Sato maintained second place for the silver, while Kevin Aymoz of France rose from fifth to pocket the bronze.
Miura nailed his jumps in his routine to “This Place Was a Shelter,” landing a quad Salchow-triple toe, triple Axel and quad toe. However, he left a few points on the table as his final spin didn’t receive any points. The other two spins and footwork were graded a level four, and he scored a season’s best of 93.54 for first place in this segment.
“I was able to add up the points to get a winning score, and I think it was mostly clean,” said the 2023 World Junior champion. “I’m quite hurt by the zero points for my spin. I think I was not bent down enough on my sit spin; it was not low enough. I want to definitely avoid that in my free skate, and above that, if I can land my jumps, I think I will be able to win.”
The skater had watched Shun Sato’s program.
“We have a resolution of going to the Final together, and that’s how we came into Finland,” Miura said. “I’m happy that Shun had a good performance, and moreover, it gives me motivation to do my best as well. Taking power from Shun at that point, I did it today with the intention of continuing this way.”
The 2023 Four Continents champion improved his season’s best on his free skate since 2023 Skate Canada where he took silver. He landed a triple Axel-Euler-triple Salchow, quad toe-triple toe, quad Salchow, and quad toe in his high-octane routine to music from Attack On Titan. He also landed three more clean triple jumps, including a solo Axel. The footwork dropped to a level three at this event, and he scored 181.02 for second place in the free skate. However, his total score of 274.56 was enough to maintain first overall with less that 1.22 points to spare.
“I am happy I was able to show what I can today,” said Miura. “I had some problems with my spins, and I really want to work on that.”
Miura noted that after Sato skated, he wouldn’t be able to win unless he increased his difficulty.
“We had a three-point difference in our short programs, so even just one mistake would’ve definitely made me lose,” Miura noted. “That’s why I first thought I had to land all jumps cleanly. But that affected my spins. I was nervous and my legs were also shaking. I’m having this kind of experience for this first time in a while. I also felt the fear of Shun!”
“I’m glad that I was able to perform well too,” he added. “Although I am second place in the free skate, I think that’s because of my spins. I lost completely because of my spins. Last year, I became second after (Ilia) Malinin and Shoma (Uno). But the second place there was a result of what I was capable of. So back then I didn’t really feel frustrated about it. So, this season, getting second place at three competitions in a row was really frustrating. So, I really wanted to win.”
Miura admitted talking about this with Shun and the fact that when they appear together at the same competition, they have good performances.
“From the point of rehearsal, we understand each other’s mental state pretty well,” said Miura. “Shun also says that when he skates with me, he gets more excited about it. I’m also, even without realizing it myself, just because Shun is there, more focused during practices and train well. I hope to keep doing that.”
The skater, who is thrilled that he qualified for the Final, doesn’t want to “embarrass” himself in Beijing.
“If I can do spins properly, I think I can go over 100 points in the short, 195 points in the free,” Miura acknowledged. “It’s the same with the GOE of jumps. I want to work on it in these two weeks and go into it with a feeling of not wanting to lose. Last year I had a bad performance because I felt that I wouldn’t be able to win. That’s why I want to think I will win.”
Miura also added that he’s a big fan of Kevin Aymoz and was excited to be sitting next to him in the press conference.
Sato landed a quad flip on the quarter, but the quad toe-triple toe and triple Axel were solid in his short to “Libertango.” In fact, his combination jump received many high grades of execution (GOE). Two spins were graded a level four and he picked up 90.41 points for second place.
“My skating felt really good, but I am disappointed on the deduction on the flip,” said the 2023 Four Continents bronze medalist. “The question is whether I will practice my flip more, or if I’ll do a quad jump. I thought I’ll give it a try.”
“I was feeling stressed, which lead to my mistake,” Sato added. “I don’t usually make this mistake in practice, but I realized it was the actual performance which made me nervous. It made me nervous, but I felt better after landing my Axel. I think there were some parts that didn’t match the music, but I hope to fix that moving forward.”
Sato redeemed had a great free skate, landing a quad Lutz, quad toe-triple toe, and quad toe. He also delivered a triple Axel-Euler-double Salchow and three more clean triple jumps, including an Axel. Two of his spins were graded a level four, while the footwork was a level three. The 2023 Skate America bronze medalist picked up a new person best (182.93) for his routine to The Four Seasons, placing first in the free skate. His total score of 273.34 was also a personal best.
“I am happy I could deliver a good performance for my fans today,” said the 19-year-old. “I think the flow and my landings were really good today.”
The skater doesn’t think he will qualify for the Finals but was still able to enjoy his time in Espoo.
“I’m really happy that I was able to skate together with Kao,” he said. “I think part of the reason why we both felt like we wanted to do our best is because we came to this competition together, so I’m really thankful for him. I am happy about the first place in the free. I think getting second place overall is good. I was able to land Lutz well too, and I think I did what I was supposed to do. Nationals will be very important for me now!”
Aymoz popped his opening quad Salchow in the short, and underrotated the backend of a triple Lutz-double toe. While the spins and footwork were excellent, as was the triple Axel, he found himself in fifth place with 73.94 points. It was more than 24 points off his season’s best from Skate America last month (97.34) and he was not amused.
However, he fared better in his captivating free skate to “Boléro.” The 26-year-old was near solid with the exception of a step out on a triple flip which received an edge call. He landed solid quad toe and a total of six clean triple jumps, including two triple Axels. He received a level four for two spins, but the flying sit spin only received a base value. The footwork was graded a level three and he picked up many positive grades of execution (GOE) throughout. He scored 176.09 for third place in the free skate and rose to third overall (250.03).
“This was a nightmare competition for me,” said five-time national champion. “I didn’t feel mentally ready. Physically I was ready, maybe even too much. I had many clean run-throughs in practice. After the short program, I felt like I wanted to withdraw, but it’s impolite to do that in regards for the fans. But I am really proud of what I showed today and want to thank everyone for their support!”
“I am glad to have such a great support system around me that helped me and cheered me up,” the Frenchman added. “I came today with no goals. I was just here because I love figure skating and I wanted to fight. Now I am going to work even harder back at home. I landed the quad Salchow again in practice, so I want to come back with two quads. I want to take every day as a gift, keep being healthy and dream big.”
Matteo Rizzo of Italy, who is still nursing a right leg injury from September, underrotated and fell on his opening jump, a quad toe in the short. He also struggled to hang onto the landing of a triple Lutz and triple Axel, but the level-four footwork was superb. He finished sixth (73.37) going into the free skate.
“I am not feeling great after this skate, but I can’t give any answers yet about what happened,” said the 2023 Skate Canada bronze medalist. “We will have to analyze it. I never added a combo to the quad loop, so I quickly needed to change my plan and threw in the Lutz.”
“But I think it will be an interesting competition,” he added. “It’s 20 points to the top, seventh to third place. The level in men’s skating is so high right now, but that also carries huge risks and as I said in Canada, a lot can happen. The idea of winning here was not really putting any extra pressure on. Maybe the thought of the Final a bit.”
The 2023 European silver medalist opened his free skate to “Fix You” with a quad toe, but underrotated the quad loop. He also later stepped out of a triple Axel, but the rest of his jumps were solid. He landed a total of six clean triples. Unfortunately, he lost points on his choreo sequence as the judges deemed there was only one movement – two are required, before he started his steps. He finished fourth in the free skate and overall (168.10/241.47).
“I did what I could,” said Rizzo. “I am pleased with myself! But I really can’t understand how I ended up getting an underrotation on the loop. I saw the mark; it was not under! Also, a “zero” on the choreo sequence. I lost 10 points because of that (both marks total), and it feels really frustrating right now!”
Nikolaj Memola of Italy was seventh going into the free skate. Like the short program, he fell on the solo quad Lutz. He received an edge call on that jump, as well as on the first quad Lutz in combination with a triple toe. He still landed a total of five jumps, including two triple Axels, but his change sit spin received negative GOEs and the steps were only graded a level two. He placed fifth in the free skate (149.14) and overall (221.25).
The skater, who turned 20 today, said he’d prefer to be a party on his birthday.
“I am happy with the first quad,” said the 2023 Budapest Trophy champion. “Actually, I land 90-95% of the quads in practice. Also, this morning at 7am, a time where I usually never train, I landed both of my quads in the run-through.”
“During the competition I start to overthink,” he added. “I think it’s better to think less. I want to compete a bit more to ‘break the ice.’ Thus, I will compete at a local competition in Italy next week.”
“It really motivates me to compete with strong skaters like Ilia and Kao,” Memola summed up. “They show me what is humanly possible, and I want to learn from Kao how to be such a strong competitor. He delivered amazingly in competition despite a bad practice. I love to skate with stronger skaters.”
Japan’s Koshiro Shimada, who twisted his ankle a week before Grand Prix de France, struggled with his jumps in his short program to “Sing, Sing, Sing.” The national silver medalist put a foot down on a quad Salchow and the back end of a triple Lutz-triple toe. He also stepped out the landing of a triple Axel, but two spins were graded a level four.
“Despite doing some costly mistakes on the jumps I was able to enjoy myself on the ice today!” he said. “I was still a bit hesitant because of the injury but found the right rhythm for the jumps actually in the six-minute warm-up!”
Going into the free skate, the goal for Shimada simply wants to enjoy his skating and the experience as a whole, as well as focusing on his presentation.
“I want to not focus too much on the jumps, although they are of course important!” he said. “I want to show them my skating and that I just enjoy it. I wasn’t fully able to enjoy it in France, so that would be my goal!”
Shimada finished sixth (140.63) in the free skate after struggling with several jumps. The 2023 Nebelhorn Trophy bronze medalist stepped out of his opening quad Salchow. The quad toe was solid, but then he underrotated and fell on a triple Axel combo. He struggled with the landing on two other jump combinations and slipped to sixth overall (218.44).
“I feel better than at the GP in France,” said the 22-year-old. “I am really proud that I went for the two quads despite maybe not being totally ready for it because of my injury. But after the very unusual mistake on the triple Axel-double toe, I lost my confidence a bit. This morning I had a nightmare practice, and I wasn’t sure if I was ready for this competition. But I found my rhythm again ahead of the skate.”
He will now return Switzerland to prepare for nationals. The plan is to go to Japan one week prior together with Stéphane Lambiel and possibly train with Shoma Uno. Next week he will be cheering for his teammates at NHK Trophy.
“Nationals is always the most important competition of the year for me, so I will try to get ready the best way possible,” said Shimada. “Last year, nationals were my career-highlight so far, but this year it’s going to be a new competition all over!”
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