Home Figure Skating News Kaori Sakamoto reigns at Grand Prix Espoo

Kaori Sakamoto reigns at Grand Prix Espoo

by Paula Slater
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Kaori Sakamoto

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto won her fifth Grand Prix gold at 2023 Grand Prix Espoo in Finland on November 18, 2023.

2023 Grand Prix Espoo: Women

Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto reigned the Women’s event with a convincing win at 2023 Grand Prix Espoo on Saturday in Finland. Teammate Rion Sumiyoshi stayed the course for the silver, while USA’s Amber Glenn rose from 11th to capture the bronze.

With this second win, Sakamoto has qualified for the Grand Prix Final in Beijing. There is still one event left to go (NHK Trophy) before the rest of the entries are solidified.

Kaori Sakamoto

Sakamoto received an edge call on a triple Lutz and doubled the front end of a triple flip-triple toe, but still managed to place first (69.69) in the short program. Her routine to “Baby, God Bless You” was otherwise highlighted by a superb double Axel and level-four layback spin. All elements were rewarded with positive grades of execution (GOE).

“This happened to me in the practices before,” she said the triple-triple combination. ” I stayed calm, and I was able to add the triple toe. I have to make sure to not make any mistakes tomorrow as the margin is close. I will have to do my best and skate clean.”

“One of my goals for myself is to be first on both of my Grand Prix assignments to go into the Final with confidence,” the 2022 Olympic bronze medalist added.

Sakamoto’s jazzy free skate to music by Lauryn Hill was not her best. The two-time World champion landed a beautiful double Axel, but received an edge call on a triple Luz and the triple Salchow was underrotated. She later stepped out of a triple loop, but managed two triple flips, both in combination. All three spins and footwork were graded a level four and her free skate score was 135.53. Her total score of 205.21 was more than enough to maintain her position at the top of the podium.

“Today I’m extremely shocked that they didn’t count the incomplete rotation,” Sakamoto noted. “Together with the error on my Lutz, I thought that today I wasn’t good at all. Even as I jumped, I realized it was an “e.” And it’s new that I’d have a “q” on my loop. I’m satisfied with all of today’s results. I wasn’t able to do it as well as I did in Skate Canada. I think that’s something for me to work on next.”

“This competition determined if I would make it to the Final,” she said. “I wanted to skate without any bigger mistakes, and I was luckily able to do that.”

Now she wants the gold in Beijing as well.

“I will be working very hard towards that,” said 2023 Skate Canada champion.

The Japanese champion admitted to being nervous before the free skate.

“I was quite anxious,” she said. “In the time before Rion got her scores, I was able to return to my feelings where I can skate normally. I think I was barely able to hold onto that until the end, somewhat.”

“I was able to achieve my objective of taking things step by step with the goal of the Final on my mind, so I’m happy in regard to that,” she added. “Today is actually my 20th year starting skating. It seems that I started on the 18th of November. I think in that sense it’s good that I was able to find something to work on from today’s performance. I was able to get level four in my step and spins after a while. I think that’s great of me, so I want to praise myself for it.”

Rion Sumiyoshi

Sumiyoshi picked up a new personal best for second place (68.65) for her short program to “Blood in the Water.” The 2023 Grand Prix de France bronze medalist landed a double Axel, triple flip-triple toe and triple Lutz. Two spins and the footwork were graded a level four, while the layback was a level three.

“I’m happy that I skated without any mistakes,” said the 20-year-old. “Of course, the better my short program is, the more I expect things from myself. I think being in the first group somewhat got me into a defensive mode. Like I’ve felt calmed down. I didn’t have much speed, and it wasn’t a performance that went as I imagined. I managed to accomplish things one by one, but I think I was cautious in a careful way.”

The 20-year-old didn’t fare so well in her free skate to “Enchantress.” She stepped out of an underrotated quad toe and triple Lutz, and also fell on a triple loop. She also landed the first jump of a triple flip-triple toe on the quarter, while the backend was underrotated. The only clean jumps were her opening double Axel-triple toe, triple Salchow-double toe-double loop and triple flip. However, all three spins warranted a level four. She finished third in the free skate (121.56) and was able to maintain second overall with a total score of 190.21.

Sumiyoshi said that after the short program, she felt like she could win this event.

“This made me lose my concentration a bit,” she said. “There is still the possibility I can make it to the Final, so I appreciate the result, but I am not that happy with my skate today. My goal is to have a competition with two clean skates including a quad. The performance turned out to be far from the performance I was aiming for, which is very frustrating. And the reason of my failure wasn’t because my take offs were bad, but because my landings were. I didn’t experience that until now, so it made me really confused in the middle of the competition. I think it was part of my improvement that I could pull it together in the second half.”

When asked if she got confused after her triple Lutz, the skater responded, “Right. I don’t usually make mistakes like that. In practices, if I can take off well, I can land it. I don’t usually make mistakes like that.”

The skater from Tokyo also relayed that she didn’t feel nervous going into the free skate.

“I was well focused,” she said. “So between the six-minute warmup until my performance, I think I made myself feel nervous a little bit.”

“I still feel that there are parts I’ve improved compared to last year,” she summed up. “I’m not the type of person who has a sudden growth. I’m the type who advances more like a turtle. But I think that’s good as it is. As I am. Without retreating, I think I manage to continue to move forward even a little. I felt a positive outcome in the short program, and in my free as well. Being able to reorganize in the second half like this makes me feel my improvement. Not just as a result, but I felt the positive outcome as for performance itself.”

Amber Glenn

Glenn had a subpar short program after putting a foot down on a doubled flip and underrotating the frontend of a triple loop-double toe. The first jump received no value, and as a result, she scored 51.61 points for 11th place.

The 2022 Skate America bronze medalist redeemed herself with a heartfelt and beautiful routine to “Exogenesis Symphony Part 3: Redemption” by Muse. The 24-year-old kept it together after popping the opening jump, a triple Axel. She landed a total of seven triple jumps, including a triple flip-triple toe and triple Lutz-double Axel-double toe sequence. All spins were graded a level four and she earned many positive GOEs throughout to finish second with a personal best of 133.78. Her total score of 185.39 was enough catapult her from 11th to third overall.

“Yesterday was just completely not my day, but I trusted in my training today,” said Glenn. “I trained so hard and well since Skate America, especially the second half of the free skate. I practiced it so much to make sure this won’t happen again.”

“Comparing the free skate score of here and Skate America shows that the triple Axel is not that important,” she added. “But now I will really try to bring both together.”

Glenn shared that she has always felt connected with her free skate music.

“I especially remember Ashley Wagner and Jeremy Abbott skating to it when I was an upcoming skater,” she shared. “It always really moved me, and I wanted to skate to it one day.”

“I am so surpised I am up here right now. My goal was to put out a strong second half today. I am not concerned with the Axel, as I know I have a very high percentage in practice. I am in shock that I am up here right now. I am excited where the rest of the season goes. I aim to put together two strong performances this season!”

Her next event will be the Challenger Series event Golden Spin of Zagreb.

Chaeyeon Kim

Chaeyeon Kim of South Korea underrotated the backend of a triple Lutz-triple toe in her short program, but the rest was clean. The 2023 Skate Canada silver medalist landed a double Axel and triple flip and showed three level-four spins to the tune of 66.19 points.

“I was even more nervous than ahead of the last competition,” said the 16-year-old. “I wanted to do even better. And maybe the Final was in my head a little bit. But unfortunately, I did a mistake today.”

Kim appeared cautious and tight in her free skate to the dramatic music of “Le Bal des folles.” She took a fall on a triple Lutz and then underrotated several jumps to finish fourth (115.23). Her total score was 181.42.

“I was just so nervous again,” said Kim. “I did many mistakes today. I really want to work on handling my nerves. Right now, I really don’t know what to do about that problem. I also want to work on small details in my program.”

Next for her is the Korean ranking competition in two weeks.

Lorine Schild

Lorine Schild of France, who finished eighth in her Grand Prix debut in her home country, placed fifth overall (175.71) at this event. It was a strong outing for the 18-year-old who will now focus on preparing for nationals.

“I was so happy to get two Grand Prix spots in the first place,” said the two-time and current national silver medalist. “I never would have imagined these good results. Especially as this is my first season where I compete fully in Seniors. I am super happy!”

She will now prepare for nationals, after which it will be decided who will get the women’s spot for Europeans. The whole season counts, but it’s very tight result-wise between Schild and Lea Serna.

Rounding out the top 12

This was a solo event for Nella Pelkonen of Finland who finished sixth (172.88).

Italy’s Lara Naki Gutmann placed seventh in the short and eighth in the free skate. She finished seventh overall with 168.33 points.

“I felt good after the skate, and especially until the second Lutz, I felt really powerful on the ice,” she said. “I am a bit disappointed with the score. I felt some of the underrotations they called, but not all of them. We will have to see what to work on. Maybe on the height of the jumps.”

Gutmann still has a very busy first half of the season ahead: a local Italian competition next week, Golden Spin of Zagreb, and then nationals.

Struggling to return from injury, Young You of the Republic of Korea placed eighth (168.14) overall. The skater, who recently switched coaches, still displayed maturity in her programs.

“I rushed the first half of the program too much, so the mistakes happened,” admitted the 19-year-old on her free skate. “Thankfully I put myself together in the second half and landed my jumps.”

“With my new coaching team, I will be working very hard on my stamina now, on the programs and the jumps,” You added. “When I was injured, I couldn’t train that much so that’s why I really need to build up my stamina.”

“Once again, I am so grateful to my fans that they are waiting for me to come back and are giving me all the time I need!” she summed up.

Japan’s Mana Kawabe placed seventh in the free skate and moved up from 12th to ninth overall (161.00).

“As there was no improvement in these two competitions (Grand Prix), if you ask me whether it was beneficial for me, I don’t feel that way,” she said. “I don’t think my practices were that bad. I want to work hard to be able to give my best in the actual performance. I want to practice properly for a month, and I hope to gain something for myself in the Nationals.”

USA’s Starr Andrews placed 10th (154.42), followed by Finland’s Janna Jyrkinen (153.74) and Oona Ounasvuori (144.16).

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