Home Figure Skating News Mihara surprises in Torino; captures gold

Mihara surprises in Torino; captures gold

by Paula Slater
Iana Saveleva

2022-23 Grand Prix Final Women Free Skate

Mai Mihara of Japan after performing her Free Skate at the 2022-23 Grand Prix Final in Torino, Italy.

2022-23 Grand Prix Final: Women’s Free Skate

Japan’s Mai Mihara surprised in Torino, Italy, at the 2022-23 Grand Prix Final, capturing the gold medal in the Women’s event. USA’s Isabeau Levito rose three spots to capture the silver, while Loena Hendrickx of Belgium maintained third to claim the bronze.

Mai Mihara (JPN)

Mihara had a good start in her engaging program to “El Amor Brujo” by Manuel De Falla, opening with a solid double Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe, and triple Salchow. The two-time Four Continents champion received an edge call on a triple flip and then underrotated the back-end of a double Axel-triple toe. She went on to land a good triple Lutz-double toe-double loop, but then stepped out of and put a hand down on the landing of the loop which was marked as a fall. However, she picked up a level four on all spins and footwork, which earned positive grades of execution (GOE), and scored 133.59 points for first place. Her total score was 208.17.

“It’s surprising for me,” said the 23-year-old from Kobe. “It’s unbelievable! I’m so happy to be here after the skate, and I’m so grateful to the audience, my coach, my family and all fans. Thank you so much! The biggest mistake I made was my loop. The fact is, towards the end, my right leg felt heavy. In the double Axel-triple toe, I think I could have done better. The program was not perfect, and there are places I could do better. A lot to go up, but looking back, it was really difficult for me to make my prime condition for this performance. I think in what I could do with this performance, I did my best.”

The skater, who won both her individual grand prix events, admitted to being very nervous, but wanted to have fun and focus until the end of her routine.

“I didn’t do perfect in Finland, so I wanted to overcome the challenges I faced there,” she said. “I didn’t have that much confidence. My coach said that I was lucky to have 30 points (qualifying points for the Final) and to concentrate going into the Final. My feeling was how I couldn’t make it to the podium until now. In the past, I suffered with the situation. So I really practiced hard, and I tried to express my feelings of gratitude and happiness just being able to skate here.”

Mihara and Sakamoto have been training together intermittently since they were novice skaters, and Mihara has watched her carefully over the years.

“I love her dynamic jumps and the power she brings to the skating,” she said of Sakamoto. “She has a new short and long program every year. The programs are new, but she always brings her own color, her own touches, and I really love to see her from the close position. It has been such a long time since we practiced and skated together, but it’s our first time at the Grand Prix Final together. I was really excited about that. In fact, during the competition season, we couldn’t see each other much at home, but a few days ahead of the Final, we practiced together and in the final event. We did all the warm ups and practices together, which I found every gratifying.”

Isabeau Levito (USA)

Levito put out a lyrical program to “Dulsea Si Tandra Mea Fiara” from My Sweet and Tender Beast which featured four clean triple jumps, including a triple Lutz-Euler-triple Salchow. The 15-year-old had a rough start when she stepped out of the back-end of a triple Lutz-triple loop. Later in the program, she fell on a triple flip, but she earned a level four for her strong footwork and  final spin. The 2022 World Junior Champion scored 127.97 points for her free skate, and with a total score of 197.23, rose from fifth to second overall.

The skater was not happy with herself, and expressed that in the mixed zone.

“The one mistake takes points away, but the stuff that is easy or might feel easy compared to the hard things, together they add up,” she pointed out. “That’s what makes the overall main score, and I have to keep that in mind. It’s the small things that I can do well, and will do well. It’s more important than that mistake.”

When the young skater learned she had medaled, she was shocked.

“When I was done with my program, I didn’t expect to be in the placement I am now,” said Levito. “I want to thank my coaches and everyone who helps me! The tension is very high and everyone was understandably nervous, it’s the best of the best. For me, I felt it’s my first Grand Prix Final and my first season as a senior. You kind of know what to expect, but you don’t really know how it feels, in fact.”

Levito also said that competing on the Grand Prix Final feels “very grown up” and that it’s a “big deal” for her.

“I’m glad that I was able to make it to the senior Grand Prix this year so I can be more prepared for the next Final, hopefully one day,” she said. “The next competition is going to be the US nationals in about a month from now.”

Loena Hendrickx (BEL)

Hendrickx struggled on several jumps in her program to “Heaven” and “Fallen Angel” by Karl Hugo, and the mistakes were costly. The 2022 World silver medalist underrotated and stepped out of the back-end of her opening triple Lutz-triple toe and then took a fall on a triple flip. She then underrotated the front-end of a triple Lutz-double toe as well as a triple Salchow. The footwork was graded a level three with many GOES, as were the three level-four spins, and she score 122.11 for fourth place in the free skate and overall (196.35). While she had the second highest components score, it was clear this wasn’t the performance the powerful skater wanted.

The 23-year-old from Arendonk felt that her training in the morning was “perfect,” and she wanted to show that in the competition. In fact, it gave her confidence going into the free skate.

“It didn’t come out and I don’t know why,” said the disappointed skater. “There is no reason. I just wasn’t ready this moment. I felt ready, because this morning was just the best practice I’ve ever had in competition, so I hoped that I could rely on that. But every moment, every timing, it’s a different thing. And then you have to do it all over again every time you do a program on training or in competition.”

Hendrickx tried to enjoy the experience at the Grand Prix Final as much as she could, and despite the sub-par performance, is happy with the result.

“It’s really unique to stand here,” she said. “It was really special for me, but I wanted to skate both programs clean, but it didn’t happen. It really sucks and I’m really sad about this. A bit angry as well, because I knew I could (do it). My next goal is Europeans, to skate both programs clean, and I really want to go for the medals and I aim for the gold.”

Rinka Watanabe (JPN)

Watanabe underrotated and stood up on the landing a triple Axel in the opening of her routine to music from the Jin soundtrack. The 2022 Skate Canada Champion also underrotated the front-end of a triple loop-triple toe and later fell on a triple Lutz. Despite the mistakes, she still showed beautiful level four spins and footwork to score 123.43 for third place place. With a total score of 196.01, she remained in fourth overall in her debut at this event.

This is the first senior year for the 20-year-old from Tokyo, who won a challenger event earlier this season at Lombardia Trophy. She later finished fifth in her second grand prix event in Japan. She was thrilled that she was able to move past the 70-point mark in the short program, but admitted to being nervous for the free skate.

“I think I still did pretty good,” Watanabe said. “I can learn from today and after Nationals, I just want to do my best.”

The skater is close to Ami Nakai, whom she trains with in Chiba. Nakai was competing in the Junior competition.

“I was more nervous about Ami’s performance than about my own, and I was watching her with all my might,” said Watanabe. “It’s not good to go into a program too nervous.  Maybe because I was so nervous about her performance, I was not that nervous about my own, so I think I was able to skate in my own way. To be able to get called one-san (older sister, very polite way to call a senior) by my junior and receiving so much from her, her existence plays a big role in my life. I hope that next year we can return to the Final and watch each other’s backs.”

“A lot of first for me in the competiton. Usually I have a bad SP and a good LP, this time it was the other way around. I liked the overall experience anhope to come back to another #GPFinal. I think I learned a lot from this competiton”

Kaori Sakamoto (JPN)

Sakamoto had a good start in her routine to “Elastic Heart” and “Lovation,” landing a smooth double Axel that garnered several +5 GOES. However, she then stepped out of a triple Lutz. The 2022 Olympic bronze medalist went on to land a triple Salchow and triple flip-double toe, but then doubled a flip and popped a toeloop. After losing valuable points, the skater ended up with 116.70 for a sixth-place finish in the free skate. Here total score of 192.56 brought the overnight leader down to fifth place overall.

“I made mistakes and I already didn’t succeed in my practice,” acknowledged the world champion. “With only six skaters competing, it’s very close and you cannot allow yourself to do mistakes, but I did. That’s very frustrating and led to this result.”

The 22-year-old said that she didn’t feel her condition was up to senior standards. She chalked it up to a combination of “mental” and “the accumulation of practices.”

“In any case, I have no other choice but to accept this result,” said Sakamoto. “There were times in my free practice lately where I couldn’t do it until the end unless I took out spins or steps a little. But if I do that, I end up not being able to continue until the end in competitions. I felt that all through this season. Which made me realize, once again, that it’s the challenge I face. For my feelings, in the middle, I skated while feeling that moving my body was difficult and it continued that way until the end.”

“Next is nationals, which is really close, she summed up. “So, going towards that, I want to face it positively and (do better).”

Yelim Kim (KOR)

Kim fell on her opening triple Lutz in her routine to “Summer Of 42,”, but quickly recovered to land a double Axel, triple loop, and triple flip. However, she received an edge call on a triple Lutz-double toe-double loop. The second jump was called a quarter underrotated, and she also underrotated and stepped out of the third jump. The 2022 Four Continents bronze medalist then underrotated the front end of a triple Salchow-double toe. She finished fifth (119.03) in the free skate, but maintained sixth overall (180.58)

The skater didn’t feel too bad as this was her first trip to the Grand Prix Final, which has been a goal since she ranked up to the senior level. She is really thankful to all of her fans who supported and cheered her on, stating that “it helped her a lot.” Her next competition will be the Korean National Championships.

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