by Tatiana Flade
The Ladies’ short program at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan, on Thursday will be remembered a true highlight of the sport. Mao Asada of Japan set a new record score and landed a triple Axel, but also Carolina Kostner of Italy in second and Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia in third place as well as many others performed their very best.
Asada’s short program at the Olympic Games in Sochi was nightmare and when the 23-year-old stepped on to the ice in her purple dress, her fans held their breath. Luckily this time it was completely different. Asada opened her routine to Chopin’s “Nocturne” with a beautiful triple Axel that earned many +2 from the judges (just one gave a -1). In the replay, the jump looked a bit underrotated, but not so much that the technical panel called an under rotation. It was smooth sailing after the risky Axel, with a triple flip and triple loop-double loop. Mao flew through her step sequence and the crowd of 18,000 was on their feet. Hundreds of fans rushed closer to the boards to throw flowers and presents on the ice. With a personal best of 78.66 points, the two-time World Champion surpassed Yuna Kim’s record score of 78.50 points from the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. “From the beginning of the program I could concentrate on my jumps and the rest I focused on performing “Nocturne” full of love. At the last competition of this season I am happy to skate the best short program. I only thought about paying back the experience at Sochi. This time Lori Nichol, my choreographer, was also watching my program and a lot of people were watching. I was so glad that I could show them my best. I could turn their cheering into my power. My mission here is to perform both programs perfect, so already the half is done and tomorrow I want to focus on showing everything I have practiced,” Asada said. Setting a record came as a nice surprise to her, but she said this is something she is not aiming at.
Right after her it was Kanako Murakami’s turn. She under rotated the second jump in her triple toe-triple toe combo as well as the triple flip, which cost her dearly. She finished 10th with 60.86 points. “I made some little mistakes but it was better than the Olympic performance. I was happy that I could do a good double Axel. The steps, the triple-triple and spins were not stable, but it was better than what I did at the Olympic so I am satisfied with that,” Kanako noted.
Akiko Suzuki followed as the three Japanese girls had drawn to skate one after the other. Her “Hymne à l’amour” is a beautiful program. Like Asada, Suzuki had struggled in the short program and this time delivered a clean program that included a triple toe-triple toe, triple Lutz and, needless to say, level four spins and footwork. The 28-year-old picked up 71.02 points. “I really enjoyed being out there today. I wanted to be able to everything I’ve got as this is my last short program. I am so happy that I was able to get my personal best,” Akiko explained. “I kept thinking about all those who have supported me throughout and gave everything I’ve got to show my gratitude towards them. I was a little hesitant (about competing at Worlds) but after coming to the rink, I realized how many fans who have been supporting me and how long I have been skating. I am really glad I was able to do everything I can. I did trip a little bit, however even then, I just thought “this is so much like myself” and kept on skating. I want to skate and end tomorrow thinking how glad I am that I have skated all of these years,” she continued.
The next highlight was Carolina Kostner. The Italian seems to skate better and better with each competition this season and so her “Ave Maria” short program was not only the best of the season but one of the best of her career. The Olympic bronze medalist nailed a triple flip-triple toe, triple loop and double Axel with ease and her interpretation was exquisite. Kostner was rewarded with a personal best of 77.24 points for her effort. “This afternoon I felt much more nervous than in Sochi. I kept asking myself why. I think I was not sure if I was able to skate one more time with such a freedom, but then I kept on thinking about the Japanese audience, they have been waiting since 2011 to have this world championship here, so for me it felt almost an honor to skate and go on the ice and skate, and I felt the appreciation of the people. I calmed down and to remember what is important in skating (is) not just to think about the jumps and other elements, but to create something together,” Carolina said at the post event press conference. “It was funny that another thing that helped me to calm down was to see the little girls collecting the flowers. It popped into my mind that I was that little girl. If I ever had the chance to be on the ice with the champion, I would have given anything. That was actually a very special moment to remember that we all start from little and we all have a dream. And I have been living this dream, so I feel very honored to be here and be at the top of the sport for many years,” she added.
Lipnitskaia skated in the last flight and gave an excellent performance as well to “You Don’t Give Up On Love,” landing a triple Lutz-triple toe combination, a triple flip and impressed the crowd with her acrobatic spins. The European Champion scored 74.54 points, another personal best. “I am just so excited, because it was the best program of the season. I was able to show my level after the disappointing performance (in the individual event) in Sochi. I was calm. To have a seasons best is important,” the 15-year-old said. “Today my day consists of threes. I had starting number 30. Being third is fine for today. Obviously I hope to have a medal after the free skating,” she added.
Performing to a Piano Concerto by Edvard Grieg, Gracie Gold (USA) was another skater that turned in a clean program with a triple Lutz-triple toe, triple loop and strong spins to pick up a personal best of 70.31 points. „I was really happy about how I skated and I think I did just what I trained to do. I really enjoyed the performance and I thought that I did a really solid job. A couple of points I did leave on the table, and I definitely think I could be a little higher with the scores, but breaking 70 for the first time is very exciting,” the 18-year-old said. The US Champion has a plan for the free skating: “I just want to copy and paste my other performances of this season. I want to skate clean and be on my feet for all of the jumps and nailing the spins, especially the last minute when all of my hard tricks are done so I can just enjoy myself at my second World Championships.”
Russia’s Anna Pogorilaya, who came in as a replacement for Olympic Champion Adelina Sotnikova, completed a triple Lutz-triple toe and triple loop without hesitating in her routine to “El Choclo” to score 66.26 points, a new personal best. However, landing the double Axel war her highlight. “The most important thing for me is that I managed to do the double Axel,” she pointed out. The 15-year-old had some trouble with this jump earlier in the season. “I found out about five days before we came that I am going to Worlds. I have been training as the alternate and I wanted to go to two competitions in Slovenia and Italy anyway in order to gain world ranking points and not just sit around, doing nothing,” the 2013 World Junior bronze medalist explained. She sits in sixth place.
Ashley Wagner (USA) cheated her triple flip-triple toe combo that was downgraded and her triple loop was a bit shaky, but the other elements in her program to “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” were strong and she finished seventh (63.64 points).” It has been a really long season and I'm exhausted. So mentally it's tough to go out there and compete after everything I've given throughout the whole season. So I mean, I went for the triple-triple, a couple of little mistakes; the same as usual. Still I'm happy with that program. This is not my worlds to win; I know that. But I'm ready to wrap this season up, go home and start on some new stuff for next season and come back stronger than ever,” the 22-year-old said.
Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond produced a triple flip-triple toe and a triple Lutz in her upbeat program to “Sweet Charity,” but missed her layback spin of all things. At least she got the base level. At 62.92 points the Canadian Champion placed eighth.”I was trying new elements (triple flip-triple toe loep) that I've never done before in competition and even though I missed the (layback) spin, like my favorite spin, I'm still very happy with how it went,” Kaetlyn shared and went on to explain what happened on the spin: “I just got a little excited and pushed a little hard and lost my edge.”
Mae-Berenice Meite of France put out a clean short to “The Question of You” by Prince that included a triple toe-triple toe combination. She scored 61.62 points to finish ninth.
Mao Asada of Japan skated to her third World title in front of her home crowd and everybody was excited for her after her disappointment in Sotchi. Rising star Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia overtook Italy’s Carolina Kostner to earn the silver medal in her debut at the World Championship. Kostner settled for the bronze. Overall the level of skating was not as high as in the short program.
Asada landed the triple Axel again, but it was under-rotated, as was the triple flip in her combination with a triple loop. The 23-year-old also left out a planned triple toe loop after stepping out on the double Axel in this planned combination. But five other triples were clean in the program to Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, and when Asada entered her step sequence the crowd went wild. Mao picked up a total of 216.69 points. “It hasn’t sunk in yet that I won the championship. I wanted to put out everything I had on the ice for the short and free program and I feel I did that,” the 2010 Olympic silver medalist commented. “The Olympics and Worlds brought me happiness and also made me regret, I went through so many emotions but after all it made me realize again how wonderful skating is,” she noted.
Asada won her fifth World medal since 2007. She left her future open. After first saying she wants to retire from competition after this season, she now said she will take time and then make a decision.
Performing to “Schindler’s List,” Lipnitskaia nailed a triple Lutz - triple toe loop, double Axel - triple toe loop combination as well as three other triple jumps and of course earned extra applause, high GOEs and level fours for her spins. However, the European Champion crashed on a cheated triple Salchow. With 207.50 points, the 15-year-old moved up one spot to take silver. “That is not the best performance of the season, but I am still glad, because even with the mistake I got a lot of points and high levels. Everything was performed very well except for the fall. For me each competition (this season) has had its happy moments. Each competition brought new emotions and feelings and I will remember this for the rest of my life,” Julia said. She proudly shared the podium with Asada and Kostner. “They are both great skaters and I can learn absolutely everything from them, their approach to practice, how they prepare mentally, how they compete, the elements, I could list a lot of things,” the Muscovite pointed out. “For me each competition is an experience and I am compiling more and more so that I won’t be afraid of almost anything now,” she added.
Kostner looked extremely good in the morning practice, as if she was ready to blow away the competition. The five-time European Champion started well into her “Bolero” program with a triple Lutz, but then she reduced the planned double Axel-triple toe loop to a double-double and fell on the second jump in her triple flip - triple toe loop combo. Kostner lost further points by popping a loop and flip but could muster a triple Salchow in combination. The Olympic bronze medalist still got the highest component score for her beautiful routine, but her technical score was about 12 points lower than Asada’s and Lipnitskaia’s. The Italian dropped to third at 203.83 points overall.
“I wish I could skate again and do better. It was really hard. The jumps did not work how I wished but this is the sport. I have to say that the Japanese crowd helped me so much to keep going. They cheered me until the end. I love skating and 18,000 people love it too, so I’m not the only one. I will take home so many great moments other than this long program,” the 27-year-old shared. For Kostner, it was her sixth medal at World Championships since 2005. She, too, did not make any final announcement regarding her future. “At the Olympics Games I had the feeling that I closed a circle. Finally I got many pieces into places. And then coming here, I was just trying to enjoy it. As for my future plans, I've dedicated the last twenty years of my life to figure skating. And I haven't decided yet, but I feel that I have the urge to also start doing something else. Preparing for Worlds I had not the patience and not the head to take any decision. So like Mao, I will start to think about now,” Carolina explained.
Anna Pogorilaya of Russia reeled off seven triples including a triple Lutz-triple toe and triple loop-single loop-triple Salchow as well as two double Axels and strong spins in her „Mermaids“ program. The 15-year-old, who trains at the same rink as Lipnitskaia but under a different coach, pulled up two spots to come fourth in her debut at the World Championship (197.50 points). She earned the small ISU bronze medal for the free skating. “This was my best competition. I was very calm, I was not nervous. I understand that I did everything and I am happy about it but right now I don’t feel it yet,” Anna told the press. “We are the same age-group with Julia at our ice rink, and we started to become friends after the World Junior Championship in Milan (2013). I was cheering for Julia as a friend when she was at the Olympic Games,” she continued.
“Sleeping Beauty” Gracie Gold (USA) skated last and couldn’t deal with the pressure. Her triple Lutz - triple toe loop was fine as were three other triples, but she singled an Axel and fell on the second Axel that was downgraded. As a result she slipped to fifth (194.58 points). “I don’t really know what happened. I’ll have to refocus and try again next season. I learned what I need to work on and I need to train harder. I need to complete the whole package. One competition it’s lovely skating, one competition is lovely jumps. I have to work on putting the package together and getting better programs for next season,” the U.S. Champion explained.
Akiko Suzuki of Japan finished sixth in what was the last competition of her long career (193.72 points). She had a rough start into her “Phantom of the Opera” when she doubled the Lutz and under-rotated the toe in her double Axel-triple toe combo so badly that it was downgraded. She also under-rotated a triple flip but landed four triples. “I tried to put out everything that I have in me. I am a little disappointed that I could not do everything as I expected to; however, I am very glad that I was able to skate my heart out until the very end,” Akiko noted. “I realized how many people have been supporting me throughout these years and I am so happy that I was able to end my skating career this way. My coach told me to remind myself the basics and this is the last time I will ever be able to give you advice like this. I told him I will go do my best,” she continued. Suzuki had celebrated her 29th birthday the day before the free skating.
Ashley Wagner (USA) turned in a powerful performance of her “Samson and Delilah” program to finish 7th with 193.16 points, but she under-rotated two triples, the other five were good, although the Lutz got an edge call like most of the time. “I am very stoked about this performance tonight. It was so great for me to feel like I was back as a competitor. I think that the past season has been very tough for me. Full of ups and downs and everything that could have gone wrong this season went wrong. I started my season here, Japan Open was where I began and I finished with a great performance here in Japan. The great thing about my position is that this is not my Worlds to win but I could use this as an opportunity to practice. This Worlds was much more about how I want to feel going into next year,” the current ISU Grand Prix Final bronze medalist said.
Her national competition is already there, with Polina Edmunds. The long-legged 15-year-old placed a respectable 8th in her debut and pulled off seven triples to music from the Peer Gynt Suite. The Californian earned 187.50 points. “I did a clean program, which was my goal and I'm really happy that I finished the season off strong with one of my best performances. When I came here I felt really comfortable, because of all the internationals I've done. Junior has really a strong field as well. So I gained a lot of experience from these competitions really preparing me for the senior competitions. I'm really happy I was given the chance to compete here,” Polina told the press.
So Youn Park of Korea surprisingly made the top ten. She finished 9th with 176.61 points, coming from 13th place in the short. She is one of the promising Korean girls that all hope to follow into the footsteps of Yuna Kim one day. The 16-year-old gave a clean performance with six triples.
Japan’s Kanako Murakami as so often became the under-rotation queen of the event with four triples plus a double Axel and a double loop being called under-rotated. The Four Continents Champion finished 10th.
“I wish I could do the free again. After the performance my coach pointed out many things about my performance. I have regrets because everything went ok during the practice. Small errors happed today. Before I entered the rink I had confidence that I could do a clean performance, but I became so nervous when the performance started,” Kanako admitted.
There were a few other disappointments as well. Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada (11th), Mae Berenice Meite from France (15th) and China’s Zijun Li (17th) were far from their best. Nathalie Weinzierl of Germany (12th) and Sweden’s Joshi Helgesson (14th) on the other hand were pleased with solid performances.
Jenna McCorkell of Great Britain had aggravated an injury in the short program and had to pull out before the free skate. Saitama was the last competition of the 11-time British Champion who now wants to go into coaching together with husband Kevin van der Perren. Another veteran, Estonia’s Elena Glebova, did not make the final after singling the Axel and stepping out of the triple Salchow in her short program. At the time of writing, she was still undecided about her future.