The ISU Grand Prix for 1998/99 finished up with the NHK competition in Sapporo Japan. With 2 to 4 places open for the final in each event the competition was full of excitement.
In the ladies event, four places were still open for the final. Elena Liashenko, who won at Skate Canada took the short program with a clean program that included triple Lutz - double toe loop, and triple flip. The reigning World silver medalist Irina Slutskaya was again bedeviled by the triple Lutz and for her combination only landed double Lutz - double toe loop. For the triple out of footwork she landed triple loop. Tatyana Malinina was an unexpected third in the short program. She landed triple Lutz - double toe loop and triple flip, but received deductions for steps between the jumps in the combination. Good spins and fast footwork gave her the edge over 1997 World bronze medalist Vanessa Gusmeroli.
In the free skating, Slutskaya was the first to skate. She two footed her opening triple Lutz and did not complete the planned combination. She went on to complete four triples, two of those in combination. On an attempted triple flip she put her hand down. Despite the errors, it was her best performance of the season thus far, and earned her five marks of 5.7. Skating next, Elena Liashenko opened strongly with triple Lutz - double toe loop, but faded badly landing only one other triple - a triple toe loop. She dropped from first in the short to fifth in the long, for a fourth place finish.
Next to skate was Malinina, who at 25 has thus far had an undistinguished career. She produced the best performance of her life, landing five triples, including one in combination. Her final jump, an attempt at triple flip, was doubled. Her fast, well-centered spins and expressive program, to music from "Aladdin" earned her a total of three 5.8s and seven 5.7s. "I improved a lot after the Olympics," said a delighted Malinina. "I changed my mental attitude. I've worked really hard and I believe I can get better than this." It was the first major international victory of her career.
Fumie Suguri, who placed second at Skate Canada, was the last to skate. An error on her triple flip out of footwork in the short program put her in fifth place, but she came back strong in the long program. She opened with a clean triple Lutz - double toe loop combination and landed four more clean triple, including one of those in combination, but also two-footed a triple loop and doubled a second planned triple Lutz. With a third place finish in the long she moved up to third overall and captured one of the open spots in the Grand Prix final.
With two places left open for the men's final, World bronze medalists Evgeny Plushenko was the favorite to capture one of them. He succeeded masterfully, winning both the short and the long. In the short he landed triple Axel - triple toe loop and triple Lutz, earning seven marks of 5.8. The surprise second place finisher in the short was Li Chengjiang who landed triple Axel - triple toe loop and triple loop in a martial arts style program. Also skating a clean program in the short was Takeshi Honda who landed triple Axel - double toe loop and triple Lutz. He placed third in the short on a five-four split panel with Chengjiang.
The free skating portion of the event produced outstanding skating. Chengjiang was the first of the top three to skate. He opened with a clean quad toe loop - triple toe loop combination skating to "Riverdance". He landed three more triples but also struggled with his triple Axel, singling one attempt and putting his hand down on another.
Takeshi Honda was next. He opened with a triple Axel and followed with a clean quad toe loop. He landed five more triples to move up to second place, and in the process earned career best marks including one 5.9 for presentation and twelve 5.8s.
Plushenko was last of the top three to skate. He opened with a clean quad toe loop - triple toe loop combination, followed immediately by triple Axel - triple toe loop. Five more triples followed, one in a jump sequence. In the first mark her received eight 5.9s and one 6.0. In the second mark he received six 5.9s. "It was the first 6.0 I have ever received," said Plushenko "and I know how precious a 6.0 is. It was the best I have ever skated today. I believe I am getting better and better."
Upcoming Canadian Emanuel Snadhu had hopes of making the final after finishing third at Trophee Lalique, but his short program was a disaster and he finished last there. He recovered nicely for the long in which he landed eight triples with good style and was able to move up to fourth in the long and sixth overall, but it was not enough to make the final, missing out by 4 points.
Three spots in the final were up for grabs in the Pairs event. In the short program Berezhnaya & Sikahrulidze took the lead with a well skated program that included side-by-side triple toe loops, throw triple loop, and well timed spins. Danielle & Steve Hartsell skated a clean program with side-by-side triple toe loops and throw triple Salchow to place second in the short. Shen & Zhao placed third after Shen fell on triple toe loop, edging out Canadians Sale & Pelletier.
In the free skate the World champions again dominated. They completed triple twist, side-by-side triple toe loops, double Axels and throw triple loop and throw triple Salchow. They earned one mark of 5.9 for presentation and a total of six 5.8s.
Second and third place were closely contested. Shen & Zhao landed side-by-side triple toe loops, triple twist, two double Axels, and throw triple Salchow. On throw triple loop Shen fell. Sale & Pelletier produced their best performance to date completing side-by-side triple toe loops, two double Axels, and two throws with excellent side-by-side spins and inventive lifts. Their only notable error was a stumble in footwork by Pelletier. On a split panel the Chinese team took second to place second overall and earned themselves a spot in the Grand Prix final.
Two places were open for the final in the dance competition. The event was dominated by the Olympic silver and World Bronze medalists Marina Anissina & Gwendal Peizerat. Their Paso Doble swept first place in the compulsory dance as did their lyrical waltz in the original dance. Irina Lobacheva & Ilia Abverbukh were securely in possession of second place although they were pushed hard by Margarita Dorbiazko & Povilas Vanagas in the original dance. It was a non-points scoring event for both these teams, but the Lithuanians wanted a good result to prevent any teams from overtaking them in the Grand Prix points standings. They squeaked into the final with 16 points, tied for fifth place.
In the free dance Anissina & Peizerat gave an outstanding performance of their "Man in the Iron Mask" routine, earning two marks of 5.9 for presentation and a total of six 5.8s. Lobacheva & Averbukh held second while Drobiazko & Vanagas again placed third.
|1||Elena Berezhnaya & Anton Sikharulidze||RUS||1||1|
|2||Xue Shen & Hongbo Zhao||CHN||3||2|
|3||Jamie Sale & David Pelletier||CAN||4||3|
|4||Daniell Hartsell & Steve Hartsell||USA||2||4|
|5||Maria Petrova & Alexei Tikhonov||RUS||6||5|
|6||Marina Khalturina & Andrei Kroukov||KZK||5||6|
|-||Nadia Micalleff & Bruno Marcotte||CAN||7||-|
|1||Marina Anissina & Gwendal Peizerat||FRA||1||1||1|
|2||Irina Lobacheva & Ilia Averbukh||RUS||2||2||2|
|3||Margarita Drobiazko & Povilas Vanagas||LTU||3||3||3|
|4||Kati Winkler & Rene Lohse||GER||4||4||4|
|5||Tatiana Navka & Roman Kostomarov||RUS||5||5||5|
|6||Megan Wing & Aaron Lowe||CAN||6||6||6|
|7||Eve Chalom & Mathew Gates||USA||7||7||7|
|8||Charlotte Clements & Gary Shortland||GBR||8||8||8|
|9||Rie Arikawa & Kenji Miyamoto||JPN||10||9||9|
|10||Nozomi Watanabe & Akiyuki Kido||JPN||9||10||10|
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