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2013 Grand Prix Final, Senior Ladies

by Alexandra Stevenson

Mao, the Magnificent, Leads in Senior Ladies Short Program

1.  SP 72.36 (37.45+34.91) She was not perfect, but Mao Asada, a 23-year-old Japanese national treasure, twice world champion (2008 & 2010) and Olympic silver medalist, skating in a pretty lilac outfit, to Chopin’s beloved “Nocturne in E flat major”, soared with great grace, through a difficult program, to give one of her best performances. As was her right, as the highest qualifier, she skated last of the six Ladies.

And, Yes! Her triple Axel was slightly under-rotated. The technical panel gave her an arrow, which meant she lost 2.50 marks from the base value of 8.50, and the judges, who can review close-up footage of elements, voted to remove a further -0.43 from the base value. Nevertheless, for many of the spectators in the audience, the jump looked fine, and they cheered with all their might.

The rest of her performance gained significant positive GoEs. One judge even gave the maximum +3 for her change foot combination spin, and two others thought her final move, the Level 4 straight line steps, was worthy of the ultimate award. The other two elements which receive Levels, the Flying Camel and her layback spins, were given the top “4”. Her other jumps, a triple flip, and the combination triple loop to double loop received +1.10 and +0.80.

She said, “I was very happy about the triple Axel. This was the first I was able to land it that well this season. During practice, I landed about 50 to 70%, but in the competition, I focused on landing just one, and I think that went really well. Because I have a day off, I will focus on resting tomorrow but I plan to do two triple Axels in the long program. I would like to do it as I did it today. Going into the Free Program, I would like to continue this feeling. I will NOT focus on placement, but I would like to do my best in this competition. I am not planning to do a triple-triple in the Short Program this season.”

Asada won both of her Grand Prix assignments this season (the Hilton HHonors Skate America and the NHK Trophy in Tokyo), but was unable to cleanly land a triple Axel or the triple flip-triple toe loop combination in either. She has won the GP Final three times during her long career, including last year’s competition at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi. A victory here would tie her with Russian Irina Slutskaya, who won four GP Finals, for the most titles ever. Her components ranged from five 9.25s down to seven 8.25s.

2.  SP 68.38 (37.53+30.85) Adelina Sotnikova, a 17-year-old from Moscow, came into this event as the fourth qualifier, despite her 2013 European Championship silver medal. She said, “I was able to skate well today. The fans in Japan are different. When I was about to start, the arena went very quiet. I changed my combination to two triple toe loops because that is more consistent. I wasn’t thinking about Russian nationals and how many talented girls will be competing in it. I was just thinking about today. I’m happy, as I was able to achieve my best score.”

Performing to the Habenera from the opera, “Carmen”, she did that combination so well, she received unanimous +2 GoEs from the panel of nine judges, which meant +1.40 was added to its base value of 8.20. She also received eight +2s and one top GoE of +3 for her double Axel. She was rewarded with two of the maximum +3s for her final move, a Level 4 flying camel spin.

Sotnikova has been Russian champion three times, 2009, 2011 & 2011 but was third this past season. In the element score, she was a marginal 0.08 above Asada, but on the components, she was a very significant 3.16 behind the very experienced Japanese, who first won this title in 2005, although she was too young to go to the 2006 Olympic Games and world championship.

Sotnikova is a pupil of Elena Vodorezova Buianova, who was a child phenom in the Soviet Union. As a 12-year old, she competed in the 1976 Olympic Games placing 12th, before being forced to give up the sport in her late teens because she developed juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis.

3.  SP 68.38 (36.39+31.75) Ashley Wagner, USA, the reigning, two-time national champion, qualified for her second consecutive Grand Prix Final by earning gold at 2013 Trophee Bompard in Paris, and silver at the 2013 Hilton HHonors Skate America. The 22-year-old won silver last season, when this event was in Sochi, Russia, in the Olympic venue.

As she left the ice, she said, “It was awesome. I am so happy with the performance. The flip-toe felt great, the spins felt really great. I feel really good. I wish the score had been higher. We’ll see what happens in the protocol. But so far so good.”

Wagner gave a very womanly performance to “Shine on You Crazy Diamond by Pink Floyd” in which the television coverage focused on her eyes with their playful ‘Come Hither’ looks. She later explained, “I assure you that I’m very family-friendly. I think they [the TV cameras] are impressed with my COVERGIRL makeup. (She is a model for that cosmetic company.) The whole point of this program is to be strong and sexy but feminine. Women skaters need to feel more comfortable being strong. I’m trying to portray that with that program and it’s fun for me to skate.”

She gained +0.80 for her first element, a triple flip to triple toe combination. “It’s something that I set my mind to from the start of the season, to do a triple-triple, and I feel it’s been getting stronger mentally and physically. I missed a level on my footwork and I have that to work on but overall I’m very happy. (The step sequence gained Level 3 instead of the maximum Level 4 which was awarded to her three spins.) All seven elements were rewarded with significant GoEs, and her components were 0.90 ahead of Sotnikova.

Wagner said later, “Last year I made the Grand Prix Final into this huge event that was very intimidating when in reality it’s a bonus to be here and it’s an opportunity to practice competing. This year, I’m taking a more laid back approach and trying to get the experience of competition.”

About the fact that four of her rivals are Russian, she said, “It says a lot for Russian skating to have four of the ladies here. That’s incredible. To have so many Russian skaters here is very noticeable. You can feel them breathing down your neck and pushing you. They have youth on their side. It makes you have to push yourself as an ‘older’ skater.”

4.  SP 66.62 (36.84+29.78) Julia Lipnitskaia, a Russian 15-year-old, who won the 2012 world junior championship, skated to “You Don’t Give Up on Love,” by Mark Minkov . She is currently benefiting from having trained as a gymnast before changing to figure skating. Asada said of her, “She performs in a sort of mixture of figure skating and rhythmic gymnastics. I cannot do that.”

The moves with which Lipnitskaia entertains, come straight out of the circus, but such extreme stretching must be learned very early in life. It is not a skill that can be obtained by hard work later in life. Sasha Cohen came from a similar background and gave the skating world some beautiful routines. And, of course Denise Biellmann brought her variation to the sport. But Lipnitskaya has taken the “Biellmann” position to an extreme, where the leg is straight next to the body in a split. And she a new variation in which she spins in a high kick, with her foot way over her head. It is all amazing, but if this is what officials want, then less flexible skaters are going to give up and try some other less demanding sport.

Lipnitskaya’s program began with her drawing with a finger on the ice, which was perhaps meant to be sand. Then she stood up and looked at the ceiling. Was that her reaction to imagined rain? Her first element, a combination of triple Lutz to triple toe loop was penalized with a small -0.10, but she still banked a huge 10.00. Then came a +0.36 double Axel and a Level 4 flying camel spin. Her step sequence and later her layback spin were Level 3. Because of her flexibility the layback received three of the maximum +3 GoEs, and the other six judges gave +2, the next Level down. Between those two moves was a good +0.60 triple flip. Her final spin a change foot combination received Level 4 with eight +3s and one +2.

5.  SP 64.38(36.60+27.78) Elena Radionova, Russia, is the current world junior champion. She is only 14 and is not eligible for Sochi. (Skaters can be a year younger to compete in this GP Series, than they can for the World Senior Championship or Olympic Games. It was this regulation which kept Mao Asada and Yu-na Kim out of the 2006 Olympic Games.

6.  SP 64.38 (36.60+27.78) Anna Pogorilaya, Russia, 15, who is only in her second season of international competition.

Asada Takes Grand Prix Ladies Title

1.  Overall 204.02; 1.FS 131.66 (63.87+68.79 -1); Mao Asada, Japan, stayed on top despite falling on her opening “signature” move, the triple Axel. The Technical Panel determined the three and a half revolutions were fully rotated. So, even though the nine members of the judging panel had to punch in -3 Grade of Execution for the fall, and three full points were deducted from the jump’s base value of 8.50, Asada still earned 5.50, less one point for falling.

However, the 23-year-old, who was dressed in black, then made a second attempt at this jump which was planned as a combination with a double toe loop jump. She landed messily on two feet and nearly fell again. She was unable to get airborne for the second jump and got an arrow indicating under-rotation. That meant she “banked” only 2.09 points.

Midori Ito was the first woman acknowledged by the International Skating Union to do the triple Axel, which she brought off in competition many times. Tonya Harding was the first American to bring off this jump.

All but one of her other 10 moves received positive GoEs, and she received the maximum “4” for the four moves which are given Levels. The exception came at the halfway point, at which she presented her second triple flip combined with two double loop jumps which both received an arrow for slight under-rotation. The under-rotation lost -0.80 off the combination’s base value plus 10% (given for jumps after the halfway mark). That meant she banked 7.89 points. She earned five of the maximum +3 GoEs. Four were given for her 11th move, the straight line steps. The other +3 GoE was given for her final move, the choreographed sequence. Her top Component Mark was a 9.50 but the majority of the awards were in the 8s. One judge marked lower, however, with two 7.50s, two 7.25s and one 8.00 for Choreography/ Composition.

In the Free, which she performed to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2 in C Minor, Asada was beaten on the “element score” by 1.6 by Lipnitskaya but Asada won the “components” score by 4.38 over Ashley Wagner, who was second in this category but third collectively in both the short and the Free routines. Lipnitskaya’s component score for the Free was only third best.

Asada said, “It was my first time to do two triple Axels in the long program. I felt I needed to challenge myself. I haven't clarified my program for Sochi yet but there are things I need to work on and make my efforts clear.” Part of her training this season has focused on her smile. Her agent, Mariko Wada told ESPN, “Most Japanese don’t show much expression. It’s hard for us to express joy with a big smile in front of others. Our culture is more calm and peaceful. We like to be reserved and polite. Her choreographer had a hard time, but there is a big improvement this season.”

Asada has told Japanese media that, after this season, she hopes to find a nice man and settle down and have children.

2.  Overall 192.07; 2.FS 125.45 (64.93+60.52); Julia Lipitskaya, Russia, climbed two places with her very evocative routine set to “Schindler’s List”. Her costume is a blood red coat dress, the inspiration for which comes from the end of the movie, which is filmed in black and white. At the conclusion, when the Nazi shoots the child, the coat turns red, although the background stays monochromic. The music is incredibly poignant, and Lipitskaya, right from her opening pose, seems to indicate from her facial expression that she is very aware of the tragic story. She has seen the film, is not Jewish and does not elaborate when asked about why she chose this music. Her choreographer is Ilia Averbukh.

She was penalized on three of her 12 elements. Both triple Lutzes got an “e” for wrong edge takeoff. The first triple Lutz was in her opening move, which was combined with a triple toe loop. She lost -0.30 off its base value but earned a total of 9.80. The other Lutz was her ninth element and it lost -0.60.

Her second move, a double Axel to triple toe loop to double toe loop gained +0.40 over its base value for a total of 9.10. A triple flip set at the half way point got a total of 6.33. After a good second double Axel and a +0.50 triple loop to double toe loop, she lost -0.80 because the Technical Panel gave her an arrow for slight under-rotation on her triple Salchow. All her spins were the top Level 4 with great GoEs. Her steps, though Level 2 received +0.71 GoE.

This is the 15-year old’s first senior season and she won both her Senior Grand Prix events, Skate Canada and the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow. She said, “I did everything I needed to do today. It went better than in Canada, but there are still things I need to work on. I will try to make myself better and better until Sochi.”

3.  Overall 187.61; 3.FS 119.47 (56.06+64.41 -1); Ashley Wagner, the 22-year-old, twice US champion, maintained third place. She said, “I’m glad the Grand Prix season is over. I have a lot of work to do when I go home. Today was more about my mental strength after making a mistake (falling on her mid-program triple Lutz, which got an “e” for wrong edge take-off). So, technically, I feel that I am stronger than I’ve ever been. Now, I need to go to work on the mental part. I would love to be on the Olympic podium. To do that I have to skate a performance similar to my Short Program here, which was awesome, and my Long Program somewhere else. If I can combine those at the Olympics, I would be very pleased.”

Wagner’s wholesome but sexy presence has attracted a lot of sponsorship (Cover Girl; Nike, P&G, Hilton HHonors, the Century Council, Highmark, Pandora & BP). Phil Hersh, of the Chicago Tribune, has written, “I can’t remember a U.S. figure skater without an Olympic medal who has had more endorsements and it is more remarkable for one who has not even won a senior world championship medal. She has now joined Lindsey Vonn as the winter “it girls” to corporate America.”

But, in skating, she is facing a bevy of young Russians just emerging from puberty. Performing with great emotion to Prokofiev’s music for the ballet Romeo & Juliet, she had four errors. She received an arrow for slight under-rotation on the second jump of her opening move, a triple flip to triple toe loop; a fall and an “e” for wrong edge take-off on her triple Lutz in the second half; her triple loop was not well landed and she lost a full point from its base value, and a second arrow for slight under-rotation on her second triple flip, this one combined with a double toe loop. Her spins were all Level 4. Her steps were Level 2, all with good GoEs. Her components ranged from one 7.25 up to one 8.75.

4.  Overall 183.02; 4.FS 118.64 (63.36+56.28 -1); Elena Radionova, Russia, climbed a place. The 14-year-old, who is the Russian and World Junior champion, skated to music from the soundtrack of the movie “Frida”. She opened with a gorgeous triple Lutz to triple toe loop which earned +0.70 over its base value of 10.10. She made only two mistakes: she was saddled with an “e” for wrong edge take-off on her second move, a triple flip. After a triple loop to single loop to triple Salchow, which earned an extra +0.30 over its 9.80 base value, and the first of her three Level 4 spins, she fell on her triple Lutz.

She recovered well and did two double Axels which were separated by a triple Loop to double toe loop. Her steps were Level 3 with good GoEs. Her layback received all +2s apart from one +3. Her components ranged from two 6.25 up to one 7.75. She said, “The audience today was wonderful. They were like skating along with me. My skating wasn’t 100%. I fell on my (second) triple Lutz but besides that, it was OK. I will be competing still at Junior level in nationals. I need to win that so I can go to the World Junior championships.” Her components ranged from two 6.25, up to a7.75.

5.  Overall 173.30; 6.FS 104.92 (46.45+60.47 -2); Adelina Sotnikova, Russia, who is 17, had been second after the SP. But, overall, she dropped to fifth place, with a sixth place in the Free. She has been Russian champions three times, in 2009, 2011 & 2012. But she was only third in the 2013 season. She won silver in the European championship this year, and was ninth in Worlds.

So, what happened? “I don’t know why I couldn’t do so well. Maybe my preparation wasn’t enough. Mentally, maybe I wasn’t prepared. I don’t really now. The Olympics are coming up fast, but I have no thoughts of the Games at the moment. It will all depend on the result of nationals. This is my first visit to Japan and I’m feeling happy about it.”

She performed to Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A Minor for Violin by Camille Saint-Saens. Her opening combination of jumps got an “e” for wrong edge takeoff on her triple Lutz to triple loop. Her body kept turning after she landed her triple flip, and she singled her triple loop. Her Level 4 flying camel spin earned five of the maximum +3 GoEs. Her double Axel to triple toe loop received eight +2s and a +3!

But then she fell on her second triple flip meant to be a combination. And then she fell a second time on the next element, a triple Salchow. She was obviously shaken and the following double Axel was shakey. She had 0.50 removed from its base value. Her layback spin was Level 3, as were her steps. After the choreographed section, she planned to present her combination spin as her last move. But she whipped herself off her skating foot and received no marks at all for this element. Definitely a showing to be forgotten as quickly as possible.

6.  Overall 171.88; 5.FS 112.07 (60.01+54.06 -2); Anna Pogorilaya, Russia, stayed sixth although she placed above her teammate, Sotnikova, in this section. The blonde 15-year-old performed to “Mermaids” from the Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, dressed in blue with shell designs and one glove.

The current World Junior Championship bronze medalist lost a point for falling on her last jump, a triple flip, a mistake she attributed “to a lack of stamina” and another point for going overtime. She began with a +0.50 triple Lutz to triple toe loop, followed by a +0.10 triple loop to single loop to triple Salchow and a+0.70 second triple Lutz. At the halfway point, she executed a +0.50 triple loop to double toe loop. But then she messed up a double Axel for which the judging panel punched in unanimous -2s. Later she did a second double Axel, which lost a minimal -0.70. Her steps and the flying camel and layback spins were all the maximum Level 4 but she ran out of stamina and her last spin, which was her 12th element, was only Level 1. She praised the audience, who were very responsive. “I felt like I was skating in Russia.”

Her performance and pretty photographs from her win at the Cup of China Grand Prix were good enough to earn Pogorilaya space in Sports Illustrated, which devotes only limited coverage of figure skating. In that event in Beijing, Pogotilaya beat the 2012 world champion, Carolina Kostner. Kostner, who lost her world title finishing second to Yu-na Kim last March, was third in this season’s Beijing GP and second (to Lipnitskaia) in the Grand Prix in Moscow. That meant Kostner did not qualify for the Final, while Lipnitskaia & Pogorilaya did. The 26-year old Kostner was an unneeded second reserve. Kim did not enter the Grand Prix Series.

This is a major step forward for Pogorilaya, who placed fifth in the Russian senior championship and was third in the Junior GP Final last year. She was third in her second SrGP, Trophy Bompard in Paris.

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