Mihara finishes third at Skate America in Grand Prix debut

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

Mai Mihara reached the podium in her ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating debut, finishing third at Skate America on Saturday.

Mihara, who was second after Friday’s short program, finished with 189.28 points. Her Japanese compatriot and three-time world champion Mao Asada finished sixth with 176.78. Ashley Wagner of the United States finished first with 196.44, followed by countrywoman Mariah Bell with 191.59. Kanako Murakami (145.03) was 10th.

Despite a good first showing, the 17-year-old Mihara was less than delighted.

“In competition, I didn’t skate as strongly as I’m able and that is frustrating,” Mihara said with tears in her eyes.

Things began to go awry in the second half of her program on a double axel-triple toe loop combination, when she under-rotated the second jump. Another mistake soon followed.

Mao, meanwhile, made a series of jump mistakes in a free program in which her score of 112.31 was more than 30 points off her career best.

“I was unable to establish my timing or rhythm during the latter half of the program when fatigue set in,” said Mao, whose shoulders slumped and head hung after failing to reach a Grand Prix podium for the first time since 2010. “I’m a long way off.”

Mao landed just one of her planned jumps cleanly and her edge work was lacking in her closing steps.

“If she was at full strength, she would be able to resolve this easily,” Mao’s coach Nobuo Sato said.

Japan’s Shoma Uno landed a quad flip en route to winning the men’s short program with 89.15 points.

Reigning U.S. champion Adam Rippon was second on 87.32 with 2015 American champion Jason Brown third on 85.75. Chicago hometown favorite Brown missed most of last season with a back injury and was unable to defend his crown earlier this year.

Wagner, who also won the short program Friday, said she took momentum from her second-place effort on home ice in Boston earlier this year into the event.

“That was huge,” Wagner said. “The short program was one of my world-class programs. That free program, I left it all on the table.”

At 25, she is skating at an age when many are leaving the sport.

“I’m not good at anything else. That’s all I have,” she said with a smile. “I love what I’m doing.”

Wagner, who also won the 2012 Skate America crown, captured U.S. titles in 2012, 2013 and 2015 and took a bronze medal in the team event at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Bell, eighth at last year’s Skate America in her only prior Grand Prix start, was shocked to find herself on the podium.

“I feel like I don’t know what’s going on,” she said. “I skated a program that I’m really proud of. To be on the podium, I’m speechless.”

It might be the shape of things to come for the U.S. women with the next Winter Olympics in South Korea only 16 months away.

“I’m starting to realize my own potential and believe in myself, which is really cool,” Bell said. “I’m really excited for the future.”

Mihara denied the hosts the first women’s podium sweep at Skate America since Michelle Kwan led the way 20 years ago after reigning U.S. champion Gracie Gold, a hometown hero who was third in the short program, fell twice in the free skate and settled for fifth.