Japanese teenager Mao Asada played it safe and attempted only one triple axel Saturday, but still easily beat world champion Irina Slutskaya to win the women’s title at the Grand Prix Final.
It was Slutskaya’s first loss since the 2004 world championship in March.
Asada opened her routine with a triple Axel that earned more credit than average because of a secure landing. She then bypassed her second triple axel planned in combination.
She is one of just a handful of female skaters to do even one in competition and was trying to become the first to do two in one program.
“I decided after warmup not to do another triple axel,” Asada said. “My coach said it was up to me, but I didn’t feel confident enough.
“I remember in training in Nagoya I never did two triple axels and then I got worried.”
Asada breezed through five more triple jumps without a miss and included seven triples and doubles in the final minute of her routine to the “Nutcracker Suite” to take a healthy lead over Slutskaya in the free skating portion, 125.24 to 122.58. Overall she won 189.62 to 181.48.
“I am surprised I wasn’t expecting to win a medal and so I am very happy,” Asada said.
Third went to Japan’s Yukari Nakano.
Slutskaya put in six high and strong triples to Flamenco music. But she was not as brilliant as she was in Moscow when she won the world title with seven triples and a triple-triple.
“I felt so bad yesterday. Today I felt better, much more comfortable. You could see it in the practice,” Slutskaya said.
“For me this competition is not really important. It is just another step in going to Turin.”
The Russian will be favored for gold at the Turin Olympics despite her loss.
Even though Asada won, she won’t be showing off her skills at Turin. She turned 15 in September, less than three months past the July 1 deadline the International Skating Union requires to be eligible for the Winter Games.
“Regardless of the fact that Mao Asada can perform the highest level of element, the decision of the congress was made on medical reasons and not technical ones,” said ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta, who is attending the event.
World champion Stephane Lambiel recovered from a fall on his opening jump Saturday to land two quadruple jumps later and capture the men’s title.
Lambiel landed a quadruple-triple combination seconds after falling hard on a triple axel. Then, in the second half of his routine to “Four Seasons” by Vivaldi, he had another quad that earned him bonus points under the new judging system that adds up the score for jumps, spins and stepwork.
“I was confident going into the Axel even though it didn’t work so well in practice,” Lambiel said. “When I fell I tried to tell myself to just do the rest.
“I know I can go through my program after the triple axel whether I do it or I don’t.”
He scored best in the free program and 230.10. overall to win easily over Jeff Buttle of Canada. It was Buttle’s second straight silver medal at the Grand Prix finals.
But it didn’t come without incident. Just before he was about to skate, he noticed his blade was loose on his skate.
“I didn’t realize how loose it was. My coach ran to get a screwdriver. As to the placement of the blade, once I tightened it, wasn’t any different,” Buttle said.
Third went to local Daisuke Takahashi, who is looking to impress the Japanese Federation officials with just one Olympic men’s spot. He fell on a quad attempt.
Russian world champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov won the ice dance for the third year in a row.
In a dramatic performance to the music of “Carmen,” Navka and Kostomarov earned top scores in the free dance and 165.72 overall.
With Navka in a dress reminiscent of Katarina Witt’s red and black costume at Calgary and Kostomarov in a matador’s outfit, the pair had the audience clapping in rhythm to the familiar tunes such as the “Toreador Song.”
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