LAKE PLACID, NEW YORK – Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto completed a 1-2 finish for Japan on Sunday at Skate America.
Miyahara, who sat out the latter half of last season due to a stress fracture in her left hip, earned 71.08 points for her free skate at Herb Brooks Arena for a total of 214.03 points en route to her second career Grand Prix title.
While 19-year-old Miyahara, the 2015 world silver medalist, picked up her first victory since the NHK Trophy in November 2015, 17-year-old Sakamoto clinched silver with 210.59 for her first senior GP medal. American Bradie Tennell claimed bronze on 204.10.
With the conclusion of Skate America, the last of the six-leg Grand Prix series, all qualifiers for the Dec. 7-9 Grand Prix Final were determined, with Wakaba Higuchi making the women’s list for the first time.
The top six skaters in each discipline will compete in the event in Nagoya. Miyahara is the first substitute, placing seventh in the standings. This marks the 17th straight season in which a Japanese woman has secured a spot in the GP Final.
In her second competition back from injury, Miyahara skated to “Madame Butterfly” and came within 0.38 point of her personal-best free-skate score recorded at the GP Final in France last December when she took silver.
“I didn’t expect to win,” said Miyahara, who cleanly landed all seven jumps, including five types of triple jump.
“This is a surprising result and I’m really happy. It makes overcoming difficult times worth it,” the Olympic favorite said.
Meanwhile, Sakamoto, a bronze medalist at the 2016 Junior GP Final, said it was her first “perfect performance” in the short program and free skating, finishing with personal-best scores in both.
It was also the first time she surpassed the 200-point mark at a major international competition.
Reigning Skate America champ Ashley Wagner halted her free skate and withdrew because of an infection on her right ankle. The 26-year-old American didn’t appear to be injured, but stopped during a spin section. She said after she was in “nauseating” pain.
“It’s not a quick-fix kind of a situation,” Wagner said while choking up. “My main goal is to be national champion and to go to the Olympics, and that’s something that I absolutely can do with the right amount of training.”
American ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani skated into the GP Final with ease, winning for their second victory in the series with a program that could earn them gold in South Korea.
The two-time U.S. champions were a hit with fans and judges all weekend, twizzling and spinning their way to wins in the short and free dance programs. The siblings won the free skate Sunday with 115.07 points and finished at 194.25 overall. They also won the Grand Prix event in Russia this year.
“This was the week that we wanted to have at this particular point in the season,” 26-year-old Alex Shibutani said.
The Shibutanis took bronze at last season’s GP Final, and they’ll try to do better against a strong field in Japan. Their top competition includes Vancouver winners and Sochi silver medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir from Canada, and France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron — each of those duos also won two Grand Prix stops.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5