Figure Skating

Alina Zagitova dazzles en route to Grand Prix Final title

The 15-year-old landed seven triple jumps to secure the victory, the fourth straight for Russian women at the event

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Russia’s Alina Zagitova continued her amazing debut season in the senior ranks with a comprehensive victory at the Grand Prix Final on Saturday night. The 15-year-old took home the gold with a total score of 223.30 points.

Looking elegant and poised in a red outfit, Zagitova skated to “Don Quixote” and put on a virtual clinic, hitting seven triple jumps while receiving level-fours on her spins and step sequence on the way to the triumph.

Zagitova’s compatriot Maria Sotskova was second with 218.28, while Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond finished third on 215.16.

Italy’s Carolina Kostner came in fourth with 214.65.

It was a disappointing evening for the host nation, with Satoko Miyahara (213.49) settling for fifth and Wakaba Higuchi (202.11) taking sixth.

Zagitova’s win made it four straight victories for Russia in the GP Final, with two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva having won the last two years and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva topping the podium in 2014.

Zagitova, who was the world junior champion last season and the winner of the Junior Grand Prix Final, was satisfied with her result.

“I am pleased with my performance,” Zagitova stated. “There were a few glitches, but they were minor. I am glad I was able to deal with my nerves.”

The native of Izhevsk, Russia, said she had trouble getting up to compete tonight.

“To be honest, it was hard to skate today,” commented Zagitova. “I really wanted to do well and my legs were a bit shaky. But toward the end I pulled myself together and everything went well.”

Miyahara competed to “Madame Butterfly” and opened with a nice triple loop. However, she then under-rotated both ends of her triple lutz/triple toe loop combination jump and the triple flip that followed. She was fourth in the free skate, and the multiple miscues cost her the bronze medal.

“I know there are some mistakes in today’s program, and it was not the best performance I could put out,” Miyahara said. “I felt a little bit more nervous compared to Skate America.”

The three-time national champion acknowledged that she is not where she wants to be from a technical standpoint.

“I tried hard and finished without major mistakes, so I was relieved,” Miyahara stated. “I knew some of the jumps were not clean, and the score reflected exactly what I felt. I take this as the reality, so I know what I need to work on.”

Higuchi performed to “Skyfall” and had several issues as well. She doubled her planned triple salchow, then did only a double lutz on what was supposed to be a triple, and received an edge call on the triple flip at the start of her three-jump combo.

The 16-year-old provided a harsh evaluation of her effort.

“I am disappointed after my skating today,” Higuchi said. “I forced myself to do my triple lutz/triple toe combination and landed it. But I am still upset after my performance, because I missed the triple salchow and the second triple lutz. I felt that I didn’t have speed in the step sequence.”

Alexandra Trusova won the women’s JGP Final with a total mark of 205.61 to lead a sweep of the podium for Russia.

Alena Kostornaia (204.56) was second, with Anastasia Tarakanova (199.64) taking third.

Incredibly, all three medalists are coached by the Russian master Eteri Tutberidze, who also mentors Medvedeva and Zagitova.

Trusova came up short in her bid for history, however, when she fell on her planned opening quad salchow. Had Trusova cleanly landed the jump, she would have been the first woman to do so in 15 years, since Miki Ando achieved the feat at the 2002 JGP Final in The Hague.

“Not everything worked out today and I am upset about missing the quad salchow,” Trusova commented. “I also made a little error on my combination. But I am happy that I was able to win the Junior Grand Prix Final.”

Rika Kihira finished fourth for the second straight year with 192.45.

Kihira, who was fourth after the short program and in good position for a medal, skated to “La Strada” and landed a big triple axel/triple toe loop combo at the outset. She appeared on her way to a big score, but then singled her second planned triple axel, pretty much dooming her chances to make the podium.

The 15-year-old from Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture, hit six triples in her free skate, while under-rotating one (a triple flip).

“After landing the first triple axel/triple toe I felt more relieved than happy,” Kihira admitted. “When I popped the second triple axel, I thought I could do the triple lutz combination later.”

Kihira is already looking ahead and not dwelling on the disappointment.

“It’s unusual for me to pop the second axel and I am going to work on it so I can land it at the upcoming nationals,” Kihira stated. “There was no under-rotation on the (first) triple axel and it was clean, so I’m satisfied with it.”

The Japan nationals are set for Dec. 20-24 in Tokyo.

Germany’s Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot won the senior pairs event with 236.68.

China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong (230.89) were second, with Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (210.83) taking third.

France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron claimed the gold in ice dance with a mark of 202.16.

Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (199.86) took second, with Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani (188.00) placing third.

The Grand Prix Final will conclude with the Exhibition Gala on Sunday.