HELSINKI – Kaori Sakamoto bounced back from a disappointing short program to secure a podium finish in the women’s event at the Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Helsinki on Saturday, while Pyeongchang Olympic champion Alina Zagitova led a 1-2 finish for Russia.
Sakamoto, who fell twice and was seventh after Friday’s short program at the Helsinki Ice Hall, was given the second-best score of 140.16 points in her free skate which started with a clean triple flip-triple toeloop combination.
She earned a total of 197.42, good enough for bronze.
Zagitova topped both routines for her fifth Grand Prix gold with a 215.29-point total, and fellow Russian Stanislava Konstantinova won her first Grand Prix medal with 197.57.
For 18-year-old Sakamoto, it was her second straight podium finish following her silver medal finish at Skate America, the Grand Prix season opener held last month in Washington.
“My body was shaking. I gave it all I had in the free program because it was my only chance to make the podium,” Sakamoto said.
“I put yesterday’s performance behind me and switched gears. I was able to skate as I always do,” she said.
Elsewhere for Japanese women, Yuna Shiraiwa placed fourth and Rika Hongo was 10th.
In the pairs event won by Russia’s Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert, the Japanese duo of Miu Suzaki and Ryuichi Kihara finished last of the eight entries.
In the men’s short program earlier in the day, Yuzuru Hanyu made his Grand Prix season debut and took the lead going into Sunday’s free skate.
Competing in an elite competition for the first time since winning his second straight Olympic gold medal in February, Hanyu scored a season-best 106.69 points, surpassing compatriot Shoma Uno’s 104.15 achieved at September’s Lombardia Trophy.
“I skated for all I was worth in the short program. It’s a big thing to break 100 points,” Hanyu said.
“There were elements that I wasn’t satisfied with, such as my transitions and jumps. There is still a lot of room for improvement,” he added.
Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic was second with 93.31, while China’s Jin Boyang was third with 85.97. Japan’s Keiji Tanaka was seventh in the 11-man field.
Hanyu, who skipped this year’s worlds after becoming the first men’s skater in 66 years to win two consecutive Olympic golds, had returned to competition with a win in September’s Autumn Classic International, an ISU Challenger Series event.
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