Figure Skating

Alina Zagitova captures world title; Japan's skaters finish without a medal

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova won her first senior world title in impressive fashion on Friday night. The 16-year-old topped the field at the world championships by more than 12 points with a total score of 237.50 points.

Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursnybaeva took the silver with 224.76, while two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva settled for the bronze at 223.80.

It was a disappointing night for Japan, as it finished off the medal stand after taking the silver (Wakaba Higuchi) and bronze (Satoko Miyahara) at last year’s worlds in Milan, Italy.

Rika Kihira, the favorite for the world crown entering the competition, fell on her second triple axel and ended up fourth with 223.49.

Kaori Sakamoto came in fifth at 222.83, with Miyahara sixth on 215.95.

Zagitova skated to “Carmen Suite” and illustrated why she triumphed at the Pyeongchang Games. The Moscow native put on a gallant show, hitting six triples and earned level fours for her spins and step sequence.

After finishing fifth at last year’s world in Italy, the victory here was sweet redemption for the teen.

“I appreciate my coaches, the people supporting me and the audience,” Zagitova stated after her victory. “I knew the Japanese audiences were great before I arrived here, so they helped me to land all my jumps.”

Zagitova acknowledged that her experience in South Korea last year was beneficial.

“My first thought at the very end of the performance was, ‘Yes, I did it,” through hardships to the stars,” Zagitova commented. “I realized that I needed a clean skate and I went into each jump determined to land it. I was very nervous, but I think the experience from the Olympic Games helped me somehow.”

Tursynbaeva performed to “Otono Porteno” and wowed the crowd with a titanic quadruple salchow on her very first jump. She added six triples to go along with level fours on her spins and step sequence.

“I still cannot believe that I have won the silver,” Tursynbaeva said. “I was pleased that I landed the quadruple salchow. It was good in practice, but I couldn’t land it in the past two competitions. Today when I stepped on the ice I felt great and I thought I can do it and it just happened.”

Medvedeva, the silver medalist in Pyeongchang, turned back the clock to the time before her injury in late 2017 and put on a fine show. She landed seven clean triples and received level fours for her spins and step sequence.

The lone miscue came on her final double axel, which she under-rotated. She pumped her fist when she finished as if to indicate she was back at her best.

“I proved that I can work and move forward, I can bring joy to people,” noted Medvedeva. “You will see a strong and beautiful Medvedeva next season.”

Kihira, who won the Grand Prix Final this season, competed to “A Beautiful Storm” and had a promising start, landing a huge triple axel/triple toe loop combo. However, she fell on her second triple axel, which definitely cost her a shot at a medal.

The 16-year-old landed six triple jumps and received level fours for her spins and step sequence.

“I had a bit of anxiety (before the free skate) because the condition was not great, but I had a strong feeling that I had to do it,” stated Kihira. “I really wanted to show my best skate in front of the Japanese audience. I believed in the audience and thank them for believing in me.”

Sakamoto skated to “The Piano” and looked in good position to have a shot at the title. She was poised to take home a medal until she singled her triple flip late in the program. Sakamoto landed six clean triples and posted level fours for her spins and step sequence, but the one miss was unfortunate.

“My condition before the free skate was the same as at the Four Continents,”

Sakamoto remarked. “I could not get rid of the tiredness before the free skate, so my body could not move at all.”

The Kobe native praised her choreographer Benoit Richaud despite her result.

“I received a lot of advice from Benoit, so the connection and the spins could get better,” Sakamoto said.

Miyahara skated to “Invierno Porteno” and put in one of her typically consistent performances. She was sublime throughout with the only blemish coming on the back end of her three-combo jump (triple flip/double toe loop/double loop).

“I came back from my short program,” Miyahara commented. “This season I had good moments and bad moments. After the short program I really had a strong feeling not to have any regrets. That made me strong.”

Kaetlyn Osmond of Canada, who won the world title last year, did not compete this season.

France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron lead the ice dance following the rhythm dance with 88.42. Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov are in second (83.94), with their compatriots Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin in third (83.10).

The free dance is set for Saturday afternoon.

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