Figure skating expert Hannah Robbins discusses the drama and details of the final competitions of the Grand Prix Series.
While classes concluded for the semester, the Grand Prix Series did not, and the final two events in the series, the Rostelecom Cup and the Internationaux de France, or the Grand Prix Final, transpired with the all the surprises ice skating brings in this level of competition.
As in past years, injuries plagued the Rostelecom Cup. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan twisted his ankle during practice before the free program, injuring himself for the second year in a row. This did not prevent him from competing in the free program.
Despite the uncharacteristic errors and falls during his watered-down free program, Hanyu’s strong short program led him to victory in the men’s competition ahead of Georgian Morisi Kvitelashviki and Hanyu’s countryman Kazuki Tomono. Both Russian Mikhail Kolyada and Canadian Keegan Messing struggled, placing fourth and fifth respectively after falls, invalidated elements and popped jumps. With his performance, Hanyu qualified for the Grand Prix Final.
On the ladies’ side, Russian Alina Zagitova continued her flawless run of the Grand Prix Series, edging out compatriot Sofia Samodurova by almost 25 points despite some struggles in her free program. Eunsoo Lim of South Korea rounded out the top three with a solid performance. American Gracie Gold, who didn’t compete in the 2017-2018 season for mental health reasons, placed last in the short program and withdrew from the free program after a rough short program. Zagitova and Samodurova qualified to the Grand Prix Finals with their performances.
In the pairs competition, Russians Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov flourished with the home audience, landing in first 17 points ahead of Italians Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise and 30 points ahead of their compatriots Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin. Americans had a tough time, with Ashley Cain/Timothy Leduc ending in sixth and Deanna Stellato-Dudek/Nathan Bartholomay withdrawing after the short program due to illness. Tarasova/Morozov, Della Monica/Guarise and Pavliuchenko/Khodykin qualified to the Grand Prix Finals after the competition.
In the ice dance competition, Russians Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin triumphed over Spaniards Sara Hurtado/Kirill Khaliavin and Americans Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko, allowing Stepanova/Bukin to qualify for the Grand Prix Final.
The last of six competitions in the Grand Prix Series before the Final, Internationaux de France, brought its own drama. Between the surprising short program results in the men’s program and the unprecedented finish in the ladies’ program, France did not disappoint.
In the men’s competition, American Jason Brown showed that with the right execution, skaters without quads are competitive, winning the short program as fellow American Nathan Chen fell on his quad flip. Chen rebounded in the free program and Brown ended in second behind him, with Alexander Samarin of Russia placing third. Boyang Jin of China, a podium contender in years past, placed ninth after a rough competition. Chen qualified for the Grand Prix Final.
In the ladies’ competition, the Japanese skaters came out on top, with Rika Kihara besting Mai Mihara by three points. The third and fourth place finishers, separated by a mere five points, were the real surprises of the competition. After a sixth-place finish in the short program, American Bradie Tennell finished in third after a strong second place finish in the free program. Russian Evgenia Medvedeva finished in fourth after a third-place finish in the short program and a fifth place program in the free program for her first finish off the podium in her senior career. Kihara qualified for the Grand Prix Final.
In the pairs competition, Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres blew the rest of the competition out of the water in front of a home audience. Trailing them by 15 points were Americans Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea and Russians Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitrii Kozlovskiik. James/Cipres qualified for the Grand Prix Final.
In the ice dance competition, Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron from France made their only appearance on the Grand Prix Series, since they withdrew from the NHK Trophy due to injury, but they made their one appearance count. Papadakis/Cizeron won the competition by 16 points. Trailing them were Russians Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov and Canadians Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier with Americans Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker in a close fourth. Sinitsina/Katsalapov and Hawayek/Baker qualified for the Grand Prix Final.
After those six competitions, the competitors for the Grand Prix Final were set. For the men it would be Hanyu, Chen, Shoma Uno from Japan, Junhwan Cha from South Korea, Sergei Voronov from Russia and Michal Brezina from Czechoslovakia. However, due to Hanyu’s injury, Messing filled the last men’s spot. The ladies’ competition contained Zagitova, Kihira, Samodurova, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva from Russia, Kaori Sakamoto from Japan and Satoko Miyahara from Japan.
James/Cipres, Tarasova/Morozov, Della Monica/Guarise, Pavliuchenko/Khodykin, Cheng Peng/Yang Jin from China and Natalia Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert from Russia would compete for pairs medals. Sinitsina/Katsalapov, Hawayek/Baker, Stepanova/Bukin, Americans Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donahue, Italians Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri and Russians Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro competed for the ice dance crown.
In the men’s competition, Chen managed to edge out Uno in the short with mistakes from both, widening the lead in the free to win his second Grand Prix Final in a row after Uno had mistakes at the beginning of his free program. Cha surpassed Brezina in the free to end in third after Brezina struggled, with Messing finishing fifth and Voronov ending in sixth.
In the ladies’ competition, no skater was able to improve from their short program, which led to Zagitova’s first loss on the Grand Prix Series since she became a senior. Kihira’s triple axel helped her surpass Zagitova to grab the title. Tuktamysheva claimed the bronze after a poorly executed triple axel while Sakamoto, Samodurova, and Miyahara rounded out the standings.
In the pairs competition, James/Cipres claimed the victory, beating Peng/Jin by a mere three points after struggling to overcome a fourth place short program score. Zabiiako/Enbert were in second place after the short program, but after errors in the free, ended in fourth place. Tarasova/Morozov remained a consistent third, claiming the bronze while Della Monica/Guarise and Pavliuchenko/Khodykin ended in fifth and sixth respectively.
In the ice dance competition, Hubbell/Donahue continued their winning streak by a mere four points. Sinitsina/Katsalapov and Guignard/Fabbri fought for the silver, with Sinitsina/Katsalapov winning by three points. The standings were rounded out with Stepanova/Bukin, Zagorski/Guerreio and Hawayek/Baker claimed fourth, fifth and sixth respectively, with a mere three 10ths of a point separating fifth and sixth.