Reigning World champions Yu-Na Kim of South Korea and Evan Lysacek of the United States once again skated away with the big titles when it counted.
Both rose from second place after the short program at the 2009-10 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in Japan to win the free skate in their respective divisions and climb to the top of the podium.
Meanwhile, newcomer Polina Shelepen (RUS) won the junior ladies short program (scroll down for more photos).
Kim skated to the gold in and recaptured the title she had lost last year to Mao Asada (JPN), who did not earn a spot in this season's final. Miki Ando (JPN) earned the silver today, her first medal in what was her fifth appearance in the Grand Prix Final. Akiko Suzuki (JPN) captured the bronze medal.
Kim landed four clean triples and three double Axels in her expressive routine to George Gershwin’s “Concerto in F” to score 123.22 points. The South Korean superstar overtook overnight leader Ando to win her third gold medal in the Grand Prix Final with a total of 188.86 points.
“Today in the practice my blades hit each other and got flat. I fixed it but it's still a little bit not too comfortable to skate with. So I tried to forget about it, but even though my performance was not perfect, it was okay,” Kim said. “I didn't give up and that led to this wonderful result. I think it was a good fight for the Olympics. And as I could keep up my strength, I found some self-confidence again.”
Ando nailed also four good triple jumps in her exotic “Cleopatra”-themed routine. The 2007 World champion posted a season best of 119.74 points but slipped to second overall at 185.94. “I’m happy about medaling and automatically qualifying for the Olympic Games (for team Japan),” said Ando, last season's World bronze medalist. “I didn’t make any major mistakes and I skated better that I did at NHK. But I was tired and I know I didn’t skate with enough speed."
Suzuki turned in a strong performance to “Westside Story.” Her program included seven triple jumps as she moved up from fifth to third with a score of 174.00 points in the first Grand Prix Final of her career.
“Before I started, my coach didn’t tell me anything about my jumps. He told me to dance and just be Maria! And that’s just what I did. I wasn’t thinking about ranking or points while I was skating. The happiest moment was when the audience gave me a standing ovation,” the 24-year-old offered.
Ashley Wagner (USA) moved up from sixth after the short prgram to fourth place overall with a solid performance. Joannie Rochette (CAN) and Alena Leonova (RUS) came in fifth and sixth, respectively, with each skater making several key errors.
Lysacek claimed his first Grand Prix Final title and is the second straight American man to win the title (last year Jeremy Abbott won gold at the final and followed that up with a victory at the 2009 U.S. Championships). Nobunari Oda (JPN) claimed the silver medal, and the bronze went to Johnny Weir (USA), who repeated last year’s result.
Lysacek was second going into the long program but overall he finished more than six points ahead of his nearest competitor. He produced a sophisticated program to “Sheherazade” and reeled off eight triple jumps, including two triple-triple combinations and also showed strong spins and footwork. His only error came when he popped his second triple Axel. Nevertheless, Lysacek earned a personal best 159.60 points and overall accumulated 249.45 points to pull up one spot.
“I feel confident now heading into the latter part of the season,” the two-time (2007-09) U.S. champion said. “I’m happy with [the performance] as far as the scores go; it reflected an improvement from Skate America untill now. Yes, I had that one mistake and I wasn’t happy about it, because I’ve been training this program clean every day. To make a major error like that was disappointing, especially because I didn’t feel tired going into that Axel.”
Like Lysacek, Oda singled a planned triple Axel, but his eight other triples were of excellent quality. He earned 155.71 points for his entertaining “Charlie Chaplin” program. “I’m mad at myself for popping the Axel,” Oda said. “I was third yesterday, and in trying to pull up, maybe I tried to be too perfect. In practice, I can do it (the triple Axel) without any problems. I guess I just try too hard in competition and when I’m skating in front of the audience.”
Weir delivered a clean performance of his routine he titled “Falling Angel.” He landed eight triples in his elegant program and achieved a personal best score of152.75. He compiled 237.35 overall.
“It's the best long program that I've done so far. I rotated all my jumps, so I'm happy with that. And a new career best score is excellent,” Weir said. “I hope this competition gives me some legitimacy, because a lot of people always write me off after I make mistakes and then I have to climb my way back up.”
Jeremy Abbott (USA) moved up from fifth to fourth with the second best free skate. He missed his quad toe but hit all his triples. He scored a competition mark of 235.38.
Overnight leader Daisuke Takahashi (JPN) not only crashed on his quad toe attempt, but also made costly errors on other jumps and his spins to plummet to fifth place overall. He scored 224.60 overall points while Tomas Verner (CZE) remained in sixth place with a competition mark of 192.32 points.
The Junior Ladies
Newcomer Polina Shelepen (RUS) won the junior ladies short program with an impressive performance to “Adagio.” Her program featured a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. The 14-year-old from Moscow picked up a personal best of 59.54 points.
“I am very pleased with my performance today. I went for the triple-triple (Lutz-toe) combination for the first time in an international event. At some point you have to start doing it in competition and a big event like this motivates me even more to do it.” Shelepen said.
Kanako Murakami (JPN) was just 0.02 points out of first place. The 15-year-old Japanese skater turned in a crisp Flamenco and hit a triple toe-triple toe, but her double Axel was downgraded. Murakami received 59.52 points.
Ksenia Makarova (RUS) rounded up the top three with another solid program and produced a triple toe-triple toe combination as well (55.38 points).
Anna Ovcharov of Russia was fourth (54.92) in the short prgram and American Christina Gao was fifth (52.82). The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-place finishers were also Americans: Ellie Kawamura (50.30), Kiri Baga (49.58) and Anglea Maxwell (47.28), respectively.
The seniors skaters are shooting for a big paydays in Tokyo. Skaters will earn the following:
1st place USD $25,000
2nd place USD $18,000
3rd place USD $12,000
4th place USD $6,000
5th place USD $4,000
6th place USD $3,000
The junior ladies are shooting for smaller paydays. The winner s.will net $6,000 (U.S.), the silver medalist $5,000; and bronze medalist $4,000. The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finishers will take home $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000, respectively.
The remainder of the schedule for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final (junior and senior) is as follows:
* Sunday, Dec. 6: Junior Free Dance, Junior Ladies Free Skating, Exhibition Gala