Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao (CHN), who have won three World titles and two Olympic medals in their stellar careers, captured the pairs short program on Thursday night in Tokyo at the Grand Prix Final. Meanwhile Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White took the lead in ice dance, and competition in the junior men's and juniors pairs events began.
Shen and Zhao set a World record score of 75.36 points in the process.
With a clean and emotional performance to “Who Wants to Live Forever” the Chinese pair, which rejoined the competitive ranks this season, upset two-time and reigning World champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (GER), who came in second.
“Today we felt very good out there on the ice. We almost felt like we were in Beijing,” Zhao said. “All our elements were beautiful today, and also our emotions were strong. So we feel this was a better performance than at our previous Grand Prix events in Beijing and in the USA. Therefore we are very happy today. The audience was great too; it was almost like [we were] at home.”
Szolkowy touched down his hand on his and Savchenk's side-by-side triple toes. The other elements in their lyrical routine to “Send in the Clowns” were solid. “It was a weird feeling today. It felt more like a practice than a competition,” Savchenko explained. “The elements felt better than in the other competitions, except for my triple toe obviously.”
Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov (RUS) finished third with a performance to “Appassionata” in the high-level competition. The Russians achieved a personal best score of 69.78.
“It was not easy, because it's a very big time change and we prepared for this competition in the United States and the ice rink there is smaller than this one and we didn't feel so comfortable. But we just tried to skate and make it work and are finally happy,” Trankov said, referring to the fact that the couple had stayed in North America following their second Grand Prix assignment, Skate Canada International last month.
Defending Grand Prix champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong (CHN) came in fourth. Their pair spin received no value as they had lost touch during the change of foot. Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang (CHN) and Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov (RUS) followed in fifth and sixth place, respectively.
2009 Four Continents champions Davis and White danced to the lead in the original dance ahead of reigning World bronze medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (CAN). The two couples are separated by less than two points.
Davis and White put out an exotic Indian dance that featured intricate footwork and scored a season best of 65.80 points. Virtue and Moir had chosen a Flamenco routine for this year’s folk and country dance theme and left some technical points on the table as their elements had mostly lower levels than those of their main rivals. They posted a season best 64.01 points.
“We skated pretty good; not our best, but we’re pretty happy with it,” White said. “To be awarded with a score like that is always is always a good thing. Especially at this point in the season, we’re trying to build and build and it’s good to see our score building with us.
“Overall everything was very good, but we want to make it perfect. We are still striving for that. It’s the key, the key to success – never be content, keep striving.”
Moir said he and Virtue were happy with ttheir performance. “This is a program that we're really happy to bring with this week. Not that we were unhappy with OD in the GPs, it's just that we felt we could do a lot better, so we feel like this is a good step in the right direction,” Moir said.
Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat (FRA) came in third with an upbeat American country dance. They received 56.93 points, which was also a sesaon best. “We could have done better. It was just the same as in the practice. I think we did a better performance in Skate Canada even though we got the season’s best today,” Bourzat noted.
European bronze medalists Sinead Kerr and John Kerr (GBR) placed fourth with another entertaining American country dance. Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (ITA) and Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier (CAN) finished fifth and sixth, respectivlyt.
Junior Men's Short Program
Nan Song (CHN) grabbed the lead in the junior men’s dicsiplien after the short program with a strong performance, edging out Ross Miner (USA) by less than one point. Song hit a triple Axel and a triple Lutz-triple toe to score a npersonal best of 71.70 points. Miner landed the same combination but put down his hand on the triple Axel. He earned 70.85 points.
“Today’s program was better than at previous competitions. I [will] make some changes after every competition, and I try to keep improving with each competition,” Song said. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) finished third after wobbling on the triple Axel and his final combination spin (69.85 points).
All three men were competing for the first time in the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final.
Junior Pairs Short Program
Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (CHN) wrapped up a successful day for China by winning the junior pair’s short program ahead of Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran (JPN) and Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov (RUS). Skating last out of the eight pairs to Russian Folk music, Sui and Han delivered a flawless program that included a side by side double Axel and a throw triple Salchow. The couple was awarded 56.80 points, just slightly below their personal best score.
”I think our performance was lacking in expression today. Our elements were rather solid,” Han said. “It is very exciting."
Takahashi struggled on the landing of the double Axel, but all the other elements earned a positive grade of execution. The team compiled 54.44 points.
Stolbova and Klimov produced a solid program that featured a double Axel and a throw-triple Salchow to score 48.90 points.
In the Green
The seniors skaters are shooting for a big paydays in Tokyo. The winners in all disciplines (per skater in singles, per couple in ice dance and pairs) 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 men and ladies who win gold will pocket $6,000 (U.S.); the silver medalists $5,000; and bronze medalists $4,000. The fourth-, fifth- and sixth-place finishers will take home $3,000, $2,000 and $1,000, respectively. In pairs and ice dance, the junior couples will split $9,000 for the top spots down to $3,000 for the sixth-place teams.
The remainder of the schedule for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final (junior and senior) is as follows:
Friday, Dec. 4: Junior Men, Junior Pairs Free Skating, Men and Ladies Short Programs, Free Dance
Saturday, Dec. 5: Junior Original Dance, Junior Ladies Short Program, Pairs, Ladies, Men Free Skating
Sunday, Dec. 6: Junior Free Dance, Junior Ladies Free Skating, Exhibition Gala