As I watched the ladies free here in Saitama, I could not help but think back to the last post-Olympic Worlds in this nation. There, in Makuhari, Chiba, another neighboring prefecture of Tokyo, a young Japanese skater by the name of Yuka Sato skated off with the gold on the heels of a fifth place finish at the 1994 Olympic Winter Games.
After her world record breaking short program here, and with the memory of that epic free in Sochi still fresh in the mind, it was going to be a tall order for Mao Asada to recreate something special again in front of her homeland fans.
Ignoring what the protocols say about under rotations and edge violations, it was still a very good outing for Asada. The triple Axel looked clean to my eyes and judging by the roar that erupted from the audience when it was landed, they felt the same. Ironically, the biggest mistake she made was botching the simpler double Axel. Her score of 138.03 points was by far the best of the night and gave Asada her third World title with a personal best total of 216.69. It marked the second time Asada had claimed a crown at a post-Olympic Worlds (2010).
"It hasn't really sunk in yet that I've won the Championship. At this competition I wanted to put everything I had on the ice in both the short and the free program and I feel like I've done that," Asada told the assembled media.
Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaia captured a silver medal in her Worlds debut with a total of 207.50 points. Skating to "Schindler's List," the reigning European champion made only one serious error, falling on a triple Salchow.
The 15-year-old was positive about her first Worlds experience at the end of the competition. "My free today wasn't the best. I had one mistake, but I was able to put everything together so that was a good thing. I am satisfied with my performance and I'm happy that it's done," she said.
Unfortunately, there were shades of the Carolina Kostner of old in her "Bolero" free. The Italian fell on the second part of a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, then singled a loop and later, the flip. Her score of 126.59 points was only good enough for 6th in the free, but her total of 203.83 points gave her the bronze. Kostner was disappointed.
There were a few stand-out performances. Valentina Marchei kicked off the evening with a rousing flamenco that had many of the Japanese fans on their feet from the outset. Joshi Helgesson improved her personal best score by over nine points and ended her season on a positive note. A broken foot caused her to miss the beginning of this season and any chance of going to the Olympics.
However, my highlight of the night was Ashley Wagner who was in the zone and went for broke with her "Samson and Delilah" program. The attack from the American was incredible and she really brought the house down. Fourth in the free, Wagner remained in seventh overall.
Gracie Gold was the last competitor at these World Championships to take to the ice and represented the last chance for the U.S. to earn a medal. The wheels came off her Axels as she singled one and fell on another. There was to be no hardware for the American team to take home from Saitama.
Coincidentally, the last time that happened at Worlds was also in Makuhari in 1994.