Skating broke new ground this past weekend with Spain hosting a major senior competition for the first time. In the first part of our review of the ISU Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating, we take a look back at the men and ladies’ events.
For better or for worse, the main draw was always going to be the men and it was set up to be a head to head between the Olympic and World champion and the two-time European gold medallist and hometown favourite. Yuzuru Hanyu scraped into the final after his collision with Han Yan at Cup of China and missing the podium at NHK Trophy, but in Barcelona he was back to his old self with two excellent (if not completely perfect) performances inside the Centre de Convencions Internacional de Barcelona (CCIB). His Chopin short gave him a score of 94.08 and a lead of over six points ahead of his nearest rival, despite falling on the back end of a triple lutz/triple toe loop combination.
“I felt really comfortable on the ice and relaxed,” he reflected. “I just did it.”
Hanyu skated even better in the free skating setting a new personal best of 194.08 which coincidentally was exactly one hundred points more than his short and also included a fall, this time on a triple lutz. The two-time Japanese champion brought the crowd inside the venue to their feet with his “Phantom of the Opera” programme and bagged his second consecutive Grand Prix Final title with a total of 288.16.
“I was a little nervous today, but I felt really happy to skate here. I was also happy to be able to use my body fully and this was due to the support from my team and many people. I also got many messages from my fans all over the world and I want to send them all my gratitude.”
While Hanyu may have won the gold, there was no doubt about who the star of the event was. One can only imagine the amount of pressure on Javier Fernandez’s shoulders – first of all to qualify and then to deliver in what would be his first major international competition on home soil. The reception when he came out to skate his “Black Betty” short was raucous and it turned out to have perhaps unsettled him. Fernandez fell on a quadruple salchow, doubled a triple lutz and fell again out of nowhere.
“This was my first experience to step out on a Spanish ice rink. It was more surprising and I wasn’t ready. I’m not a kid. I don’t know if I’m going to have more competitions at home so it was really new for me, unlike for skaters from Japan, Canada, the U.S. or Russia. They are used to competing in their country every year.”
The Spaniard put a brave face on it, but surely fifth place going into the free must have been a huge disappointment. He pulled himself together for his “Barber of Seville” routine however, with a single lutz his only error and clawed his way up to silver over thirty points adrift of his training partner Hanyu. Everyone in the building breathed a sigh of relief that the poster boy of the event would go away with some hardware.
“In the free programme, I knew that when I stepped onto the ice that the crowd was going to be really loud,” Fernandez spoke to the media in the mixed zone after his performance. “I just tried to keep myself calm and turn that power from the crowd into energy.”
Unexpectedly, Sergei Voronov finished third and in doing so became the first Russian man to win a medal at the Grand Prix Final since Evgeni Plushenko in 2004. There were many who felt that he had perhaps been unlucky to be lying in fourth after the short when all the skaters above him had made some glaring mistakes. The Russian was able to keep his composure in the free and was clearly delighted with himself for making the podium at the Grand Prix Final for the first time in his career.
“At the Grand Prix in Japan I skated after Yuzuru and now in Spain I skated right after Javi so I think I went through everything that can happen,” Voronov joked afterwards at the press conference. “During the six minute warm-up for the short programme when Javi was announced, there was such a noise as if the soccer club from Barcelona were all going out on the ice.”
With two thirds of the qualifiers in the senior ladies being Russian, the likelihood was that they were going to dominate the event and so it turned out. The four Russians occupied the first four spots after the short programme with Elizaveta Tuktamysheva heading the pile. The 2013 European bronze medallist had bounced back this season after a horrendous 2013/2014 that culminated on her missing out on a trip to the Sochi Olympics. This was Tuktamysheva’s seventh competition in the last three months and she saved her best till last with a precisely executed outing of her Arabian themed free. There was not a single negative grade of execution on any of her elements and she racked up new career high scores of 136.06 for her free and 203.58 overall. She also became the first Russian woman to win the Grand Prix Final since Irina Slutskaya in 2004.
“I was a little surprised I was able to skate cleanly (in the free) for the first time this season,” Tuktamysheva stated in the post-competition press conference. “Right before the Grand Prix Final I was sick, so I wasn’t in top shape. It was tough for me to skate today and at the end of the programme my legs were very heavy. I’m going to go home to Saint Petersburg to recover and hopefully I will skate well at Russian Nationals.”
Elena Radionova also had an excellent skate in the free and she matched the technical score of Tuktamysheva exactly. The two-time World Junior champion had been in third after the short because of a fall on a triple loop, but she did not put a foot wrong in her Rachmaninov free and moved up to the silver medal position. Her free score of 134.85 was just a shade off her best ever.
“I did not really think about any placements,” Radionova explained. “My goal for the season was always to skate clean, so I can say that more or less I fulfilled this goal in the free skating although there were mistakes in the short programme. I know what I need to continue to work on and the most important thing is not stagnating.”
In contrast, Julia Lipnitskaia crashed and burned in her free after holding second place after the short. The European champion fell twice and popped a couple of triples into doubles and continues her battle to find consistency this season.
The skater who spoiled the all-Russian podium sweep was Ashley Wagner. The American had repeatedly referred to herself as a great grandmother among the teenagers she was competing against in Barcelona and had been back in sixth going into the free. The 2012 Four Continents champion showed in her “Moulin Rouge” routine that she was not to be written off and will be very happy that the triple flip/triple toe loop that she has been struggling with all season was deemed to be rotated this time. She did receive an under-rotation call on a triple salchow, but that was the only blemish on her protocol. Wagner was the only repeat medallist in the ladies event as she matched her bronze from last year in Fukuoka.
“I’ve some big goals for this season and I’ve been challenging myself in every single competition,” Wagner said. “Hopefully by the time I get to nationals I’ll be prepared. I just need to figure out how to get together two solid programmes because although the long programme was great this competition as a whole was wonky.”