FIGURE SKATING: Zagitova wins women’s title, Chen leads U.S. men to 1-2-4 in Short Program

2018 Olympic Champion Alina Zagitova (Photo: ISU)

Russia’s Olympic champ Alina Zagitova confirmed her preeminence at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama City (JPN), while the American men’s trio of Nathan Chen, Jason Brown and Vincent Zhou were almost as spectacular in the men’s Short Program.

Zagitova dominated the women’s event from the start, piling up a huge edge in the Short Program with an 82.08 score, with no one else scoring better than 76.86 for Kaori Sakamoto of Japan.

The Free Skate was more of the same, with Zagitova scoring 155.42, with only Japan’s Rika Kihira – who had hoped to challenge for a medal – scoring 152.59 and no one else reaching 150 points. Zagitova won by 237.50-224.76 over Elizavet Tursynbaeva (KAZ), with two-time World Champion Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS) third at 223.80.

After finishing second in the Free Skate, Kihira noted that “I was anxious about this free program after missing the triple Axel in my short program and I was thinking that I just HAVE to do it. Although I did not land my second triple Axel and I am a little bit disappointed about it, honestly I was not landing it as much as usual and struggling with it during practice so I am happy that I landed the first one and was able to rotate the second one and landed all the other jumps. This is why I was relieved and said `Yokatta’ [it was good] right when I finished my program.”

Said Zagitova, “My first thought at the very end of the performance was ‘yes, I did it.’ I realized that I needed a clean skate and I went into each jump determined to land it. I was very nervous, because this season didn’t go so smoothly. I want to thank my coaches and everyone who helped me and I want to thank the spectators that came to support me. I knew that the audience is very welcoming and supportive and that helps me to jump.”

The men’s Short Program was a showcase for the American skaters, led by defending champion Chen. He torched the field with a brilliant 107.84-point performance, nearly 11 points ahead of surprise second-placer Brown.

Said Chen, referring to his disappointing PyeongChang Short Program that left him in 17th place, “At the Olympics, I was like so many points behind [eventual winner Yuzuru Hanyu] you can’t, just by one performance … be indicative of what a skater truly is, but at the same time I am really happy with how I skated today. It’s not the reflection of any other skaters but I’m just happy with the way I skated. Saturday will be a complete new day, I can’t keep using the success of the past to bring me forward but ultimately I’m excited to perform for the Japanese audience.”

Brown brought the house down with a lifetime best with 96.81 and said afterwards, “It feels amazing. Obviously every time I competed, I loved performing in Japan and perform for these Japanese audiences. It is something I cherish and not what I take for granted. Today I got out there and I wanted to give them a show.” Zhou was fourth behind Hanzu (94.17) and said “This program is probably the most magical programs I have ever had.”

Hanyu was third at 94.87 and said nothing about his injuries, but explained “I don’t think my focus was enough. After I missed my first jump, my mind went blind. I guess I was a bit rushed for the first jump, and put myself up too much today. Now I feel frustrated with my performance.”

China’s Weijing Sui and Cong Han, the 2018 Olympic silver medalists, defended their 2018 victory with a brilliant Free Skate, leaping ahead of Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov with a 155.60-147.26 scoring advantage, after being second in the Short Program.

Said, Sui, “For the free program, we pulled everything out, and we won the competition because of the great support from the audience.” Russia’s Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert won the bronze medal.

France’s Gabriella Papdakis and Guillaume Cizeron took a big lead in the Ice Dance Rhythm Dance, 88.42-83.94 over Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov. The American duo of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue was fourth heading into the Free Dance, but within striking distance of the silver medal.

The big controversy so far was an injury suffered by Korean skater Eun Soo Lim in a collision with American Mariah Bell during the 20 March practice session. The ISU issued a statement, noting that “The incident was verbally reported to the ISU by the Korean Team Leader however no formal complaint has been received. Based on the evidence at hand at this point in time, which includes a video, there is no evidence that Ms. Bell intended any harm to Ms. Lim.” Said Bell after the Free Skate, “It was an unfortunate event, I meant no harm, but you know, I just continued to focus on myself and I did the same thing in my program today. I was not following any of what was going on social media, so I dont know what was happening in total, I was just focusing on my job.” Summaries so far:

ISU World Championships
Saitama City (JPN) ~ 18-24 March 2019
(Full results here)

Men (Short Program): 1. Nathan Chen (USA), 107.40; 2. Jason Brown (USA), 96.81; 3. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN), 94.87; 4. Vincent Zhou (USA), 94.17; 5. Matteo Rizzo (ITA), 93.37; 6. Shoma Uno (JPN), 91.40; 7. Kevin Aymoz (FRA), 88.24; 8. Michal Brezina (CZE), 86.96.

Women: 1. Alina Zagitova (RUS), 237.50 (1st in Short Program + 1st in Free Skate); 2. Elizabet Tursynbaeva (KAZ), 224.76 (3+4); 3. Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS), 223.80 (4+3); 4. Rika Kihira (JPN), 223.49 (7+2); 5. Kaori Sakamoto (JPN), 222.83 (2+5); 6. Satoko Miyahara (JPN), 215.95 (8+6); 7. Bradie Tennell (USA), 213.47 (10+7); 8. Sofia Samodurova (RUS), 208.58 (9+8). Also: 9. Mariah Bell (USA), 208.07 (6+9).

Pairs: 1. Wenjing Sui/Cong Han (CHN), 234.84 (2+1); 2. Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS), 228.47 (1+2); 3. Natalia Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert (RUS), 217.98 (4+4); 4. Cheng Peng/Yang Jin (CHN), 215.84 (3+5); 5. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA), 215.19 (7+3); 6. Aleksandra Boikova/Dmitrii Kozlovskii (RUS), 210.30 (6+6); 7. Kirsten Moore-Towers/Michael Marinaro (CAN), 200.02 (5+8); 8. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA), 195.74 (8+7). Also: 9. Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc (USA), 193.81 (9+9).

Ice Dance (Rhythm Dance): 1. Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA), 88.42; 2. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS), 83.94; 3. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS), 83.10; 4. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA), 83.09; 5. Kaitlin Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN), 82.84; 6. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA), 82.32; 7. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA), 81.66. Also: 9. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA), 75.90.

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