Virtue and Moir, Hanyu steal show at FinlandiaLipnitskaia returns to competition with ladies title; Chock, Bates earn silver
Several of Sochi's promising contenders began their Olympic campaigns last week at the Finlandia Trophy. Reigning Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada took the ice dance title in impressive style, while 2012 world junior champion Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia and 2012 world bronze medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan each won their respective events by nearly 10 points.
Lipnitskaia made a successful return to competition in Espoo after a concussion she suffered in training kept her out of the 2012 Grand Prix Final and the 2013 Russian Championships.
She completed a total of 10 triple jumps between the two segments, including a triple Lutz-triple toe combination that opened her short program. That performance, set to "Sabre Dance" by Aram Khatchaturian, also featured a Level 4 step sequence and three Level 4 spins. She won both phases of the competition and topped the podium with a score of 191.31 points.
Japan's Akiko Suzuki finished the short program in second place, with an 8.26-point lead over the rest of the field, and finished with the silver medal despite a third-place finish in the free skate. The 2012 world bronze medalist earned a score of 180.54, putting her more than seven points ahead of Lipnitskaia's teammate, Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, who rallied from a sixth-place finish in the short program to earn the bronze medal.
The U.S. ladies in Espoo, Mirai Nagasu and Vanessa Lam, finished just off the podium, with Nagasu placing fourth and Lam fifth. Lam was in third after the short but a sixth-place free skate knocked her out of the medals.
Although his short program wasn't perfect, Hanyu's performance garnered a 4.92-point lead heading into the free skate. Mastering the triple Axel that eluded him in the short, Hanyu successfully completed two in the free skate, one in combination and both within the second half of the program, for a 10-percent bonus.
His Romeo and Juliet performance opened with a quadruple Salchow, followed by a quadruple toe loop, for a combined 23.97 points. He earned 180.93 points in the free and a grand total of 265.50.
Russia completed the podium, with Sergei Voronov taking silver and Artur Gachinski taking bronze. With only one Russian man competing at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, the compatriots will likely challenge each other -- and stalwart Evgeni Plushenko -- for the coveted spot.
Americans Ricky Dornbush and Doug Razzano finished fourth and sixth, respectively. Razzano was in line for a podium finish after the short, in which he finished third, but a seventh-place free skate dropped him down the standings.
Virtue and Moir easily won their season debut, triumphing in both segments of competition en route to a 24-point win over Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates. The Canadians entered the free dance with a 13.89-point lead following a strong short dance, set to the music of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.
The team's trademark elegance was on display for its free dance, set to Glazunov's ballet Seasons and Scriabin's "Piano Concerto in F-sharp minor." They earned a program components score of 56.41 points for the segment, nearly 10 points more than their closest competitor, and finished the week with 167.87 points.
Chock and Bates also opened their 2013-14 season in Espoo, returning to the event for the first time since their debut season in 2011-12.
"We've definitely learned a lot in the last two years," Chock said. "I think we've matured and grown together more as a team. We love coming to Finland, so hopefully we'll be invited to compete at this event next year, too."
The reigning U.S. silver medalists amassed 143.06 points, recovering from a fall in the short dance to close the week with an emotional free dance performance to music from Les Misérables.
"This week wasn't our best, but it was definitely good for our first competition of the year," Bates said. "I think it was just what we needed before we go out for our Grand Prix events."
The duo, coached by Igor Shpilband, earned 89.72 points for the free dance and finished the week 11.35 points ahead of their training mates, Justina Plutowska and Peter Gerber of Poland, who took the bronze with 131.71 points.