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Wagner outruns pair of Russians to win ladies short

Pogorilaya places second; Sotnikova sits just behind in third
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Team USA's Ashley Wagner carries a 6.72-point lead into the free skate. -Getty Images

Ashley Wagner won the short program at the 2013 Trophée Eric Bompard on Friday night in Paris after a flawless program. She sits in first place, 6.72 points ahead of this year's Russian prodigies, Anna Pogorilaya and Adelina Sotnikova, who stand in second and third, respectively (66.75 points for Wagner, 60.03 for Pogorilaya and 60.01 for Sotnikova).

The American won silver at Skate America, while the Russians claimed gold and silver at Cup of China. Their encounter was thus much anticipated, especially since Russian youngsters have often been a real challenge to the favorites of their times. Just like last year, Wagner won in front of two Russians. She also did it in the best of all ways: with class.

Wagner landed her triple flip-triple toe, although she slightly double-footed the second jump, which was downgraded. Her purest triple loop was like one of those diamonds to which she was skating (Pink Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond"). She got Level 4's for all her elements.

Watching Wagner skate through her short program, one could realize something very special: In this program particularly, one can really feel that she is taking the time to be in every move and every attitude, something quite original nowadays, especially in a short program.

"Shae-Lynn Bourne choreographed my short program this year," Wagner explained. "I wanted a program that would allow me to be strong, yet feminine. I thought of Shae-Lynn right away. She was amazing. She created a program that looks seamless, where people feel that I am really present and not rushing from one element to the next.

"If there is one program that would define who I am in skating, I think this short program is it," she added.

That showed Friday night.

"I had a very solid performance tonight," Wagner said. "I know that my triple toe was downgraded, but honestly, I am very happy because I went for everything I wanted."

Pogorilaya was second to skate Friday night. She started her program to "El Choclo" with her signature triple Lutz-triple toe combination, followed by a triple loop and delightful flying camel spin. Then, she completely missed her double Axel.

"I was very happy with the start of my program," Pogorilaya said. "Especially the combination and the flying spin, which I used to have trouble with. Then, I did not want to pop the Axel. Maybe I was too focused on this and there was really nothing I could do about it."

She sits in second place, only 0.02 points in front of Sotnikova.

Sotnikova did land her triple Lutz-triple loop combination, but she two-footed the second jump, which was downgraded. Just like Pogorilaya, she popped her planned double Axel. She nonetheless managed not to let herself drown into her powerful Carmen Habanera (especially powerful in the version she chose, played on the piano).

"I felt great today, but I don't know what happened in my head," she said. "I am not pleased with my performance. Maybe it's the worst I ever skated this year. I was ready for the Axel, but something went wrong in my head, I don't know what."

The night was good for the American girls. Christina Gao delivered a solid and ample performance to "Close Without Touching," amassing 58.81 points. She landed her triple toe-triple toe combination but had her subsequent triple loop downgraded.

"I felt pretty good tonight," she said. "Maybe a little shaky, yet I am happy because I fought for everything I had." 

Gao's line was again a hit in Paris, and she got a 7.2-point average on her components.

"I really want to keep pushing on body movement and expression," Gao said. "This year, I think I have really reached a new level there."

She sits in fourth place before the free skate.

Samantha Cesario was the first to skate Friday night. She made quite a strong impression in her first appearance in Paris, which was only her second senior Grand Prix.

"Did you notice?" she said afterward. "I lost my balance right at the start of my program and almost flipped backwards."

At least that did help her focus (even though there is little doubt that she did not need such a mishap!).

Cesario landed all her elements. The unique edge-to-edge combination she chose (triple loop-triple loop) was warmly applauded by the audience (although the technical panel downgraded the second jump, it got 8.70 points). She got Level 4's for most of her elements, except the layback spin and step sequence, which got a Level 3.

"I got the levels I went for," she said. "It's getting better each time, and I'm happy tonight!"

She tallied 56.55 points for her performance and rests in fifth place, right above Maé-Bérénice Méité of France, who delivered a solid performance as well.

This Olympic year is reaching a new height in ladies figure skating.

"It's certainly becoming more and more jump-oriented," Wagner said, "And you may lose a bit on the artistic side, but all the top women are doing the exact same thing. So, you need the right jumps, but also the right music, the right choreography, the right set-up and you need to pull everything together to make a difference."

Which she did beautifully Friday night.

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