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Wagner provides thrilling performance at Bompard

Russians Sotnikova, Pogorilaya round out top three in Paris
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American Ashley Wagner claimed the gold after a spectacular performance at Trophée Bompard with 194.37 total points. With the win, Wagner has qualified for the Grand Prix final for the second year in a row after finishing second and first, respectively, at her two Grand Prix events. -Getty Images

Ashley Wagner won the Trophée Eric Bompard ladies event Saturday night, finishing in front of Russian prodigies Adelina Sotnikova and Anna Pogorilaya. Wagner's almost seven-point lead a fterthe short program was more than enough to help her secure the win, as Sotnikova won the free program by more than two points over Wagner (129.80 to 127.62). The American recorded 194.37 points overall, while Sotnikova garnered 189.81 points. Pogorilaya scored 124.66 for her free program and 184.69 points overall. For the second year in a row, Wagner captured the gold over two Russian skaters (last year it was Julia Lipnistkaia and Elizaveta Tuktamisheva).

As the story is told, Sergei Prokofiev, the Russian composer, was positive about never composing a musical score for ballet again after Romeo and Juliet, as the dancers of the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow found it "impossible to dance." Maybe Wagner could have changed the composer's mind, as she managed to give an emotional and well-tempered rendering of the masterpiece.

"This program is definitely not a typical Romeo and Juliet program," Wagner explained. "If you are in ballet, you still recognize the music. David Wilson, who choreographed it, and I wanted to use a familiar concept, but not based a music that people have heard over and over. So David used different cuts, and to me it is an ideal way to put Romeo and Juliet with so big a music."

Wagner landed all her elements but one, as she fell on her triple flip-double toe-double toe combination at the end of her program. Her triple flip-triple toe, triple Lutz and triple flip got negative grades of execution (GOEs) -- bringing up the question of why a correct triple Lutz started from the wrong edge gets penalized as much as a missed triple flip. Wagner's components got the highest scores of the evening, although not by far (65.81 to 64.65 to Sotnikova). Wagner's program to Romeo and Juliet was certainly the best packaged altogether.

 "This program has been quite a challenge for me," Wagner explained. "I have been used to portraying strong characters these last two years. Juliet is only 14, so I had to step back this year.

"This is the reason why I was not fully satisfied at Skate America," she added. "I felt a bit lost, as the Juliet I was portraying was a victim. I thought this was boring. I did not want to be a victim. So I had to review my concept. I came back with a passionate Juliet, someone who is going after her love. It was difficult, but I love challenge."

Sotnikova skated with her usual poise to Camille Saint-Saëns' violin masterpiece, "Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso". She landed a triple-double combination instead of her planned triple-triple, but her program was otherwise perfect, giving her Level 3's and Level 4's for all her elements. Not only did Sotnikova skate a difficult and clean program, but she also managed to interpret it.

"I was able to skate my free program clean for the first time in two years," a radiant Sotnikova said. "It's the first time I've qualified for the Grand Prix final. Two Russian girls already qualified tonight (she and Pogorilaya), and a third one may join us next week. This is great, especially for me after I missed it last year."

Along with Wagner, Pogorilaya was the only other skater to land her planned triple-triple (a Lutzp-toe loop that garnered 11.10 points, including a +1 GOE). Pogorilaya, the Pirates of the Caribbean's little mermaid of one evening, was in fact quite strong tonight. She hit all her jumps -- including a beautiful triple flip after three minutes and 50 seconds! Her components averaged 7.5, some 0.7 points behind Wagner's and a completely understandable one-point difference in interpretation.

"This was a great free program for me," Pogorilaya said afterward. "It was very tough, as there was a lot of pressure from every side. I can be happy to have landed all these difficult jumps, which many other girls can't land."

Samantha Cesario, who finished eighth in the United States in 2013, gave one of the best surprises of the evening, as she delivered a charismatic free skate to Carmen.

"The Spanish flavor is something that has always suited me well," Cesario said. "Skating in front of such a big audience was quite a challenge for me. I felt the nerves! But overall I felt very good and wanted to attack it right away.

"I know that I can get really into my programs," she added. "It may result in some mistakes, but that's also what grasps an audience."

 And for her first time in Paris, she did grasp the Parisian audience.

American Christina Gao endured an off-night, as she missed several of her jumps but fought bravely to save what could be saved. She ended in eighth place, with 152.85 points overall.

Competitions ahead should be thrilling in the ladies category. Wagner has now undoubtedly become one of the favorites for this Olympic season.