Home sweet home: Asada claims gold in SaitamaLipnitskaia bags silver, Kostner bronze; USA lands fifth, seventh, eighth
The 18,000 spectators who gathered at Saitama's Super Arena -- plus untold millions watching on live TV -- got the result they craved at the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships on Saturday: Mao Asada, Japan's biggest skating star, won her third and, perhaps, final world title.
Skating to Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor," Asada opened with a triple Axel that looked clean but was reviewed by the technical panel's slow motion replay and judged underrotated. While she was credited with only 80 percent of the jump's base value, she still earned six points and remains the only lady to include this jump in her programs.
Four other triple jumps were clean, but the triple flip and two double loops were also called underrotated and her Lutz got an edge call. Although she stepped out of a double Axel, her spins and the two step sequences were elegant and excellent.
Asada, like many Japanese skaters, was critical of her performance.
"I have regrets on the one mistake on the double Axel, but I think I could control myself and I have done what I have to do," she said. "I was much more nervous than in the short program, but the cheering from the audience and my coach was with me, so I could skate in a relaxed mood after all.
"I could not skate as well in the free program as at the [Sochi] Olympics, but overall I am very satisfied with my performance," Asada added.
Julia Lipnitskaia, the 15-year-old Russian who placed fifth in Sochi, won silver with 207.50 points.
After her opening combination of triple Lutz (launched from an incorrect inside edge) and triple toe loop, she performed four more good triple jumps and two double Axels but fell on a downgraded triple Salchow. As usual, her highlights were two outstanding spins, for which the judges awarded many +3 grades of execution (GOEs).
Her interpretation of the soundtrack of Schindler's List has been quite mature all season, as she portrays the "girl in the red dress" from the movie in a convincing manner.
"It is a shame that I missed the Salchow; I did not do it correctly technically; therefore I fell," Lipnitskaia said. "I don't have any reason to be upset because the season is over and I can take a breath.
"Overall, I am pleased with my performance," she continued. "I moved the double Axel-triple toe loop combination into the second half because you get [bonus] points."
Italy's Carolina Kostner, who won bronze in Sochi, missed a chance at a second world title after skating just the sixth-best free program. She settled for the bronze medal with 203.87 points.
Kostner opened her free skate to Ravel's "Bolero" with an excellent triple Lutz but later fell on a triple toe loop done in combination with a triple flip. She singled the loop and the second flip, which cost her many points. Three other jumping elements, along with the spins, were very good, and the step sequence was outstanding.
Unlike in Sochi -- where she skated clean -- she gained the highest program components in the field, including two perfect 10's for choreography. Due to the mistakes, the performance mark was lower than the other four components.
"I wish I could skate again and do better," Kostner said. "The jumps did not work how I wished, but this is the sport. I have to say that the Japanese crowd helped me a lot to keep going. They cheered me until the end, and I am really thankful for that. It was a rough day for me."
Russia's 15-year-old Anna Pogorilaya, who arrived in Saitama as first alternate when Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova decided not to compete, is fourth with 197.50 points, including the highest technical elements score of the event. With her seven strong triples and dynamic style, she proved yet again that Russia's supply of talented teenagers appears to be unlimited.
With U.S. ladies placing fifth, seventh and eighth, the U.S. did not win a medal at a world championships for the first time since 1994. Results were good enough, though, to gain three U.S. spots for ladies, men's and ice dance at the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships, and two spots for pairs.
Gracie Gold, who trains with Frank Carroll in El Segundo, Calif., near Los Angeles, placed fifth with 194.58 points. She opened her free to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty with an excellent combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop but popped her next jump, intended to be a double Axel-triple toe loop, into a single Axel. Four relatively clean triple jumps followed, but she fell on a double Axel late in the program.
"I'm sorry I wasn't able to put out my best performance," Gold said. "I'll have to refocus and try again next season. I learned what I need to work on, and I need to train harder."
The U.S. champion talked about her goals to gain consistency next season.
"I need to complete the whole package," she said. "One competition, it's lovely skating, one competition is lovely jumps. I have to work on putting the package together and getting better programs for next season."
Ashley Wagner earned 193.16 points for seventh place. Skating to Samson and Delilah, she performed five clean and two underrotated triple jumps. Her fast step sequence and two of her three spins were highlights. She was the only U.S. lady to gain a standing ovation after performing the fourth-best free program.
"I'm very stoked about this performance tonight," Wagner said. "It was so great for me to feel like I was back as a competitor. The past season has been very tough for me, full of ups and downs and highs and lows. It was great for me to put out those programs and feel so solid here."
Wagner, who announced her intention to continue competing, thinks her best results are still ahead.
"This season, I learned that I'm so much stronger than I've ever given myself credit for," she said. "I learned at Olympics and here that, mentally, if I steer myself on the correct path and don't doubt myself, I feel I can become one of the top athletes in the world."
Polina Edmunds, the 15-year-old from San Jose, Calif., was fifth in the free and eighth overall with 187.50 points after performing an elegant and balletic program to selections by Edvard Grieg, with arm movements that perfectly fit the music. She landed seven clean triples, including two triple-triple combinations, plus two double Axels.
"I think I gave a good performance today; I did a clean program, and I'm happy that I finished the season off strong," Edmunds said. "It would be one of my best performances ever, for sure."
Edmunds, who placed fourth at the Junior Grand Prix Final this season, added that, despite her youth, she felt comfortable competing as a senior lady.
"Junior has a very strong field as well, so I gained a lot of experience from those competitions," she said. "It really prepared me for the senior competitions, and I'm happy I was given the chance to compete here."
Savchenko to team with Massot
Aliona Savchenko, who with Robin Szolkowy won a fifth world pairs title in Saitama, confirmed she has formed a new partnership with Frenchman Bruno Massot. Massot and Daria Popova were 15th in Saitama.
"I want to become Olympic champion in 2018, and I will be successful with Bruno Massot," Savchenko told the German publication BILD. "I am happy that I could win him as a partner."
Under ISU rules, a skater switching countries must sit out one season internationally before he or she can compete for a new country.
"The other German pairs skaters are too weak for world-class skating," said Ingo Steuer, who coached Savchenko and Szolkowy. "As either Aliona or Bruno has to change nationality, we have to sit out one season. We will decide quietly for which country we will compete."