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Wagner earns standing ovation in Paris triumph

Skate America champ wins second Grand Prix gold; Tuktamisheva edges Lipnitskaia; Gao takes fourth

Team USA's Ashley Wagner is headed to the Grand Prix Final after snagging another gold.
Team USA's Ashley Wagner is headed to the Grand Prix Final after snagging another gold. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(11/17/2012) - Ashley Wagner won the free skate and the gold medal at Trophée Eric Bompard on Saturday night in Paris. She scored 127.54 points for the free and 190.63 points overall. Elizaveta Tuktamisheva and Julia Lipnitskaia finished second and third, with 179.62 and 179.31 points, respectively.

The story goes that Camille Saint-Saëns, the famous composer of Samson and Delilah, could read musical scores before words when he was a child. Wagner's rendition to Saint-Saëns' musical score left her audience without words.

Wagner delivered a chiseled performance of her program. Skating next to last in her trademark "Delilah" sparkling orange dress, she approached her program with ease and determination: triple flip-double toe-double toe, double Axel-double toe and five more triples, one in combination. Her triple loop, coming out of a change of edge, was a marvel. Wagner mastered it all, head and shoulders, as well as her art of ... seduction. Her components mark was seven points ahead of those of her next competitors, and the Parisian audience gave her a spontaneous standing ovation.

"Today was a huge accomplishment for me," Wagner explained afterward. "I really did not feel at my best. It showed me that I do not need to be at my top to skate such a program.

"The audience was really great; I thought I was at a football game. It's an honor to be so well received in front of an international audience."

Does Wagner know that she was skating to one of the pieces that led skating icon Peggy Fleming to her world and Olympic triumphs back in 1968? May that piece be a charm for her on her quest to gold.

"There are two things I would like to work on before the [Grand Prix] Final," Wagner added. "I need to get my spin level up and add the triple-triple combination."

Her spins got two Level 3s and a Level 2.

The same three girls who came in 1-2-3 yesterday remained on the podium, yet in a somewhat unexpected order, as Tuktamisheva came from third to second place after a powerful and strong performance which earned her the best technical score of the evening (63.88 to 62.91 for Wagner). Lipnitskaia dropped from first to third place.

Tuktamisheva had a rough practice Saturday morning, but her will and determination managed to put her back on track. She skated to "Dark Eyes" with poise, and rallied the support of the French audience at the end of her program.

She landed her opening triple Lutz-triple toe, carried on with her Lutz and flip, then went on to her double Axel-triple toe and subsequent triple loop to earn 121.36 (her season's best) in the free, and 179.62 overall.

"I was overwhelmed by emotion at the end of my program," Tuktamisheva said. "I really wanted to achieve this, but I never thought that I would be able to achieve it."

Her style is now becoming reminiscent of her illustrious predecessor, Irina Slutskaya, at the time she won her first European title. Slutskaya was about the same age.

Lipnitskaia finished her program under a thundering applause from the 7,000-person crowd in the arena. Her program, however spectacular, was marred by several errors. Her opening triple Lutz-triple toe was superb, but she had difficulty with two more combinations, two-footed her flip and put a hand at the end of her Lutz. Her spins all got Level 4.

"This was not my best program, obviously," Lipnitskaia said. "I do not really know what happened; all I want is that, next time, I can skate it much better."

Dressed in a light red dress underlined with gold, Christina Gao offered a wonderful rendering of Astor Piazzola's "Libertango" to finish fourth in both the free skate and overall.

Gao landed each one of her six triples, including Lutz and flip combinations, to score 112.16 points in the free and 164.71 points overall. Her wavy arm and finger movements emphasized her deep and long edges. Skating, "that illusion of not having to move anymore, because movement is carrying you," skating legend Sonja Henie once wrote. Gao is one of those skaters you never hear scratching the ice. Her edges are pure and silent; one edge is enough to push her across the ice, to produce a unique impression of an angelic fluidity and lightness.

"It was good," she said afterward with a radiant smile when she left the ice. "So much better than yesterday. I think I was more down on my knees. The audience was great, too. It's important for me, especially at the end of my program. It gives me energy."

Maé Bérénice Méité, from France, skated to an Egyptian theme -- from music to arm movements to her golden costume. She fell heavily from her opening triple flip but completed five other triples, two of which were in combination, and scored 102.75 for the free and a season's best 157.58 points overall. She finished fifth.

Polina Korobeynikova, who ranked fifth in the short program, skated a delightful Swan Lake with ample movement. She doubled her opening flip, had difficulties landing her triple loop and fell heavily on her triple Salchow. She scored a disappointing 90.32 points in the free and 144.82 overall to take sixth place.