Runaway victory gives Asada third GP Final title

Wagner, Suzuki each fall twice, still manage to win silver, bronze

Mao Asada turned a close competition after the short program into a rout.
Mao Asada turned a close competition after the short program into a rout. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(12/08/2012) - Mao Asada captured her third Grand Prix gold at Sochi's Iceberg on Saturday, outshining the field with a captivating free skate to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

The other five ladies all made major mistakes. U.S. champion Ashley Wagner, who entered the free just a half-point behind Asada, held on for silver despite two falls. Akiko Suzuki also fell twice but claimed bronze.

Asada's win over countrywoman Suzuki at last month's NHK Trophy was controversial, with some claiming her subpar free skate did not merit gold, but there was no question about her superiority on this day. Japan's two-time world champion floated through her Tatiana Tarasova-choreographed routine, hitting easy-looking jumps -- including a stellar opening triple loop, another triple loop combination later in the program and a triple flip combination -- and delivering exquisite closing step sequences with elegant musicality.

Although two of Asada's jumps were judged under-rotated by the technical panel, these flaws did not impact the overall flow and ease of her program, and she earned a season's best 129.34 to finish with 196.80.

"I am happy that I was able to skate everything," Asada said. "I am relieved because I had some problems during the season, having not enough speed for my long program and other things that needed to improve. Today, I was able get proper elements I was looking for."

The win must be especially emotional for the 22-year-old. A year ago, at this event in Quebec City, she received word her mother, Kyoto, was critically ill. She returned to Japan immediately, but her mother died prior to her arrival.

Wagner opened her Samson and Delilah free with an eye-opening triple flip-double toe-double toe combination, and then fell on her third jumping pass, a triple Salchow. She recovered to land another two triples but really showed grit after taking a hard tumble on the second jump of a double Axel-triple loop sequence, fighting back to land her final jump, a triple flip.

Although her free skate rated fourth best, her overall total of 181.93 was good enough for second.

"I'm really proud of myself, to be able to pull myself together after a fall like that," Wagner said. "Going into the next jump, you're pretty much terrified that you're going to do that again. I knew I could either give the competition away or, at that point, I could continue to fight. I'm happy that I really pushed through."

The 21-year-old skater, who has had a breakout season to this point, with wins at both of her Grand Prix events, does not think her disappointing free in Sochi will have a long-term effect.

"Over the next couple days, I'm going to be pretty sore," she said. "But other than that, it's been a long season, and I knew a down competition was going to happen sooner or later. I'm happy it happened here instead of nationals.

"I had a great short program here, a personal best. I'm taking that away. Looking at everything I've accomplished this season, this is icing on the cake. This is a bonus."

Suzuki opened well, with two solid combinations, and her free skate to music from Cirque de Soleil had good moments marked by mature, controlled skating. But she, too, had jump trouble, first popping an intended triple Lutz to a single and then taking two falls, including a hard tumble on a triple flip.

Still, she placed third in the free skate and third overall with 180.77 points.

"We made some changes to the program, and that led to all of the mistakes today," Suzuki said. "I spoke with my coach that there was not enough practice for those changes ... The outcome is the outcome, but there are a lot of regrets about today's performance. There is still the rest of the season remaining, so I hope that lessons learned here will be of particular use."

Kiira Korpi, the first Finnish lady to qualify for the Final, showed elegance and flow in her free to the soundtrack of Once Upon a Time in America, but a popped triple Lutz cost her points. She placed fifth in the free and fourth overall.

There were no fully clean triple-triple combinations landed in the event, but big-jumping Russian youngster Elizaveta Tuktamisheva came close with the opening triple Lutz-triple toe in her free to Dark Eyes, just turning out of the second triple. Tuktamisheva executed two other triple combinations to earn the event's highest technical score, and place second in the free and fifth overall.

Christina Gao, fifth in the U.S. each of the last three seasons, opened her tango free with a triple flip-triple toe combination, although the second triple was judged under-rotated. She fell on her second triple flip but landed three more clean triples and placed sixth overall.

"It felt much better than yesterday's short; I didn't have a great warm-up, but I'm glad I pulled it together for the program," Gao, 18, said. "I know I'm tough, and I'm more consistent than I've ever been before."