Ice Network

Kavaguti, Smirnov triumph in competitive return

Russians Tarasova, Morozov snag silver; Scimeca, Knierim win bronze
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Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov had no problem winning the gold medal in their first competition since March 2013. -Getty Images

Russians Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov made their return to competition by winning gold at the Nebelhorn Trophy, finishing nearly 17 points ahead of the field.

It was the veteran skaters' first international event since the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships, where they placed sixth. Smirnov suffered a serious knee injury in October 2013, forcing the team to withdraw from their events last season.

Skating to Peter Tchaikovsky's heavily dramatic "Manfred Symphony," the longtime students of Tamara Moskvina opened with an unsteady triple toe-triple loop sequence. They followed that by attempting double Axels, with Kavaguti stepping out of her landing.

Their third element was the big one: a quadruple throw Salchow which Kavaguti landed, earning the duo 7.43 points. The team's lifts and throw triple loop were also excellent. With program components that reached an average of 8.3, and even included a few 9's, they won the free skate and earned 195.89 total points.

"We are very happy about our victory and that we landed the difficult elements," Smirnov said. "We love the program and [we love that we] could finally show it to the public. It was planned as our Olympic free skate. Yuko did a great job performing and landing the quad throw Salchow."

Both Smirnov and Kavaguti acknowledged that the program needed more practice.

"Our next competition will be Skate America in a month," Smirnov, 32, said. "Until then, we want to polish our program and avoid the mistakes we made today."

"We are happy that the second part of the program went so well," Kavaguti, 29, said. "At the beginning, we were nervous and so concentrated and, therefore, made mistakes."   

Moskvina, who coaches the team in St. Petersburg, was particularly happy with the team's quad throw Salchow.

"The program went better than I thought it would," she said. "I was positively surprised that Yuko could land the throw right in her first international competition (of the season). But the big test for us will be at Skate America."

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who won silver at the 2014 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, claimed silver here with a solid free skate that earned 113.24 points. They finished with a total of 178.98 points.

Skating to an orchestral version of Lionel Ritchie's "Hello," the young Russians opened their program with a huge triple twist, which was awarded with a +3 GOE (Grade of Execution) by six of the nine judges. Tarasova stepped out of the side-by-side triple Salchow and Morozov singled the second toe loop in a planned triple toe-double toe combination. The first two lifts went smoothly, but they had to shorten their third lift.

"We previously competed as seniors only once, at the University Games last year," Tarasova said. "So, this was a kind of senior debut. It was not bad; we did almost everything we had planned."

"We started working with our new coach, Robin Szolkowy, here, who is a first-class specialist," Morozov said. "He already gave us some small corrections. We feel very comfortable working with him. He is a very positive person."

Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim of Colorado Springs, third after the short program, placed third in the free with their American in Paris program and won the bronze medal with 166.10 points.

They opened with an excellent triple twist, but Knierim landed the triple Salchow forward and fell. Scimeca missed the double Axel, which was planned as a combination. The three lifts and the throw triple flip were all excellent.

"Overall, we are happy with our program today," Scimeca said. "The mistakes are fixable. Each time we perform the program it gets better, so we hope it will be perfect in winter.

"We are very motivated to prepare for our first Grand Prix event, Skate America," she continued. "We want to take experience from this competition and get better and better as the season progresses."

Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès of France, fourth after the short, were fourth overall with 164.15 points. Skating their Angels and Demons free they used last year, they showed an improved triple twist and solid side-by-side triple Salchows. On the negative side, James stepped out of a triple toe loop and their final lift was not correctly landed.

Vanessa Grenier and Maxime Deschamps, the 2014 Canadian junior silver medalists who train in Richard Gauthier's group in Montreal, ended up fifth with 157.06 points.

U.S. junior champions Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage, who train with Scimeca and Knierim under Dalilah Sappenfield, finished sixth with 143.85 points.

Their triple twist was relatively clean, but the landing of the throw triple loop was a bit shaky, and Settlage fell on a triple Salchow. Their double Axel-double Axel sequence went relatively well, and their triple throw Salchow was safe, but their final two lifts were subpar.

"They are learning how to skate seniors," Sappenfield said. "They can skate stronger than they did today and have great potential."

"Our program was an improvement over our last competition in Salt Lake City, but we are still on the way," said Aaron, who is the younger sister of 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron. "Our throw (triple) Salchow and the sequence of two double Axels were well executed. We are happy that we kept our performance up."