Ice Network

Try and stop me: Tuktamisheva leads in Chicago

Russian skater stays hot to open Grand Prix; Gold in third; Cesario fourth
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Shooting for her fourth gold medal of the young season, Elizaveta Tuktamisheva performed her "Bolero" short flawlessly. The Russian recorded a score of 67.41 to open up a lead of almost two points over the field. -Jay Adeff

Elizaveta Tuktamisheva, written off by some and supplanted by younger Russian teenagers last season, is suddenly on the verge of winning her fourth international title in five weeks.

The 17-year-old from St. Petersburg is in the midst of a resounding comeback from a dismal 2013-14 campaign that saw her drop from first to 10th place in Russia. With a clean outing to Ravel's "Bolero" at 2014 Skate America, she took a 1.84-point lead over her 15-year-old teammate, Elena Radionova. U.S. champion Gracie Gold is 6.60 points behind after flubbing her closing camel combination spin and gaining no points for the element.

Tuktamisheva competed in her first Russian senior championships at age 12 and medaled at the event three times by the age of 15. A growth spurt and several injuries caused her to lose ground to younger prodigies, including Radionova and world silver medalist Julia Lipnitskaia, as well as her contemporary, Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova.

This season, though, Tuktamisheva has put together a remarkable run of three international titles in the last four weeks: Nebelhorn Trophy in the final week of September, Finlandia in the second week of October and Cup of Nice just one week ago.

"It was my decision with my coach [to compete often], because I didn't compete in quite a while," said Tuktamisheva, who trains under Alexei Mishin. "It was important to work on getting back the competition feeling, so that I would be prepared for the Grand Prix. I think it was the right decision. I feel a little tired, but it is a nice tiredness."

If Tuktamisheva is tired, it didn't show in her mature and confident short program Saturday. Every element -- including a triple toe-triple toe combination, triple Lutz and three Level 4 spins -- looked easily done, and she finished with the highest technical element and program component scores. Her 67.41 points set a new personal best, improving on her recent outing at Finlandia.

In the press conference following the event, Tuktamisheva denied ever even considering retirement, even after her travails of last season.

"I always felt I wanted to finish what I have been doing on a high note," she said. "[I want to] justify all the work over the years that I have put into [skating], so that it was not done in vain."

Radionova, the two-time world junior champion who won bronze at Skate America last season, sits second with 65.57 points.

Skating with her typical aggression and attack to Latin-flavored music, including Jennifer Lopez' "Ain't It Funny," Radionova had to fight for the landing of her opening triple Lutz-triple toe loop. It was smooth sailing for the rest of her program, including a triple loop and stunning closing back-to-back spins.

"I think it was quite a good performance," Radionova said. "Obviously, the jumps could have been better, but it is the beginning of the season for me."

Gold faltered slightly in her opening triple Lutz-triple toe, two-footing the second jump, but the real trouble came with her final element -- a camel combination spin -- when she failed to gain her second position and earned no points for the element.

That mistake, combined with a misstep on the combination, cost her about six points and a chance at taking the lead. It did give skating fans a gift, though: Coach Frank Carroll's angry glare, along with choreographer Lori Nichol's startled reaction, quickly went viral with skating fans on social media.

"Forward camels, you can't take them for granted," Gold said. "When I pushed for the second [position,] I started to feel myself pre-rotate, and I didn't get the toe for the camel. ... I spiraled out of control.

"Frank and Lori's reaction, they perhaps overreacted slightly," she continued. "They are still really supportive, and I will be doing fabulous spins tomorrow."

Samantha Cesario, fifth in the U.S. last season, set a new personal best with her expressive short to Dr. Samy Farag's "Danza Mora," music she describes as "flamenco but with a Moroccan feel."

Cesario landed her triple flip-triple loop combination -- the loop was judged under-rotated -- and she improved her spin levels from her previous event, Finlandia Trophy, where she won silver behind Tuktamisheva. The Long Island skater also gained full credit for her triple Lutz, which sometimes receives an edge deduction. She takes 58.96 points into the free skate.

"Doing the triple-triple here in practice and getting it out there in the competition, every time you do it, it builds confidence," Cesario said. "It wasn't my best flip landing and I still went for it, so that's something that will definitely help me build confidence in the jump."

There was disappointment for Mirai Nagasu, who performed well in practices but took a hard fall on the opening triple flip in her short to "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini." She tried to add a double toe to her triple loop, but only managed a single toe, which earned a mandatory -3 Grade of Execution (GOE) from the judging panel. Nagasu sits 10th with 49.29 points.

"I was so confident going into this program, I think when things didn't work out, it caught me off guard," she said. "I wasn't on my game today; it happens to everyone. Tomorrow is a new day, so I guess I'll focus on tomorrow."