Ice Network

Flawless Radionova takes gold at Skate America

Tuktamisheva nabs fourth medal of season; Gold, Cesario finish 3-4
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Elena Radionova landed seven triples (five in combination) in her Rachmaninoff free skate en route to recording a personal-best score in the segment (129.90). With 195.47 points for the competition, the 15-year-old Russian won her first career gold medal in the Grand Prix Series. -Getty Images

Elena Radionova, the diminutive dynamo who has won the last two world junior titles, mowed down all comers in the ladies free skate at 2014 Skate America on Sunday afternoon at Hoffman Estates' Sears Centre to win her first senior Grand Prix title.

Racing through a Rachmaninoff medley like her skates were on fire, the 15-year-old from Moscow landed an impressive seven triple jumps, including a scratchy triple Lutz-triple toe combination and a more stellar triple loop-triple Salchow sequence.

The Russian teen yielded nothing on her spins and steps, gaining Level 4s for all of her elements, including a stunning closing layback spin. She won the free skate with 129.90 points and finished with 195.47, besting Russian teammate Elizaveta Tuktamisheva by 5.85 points.

"I am very happy because this is the first Grand Prix that I was able to win," said Radionova, who won bronze at Skate America last season.

"It's a completely different emotion than being in second or third place. It's even hard to speak now, because I'm overwhelmed by all of my emotions. I'm just excited that I was able to do everything I can do."

The self-possessed Radionova, who seems born for the spotlight, impressed in training sessions this week, doing full run-throughs and more jump repetitions than any other lady. Although she was the youngest and smallest entrant here, she aggressively staked her claim for practice territory, skating around at full speed while others were doing run-throughs.

"I always train like that, it is the usual situation for me," she said with a shrug. "I was determined to come here and skate a clean program, and I did."

Time and travel finally caught up to Tuktamisheva, who was unable to hold off her surging countrywoman. The 17-year-old from St. Petersburg arrived here after a remarkable string of competitions. In September, she won a national event in Samara in southeastern Russia, and then traveled to the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany. Earlier this month, she was at the Finlandia Trophy in Espoo, Finland; then came Cup of Nice on the French Riviera just one week ago. She brought home gold from all.

But it was a visibly fatigued skater who took the ice for her free to an exotic Middle Eastern medley. Although she landed five triple jumps, she failed to hit a triple-triple combination and doubled an intended triple Salchow. As she ended a combination spin and moved into her closing pose, she almost keeled over.

"I am pleased that I was able to finish this marathon of competition," Tuktamisheva said. "This is my fourth (international) competition in a row. Today I was not in the same shape as I was in Finland or Germany, and I'm a little upset that I made some silly errors. Overall it wasn't bad."

Tuktamisheva will soon hit the road again. She competes at the Cup of China in Shanghai in two weeks.

Gracie Gold hit the toughest element in her free skate -- an opening triple Lutz-triple toe -- and gained the event's highest program component scores (PCS) for her Lori Nichol-choreographed free to music from Phantom of the Opera.

Like Tuktamisheva, though, Gold doubled several intended triples and in her case, it proved especially costly. Early in the program, she turned an intended double Axel-triple toe combination into a double-double; her third and final combination included two double toes. Since a skater cannot do more than two double toes in a free skate, the third combination did not count.

The U.S. champion placed third in the free skate and ended with 179.38 points, settling for bronze behind the two Russians.

"There were some mistakes in this program that I of course need to improve on for NHK [Trophy,] and the competitions to come," said the 19-year-old Gold, who trains in Southern California under Frank Carroll.

"In previous seasons, I've also started with a silver or bronze medal on the Grand Prix circuit, so I'm looking forward to another medal at NHK before I take on 2015.

"But overall I was happy with my performance and it was really exciting to skate here in my hometown of Chicago."

Several journalists asked Gold what it will take for her to overcome the challenge of the remarkably consistent Russian ladies, who number not only Radionova and Tuktamisheva but also Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova, world silver medalist Julia Lipnitskaia and several others.

"I just have to keep my head down and keep training, I need to build my confidence back up," she said. "I did have a great season with the U.S. Championships and the Olympics. After [placing fifth at] worlds, though, it all took a little wind out of my sails. ... I had higher expectations for myself."

"With the fall on the last jumps, along with all of the tours and the shows, I'm just getting my feet back under me," Gold continued. "I still had a positive experience at Nebelhorn and here, but I feel like I'm on the brink of breaking into that gold and silver-medal win."

Samantha Cesario, fifth in the U.S. last season, was a strong and flirtatious Carmen in her free skate to the Bizet classic, reeling off equal doses of triple jumps and smoldering glances.

The 21-year-old Long Islander opened with a triple loop-triple Salchow sequence, but the second jump was judged under rotated by the technical panel. After that, it was smooth sailing on the jumps, but Cesario -- who has been troubled by an ankle impingement -- lost levels on her spins and step sequence. She placed fourth with 174.58 points.

"I had a little spin trouble; I am still suffering a little bit with that ankle and it was bothering me a little in practice but tried to fight through it," she said. "The jumps were pretty good. I felt pretty confident going out. It is definitely a good start for the season and I'm happy with it overall."

U.S. bronze medalist Mirai Nagasu fought back from a disappointing short program Saturday to deliver a solid free skate to Puccini's Madame Butterfly, choreographed by Adam Rippon.

The 21-year-old, who began training under Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs in the spring, skated with speed and emotion, and landed opening triple flip-triple toe and double Axel-triple toe combinations. While the triple toes, and three other jumps, received under rotation calls, Nagasu showed good attack. She placed sixth in the free with 108.92 points and sixth overall with 158.21 points.

"Obviously it was a better skate than yesterday," Nagasu said. "One-hundred and eight is an okay score, but I know I can get a much higher score. I know I under-rotated a lot of those jumps out there today but this was a very stressful week, because I was expecting so much more out of myself, especially in the short program."