Ice Network

Radio-logy! Russian keys second Grand Prix win

Radionova ousts teammate Lipnitskaia; Wagner bags bronze for USA
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Russia's Elena Radionova was phenomenal Saturday in Bordeaux, posting personal-best free skate and overall scores to wipe the floor of her competition. Her 203.92 total score topped the field by 18.74 points. -Getty Images

Russian Elena Radionova won the free skate and the gold medal at the Trophée Eric Bompard on Saturday afternoon in Bordeaux, 18.74 points ahead of her teammate, Julia Lipnitskaia (203.92 overall for Radionova, 185.18 for Lipnitskaia). Ashley Wagner wound up third with 116.39 points for the segment (177.74 overall), and Team USA's Courtney Hicks improved her short program placement by two spots to grab fourth place overall (116.88 for the free and 172.58 overall).

Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff was said to be a Stakhanovist of the keyboard, forcing himself to endless harsh exercises on his piano. The 15-year-old Radionova gave an interesting rendering of Rachmaninoff's own work by displaying an incredible array of perfect triple jumps and combinations throughout her program. She flew from her opening triple Lutz-triple toe combination to her final layback spin like on a piano score, without the singlest mistake. Her two major combinations, Lutz-toe and loop-Salchow, totaled 23 points by themselves. Each one of her three spins were rated Level 4.

"I'm very pleased that I won two Grand Prix," Radionova said afterward. "I skated with more confidence than at Skate America and I skated clean. I did feel nervous, but I forgot about it as soon as I stepped on the ice, and I could skate as calm as I am used to.

"I am happy to have qualified for the Grand Prix Final," she continued. "Every competition is different ... My main job now is to do run-throughs of my programs before the Final."

Radionova got the best technical score of the field (71.43 points) but also the best components score (65.21 points, two points ahead of Ashley Wagner, whose skating skills would make a reference in itself). Her components all exceeded eight points, including the transitions.

She did acknowledge, however, that she still needed to improve her skating.

"There is still a lot of work for me to do," she said. "I still can improve a lot. I can improve my speed, my components, the height of my jumps; I could have more speed going into my jumps ... There is a lot of work ahead of me!"

Lipnitskaia was not as successful as Radionova -- or as she has been known to be last season. Let's say, more precisely, that she appeared to be vulnerable. She opened her Romeo and Juliet program with a double Axel-triple toe-double toe combination, followed by a double Axel-triple toe combo. She struggled during the rest of her program, however: She doubled her planned triple loop, fell heavily on her triple flip and her subsequent triple Lutz was downgraded. Her spins were their usual selves, however, and all got Level 4's. Her components were slightly under eight each (61.18 for Lipnitskaia's overall components score).

"I was not completely ready coming into this competition," she admitted afterward, "And I had some errors today. So, I am half satisfied and half unsatisfied. I skated better than in China. I am happy that I did not let the program go as I did in Shanghai.

"My marks are still low, but I still have four years to improve!" she added with a grin.

Who said Wagner had no guts? What would you do if your most valued combination, the triple flip-triple toe, the one you have spent two years mastering, eluded you just there and led you to a near disaster, with about 3 minutes and 50 seconds to go? Wagner fell on her triple flip, and she had to discipline herself to master the triple Salchow that was following. She later had to settle for a triple toe-single loop instead of a double.

Then, all of a sudden, in the last half-minute of her program, she landed her triple Lutz and quickly added a triple toe to it. The audience erupted in applause at the same time. When you manage to connect an audience with you, they will follow you whatever happens to you, and feel that they were witnessing a most improbable event.

"Honestly, that's not too bad," Wagner said as she came out of the ice, holding her stomach. "I felt sick this morning, and it's not improving at all.

"There was a lot going into my mind when I entered the ice," she added with a grin. "Yes, it took guts to even attempt that triple toe after the Lutz."

From the screen in the mixed zone, Wagner watched her detailed marks.

"Also, I see that the only jump that was considered as cheated was that triple toe, which is a good achievement for me," she said. "All things considered, I'm happy!"

During the press conference, she came back to that last minute triple-triple combination.

"I trained so hard at home, mentally I was strong enough to push through the program," she said. "Trying the triple toe at the end of an exhaustive program and that was crazy. It's something I pulled out of my head at the last minute."

As she had mentioned earlier in the week, "Love is just a game to play," as her program suggested as it started, "One day I fly away" and "The show must go on," the following lyrics of her Moulin Rouge routine, did support her message as well.

Hicks had not expected to place third in the free skate, but she did pass Wagner by half a point in that segment. Her program was so energetic from start to end. Two of her spins received a Level 4, and her components averaged seven points.

"It was really tiring at the end, but I really went for it," Hicks said as she left the ice. "My program is exactly where it should be at this time of the season."

Maé-Bérénice Méité was quick to rally her home audience to her cause. She landed her triple Salchow-triple toe and her double Axel-triple Salchow, as well as her triple flip, Lutz and Salchow. She finished fifth in the free and fifth overall.

American Samantha Cesario had something to prove.

"She will be more aggressive in the free program," Mary-Lynn Gelderman, Cesario's coach, had said after her protégée's disappointment in the short program.

Cesario opened her Carmen routine with a beautiful combination of edge jumps, a triple loop-half loop-double Salchow (instead of her planned triple), underlining her unique skating skills. Why she keeps receiving similar marks for her skating skills than for her other components remains a mystery. She landed each one of her jumps perfectly afterward. Her double Axel, with a spread eagle entrance to it, was a beauty.

If Cesario felt her short program was "not crispy enough," her free skate to Carmen was definitely what is should have been.

"My free skate is Carmen again, but it's a different Carmen than last year," Cesario had said. "We changed the middle, which was rather slow, and a lot of music pieces. We wanted to bring more of Carmen's character and keep it really exciting."