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What a finish: Kovtun rallies for gold at Bompard

Machida finishes second; Ten settles for bronze; Rippon finishes fourth
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Russia's Maxim Kovtun turned in an impressive free skate to finish with a final score of 243.35, clinching the 2014 Trophée Eric Bompard gold medal. -Getty Images

Entering Saturday in sixth place, Russia's Maxim Kovtun rallied to win the free skate and the men's title at 2014 Trophée Eric Bompard in Bordeaux with a final score of 243.35 points. Japan's Tatsuki Machida finished second with 237.74 and Kazakhstan's Denis Ten took bronze with 236.28.

Their final scores seem normal on the surface, but they don't tell the full story of an incredible turnaround -- one that could not have happened without most performances turning upside down. The evening in Bordeaux went something like this: "The ones who were last will come first, and the ones who were first will be last."

Kovtun opened the final group of skaters. He entered the ice so focused and concentrated, it seemed that he would have put on his free skate under any circumstance, even if the rink was on fire. Skating to "Exogenesis Symphony" by Muse, he landed his first quad -- a Salchow -- as if it were a long-awaited statement he wanted to make. His subsequent quad toe was similarly excellent. He followed with a triple Axel-triple toe combination. In just one minute's time, he had amassed more than 34 points.

His step sequence, which came in the middle of his program, earned a Level 4 and allowed him to take a final breathe before heading toward the rest of his elements. It also allowed him to emphasize his rare elegance on the ice.

He followed with another triple Axel, a triple Lutz, a triple Lutz-double toe combination and a triple Salchow-double toe combination.

Kovtun's short program had been a near disaster, as had his morning practice session. His free skate earned him 166.24 points, 17 points ahead of second-ranked Machida.

"Now, after my program is over, I feel pain in every part of my body!" Kovtun said laughingly after he got his gold medal. "My coaches helped me a lot since yesterday. We made the program a bit easier by taking out the third quad. My feeling was the same as it was yesterday, and I have to find out what happened in the short program. I am glad I could be competitive with such competitors."

Thinking of the Grand Prix Final, Kovtun said he is happy with his free skate.

"I do not expect to make many changes to my program before the Final," he said. "My program is quite competitive. But, I need to integrate more ease into my skating and more energy into my program. That can only be achieved via many run throughs of my program."

Both Machida and Ten, who were sitting in second and first place, respectively, before the free skate, missed most of their major elements.

Machida landed his opening quad toe, but tripled his second planned quad, and doubled his triple toe in his planned triple Axel-triple toe combination. He also doubled a planned triple Axel.

Machida, however, gave a powerful rendition of his own version of "Symphony No. 9" by Ludwig van Beethoven. Music is in no way a background to skate to for Machida, and it's not just a piece to play with and interpret either. Watching him skate, you realize that he is completely carried away by the music, as if it is his mission to give life to the piece. His mistakes did not quite allow him to succeed tonight, but his components score was nonetheless the best of the field (84 points, compared to 81.25 for Ten and 80.28 for Kovtun).

"I was so nervous because my jumps were not good this morning," Machida explained. "I was hence quite anxious about my performance. I am relieved to be able to compete at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona."

Olympic bronze medalist Denis Ten has finally made it: He won his first Grand Prix medal in Bordeaux -- a bronze, but at what price? Ten finished fifth in the free skate. His opening quad toe-triple toe combination was crystal clear and perfect, but he fell on his second quad toe, and singled both of his planned triple Axels.

"It is just the start of the season, and this will be a very good experience," Ten said.  "I am glad to have that medal, which is not only for me but also for my country. I dedicate it to my country."

Konstantin Menshov, who sat in third place after the short program, was the odd man out. He skated a packed program that included a quad toe-triple toe combination, followed by another quad toe and then a triple Axel-double toe combination. His program earned him 145.75 points, his season best.

He finished fourth in the free skate, but the point total following Kovtun's turnaround cost him the bronze medal.

Menshov explained that his free skate was dedicated to journalists covering wars.

"I am following the news every day, and I want peace for the world," Menshov said. "I want to bring attention to those journalists who risk their lives in every part of the world where there is a war."

Team USA's Adam Rippon performed during the first group of skaters. He delivered a powerful free skate to "Piano Concerto No. 1" by Franz Liszt. He landed his triple Axel-double toe combination, but fell on his subsequent triple Axel. He two footed his triple flip-triple loop combination, but the way he worked out his elements paid off. Rippon wracked up 148.44 points for his free, the third highest score of the day, only one point behind Machida.

"My skate here was a lot better than at Skate Canada," said Rippon, who finished in fifth place. "But, still, it was not as good as I have been training. I take it as another step forward and I'll keep improving from there."

Dornbush's skating was not his best during his free skate set to "Yellow" and "Viva la Vida" by Coldplay. He fell on his quad toe and doubled his planned triple Axel. However,h is double Axel-triple toe and triple Lutz-double toe-double loop combinations were strong.

"I felt really shaky out there," Dornbush admitted. "In fact, I felt really good during warm-up -- scary good. Then, I suppose, I did not let myself get outside of my own head." 

Dornbush nonetheless had the fourth-best components score of the evening. He finished seventh.

France's Chafik Besseghier did achieve his main goal of the day: land two quads. He unable to keep up with the pace of his program and dropped to ninth place, however.

Team USA's Douglas Razzano gave a solid performance to "Piano Concerto No. 2" by Rachmaninoff, and finished in 10th, ahead of Florent Amodio of France. Quads can kill any program which exludes them, but they can also kill a program that overwhelms the skater.