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Tuktamisheva fights fatigue to take title in Spain

Radionova's silver gives Russia 1-2 finish; Wagner fights back into third
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Elizaveta Tuktamisheva soared to new heights Saturday, claiming the biggest victory of her career. She performed a flawless free skate to take the gold by almost five points over countrywoman Elena Radionova. Tuktamisheva is the first Russian lady to win the Grand Prix Final since Irina Slutskaya in 2004. -Getty Images

The 2014 Grand-Prix Final saw a somewhat unexpected result Saturday afternoon.

Russians Elizaveta Tuktamisheva and Elena Radionova won the gold and silver medals, respectively, which indeed was a possible outcome.

Team USA's Ashley Wagner skating her best free program of the season could also have been predicted, especially since she was determined to recompose herself after her poor showing in the short program.

What could not have been anticipated, however, was that 2014 European gold and world silver medalist Julia Lipnitskaia would miss her free program completely, especially after seeming so strong during practice.

Tuktamisheva won the event with 136.06 points for her free program, her season's best, and 203.58 overall. Radionova amassed 134.95 for her free and 198.74 overall. Wagner wound up third with 129.26 points for the segment, a new season's best, and 189.50 overall.

Nothing could have beaten Tuktamisheva this afternoon -- except (maybe) herself. She was the last to take the ice, and she delivered an excellent performance to the fast-paced songs "Batwannis Beek" and "Sandstorm." She delivered seven triple jumps, including a triple toe-triple toe combination.

"I did not think I would be able to live such a great season," Tuktamisheva acknowledged.

Tuktamisheva has learned over the years how to take her time, breathe and master space on the ice. Instead of rushing from one element to the next, as she did a few seasons ago, she now takes the time to make soft and expressive moves with her head, arms and hands. She seems to even enjoy silence and stillness -- simply because she has learned to fill them.

"I'm a little surprised that I was able to skate completely clean for the first time this season," Tuktamisheva admitted. "I was a bit sick before the Final, and I lacked energy at the end of the program. I did feel a little tired coming here, so my immune system was a little weak. I had to be at the top for a very long time, so we will need to pay attention not to let my peak condition go away. I need to be ready for the most important competition of the season, Russian nationals. Then, I'll be able to rest."

Radionova was not as brilliant as she had been at Skate America and Trophée Eric Bompard, both of which she both won in a most decisive way. Her morning practice was rough, as she had difficulty mastering most of her triple jumps. She, nonetheless, did the job and delivered each one of her planned elements, among which were seven triples, including two combinations: a triple Lutz-triple toe and a triple loop-triple Salchow.

"I'm very pleased with my free program today," Radionova said. "It was not easy for me, because I was sick as well, but my free program was clean. I am not concerned with my marks and ranking, really, but [I just want] to skate clean programs. That was the case today, so I achieved my goal!"

Radionova's style was, however, quite rough.

"You sometimes are frightened that she might break herself during one of these jumps," said Peter Grütter, who was Stéphane Lambiel's coach, at the Trophée Bompard.

Fortunately, she managed to stay in one piece in Barcelona.

"I'm not so frail and young anymore! " Radionova said, laughing. "I will soon turn 16, and many other girls do land [jumps of] similar difficulty at an even younger age."

Wagner proved once more what a competitor she is.

"Today was huge to me, coming from last place and rallying [to make] the podium with those extraordinary skaters," Wagner said. "I managed to put out a performance that looks like I can compete with these girls. I know I can; otherwise, I would not be sticking around. I don't want to slowly fade in front of the audience.

"The great thing when you're last is that it only can go back up, and this helped me to skate calm. I'll try to use that experience as a learning tool to skate as calm at nationals, which will be my most important competition after this. I don't want to miss out the occasion to win the national title back."

The lyrics used in her Moulin Rouge routine seemed quite well adapted to Wagner's precise situation in Barcelona:

"Love is just a game to play" -- and Wagner did play the game.

"One day I fly away" -- and she did fly.

And "The show must go on" -- and Wagner is still on a podium with the best in the world.

"It's good to feel like a competitor again. I started skating in seniors when I was 15; now I am 23. I have stayed in power for many years. And being at that level is exhausting. But I still have so much to learn and achieve," she concluded.

Russia's Anna Pogorilaya managed to stay in fourth place. She did land her opening triple Lutz-triple toe combo, but fell on the landing of her triple loop-triple Salchow combination. She endured several shaky moments but was able to land most of her difficult elements.

"It was a good feeling for me to be fourth to three Russian girls in the short program; this way I know that when I beat them, I'll have done really well!" Pogorilaya said. "I do not feel good after my performance, but I got to the Final, and that's the most important thing."

She earned 118.95 points for her free and 180.29 overall.

Lipnitskaia opened her Romeo and Juliet program with a bold triple Lutz-triple toe combo. The rest of her program, however, turned into an unexpected nightmare, especially considering how consistent her practices had been throughout the week.

Lipnitskaia fell on the landing of her double Axel, then stumbled through her step sequence. She recomposed to land a solid triple loop, and followed that with a double Axel-triple toe-double toe combination. She then singled her planned triple flip and fell on her other triple flip. Her spins remained unequalled, however.

The audience was extremely supportive of the struggling skater, as it encouraged her with strong applause at each element she was missing -- or landing. Her technical score, 53.36 points, was certainly her lowest of the season. Her components (60.19 points) could not make up the gap, especially after two falls. She ended sixth in the free with 111.55 points, and fifth overall with 177.79 points.

Rika Hongo, from Japan, made several mistakes in her free program.

"I didn't have much time to prepare for this event," she said. "I practiced very hard with my coach, but I still made some careless mistakes. My goal next time will be to skate clean!"