Ice Network

Stunning Miyahara skates away with Salt Lake gold

Tursynbaeva impresses with silver; Hometown girl Wang wins bronze
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Japan's Satoko Miyahara clinched the ladies title after her free skate to Franz Liszt's "Un sospiro" earned 120.16 points. The reigning world silver medalist hit all of her jump combinations, including two double axel-triple toes, en route to a total score of 183.64. -Jay Adeff

When fans watched Satoko Miyahara's free skate to "Un sospiro" at the 2015 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, they saw an ethereal pink figure float over the ice and effortlessly portray the emotions of Liszt's piano etude, from bright and yearning to dark and mysterious. There were neat jumps with tight air positions and picture-perfect spins, culminating in a gorgeous closing layback.

But when Miyahara looked back, all she saw were opportunities to improve.

"I wanted to do better," the 17-year-old Kyoto native said. "I am a little regretful. I thought, 'I have to practice more.'"

Miyahara's biggest regret is, undoubtedly, a fall on an under-rotated triple lutz that momentarily disrupted the enchanting spell cast by Lori Nichol's choreography. Otherwise, all was spun gold: six triples, three in combination; light, intricate steps; good spin and step levels. Japan's world silver medalist won the free skate with 120.16 points and took gold with 183.64 points.

"I love this program, even though it is more difficult to express than my program last year (Miss Saigon)," the diminutive, soft-spoken Miyahara said. "The music is beautiful. I think I am improving -- not big improvements but little by little."

The reigning Japanese champion is looking ahead to competing against a legend and childhood idol.

"I have to practice harder, to prepare for my next competition (Japan Open)," Miyahara said. "I compete there with Mao Asada, who is such a respected person. I am very happy I will be there with her."

Miyahara's top competition in Salt Lake City, both in skating and self-critical analysis, was Kazakhstan's Elizabet Tursynbaeva, a 15-year-old with nerves of steel and a work ethic to match.

The student of Brian Orser, fourth at the 2015 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, made her international senior debut with a strong performance to Barbra Streisand's "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" If not as heartfelt as Miyahara's, it was musical and well-paced, and had five triples, including a triple salchow-triple toe combination. 

Tursynbaeva had only one small flaw: an under-rotated triple toe in her double axel-triple toe combination. She was second in the free and second overall with 177.91 points.

"I can say that was not perfect," Tursynbaeva said. "There is not only jumps (but) the skating, choreography, and I should work on my face (expressions). It was a good experience to skate here in Salt Lake, because it is high altitude. I felt really easy in the program."

Orser, who trains Tursynbaeva at Toronto's Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, was a bit more generous.

"She is always her own worst enemy when it comes to [criticism], which is good, I think," Orser said. "I think for her first ISU senior outing, it was pretty solid. She's ready to take on the season."

"She's really learned how to handle herself better with warm-ups and practice sessions," he continued. "She used to get wildly nervous and panic; now she is calm and trusts her training."

This event was a homecoming for Angela Wang, who trains in Colorado Springs under Christy Krall, Damon Allen and Erik Schulz but grew up in Salt Lake City and represents Salt Lake Figure Skating.

Skating to Rodrigo's "En Aranjuez con tu Amor," Wang opened with a big triple loop, done "Rippon" style with both arms overhead. She fell out of the second jump of her triple lutz-triple toe combination but still scored more than nine points for the element. 

There were a few other jumping glitches, but Wang hit a good triple flip. Her step sequence gained Level 4, and she took bronze with 166.80 points.

"I had to fight through everything, but this was a solid start to my season," Wang said. "There are lots of things to build on, lots of positives. I had no expectations coming in, so I'm happy for how this competition went, especially for so early in the season."

Wang had her own cheering section at the Salt Lake Sports Complex, where she trained for more than 10 years.

"Lots of people came to support me, which was great," she said. "Salt Lake is my first and only club. I really love this place."

Karen Chen skated a spirited program to music from Les Misérables, hitting a strong triple salchow and triple loop, and interpreting Cindy Stuart's choreography well. But the U.S. bronze medalist missed both attempts at her triple lutz, popping the first into a single and falling on the second. She placed fourth with 159.18 points.

"I really felt good playing the part (of Éponine, the musical's heroine), but definitely the technical elements weren't there," Chen, 16, said. "It's a learning experience, of course, and I'm glad to be able to go home and train without any boot problems, and hopefully get settled and ready for Skate America."

Canadian junior champion Selena Zhao was third in the free skate after hitting six triple jumps, two in combination. She finished fifth with 157.03 points.

Mariah Bell, sixth in the U.S. last season, began her free to the Born on the Fourth of July soundtrack well, with a triple Lutz-double toe combination, triple loop and double axel-triple salchow sequence. But hard falls on two triple lutzes took their toll on her marks, and she finished sixth with 149.47 points.