Ice Network

Tarasova, Morozov take big step forward, win gold

Yu, Zhang claim silver; Duhamel, Radford stumble their way to bronze
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Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov entered the free skate in first, and after another solid performance, the Russians held onto the top spot en route to winning the gold medal. Their two-day total of 213.85 points, as well as their free skate score of 135.25, were both personal bests, and they finished ahead of the field by more than seven points. -Getty Images

The huge applause that followed the free program of Russia's Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov left little doubt as to who the winner was of the pairs competition at the 2016 Grand Prix Final.

Tarasova and Morozov claimed the first world-level victory of their career, racking up 213.85 points overall on their way to the gold medal. The top three teams after the short program remained unchanged: China's Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang came in second with 206.71 points, while two-time reigning world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada amassed 205.99 points, good for the bronze.

Tarasova and Morozov landed a quad twist -- the only team in the field to do so -- as well as their throw triple salchow and throw triple loop. He two-footed the landing of the team's side-by-side triple salchows (which were downgraded), and he also couldn't complete the final double toe of their side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double toe combinations. Their two spins were rated Level 4, their lifts ranged from Level 2 to Level 4, and their step sequence was deemed a Level 3. They racked up 135.25 points, a new season's best.

"We obviously aimed at winning tonight, but we focused on skating clean," Tarasova offered. "We were in a similar situation at Skate America, leading (by quite a few) points. With the experience we acquired there, we knew that we needed to refocus completely.

"This victory is a big step forward for us," she continued. "The judges now look at us as potential winners, and that's important."

John Miles' exhilarating music seemed to carry the Russians throughout their program, and the crowd, in turn, returned their energy. Tarasova and Morozov were certainly the fastest team of the night, flying through their program with a newfound amplitude, covering the ice surface in just a few steps.

Yu and Zhang landed a Level 4 triple twist -- one of the highlights of the day -- side-by-side double axels, a throw triple lutz and a throw triple salchow. Their major error came at the very last second of their routine, when Yu fell on the team's final spin. Their other spin, three lifts and death spiral were all rated Level 4.

"We are very excited to be on the podium," Yu said. "Today I felt very tired in the lifts and jumps, but I fought through it, and we did pretty well. Next season we'll put more thought into adding bigger throws and quads, but we've been skating together for too short a time for those now."

The Chinese skaters scored 132.65 points for their free program, 1.90 points less than the Canadians, but that was enough to maintain the lead they had after the short program and secure the silver medal.

Duhamel and Radford skated to the famous Édith Piaf song "Non, je ne regrette rien" ("No, I don't regret anything")...or would they have a lot to regret after this Final?

Duhamel doubled their planned side-by-side triple lutzes, and she nearly missed their other planned side-by-side combination, a triple toe-double toe-double toe. They had a small mishap on the landing of their throw quad salchow, when she had to put a hand down. They scored 134.55 points for their free program, the second most of the evening and just 0.70 less than the Russians.

"Jumps are usually our strength, and when we mess them up, it's not good," Radford admitted. "But, altogether, I think the program was smooth, and we tried the throw quad salchow, which went quite well." 

Beyond their jumps, Duhamel and Radford also presented some original moves. The way Duhamel slightly delays her throw triple lutz in the air is most unique. Another original maneuver is their exit from the Group 5 axel lasso lift, which ends with a beautiful straight line ice dance lift.

Natalia Zabijako and Alexander Enbert of Russia skated a clean program to their appeasing music, Michael Bublé's "Cry Me A River." They landed their triple twist and side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double loop combinations, as well as two throws (triple loop, double axel). They amassed 122.53 points for their free program and 188.32 overall, enough to secure fourth place.

Setting out to redeem themselves after their short program, Canada's Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau started their free skate rather poorly, with Bilodeau falling on the team's side-by-side triple toe combos. They quickly regrouped, however, and landed side-by-side triple salchows as well as two throw triples, a flip and a loop. They racked up 112.35 points for their free program, the fourth most of the evening, and ended with 186.85 points overall.

China's Cheng Peng and Yang Jin started the competition in such a beautiful way; their free program, however, started like a nightmare, as Peng fell on the opening side-by-side double axels and then missed the landing of the side-by-side triple toes. They gathered themselves (for a while), landing their throw triple loop and throw triple salchow, but Jin could not hold the position of their Group 5 lift toward the end of the program. (Peng nearly fell, but he managed to hold her back for a shaky, yet safe, landing.) They scored 112.35 points for their free and 183.19 points overall, which brought them down to a sixth-place finish.