Mai, Mai, Mai: Mihara rides 'Cinderella' free to titleChina's Sui, Han make triumphant return; Nagasu rallies to earn bronze
In stunning fashion, Mai Mihara, a 17-year-old from Japan, captured the ladies gold medal at the 2017 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Gangneung, South Korea.
Skating to music from the Cinderella soundtrack, Mihara, who entered the day in fourth, performed the story of the Disney princess to near perfection, landing each one of her planned jumps in a program that featured seven triples.
Her free skate earned a personal-best 134.34 points, and her combined score of 200.85 was also a career high.
"It feels unbelievable," said the new champion, who was emotional upon receiving the gold medal. "It's great that I finally became Cinderella on the ice. I know this is the venue for the next Olympics, and I was thinking about it a lot. My goal here was to skate clean both in the short and free and finish my programs with a smile.
"I always watch the national flag rise and hear the national anthem in figure skating competitions on TV, but today, this happens because I won," she continued. "It feels great and unbelievable to experience this in the venue that's going to host the Olympics."
Gabrielle Daleman, who led after the short program, experienced a good start to her "Rhapsody in Blue" free skate but began to stumble in the second half of the program, most notably with her jumps. She received 128.66 points in the segment and 196.91 points in total, which placed her second overall.
"It feels very good to win my first international medal at the Four Continents event," the Canadian said. "I worked very hard and long hours for it. Of course, it's hard, because I didn't have the performance I wanted here, but I'm very happy with what I got.
"It was a new experience leading after the short at such a big championship like Four Continents," she continued. "I've never done it before, and it was a great learning experience. I'm very proud of what I did. Yes, there were a few mistakes, but I put those behind me and kept the program going, so I'm ready to go home and fix those."
Mirai Nagasu, the defending silver medalist who placed fifth in the short program, pulled off the finest skate of her career to earn 132.04 points, beating her previous personal best by more than two points. Her combined score of 194.95 also represented a personal best.
"The performance I was able to put out tonight was just amazing," said Nagasu, who skated to "The Winner Takes It All." "It felt magical. These are the moments we work so hard for each and every day. For it to come to fruition has been very gratifying.
"I think when the skater is in love with the music, it translates to the judges and to the audience," she continued. "Instead of being too technical, it allows me to really enjoy my skating. For that, I am so grateful to David [Wilson] for giving me this piece of music."
Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond, who sat in second place after the short program, endured a rough patch of her own in the free skate. With three falls and one popped jump in the program, the Canadian champion slipped to fourth overall with 184.17 points.
"I've been getting a lot better at when I miss an element, to be able to refocus and get my feet back underneath me," she said. "Today that didn't happen, but it's a learning experience and something I'd like to work on going into worlds while coming up with new techniques for it."
Dabin Choi of South Korea carried the momentum of the home crowd throughout her program, and despite enduring a few shaky landings, pulled off a technically strong performance to place fourth in the segment and fifth overall.
"I think the first jump is the most important in the program, and I was embarrassed to make a mistake," the 17-year-old said. "At the end of the program, I made it through, so I'm so glad to get a great score."
U.S. skater Mariah Bell, China's Zijun Li, Elizabet Tursynbaeva of Kazakhstan, and Japan's Wakaba Higuchi and Rika Hongo rounded out the top 10.
Sui, Han continue Four Continents reign
When Wenjing Sui and Cong Han were still performing their last element of the evening, many spectators at the Gangneung Ice Arena were already on their feet.
It wasn't a perfect performance, but because they'd built a five-point lead following the short program, the talented pair had room for error during their "Bridge over Troubled Water" free skate.
Sui fell on the side-by-side triple salchows, and the skaters lost some levels on their spins. Their quad twist, however, along with two huge throw triple jumps and Level 4 lifts, showcased that the three-time and defending Four Continents champions were truly back after a 10-month absence.
As a result, the Chinese duo claimed the Four Continents title for the fourth time by earning a new personal-best mark of 225.03 points.
"Today we performed the emotion and story of the program," Han said. "I am glad that we've overcome the pressure and regained confidence through this competition. We are reassured that we are able to get back what we've lost."
Last May, Sui underwent a foot operation that kept her off the ice for several months. The two couldn't begin to practice their new programs until the start of the new year.
"It was an extremely hard process," Han noted. "Who knows what we've been through?"
"We know what we've been through, and that's why we are where we are now." Sui added.
Two-time and reigning world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford vaulted from third after the short program to capture the silver medal for the second time in their careers. Although there were several shaky landings on their jumps in their "No, je ne regrette rien" routine, the Canadians secured the second highest marks of the competition, allowing their event total to reach 212.23 points.
"I think today was one of those fighting skates for us, which is kind of the feeling for us so far this season," Radford said. "Considering how we were feeling going into this long program, we're both very proud of ourselves that we fought through and managed to stay on our feet. It's always a bit of an up-and-down feeling throughout the season, and we'll take this as a positive step toward the world championships in March."
The second Canadian team to reach the podium -- Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch -- impressed from start to finish en route to claiming the bronze medal. Minus a fall on their throw triple loop and a shaky landing on their side-by-side triple salchows, the Canadian silver medalists executed their additional planned elements with good quality and received marks nearly equal to those of Duhamel and Radford.
The pair received 132.27 points for the segment and 205.31 points in total, shattering their previous personal best by nearly six points.
"We're very happy with how today went and this competition as a whole," a jubilant Moscovitch said. "Each event this season has seen us improve, and we've been moving in the right direction throughout the season."
"It is very exciting for me to win the medal for the country which I love the most and which I am passionate about," Iliushechkina said. "This is my third Four Continents and the first championship medal. It gives me a nice feeling when thinking about the improvements we've made as a team and about the way I went to get to this point. It definitely sets up the excitement for the next big steps."
China's Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang, who sat second after the short program, made several minor mistakes in their free skate and slipped to fourth.
"It wasn't our best skate today," Zhang said. "We included the quad twist for the first time in competition, and it is a very difficult element for us, as we've done only three complete run-throughs with it. It takes a lot of energy, and we need to practice more."
Their teammates, Peng Cheng and Yang Jin, performed their best skate since becoming a team, which helped them rise from seventh after the short to fifth overall.
"After our skate, the first thing I told my coach was that it felt so great," Jin said shortly after leaving the ice. "I could even feel my adrenaline rising and my body was full of power."
The U.S. pair of Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim placed sixth overall. The newly married couple expressed their love for each other throughout their program, which was set to the soundtrack of Ghost.
While the final placement wasn't their finest, the emotion the two share remains a key element of their performances.
"It's actually kind of funny because the storyline is from Ghost, and Chris dies in the middle of the program and becomes the ghost who skates with me throughout the remainder of it," Alexa said. "I think it's funny because our roles were swapped in a sense this summer because I was the one who was sick. But, he was still my guardian angel throughout everything, and whenever we skate this program in practice at home, I always get lost in his eyes. I've never felt more protected in my life."