Ice Network

Zagitova rises up to claim gold at Cup of China

Aaron wins men's bronze; Papadakis, Cizeron crack 200-point plateau
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Russian wunderkind Alina Zagitova gave the kind of performance Saturday that skating fans we're expecting to see from her this week. Landing all but one of her jumping passes cleanly -- and performing all of them in the second half of her 'Don Quixote' routine -- the world junior champion moved up from fourth after the short to win the free skate and grab the gold in her Grand Prix debut. -Getty Images

Russia's Alina Zagitova won the ladies gold medal Saturday in Beijing at the 2017 Cup of China, while teammate Mikhail Kolyada earned top honor in the men's field. In pairs skating, China's Wenjing Sui and Cong Han dazzled the home crowd en route to taking first place, with France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron picking up dance gold.

Ladies

Zagitova vaulted from fourth after the short program to first in the free skate en route to winning gold in her Grand Prix debut. Japan's Wakaba Higuchi stayed in second place to earn the silver medal, while Russia's Elena Radionova claimed the bronze.

Performing to Don Quixote, Zagitova nailed a triple lutz-triple loop combination along with four more triples of excellent quality, plus Level 4 spins and footwork. The only glitch was an under-rotated triple lutz. The 15-year-old scored 144.44 points for her performance and totaled 213.88 points.

"To win the gold medal in my first Grand Prix means a lot to me, but I need to continue to work, and I cannot rest on my laurels," the Muscovite said. "I was not pleased with my short program, but I was pleased with the free (skate), as I did everything. I was a little tight, but I was able to show what I have been training."

Higuchi's James Bond routine was highlighted by seven triples, including two triple lutz-triple toe combinations. The two-time world junior bronze medalist picked up 141.99 points, which, when added to her short program total, gave her 212.52 points overall.

"I think I moved very well on the ice today, and I am satisfied with what I did here," the 16-year-old said. "However, I still have a lot of things to improve in future training and competitions. I have a little regret that I am not at the top here; there is still a gap."

Radionova produced seven clean triples and difficult spins in her program to "Rumba d'Amour" on her way to scoring a season's best 136.34 points. The two-time European silver medalist ranked fourth in the free skate but held on to third place with 206.82 points overall.

"I am happy with the progress I have made in a short time, and that I was able to skate without stupid falls," Radionova said. "I have worked a lot, and I skated with more confidence, but this is by far not the limit, and I need to progress with each competition."

Four Continents champion Mai Mihara of Japan put out a strong free skate performance to move up from seventh to fourth (206.07 points). World junior silver medalist Marin Honda of Japan came in fifth (198.32), while world bronze medalist Gabrielle Daleman of Canada dropped from first to sixth (196.83) after making small errors on two of her jumps. 

Men's

Skating to an arrangement of songs by Elvis Presley, Kolyada fell on his opening quad lutz but recovered to land a triple axel-triple toe, quad toe and four triple jumps. The Russian champion also collected a Level 4 for his spins and footwork, though he singled an axel and popped his planned salchow into a double. With 176.25 points, the Rostelecom Cup bronze medalist was able to remain in first place at 279.38 points.

"I can't yet really believe it, but I am happy," Kolyada said, who put himself in prime position to reach next month's Grand Prix Final. "Not everything worked out today. I made some major mistakes and this is something I will work on."

Boyang Jin's Star Wars free featured a shaky quad lutz and five solid triples, as well as Level 4 spins, but the Chinese skater fell on a quad toe and stumbled on two other quads. He was fifth in the free skate with a season's best of 170.59 points, which proved more than enough to lock up the silver medal with a total of 264.48 points.

"Like yesterday, I did not skate as I had imagined," the 20-year-old said. "I did not make many big mistakes, like falls, but a lot of jumps were not clean enough. I still don't feel so comfortable with my program after some changes to the choreography, and I need to do more run-throughs to get used to it."

Max Aaron delivered a solid rendition of his The Phantom of the Opera free, which included a quad toe-double toe combination, a quad toe, quad salchow and four triple jumps. The 2013 U.S. champion scored a personal-best 176.58 points to place tops in the segment, and his event total of 259.69 points was good enough for third overall.

"This is my third time in China and both times I was fourth," Aaron said. "Now, this time in China, I got a medal and it feels great. The skates I had were a little bit tough, but I enjoyed every minute of it."

2017 world junior champion Vincent Zhou completed his debut on the senior Grand Prix circuit in fourth place with 256.66 points, while China's Han Yan ended fifth with 254.61.

Pairs

Sui and Han delivered an excellent performance of their Turandot free skate, reeling off a quad twist, a spectacular throw triple flip and salchow, as well as a side-by-side triple toe-double toe-double toe combination and innovative lifts. Sui stepped out of the side-by-side triple salchow and their combination spin was rated a Level 2, but the minor flaws weren't enough to knock the hometown favorites from the top of the podium. With a personal-best 150.93 points for the segment, the Chinese duo ended the competition with 231.07 points in total.

"We have been competing at the Cup of China for many years, but this is the first time for us to win in front of a home crowd," Han said. "However, we have higher goals this season than winning the Cup of China. We have a few problems that we want to fix and we want to skate better at our next Grand Prix, the NHK Trophy in Japan."

Skating an entertaining Star Wars free, Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang completed a triple twist, a big throw triple loop and salchow as well as impressive lifts. Yu did stumble out of the landing of the solo triple toe and two-footed the triple salchow, but their overall score of 205.54 points -- including 134.17 for the free skate -- was still good enough for second place.

"We made small mistakes in the short and free program, but I feel happy that we were able to enjoy our performance at the Cup of China," Yu said. "The solo jumps are going well in practice, but we tried the triple salchow for the first time in competition and I was nervous."

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro's routine to Alain Lefevre's "Un Ange Passe" featured a triple twist, a double axel-single loop-triple salchow, and a throw triple loop and salchow. The Canadians set a personal best with 132.00 points, which helped them to a total of 194.52 points overall.

"We feel pretty good about our performance today, definitely a solid step up from yesterday and also from our senior B (event) that we had earlier this season," Moore-Towers said. "We missed some levels and we know we have some space to grow, but we are super excited."

Italy's Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise slipped from third after the short program to fourth overall with 190.25 points, while compatriots Valentina Marchei and Ondřej Hotárek ended fifth with 188.01 points.

Dance

Papadakis and Cizeron established new world records for free dance score and overall score, becoming the first ice dance team to break the 200-point barrier in the process. Two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the U.S. took the silver medal, and the bronze went to Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia.

Papadakis and Cizeron effortlessly floated over the ice to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata," with the program's elements seamlessly woven into the choreography. The three-time European champions picked up a Level 4 for their lifts, spin, twizzles and circular step sequence en route to scoring 119.33 points in the free, which gave them 200.43 overall.

"It was a great performance for us, and we are happy with how we performed and with our score," Papadakis said. "This is our third time in China, and we always have skated well here. It feels like a lucky place for us."

Chock and Bates delivered a strong performance to "Imagine" that was highlighted by beautiful lifts and smooth footwork. The U.S. silver medalists earned a Level 4 for five elements and a Level 3 for their two step sequences. They scored 111.84 points for their free dance, for a total of 184.50.

"We had a lot of fun, and we are so happy that this was our first competition," Chock said. "We put out two great performances, and this is a great stepping stone for the rest of the season."

Dancing to "Oblivion" and "Beethoven's 5 Secrets," Bobrova and Soloviev gave an inspired performance, completing Level 4 lifts and twizzles as well as a Level 4 spin. The Russian champions scored 110.50 points, just below their season's best, and accumulated 182.84 overall.

"We are pleased with our performances here overall," Soloviev said. "We feel that we did everything in the short dance and that the free dance was a very good effort as well. Maybe we were holding back a little because we skated last, and that makes you always a bit nervous."

Tiffani Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro of Russia came in fourth (164.41 points).

In their Grand Prix debut, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter of the U.S. placed fifth with 157.61 points, while their teammates, Elliana Pogrebinsky and Alex Benoit, took seventh (150.47).