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Fernández emerges from sloppy pack to win gold

Spaniard struggles through falls to pick up victory; Japan's Uno takes silver
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Looking to rebound from a disappointing sixth-place finish at the Cup of China earlier this season, Javier Fernández did just that. The Spaniard's 'Man of La Mancha' free skate -- which included a quadruple toe and a quadruple salchow-double toe combination -- yielded 175.85 points, enabling Fernández to capture the title with a final tally of 283.71 points. -Getty Images

On Saturday at the 2017 Internationaux de France, Spain's Javier Fernández won the Grand Prix he needed to win in Grenoble. Finishing second to the Spaniard was Japan's Shoma Uno, while Uzbekistan's Misha Ge -- the biggest surprise of the night who won the hearts of the crowd -- captured the bronze medal, earning the first Grand Prix award of his career in the process.

The competition itself, however, fell short of the quad battle it was expected to be, as it was marred by numerous falls and errors throughout.

Fernández, skating to "Man of La Mancha" from Don Quixote, was in pursuit of the unreachable dream. He landed a brilliant quad toe, and a quad salchow-double toe combination, though the landing of his subsequent triple axel was a bit rough. He then nearly fell on his second quad salchow, fell completely on his next triple axel, and then had a rough landing on his triple flip-triple salchow combination. His three spins and step sequence were rated Level 4, which is what saved his program. He garnered 175.85 points, certainly far from his best, but his 283.71 points overall were enough to win the event.

"Usually the triple axel is my best jump. This time it didn't turn out good, and after that, things got worse," the Spaniard said. "I started feeling some pain in my hip flexor. Usually things tend to improve in my programs, this time they didn't. This was a long day, and a good fight."

Uno drew to skate last in the group, and many thought as he took the ice, that he would easily earn back the 14-point deficit that separated him from first place. After all, Fernández' technical score of 85.45 points offered plenty of room for Uno to sneak in, especially if a good skate would bring him the high components he is surely capable of attaining.

Unfortunately for Uno, it was not meant to be. The Japanese talent opened his routine with a well-mastered quad loop, and followed with a triple axel. Many thought the Grand Prix was going to be decided at that moment. Uno is an incredible skater, and an even bigger competitor. He had the guts to place three of his quads, plus one triple axel, in the second half of his program, which he hoped would gain added credit.

Despite his best efforts, Uno two-footed his quad flip, which was deemed under-rotated, but the worst was still to come. He lost control of his quad toe, which led to a fall, nailed another quad toe, but then fell on the triple flip of his triple axel-triple flip combination, which ironically came right at the moment where the famous yell of his song, "Vinciero, Vinciero" ("I win, I win!" in Italian), rings through.

Uno would still manage to win the free program with 179.40 points, but remained in second place with 273.32 points overall at the conclusion of the event.

"This was really tough for me tonight," said Uno, lacking his usual glowing smile. "But I know what I have to work on. The Final takes place in my home city (Nagoya), so there will be a lot of expectations upon my shoulders."

When Ge opened his free skate, the audience knew that his precise edges, his meticulously prepared jumps and pure lines could make a world of a difference. He delivered a lyrical program to Jules Massenet's "Méditation de Thaïs," landing each element one by one: a triple axel-triple salchow combination, another triple axel and five more triple jumps. His step sequence earned Level 4 grading; his three spins, a level 3. He garnered 172.93 points for his free program, a new personal best, and 258.34 points overall.

Ge delivered a pure program, as pure in its edges and lines as the violin string of his meditation, but he did acknowledged the fact that his program was quad-less.

"I can land a quad, but if I do, I know that I won't be able to skate anymore," he said.

Nonetheless, the 26-year-old was still able to manage the first Grand Prix medal of his career.

"This is a very memorable moment, and it's very special to be sitting here with two great champions and good friends," Ge said at the post-event press conference. "The few weeks after Cup of Russia were quite difficult. I'm glad that through these difficulties, we could come out with two good skates."

Just like most of his competitors, Russia's Alexander Samarin had a rough skate to "House of the Rising Sun." He put a hand on the ice while landing his opening quad lutz, and fell on his quad toe. His two triple axels were brilliant, but there was no other major element to follow. He amassed 161.62 points for his free, a score 4.42 points short of his season's best, and dropped one place to end up fourth.

Skating to the opera Pagliacci, Bychenko completed a powerful quad toe-triple toe combination, another quad toe, two triple axels and a triple flip. He earned 160.65 points for his free and 247.40 points overall, and he held on to the fifth-place standing he achieved after the short program.

Team USA's Max Aaron was upset with the quad salchow he popped up (he landed a double instead), and the disappointment was written all over his face as he left the ice. Skating to his favorite piece of music -- Andrew Lloyd Webster's The Phantom of the Opera -- Aaron landed a quad toe-double toe combination, a quad toe (which he two-footed), two triple axels (one of which was combined with a double toe), and three more triples. The 2013 U.S. champion registered the sixth highest score of the evening with 158.56 points, and his overall mark of 237.30 placed him seventh.

"I'm really sorry about the Sal, but I really enjoyed having the opportunity to skate this program again," Aaron said. "This program is really my favorite and it brings up the best emotions for me. Now I am going to work on the performance and on the quality of my quads. I'll remember the quality of the second half of this program. I could be relaxed and let the jumps flow. I really enjoyed the performance."

Aaron's teammate, Vincent Zhou, landed a fantastic quad lutz-triple toe combination, which added 19.47 points to his tally right away. He also nailed his quad salchow-double toe combination, but fell on his quad flip and second quad lutz attempt en route to placing ninth overall, far from his standard.

This competition could easily be dubbed the "quad trap." When your elements elude you, your program has a tendency to appear empty. Either you win big points, or you lose it all.

Perhaps, when it was all said and done, Javier Fernández summed it up best with his remarks at the post-event press conference.

"The best skater is good at everything at once."