Japan, Russia top teams at Finlandia Trophy
Brother-and-sister squad wins ice dancing crown
|The ice dancing competition was never in doubt as Sinead and John Kerr pulled away from the pack. (Getty)|
Despite five of the top 10 finishers at the 2008 European Championships being in the field, it was Japan's Akiko Suzuki, who's becoming a force at these "Senior B" international competitions, who skated away with the gold.
Suzuki, who finished fifth last year at the Japanese championships, routed the field on the strength of her dominating free skate, defeating silver medalist Laura Lepistö by 17 points and bronze medalist Sarah Meier by 18. Meier and Lepistö are the reigning European silver and bronze medalists, respectively.
The competition was close after the short program, with Suzuki leading Lepistö, Georgia's Elene Gedevanishvili and Meier by less than two points.
Suzuki's free skate was far from perfect -- three of her jump elements (triple Lutz, double Axel-triple toe, triple Lutz-double toe) were given Grades of Execution (GOE) ranging from -1.28 to -2.0 -- but her triple loop and triple flip each received GOEs of 1.00 and all her spins, step sequences and spiral sequences were graded either Level 3 or Level 4. Her segment score of 112.28 beat Meier's by 16 points and Lepistö's by 17.
This is Suzuki's fourth win in her last five Senior B events. She won the gold at the 2007 Winter University Games, 2007 Golden Spin of Zagreb and 2008 AEGON Challenge Cup, and also claimed the bronze at last month's Nebelhorn Trophy.
Lepistö skated a clean short program to Karl Jenkins' "Imagined Oceans," landing a triple toe-double toe, triple loop and double Axel, but a Level 1 spiral sequence and a Level 1 straight line step sequence kept her in second in the segment. Her Don Juan DeMarco free skate was substandard, as she received GOEs of zero or lower on five of her seven jump elements. This is Lepistö's second silver medal of the season, as she also placed second at Nebelhorn.
Meier's season did not begin as expected. She was fourth after the short program, largely because of a fall on her triple loop. She saved some face with a second-place free skate, although it did include a single loop and a single Axel. Her "Yellow River Piano Concerto" program earned her 96.31 points, far below her usual standards.
Three of the top eight finishers at last year's European Championships were in the field in Vantaa, but it was a Japanese and an American skater who placed one-two.
Takahito Mura took a six-point lead over Finland's Ari-Pekka Nurmenkari and an eight-point lead over American Shaun Rogers in the short program. Mura landed four triples in the segment, including a triple Axel and a triple Lutz-triple toe combination, en route to a score of 76.40.
A third-place finish in a close free skate earned Mura the gold, his first in a senior-level international competition. He skated a conservative program, with GOEs ranging from -0.28 to 0.60. Along the way, he landed seven triples (three in combination), with his only serious mistake being his singling of his flip. His competition score of 208.24 beat his previous best, set at the 2007 World Junior Championships, by almost 37 points.
Rogers earned his second international medal in as many seasons; he claimed the silver at the 2007 Nebelhorn Trophy. He opened his Sweeney Todd short program with a shaky quad toe-double toe (-2.88 GOE), but he sailed through the rest of his skate, landing a triple Lutz and a triple Axel. Rogers' performance of his Grindhouse free skate was spotty, with a fall on his opening quad toe and negative GOEs on three other jump elements, but he did land four triples and received Level 4s on all three of his spins. His mark of 201.14 bested his previous international high score by 16 points.
Russian Sergei Voronov was fifth after the short program, but he won the free skate to earn the bronze. Voronov, the 2008 Russian champion, landed five clean triples in his free skate -- toe loop, Axel, loop and Salchow, plus a toe in combination -- although it's possible he planned for his opening triple toe to be a quad, a jump he lands consistently. Nevertheless, his segment score of 134.57 gave him 200.52 for the competition and his second senior-level international medal -- he won the silver at last year's Trophée Eric Bompard.
Nurmenkari fell to sixth overall after finishing 12th in the free skate. Belgian Kevin van der Perren withdrew following the short program, after which he was in sixth. He pulled out of last month's Nebelhorn Trophy prior to the start of the competition.
The ice dancing championship was never in doubt, as the Kerrs won all three phases convincingly to start their season off on the right foot. Russians Anastasia Platonova and Alexander Grachev and Kristina Gorshkova and Vitali Butikov garnered the silver and bronze, respectively.
The always-expressive Kerrs really distinguished themselves with their presentation marks, earning the highest program components score in each segment by 3.31, 2.85 and 5.67 points. They gave a dazzling performance of their "Ruled by Secrecy" free dance, receiving Level 4s on seven of their eight elements. The program was highlighted by a Level 4 circular step sequence with a 1.20 GOE, garnering them 9.2 points for the element.
The Kerrs' total score of 185.95 nearly beat their career best of 186.94, set at last season's world championships. This was the Kerr's second career international gold medal; they also finished atop the podium at the 2006 Nebelhorn Trophy.
Platonova and Grachev, skating in just their second event together, acquitted themselves well, placing second in both the original and free dance segments. Though not in the Kerrs' league, their programs were well done, with non-negative GOEs across the board and three Level 4 elements in their free dance.
The bronze medalists from the 2007 Junior Grand Prix Final and 2008 World Junior Championships, Gorshkova and Butikov showed they have what it takes to compete at the senior level, placing second in the compulsory dance and third in both the original and free dances. Their original dance included all Level 3 and Level 4 elements. Their free dance, however, was marred by a curve lift that ran long, a mistake that caused them to lose credit for the element and get hit with a one-point deduction.