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Tuktamisheva takes ladies title at Skate Canada

Russian teen keeps cool and wins Grand Prix debut

Tuktamisheva, 14, wasn't bothered by her inexperience at Skate Canada, winning the ladies gold medal.
Tuktamisheva, 14, wasn't bothered by her inexperience at Skate Canada, winning the ladies gold medal. (AFP)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/29/2011) - Liza Tuktamisheva is one cool kid.

Over and over, reporters at Skate Canada asked the same questions: Do you feel pressure? What is it like competing on the senior international stage? Are you nervous?

"To be honest, I don't feel much different," the 14-year-old replied through an interpreter, again and again.

"At each event, I try not to think of the importance of the competition. I take each competition the same, whether it is small or large."

Today, the tiny Russian dynamo won a big one, her senior Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada. Skating with assurance, she landed six triples -- including her reliable triple Lutz-triple toe combination -- and earned 117.81 points in the free skate and 177.38 overall.

Japanese veteran Akiko Suzuki took top honors in the free, hitting seven triples in her Die Fledermaus routine to win silver with 172.26 points. Ashley Wagner, second after the short, had a solid skate to Black Swan and took home bronze.

The two other American ladies didn't fare as well. Mirai Nagasu finished fifth after an uneven skate to Spartacus, and Rachael Flatt landed just one clean triple in her free skate to place 10th.

There isn't yet much sparkle or musicality in Tuktamisheva's skating, but with jumps like her opening triple-triple -- worth 11.50 points -- those virtues can wait a season or two.

The wunderkind went on to hit four more triples, including a three-jump triple Salchow combination. Her youth showed in her comparatively low program components scores, where she was edged by Suzuki.

"Obviously I'm very, very happy," Tuktamisheva said. "I skated well with a lot of positive emotions and I really enjoyed competing here.

"I'm trying not to show every [emotion] that is inside. Maybe even if I am nervous, I am trying to hide it. I want to stay calm."

Although the skater is too young to compete at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships, the Russian Skating Federation is banking on youngsters like her for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. This, too, Tuktamisheva tosses to one side.

"Of course there is pressure, there will always be pressure," she said. "I will try not to pay attention to it. I just do my job the best I can, and it will be fine."

This is the second season that Suzuki, fourth at the Japanese Championships last season, has performed Die Fledermaus, and it showed in her mature and musical performance.

"I enjoyed today so much," she said. "I was happy I could get emotion from the audience, as well."

Suzuki, at 26 one of the older international lady competitors, is uncertain whether she will skate through Sochi. She placed eighth at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Canada.

"I don't think far ahead," she said. "I like to focus year by year. After the Olympics, I felt a little defensive, not so positive. This season, I would like to go back to being positive again and improve myself step by step."

Wagner hit everything in her free skate but her triple Lutzes, getting an "edge" call for the first and falling on the second. Otherwise, her Black Swan was a commendable early-season effort.

"I was so happy with what I put out for the first free skate of the Grand Prix season, with the exception of the Lutz," the 20 year-old said.

"[My coach] Mr. John Nicks and I will go back home and prepare for my next competition [NHK Trophy]. I've been dealing with a little bit of tendonitis on a toe of my landing foot, so we haven't been able to work on the Lutz as much, and the edge slipped back from the improvement over the summer. We may switch a Lutz out [of the program] and add a loop, and maybe add a few more transitions."

Nagasu opened her program well with a triple loop-double toe, but faltered slightly on a double Axel-double toe as well as a triple Lutz combination. From there, minor mistakes added up.

"I'm very disappointed with myself," Nagasu, who next competes at Cup of China, said.

"As it is, I have back-to-back competitions, so there is no time [to make changes]. I have to wish for a miracle to happen and pull it out. My goal was to make the Grand Prix Final; now my goal is to do well at nationals."

The less said about Flatt's Firebird free, the better. The 19-year-old Stanford University freshman never found her footing, falling twice and making numerous other jumping mistakes.

"I did not show my best side," Flatt admitted. "I am a competitor and I have to learn from today. It was tough performance, but it's all experience. I need more training under my belt."