(Note: Unfortunately, due to their busy schedules, Bronwyn and Will could not participate in a video recap this week, so I, Kathy, am bringing you guys this blog post. Hope you enjoy!)
Gold - Evgenia Medvedeva (RUS) 16-year-old Medvedeva has been a force to be reckoned with the entire season, and her performance here was no exception. First in both the short and long programs, she posted three new personal best scores and easily trumped her competition with an almost 14-point margin of victory. As a first-year senior, her resilience and unwillingness to succumb to pressure against more seasoned skaters make her win especially impressive. Not only did Medvedeva hit all of her jumps, she was also awarded high PCS for her unique brand of artistry, which played off of her youthful charm and unconventional choreography, especially in the free skate. She'll be looking to replicate these performances at Russian nationals later this month, but barring any fluke mistakes it is fairly safe to say we will be seeing this teenage phenom on the European and World teams, and on top of many more podiums to come.
Silver - Satoko Miyahara (JPN) Coming in second place, Miyahara had something of a breakthrough moment at this competition, where she proved her consistency and established herself as a definite contender for a World medal next March. In the past, Miyahara has been bogged down by underrotated jumps and comparatively low PCS, but her scores here were promising, to say the least. Between GPF and her decisive win at the NHK Trophy two weeks ago, it seems that judges are finally warming up to her more subtle, yet no less effective, style of musical interpretation. She may be small in size, but to me Miyahara can fill the ice effortlessly with her beautiful skating skills and mature presence. And if her teammate Mao Asada continues to underwhelm (more on that in a bit), I believe she has a very good chance of clinching the Japanese national title this season.
Bronze - Elena Radionova (RUS) It simply goes to show the caliber of the competition when someone who puts out two very, very solid programs, with only a single fall between them, still ends up in third in the field. I felt that her Titanic free program didn't have as much gusto as it did at the Rostelecom Cup, but she held on fiercely to many of her jump landings and didn't allow her technical performance to suffer. Radionova is very much a mentally tough skater, and somewhat known for her ability to recover from incomplete triple-triple combinations. In both programs, she tacked the triple toe onto the end of a later jump when she didn't have the speed or running edge to execute it at the end of her lutz. It's the capacity to think on her feet that sets Radionova apart from her peers, and she's certainly made her case for silver, if not gold, at Russian nationals.
Fourth Place - Ashley Wagner (USA) - In a characteristic act of redemption, Wagner rallied from sixth place after the short program to fourth overall with a personal-best free skate, missing the podium by less than two points. Her Moulin Rouge! program is a personal favorite of mine, and as usual she brought the character of Satine to life with passion and drama. Given the unequal success of her short and long programs, it will be interesting to see how Wagner performs at US nationals, and stacks up against her rival Gracie Gold.
Speaking of Gold, who finished in fifth place, this competition was no doubt a huge disappointment for her. After silver at Skate America and a win in the short program at Trophee Eric Bompard, (which was canceled midway), Gold would have been looking to cement her new upward trajectory in her first GPF appearance, and many considered her a contender for the podium. Unfortunately, a costly popped flip in both programs and other uneven landings held her down, not to mention that she seemed much less committed to her choreography and music than usual. Equally devastating was Mao Asada of Japan, who finished in sixth place. Shocking for someone with her talent and experience, but perhaps it was the season she'd taken off from competition starting to show. Comebacks are never easy, but I wish Asada the best going forward and I'm sure she will return to form in no time.
Gold - Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) The men's competition left me generally speechless, and that was thanks in no small part to Yuzuru Hanyu, who shattered the world records he set just two weeks ago at the NHK Trophy. The magnitude of what he has accomplished this season alone is unbelievably immense, not just for himself but for figure skating as a whole. It's hard to think of any other male skater who has single-handedly elevated the sport to new heights, in terms of the technical and artistic ceiling, in such a short period of time as has Hanyu. Not only that, but he still continues to push himself even when he has left his competition in the dust. Ever the perfectionist, he expressed regret for only achieving a level 3 step sequence in each program, but it seems a trivial point when all of his other elements were executed beautifully and not a single negative GOE was to be seen. Hanyu's skating is truly a sight to behold, and I look forward to seeing him exceed even more expectations in the future.
Fourth Place - Patrick Chan (CAN) The short program woes continued to plague Chan at this competition, but like Ashley Wagner in the ladies' event, he rebounded with a rousing free skate to pull up from sixth to fourth place overall. His artistry and unparalleled skating skills, for which Chan is well-known, were on display. Even in his underwhelming short program, where his triple-triple combination and camel spin were both invalidated, his PCS were high enough for him to score 70+, setting him up, in an extremely rare coincidence, to earn the exact same overall score as Boyang Jin (but because Chan placed higher in the free skate, he placed higher overall). At this point it seems to me as if Chan's battle is not with Hanyu, but more with himself. Like Mao Asada, he's been up-and-down since his return to competition, and he needs to get back into peak competitive mode if he wants to replicate the kind of performance we saw at Skate Canada. He should be able to earn back his Canadian national title back in January, but it remains to be seen whether he will have a shot at other international podiums this season.
Boyang Jin of China and Daisuke Murakami of Japan finished in fifth and sixth place, respectively. While neither skater put out disastrous programs by any means, they were arguably the least artistically inclined of the field here, which cost them when the jumps were not landed cleanly. Even so, making the final was a personal victory for both--Jin, because it is is first senior season; Murakami, because he has been largely inconsistent in the past and now was just the right time to make statement on the international stage. Murakami in particular will face stiff competition at his national championships, where the Japanese men will be fighting for only two spots on the world team.
Gold - Stolbova/Klimov (RUS) In what I would consider the biggest upset of the GPF, Stolbova/Klimov defeated the reigning World champions by delivering two foot-perfect programs, skated with quality and intensity. Their throw jumps were massive in both programs, and they delivered a side-by-side triple-triple-double combination in the free skate with no problems whatsoever. There was a kind of focus that permeated their skating, and they didn't seem to lose energy or let up on their choreography for even a second from start to finish. Watching them at this competition, it was hard to believe that Stolbova/Klimov had began the season off of the podium at their first Grand Prix assignment, Skate America. For a team that for a while had gotten used to being second-best among the Russian pairs, this may finally be their moment to seize. Depending on whether Volosozhar/Trankov are healthy enough to compete at Russian nationals, these two could be looking for their third consecutive national title.
Silver - Duhamel/Radford (CAN) After an undefeated 2014-2015 season, the Canadians' streak was ended here, although they didn't go down without a fight. While I believe their choices of music this season are better vehicles for interpretation than last season's, they are lacking the confidence and ease in their elements that led them to win after win just months ago. Even on a bad day, Duhamel/Radford have many admirable qualities in their skating and they give every program their all, but at this event the little mistakes crept in and added up to about a 13-point margin between them and Stolbova/Klimov. The top Russian and Chinese pairs appear to be on the rise, but Duhamel/Radford seem somewhat stagnated in their progress. For example, they opted not to attempt the throw quad lutz in the free skate, but even the triple was landed sloppily. These two may need to retool their technique or tweak their competitive strategy (perhaps a less risky layout would help, to rely on high GOEs instead of high base value) if they are to defend their world title in March. On the other hand, their placement here could make them hungry for a win again and inadvertently motivate them to skate more cleanly than ever.
Bronze - Kavaguti/Smirnov (RUS) Since a surprising win at the Cup of China several weeks ago, Kavaguti/Smirnov have unfortunately not been able to replicate the caliber of their performances there. They were in second place after a clean short program, but two falls in the beginning of the free skate on their side-by-side jumps were very costly. Still, many positives were to be found in their programs. Many may see their seniority in age as a disadvantage, but to me it affords them a quality of refinement and allows them to pull off music and choreography that would perhaps read as gimmicky on another team. They also landed a beautiful throw quad salchow in the free skate, and interestingly, their PCS were higher than Duhamel/Radford's in both programs. I hope to see Kavaguti/Smirnov on the Europeans podium, but the emergence of Savchenko/Massot could definitely shake things come January.
Fourth Place - Seguin/Bilodeau (CAN) A set of all new personal-best scores propelled this team, who did double duty last year by competing in both the junior and senior World Championships, into fourth place in their first senior GPF. They have charm for days, and though their elements aren't the most difficult in the field, Seguin's catlike landings and their easy chemistry make for an appealing presence on the ice. Many, including myself, expected these two to finish in last place due to their lack of experience relative to other teams, but they surprised fans and probably themselves here with two superb programs, and it bodes well for them for the rest of the season. The Canadian pairs field is deep, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say Seguin/Bilodeau have a shot at that national podium.
Due to the ISU ruling that allowed Seguin/Bilodeau to qualify for this competition, there was one more entry in this discipline than each of the others, for a total of seven senior pairs. In my mind, none of the fifth, sixth, or seventh place finishers put out performances that were indicative of who they were as respective teams. Each of their free skates were littered with falls and uneven landings, and it was heartbreaking to see, especially for Yu/Jin of China, who had medaled at both of their Grand Prix events and was expected to be on the rise. They and their teammates, Peng/Zhang, were not reported to have been clean in their practices, so I hope that this was simply a fluke event and they will be back in shape for Chinese nationals. The reigning US champions, Scimeca/Knierim, were unable to execute their signature quad twist, among other elements, but at the very least they can take pride in being the first American pairs to qualify for the GPF since 2007. I look forward to the couple rekindling their competitive fire and preparing to defend their national title.
Gold - Weaver/Poje (CAN) Weaver/Poje put out two foot-perfect programs to win this competition easily, continuing their streak on the Grand Prix and setting them up nicely for the Four Continents and World Championships. Their free dance continues to grow and crystallize as the season progresses, and I saw a sense of abandon towards the second half of the program that I hadn't seen before, which made it come alive that much more and for me, made their victory even more deserved. If they hadn't been already, Weaver/Poje are now clearly on a mission to be undefeated this season, and the intricacy and emotional investment with which they've imbued their programs is exactly what they need to accomplish that.
Silver - Chock/Bates (USA) Finishing just over a point higher overall than Capellini/Lanotte with a third-place free dance, Chock/Bates nevertheless secured a silver medal largely on the strength of their short dance. Despite it being their third short dance of the season and still relatively new to the reigning US champions, it received high PCS, especially in the Performance and Interpretation/Timing categories. It turned out that Chock/Bates would need that small point cushion in the free dance, where Chock had a visible bobble on the twizzle sequence and the team received lower PCS (by a fraction) than their Italian counterparts. Ultimately, it was a close call between the two teams, but the judges chose to reward Chock/Bates, reversing the result at Cup of China, which they lost to Capellini/Lanotte.
Bobrova/Soloviev of Russia were able to move up one spot after placing sixth in the short dance to fifth overall, with a solid Anna Karenina free dance full of dramatic choreographic moments. Hubbell/Donohue of USA fared less fortunately, with a fluke fall from Donohue in the free dance, for a score that was about 4 points off of what they acheived at the NHK Trophy. I believe the Russian team is weaker in the short dance and stronger in the free dance, while the opposite is true for the Americans, so it wasn't too surprising to see them flip-flop in placements as they did. In the coming months, Bobrova/Soloviev will be rallying to regain their national title, while Hubbell/Donohue will also be eyeing a medal at the US Championships.
All in all, it was an action packed Grand Prix Final, with some of the most stacked fields I've ever witnessed. Barcelona was once again a gracious host, and I know I can speak for Bronwyn and Will when I say we are all looking forward to even more showdowns and surprises in the rest of the season!