Less than a year after contemplating retirement, Alissa Czisny is the Grand Prix Final Champion. She claimed the gold medal Saturday in Beijing, China, becoming only the third American woman to win the event since its inception in 1997.
“I almost feel like this is a new beginning for me,” said Czisny, who considered quitting the sport after a 10th place showing at the 2010 U.S. Championship in January. “The past is gone — over and done with. I’m a new skater.”
Czisny, the gold medalist at 2010 Skate Canada and bronze medal winner at Trophee Eric Bompard, put out an elegant performance to George Winston’s “Winter and Spring” that featured five triple jumps and two Level 4 spins.
Although she was not perfect in her third place free skate, under rotating the triple flip in her triple flip-double toe combination and stumbling on a double Axel, she scored a personal best 116.99 points, helping her to a personal best 180.75 overall.
Czisny joins Olympic Champion Tara Lipinski, who won the inaugural Grand Prix Final just months prior to her Olympic victory in Nagano, Japan, and 2002 Grand Prix Final Champion Sasha Cohen as the only U.S. ladies to win the competition. Michelle Kwan and Lipinski also won the Champion Series Final in 1995 and 1996.
“I stayed on my feet, so I was happy,” Czisny said. “I had to fight my way through that program. I’m happy with the outcome and it just feels good to be back and to be able to get close to reach my potential. I dreamed it, winning it and it happened.”
Italy’s Carolina Kostner (178.60) edged out Japan’s Kanako Murakami (178.59) by a tenth of a point to claim the silver medal. Rounding out the field were Japan’s Akiko Suzuki (173.72) in fourth, Japan’s Miki Ando (173.15) in fifth and reigning U.S. Champion Rachael Flatt (127.57) in sixth.
Kostner’s fourth place routine to “L’Aprés-Midi d’un Faun” was highlighted by all positive grades of execution, including high marks for her four triple jumps and two Level 4 spins. Skating to “The Mask of Zorro,” Murakami completed a triple toe-triple toe combination and four more triples to score a second best 117.12 points, less than a point better than Kostner’s 116.47.
Former World Champion Ando won the free skate with a six triple performance, including her opening triple lutz-double loop combination and a double Axel-triple toe. Despite her strong showing in the free, she was held back by a fifth place short program that put her 13.31 points behind Czisny.
Flatt, who has been unable to fully train because of an injury to her right foot, capped off an impressive fall season with a tough outing in Beijing. In her free skate, she landed only one clean triple jump, a solo triple flip. The triple toe in her opening double Axel-triple toe combination was under rotated as was her triple Lutz, which she fell on, and the triple Salchow and double loop in the triple Salchow-double toe-double loop combo.
Flatt, who hopes to defend her national title Jan. 22-30 in Greensboro, N.C. qualified for the Beijing event with strong performances in her two Grand Prix events. She started the season with a silver medal at the NHK Trophy in Nagoya, Japan. Later, she won the free skate at Skate America in Portland, Ore., to claim another silver medal, qualifying her for her first Grand Prix Final.
In the men’s competition, reigning World Championship silver medal Patrick Chan of Canada easily claimed the gold medal over Japan’s Nobunari Oda (242.81) and Takahiko Kozuka (237.79) with a personal best 259.75 points. World Champion Daisuke Takahashi (219.77) dropped from third after the short program to fourth overall with a sixth place free skate.
Chan, who qualified for the Final with a gold medal at Skate Canada and a silver at Rostelecom Cup, was lifted to gold by a free program that included a quadruple toe and seven triple jumps. Skating to “Phantasia“ by Andrew Lloyd Webber, he set a personal best 174.16, even with a botched solo triple Axel.
“I think it is the beginning of a great career and a great season,” Chan said after winning his first Grand Prix Final medal. “I can take what I have learned during the GP and use it at Worlds. There’s more to come.”
Chan failed to qualify for the final last year after injuries hampered his Grand Prix season — he was sixth at Skate Canada then withdrew from Rostelecom Cup. At both the 2007 and 2008 Grand Prix Finals, he placed fifth of six competitors. He was also fifth at the 2005 Junior Grand Prix Final.
Oda, the leader after the short program, missed his opening quad toe and fell after the double Axel, the last jump of his program, ending his hopes for a first ever Grand Prix Final victory. But his performance was highlighted by a triple Axel-triple toe combination, which received a 2.29 Grade of Execution, a triple flip-triple toe combination and a triple Salchow-double toe-double loop,
“I was disappointed about myself with mistakes with the quad toe and the end of the program (fall after double Axel),” said Oda, who was second at Skate Canada and Skate America earlier this season. “Even though I am not satisfied with my performance today I achieved a good result as a silver medalist, it is nice.”
Oda qualified for his first Grand Prix Final in 2005, placing fourth, and finished with the bronze medal the following year. He was also second in 2009, taking the silver medal behind American Evan Lysacek, who went on to win the 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
Kozuka also struggled with the quad toe in his program, under rotating the jump before produced eight triples and Level 4 spins. With the program, he moved up from fourth to third, giving him his second career medal at the Grand Prix Final. He was second to American Jeremy Abbott in 2008.
“It wasn’t a great nor a bad performance, it was okay,” said Kozuka, who won Cup of China and Trophee Eric Bompard to move on to the event in Beijing. “Honestly I am tired after Paris, it’s only two weeks after the competition, I just couldn’t recover well enough and I had jetlag. But I´m not the only one affected, other skaters are in the same situation, so no complaints. I´d like to brush up my detail and train harder and harder.”
Takahashi had several problems in his last place free skate including a fall on his opening quad flip, which was downgraded, and a fall on a triple Lutz, which received an edge deducation, later in the program. The second jump in his triple flip-triple toe downgraded and the triple Axel in sequence was also under rotated.
Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic placed fifth overall with 213.64 points following a fifth place short program and fourth place free skate. France’s Florent Amodio (201.90) finished sixth in the short and fifth in the free.
No American men qualified for the Grand Prix Final despite a strong showing in recent years. In 2007, Lysacek, who is sitting out competition until at least fall 2011 following a post-Olympic whirlwind, finished third to became the first U.S. man to medal since Michael Weiss won bronze in 2003.
In 2008, Abbott became the first American to win the men’s competition at the Grand Prix Final. Johnny Weir finished third, a feat he would repeat the next year when Lysacek became the second American to win the event.
Four men won medals for the United States on the Grand Prix this season: Abbott (silver at NHK Trophy and bronze at Rostelecom Cup), Adam Rippon (bronze at Skate Canada), Brandon Mroz (silver at Cup of China and bronze at Trophee Eric Bompard) and Armin Mahbanoozadeh bronze at Skate America).
In ice dance, two-time U.S. Champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White repeated as Grand Prix Final Champions while Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat (162.10) of France earned the silver medal. The bronze went to Canada’s Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirer (162.10).
Davis and White, the American ice dancers to make the Final, delivered a strong performance of their Tango routine and earned a Level 4 for seven out of the eight elements. Only the diagonal step sequence was graded a Level 3. The Olympic and World silver medalists posted a new seasons best of 102.94 points and racked up a total of 171.58 points.
The competition concluded with Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany striking gold in the pairs event with 210.72 points, recapturing the title they held once before in 2008. China confirmed its strong position in the discipline with the silver for Qing Pang and Jian Tong (189.93) and the bronze for Wenjing Sui and Cong Han (179.04).
No American pairs qualified for the Final.
Photos courtesy of Leah Adams
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