Figure Skating

Chen and Kostornaia reign in Turin, but can they stay on top?

There was plenty to take from the 2019 Grand Prix Final with Yuzuru Hanyu's White Swan the highlight of Sunday's exhibition gala

By Rory Jiwani ·

The 2019 Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final ended in style on Sunday with the exhibition gala.

While he had to settle for silver behind Nathan Chen in the men's event, Yuzuru Hanyu delighted his hordes of fans in Turin by bringing back the White Swan dance he famously performed after retaining his Olympic title at PyeongChang 2018.

Sadly, ladies' singles Olympic champion Alina Zagitova was unable to take part due to injury.

The Russian addressed the crowd inside the Palavela, saying, "I'm very sorry that I cannot take part in the show because yesterday I had a bad landing on a jump. But I want to thank you very much for your support and for your faith in me."

Zagitova dropped from second to sixth in Saturday's free skate with her training partners Alena Kostornaia, Anna Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova making it a podium sweep for 'Team Tutberidze'.

But what else did we learn from the three days of action?

2019 Grand Prix Final men's podium (L-R): Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen, Kevin Aymoz

Rocketman on top of the world

From what we had seen previously this season, the battle for the men's title looked like it would be tight.

But despite Yuzuru Hanyu leaving absolutely everything out on the ice, it was Nathan Chen who secured what was a comfortable victory in the end with Kevin Aymoz producing two huge personal best skates to take bronze.

The American won by 44 points from the double Olympic gold medallist thanks to two career-best routines in Turin.

In the short program, Chen was just a fraction outside Hanyu's world record with the Japanese missing his combination minutes later.

That saw him take a 13-point lead into the free skate, and he had to listen backstage to the roars as the crowd favourite skated on his 25th birthday.

Hanyu landed five quads, including the quad Lutz he brought back for this competition, before sheer exhaustion saw him pop his intended closing triple Axel-triple Axel and collapse at the end of a thrilling, gutsy performance.

But the double world champion was simply sublime in his skate to music from the Elton John biopic Rocketman with all five quads executed superbly on his way to a new world record free skate and total score.

While Hanyu hopes to land the quad Axel - which he attempted in practice - at March's World Championships, he has a big gap to close on Chen who shows no sign of letting up despite being in his second year of studies at Yale University.

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Kostornaia beats quad power, for now

Women's figure skating has undergone a radical transformation in the past two years.

And right now, three girls with a combined age of 46 stand alone at the pinnacle of the sport.

It was Alena Kostornaia who took overall victory with a world record total after taking second place in the free skate to go with her world best short program.

She is the only one of the 3A - the three first-season seniors trained by Eteri Tutberidze - who does not have a quad jump in her arsenal, leaving her susceptible to her rink-mates in Montreal in March.

Both runner-up Anna Shcherbakova and bronze medallist Alexandra Trusova landed quads in the free skate with Trusova becoming the first woman to land a quadruple flip in competition.

Double world junior champion Trusova actually attempted five quads, like Chen and Hanyu, but only landed three of them and blamed nerves for her popping a quad Salchow.

Shcherbakova landed a quad Lutz and fell on her quad flip attempt, but still managed to win the free skate from Kostornaia.

If Trusova and Shcherbakova can get their quads right, then they will have a significant technical elements scores advantage over Kostornaia who only (!) has a triple Axel.

That's another jump Trusova needs to work on after her short program fall wrecked her hopes of gold, although she was her usual happy-go-lucky self in Turin with her dog Red Bourbon Baby Bounti, Tina for short, making it onto the ice for the victory ceremony.

Ladies' Grand Prix Final top three (L-R): runner-up Anna Shcherbakova, winner Alena Kostornaia, third-placed Alexandra Trusova

Triple Axel queen Rika Kihira landed a quad Salchow in practice but failed to repeat it on the night.

Last year's Grand Prix Final winner was down in sixth after a disappointing short program but moved up to fourth as she shrugged off that early fall to produce a fine free skate.

She looks to be the biggest danger to the three Russians' dominance although she will need to land all of her jumps to have a medal chance in Montreal.

Bradie Tennell took a very creditable fifth place with two fine skates in Turin, but the American will struggle to challenge for medals without a triple Axel or a quad.

The same can arguably be said for Alina Zagitova who skated close to her best to take second place in the short program.

But her free skate unravelled pretty early on and she looked crestfallen in the 'kiss and cry' as her score came up leaving her down in sixth place.

With only three skaters from each country permitted at the World Championships, there is every chance the 17-year-old will be unable to defend the title she won in Saitama in March.

Alina Zagitova during the short program at the 2019 Grand Prix Final in Turin

The future is bright!

Team Tutberidze has another talent to take on the world in the shape of Kamila Valieva.

She took gold and training partner Daria Usacheva, also 13 years old, bronze with US national champion Alysa Liu splitting the Moscow-based pair.

Liu led after the short program but youthful exuberance got the better of her in the free skate as she attempted two quad Lutzes and two triple Axels, failing to land any of them successfully.

A recent injury stopped Valieva attempting her planned quad toe loop, but she managed to secure victory having been fourth after the short.

Her total score of 207.47 was just nine points behind Rika Kihira's fourth in the senior competition.

Valieva's win made it 10 consecutive triumphs for Russia in the ladies' Junior Grand Prix Final, and an incredible six in a row for Team Tutberidze.

Junior Grand Prix final winner Kamila Valieva gets in the holiday spirit

Shun Sato produced the skate of his life to take the men's Junior Grand Prix title.

The Japanese was third after the short program but landed a quad Lutz and then a sumptuous quad toe loop in an exhilarating free skate.

He set a new free skate junior world record of 177.86, just one point behind the score of senior bronze medallist Kevin Aymoz.

And his total of 255.11, another world record, would have been good enough for fourth place in the men's Grand Prix proper.

Sato, who cites Yuzuru Hanyu as a role model but prefers pandas to Pooh bears, has well and truly emerged from the shadow of Japanese national junior champion Yuma Kagiyama who finished fourth.

And he may have booked himself a place at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympics in the process.


Andrei Mozalev took second from fellow Russian Daniil Samsonov who trains with the 3A under Eteri Tutberidze.

At just 13, the diminutive Samsonov was perhaps guilty of over-rotating some of his jumps and looks to have a huge future ahead of him.

He told Olympic Channel, "We skate at the same ice and it’s really cool. When I practise with the girls it really motivates me. You can see how they progress and you don’t want to be left behind. Sometimes at the practice we even compete against each other."

Could Team Tutberidze be about to make their mark in men's skating as well?

2019 Junior Grand Prix Final men's bronze medallist Daniil Samsonov

Papadakis and Cizeron a class apart

While Team Tutberidze currently has a stranglehold on ladies' singles skating, 'Team Gadbois' exerts a similar grip on ice dance.

Skaters trained by Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer in Montreal's Gadbois Arena swept the podium with Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron occupying the top step yet again.

The French pair had a slight mishap in their rhythm dance - to music from the 1980s TV show Fame complete with legwarmers and gym gear - with Papadakis recovering quickly from a trip caused by her skate hitting a rut on the ice.

But their free dance, to an eerie ambient soundtrack largely provided by Icelandic artist Olafur Arnalds, was close to perfection with the crowd mesmerised by a truly original and captivating routine.

It's hard to see anyone denying them a fifth world title in March at Montreal's Bell Centre just a couple of kilometres from their home rink.

In their second season as part of Team Gadbois, Madison Chock and Evan Bates produced a free dance personal best to take silver from fellow Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.

The two teams will be aiming for more hardware in Montreal, but don't rule out Russia's world silver medallists Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov whose sixth place came after their free dance was marked lower than most observers had expected.

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at the 2019 Grand Prix Final

Room for improvement for Sui and Han

World champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won the pairs event but it was far from plain sailing for the Chinese.

A hand down from Sui on a throw triple flip in the short program saw them take only a narrow lead into the free skate where Han struggled with his jumping.

They were a close second to compatriots Peng Cheng and Jin Yang on the night, but claimed overall victory by seven points with Peng and Jin taking silver after lying fifth overnight.

Afterwards, Sui admitted that they had struggled with the workload of three competitions in the space of a month so we can expect to see them fresh and ready to defend their world title in Montreal in March.

Sui Wenjing and Han Cong after the pairs free skate at the 2019 Grand Prix Final in Turin

The Russian challenge faded in the free skate with Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, who had won both their Grand Prix assignments, slipping from second to fifth.

Bronze did go to Russia, however, with world junior champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov moving up from fourth in the short program.