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Russia scores first World Team Trophy victory with U.S. in second

Anna Shcherbakova scores 160.58 in a dominant performance in women's singles free skate to help lead Russia to its first World Team Trophy title.

After two silver medals and a bronze at the last three ISU World Team Trophy competitions, Russia finally scored its first victory at the event on Saturday, finishing the three-day competition with 125 points.

The No. 1-ranked nation in the world, Russia entered as the favorite with a team included the reigning world champions in women’s, pairs and ice dance, as well as the women’s world silver medalist.

Defending champion United States was runner-up for the second time, with 110 points, followed by 2012 and 2017 winner Japan with 107. The U.S. and Japan have been on the podium all seven times the typically biennial event has been held.

Italy (72), France (67) and Canada (57) rounded out the six-nation field. China is ranked fifth in the world, but withdrew and was replaced by France. Of note, 2018 Olympic team event gold medalist Canada did not send any of its top athletes who competed at worlds in late March due to the country’s mandatory two-week quarantine period.

Each country sent eight skaters: two men, two women, a pairs’ team and an ice dance team. Skaters contributed to their team’s score based on their placement within their discipline’s short program/rhythm dance and free skate/dance.

On the final day, Russia’s Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov won the pairs’ free skate with a score of 151.59. Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier were second in their first season together, with a new IJS personal best score of 133.63, more than six points higher than their performance at worlds three weeks ago.

“We are very proud of our free program,” Knierim said. “We’re very proud to come back from the world championships and put out a stronger program. It gives us confidence and is a great way to end our season.”

The team improved upon its fourth-place finish in the short program. Their free program included a three-jump side-by-side pass (triple toe, double toe, double toe) for the first time.

“We were very proud to put out our three-jump combo,” Knierim said. “We train it at home in our run-throughs. It wasn’t quite ready for the world championships, so we decided this was going to be a good opportunity to put it out there, and I’m glad we did; it’s a confidence booster moving forward.”

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara (130.83) were third, followed by Italy’s Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise (128.24), who were second in the short.

The women’s free skate ended the competition, with Russia’s Anna Shcherbakovalast month’s world champion at age 16 – winning with 160.58 points, eight higher than her score at worlds. Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto was second with 150.29, followed by world silver medalist Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva (146.23).

“Of course when I first heard that I would go here, I was so proud to be in Team Russia,” Shcherbakova said. “I really wanted to show good skating and to bring as many points as I could to my team, but before my free program I heard that we are already first, so I was skating and trying to enjoy it.”

“This program was dedicated to Japan, which is why I’m so happy I could skate my program here in Japan and I hope everyone enjoyed it,” Russian team captain Tuktamysheva said of her “Chronicles of a Mischievous Bird” free skate to the Osaka, Japan, crowd. “Thank you so much, the audience was great. There is so much love to skate here. Thank you for your support.”

With a score over five points higher than the program she put out in Stockholm, Sweden, last month, Team USA’s Bradie Tennell was fourth in the free skate (133.19), while Japan’s Rika Kihira was fifth (132.39) and American Karen Chen sixth (127.24).

“It feels amazing to come here and put out a program like that,” Tennell said. “That’s what I’ve been training in practice every day, so that was my goal here. Especially after worlds with my boot breaking and all the issues that I had, I’m so grateful that we had the opportunity to come here and that I skated well. It was so much fun to skate for fans again, I’m so grateful for all of their support and I could definitely feel it through all of my performance.”

World Team Trophy was the final event of the 2020-2021 figure skating season. The 2022 Olympic season will begin in September with ISU Challenger Series competitions, including Nebelhorn Trophy, which serves as the final chance for countries to secure Olympic spots.

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