Shoma Uno, Mai Mihara win Grand Prix Final; Ilia Malinin, Isabeau Levito rally for medals
Shoma Uno easily won his first duel with Ilia Malinin this season at figure skating’s Grand Prix Final, but the 18-year-old American landed another quadruple Axel in Saturday’s free skate to build anticipation for March’s world championships.
Japan’s Uno, the world champion, totaled 304.46 points with the top short program and free skate to prevail by a whopping 30.11 points over countryman Sota Yamamoto. Malinin rallied for bronze from fifth place after the short with five quadruple jumps in the free (one negatively graded).
The U.S. earned a medal in all four events at a Final for the first time (thanks to its first-ever pairs’ medal on Friday, and perhaps in part the absence of Russian skaters, all banned for the war in Ukraine).
Isabeau Levito, the 15-year-old world junior champion, improved from fifth after the short to earn silver behind Japan’s Mai Mihara in the women’s event. Levito, even with a fall in the free skate, became the third-youngest U.S. woman to win a Grand Prix Final medal after Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan.
“I’m very shocked,” said Levito, who goes into January’s U.S. Championships as the clear favorite after the retirements of Mariah Bell and Alysa Liu. “When I messed up in my program, I didn’t expect to be in the place that I am now.”
Uno had such an advantage over Malinin from the short -- 19.89 points -- that the American, who entered the competition with the world’s best score this season, could not pass him if Uno skated relatively clean in the free.
Uno did just that with five quads (one negatively graded) to win the Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, for the first time after two previous silvers and two bronzes.
“Everything I trained for was able to be crystallized in the competition here today,” Uno said through a translator. “But at the same time, I did sense that there’s a lot of room for growth.”
Malinin, fifth of six skaters in Friday’s short due to errors on all three jumping passes, rebounded with a strong free skate like he did in his three previous events this season (three wins to rank No. 1 in the world going into the Final). Malinin is the only skater to ever land a quad Axel and has now done it in each of his free skates this season.
Malinin has been affected by a left foot injury since at least late November. He said Saturday that it started really bothering him two weeks ago, but he “barely even felt it” at the Final. Because of it, he did not attempt a Lutz jump at either of his last two events, yet still finished first and third in them.
“A good sign that it’s healing,” said Malinin, who hopes to put the Lutz back in later this season. “It showed today that with all the prep that I’m doing, all the physical therapy.
“I was sort of in shock I was able to pull this off with all the preparation that I didn’t have.”
Malinin, the world junior champion who turned 18 last week, became the second-youngest U.S. man to win a Grand Prix Final medal after Nathan Chen.
Uno and Malinin ascended to the top of the sport following two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu‘s retirement and reigning Olympic champion Chen’s indefinite, possibly permanent leave from the sport.
Next, Uno and Malinin head to their respective national championships to lock up spots at March’s worlds in Japan.
Also Saturday, Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier consolidated their world No. 1 status by winning the Grand Prix Final ice dance. Gilles and Poirier, seventh at the Olympics, totaled 215.64 points to beat Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates by 3.7 points.
Chock and Bates, the top returning ice dance couple from last season with all three Olympic medalists not competing internationally this fall, were bidding for the biggest international title of their careers. The U.S. earned a Grand Prix Final dance medal for a 14th consecutive time.
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