Skating in a Grand Prix at home perhaps for the last time, Mao Asada claimed gold Saturday at the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka, Japan, the 23-year-old rising above an error-prone finish in the ladies’ free skate.
Fifteen-year-old Russian Yulia Lipnitskaya skated cleanly to jump her way from fourth to second, claiming the silver medal. American Ashley Wagner, the reigning and two-time national champion, won bronze.
Asada, currently the only female skater to attempt the triple Axel, fell on her opening jump then two-footed the landing of another. But the silver medalist from the Vancouver Games was solid through the rest of her program, skated to “Piano Concerto No. 2. Asada executed precise footwork and landed five more triples to win the free skate and finish with a 204.02.
The two-time world champion is considered the main threat to reigning Olympic gold medalist Yuna Kim for the top of the podium in Sochi come February. Kim is making her season debut at a small event in Croatia this weekend.
Wagner looked down and out after her free skate in which she fell on a triple Lutz and was called for under-rotating her triple-triple combination, an element she’s made a campaign to add throughout the season.
But Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova, who was second after the short program, was disastrous in her free skate, popping a triple Lutz into a single and falling twice. The 17-year-old finished last in the long program marks, and fell from second to fifth overall in the six-woman field.
With the bronze, Wagner becomes the first American to win back-to-back Grand Prix Final medals since Sasha Cohen did so in 2002 and 2003. Wagner, 22, was second to Asada a year ago.
“I have a lot to go home and work on,” said Wagner in a U.S. Figure Skating press release. “Today was more about my mental strength after I make a mistake than anything else. I feel technically I’m stronger than I’ve ever been and that I need to go work on the mental part of it.”
It was a 14th Grand Prix gold for Asada, who has said she will retire after this Olympic season, passing Michelle Kwan’s haul of 13. Russian Irina Slutskaya is the only female skater with more, having won 17 Grand Prix gold medals in her career.
The win was a back-to-back effort for Asada at the Grand Prix final, marking the first time that has been achieved since Yuna Kim won in both 2006 and 2007. It’s the fourth Grand Prix Final title overall for Asada.
Final results – Ladies
1. Mao Asada (JPN) 204.02
2. Yulia Lipnitskaya (RUS) 192.07
3. Ashley Wagner (USA) 187.61
4. Yelena Radyonova (RUS) 183.02
5. Adelina Sotnikova (RUS) 173.30
6. Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) 171.88
Left some out on the table tonight….it was a good wake up call..ready to head home and start training!
— Ashley Wagner (@AshWagner2010) December 7, 2013