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Anna Cappellini, Luca Lanotte

Cappellini and Lanotte hold on for surprise ice dance title

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Even without the top two teams in the world, the ice dance competition at the World Figure Skating Championships brimmed with drama.

Saturday afternoon it concluded with the the three podium spots separated by just 0.06 points, Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte edging out Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada (second) and France’s Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat (third) by the smallest of fractions for gold.

Top-ranked duos Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skipped the World Championships after winning gold and silver, respectively, at the Sochi Olympics, but that didn’t seem to matter to the Saitama, Japan, audience, which was enraptured with a genuine fight to the finish.

Cappellini and Lanotte, Italy’s first world champions in ice dance since Barbara Fusar-Poli and Maurizio Margaglio won in 2001, were fourth in the free dance, but held on for the gold thanks to their lead after the short dance.

More: Hanyu roars back for men’s title | Savchenko/Szolkowy win in pairs

“We really have no words. We’re in complete shock,” Cappellini told the crowd after their win. “It was such a long season and we were really at the end of our energy. I was already happy with the way that we performed.”

Yelena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, bronze medalists in Sochi, won the free dance, though their efforts left them in fourth after a poor short program had them in fifth place coming into Saturday.

Ilinykh/Katsalapov skated with extra fire on the ice Saturday as rumors swirled around Worlds that they would disband as a team after the competition, allegations they denied.

Katsalapov let out an impassioned yell as they finished their darkened portrayal of “Swan Lake,” which was instrumental in their podium finish at the Olympics last month.

More: Final ice dance standings, scores

The U.S. had plenty to be proud of, though this marks the first time since 2008 that no American ice dancers landed on the podium.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates were fifth overall and brother-sister duo Maia and Alex Shibutani finished sixth, moving up from eighth- and ninth-place efforts at the Olympics.

It was a second Worlds bronze for Pechalat/Bourzat in three years, the French veterans who at 30 and 33, respectively, are said to be skating at their final competition. It was their 11th World Championships.

Weaver/Poje skated last Saturday afternoon, their Latin medley filled with flair and passion. When their score flashed on the screen they had to double check their opponents’ efforts, Poje confirming their silver-medal status.

“Second,” he said in the Kiss and Cry. “Second.”

Cappellini broke down in tears when the score for her and Lanotte was shown, their short dance providing the cushion they needed to hold onto the world title. This is their first world championship medal of any kind, coming on the heels of their first-ever European Championships title in January. They were sixth in Sochi.

“This was an amazing week for us,” Lanotte said. “Just amazing.”

Ice dance overall standings
2. Kaitlyn WEAVER/Andrew POJE CAN 175.41
3. Nathalie PECHALAT/Fabian BOURZAT FRA 175.37
4. Yelena ILINYKH/Nikita KATSALAPOV RUS 174.38
5. Madison CHOCK/Evan BATES USA 167.59
17. Alexandra ALDRIDGE/Daniel EATON USA 137.37

Hanyu roars in comeback for world title, U.S. men earn third spot

Yuzuru Hanyu. Getty Images.
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In the end, Yuzuru Hanyu stood alone once again – literally.

The reigning Olympic champion came into Friday’s free skate at the World Figure Skating Championships down seven points of compatriot Tatsuki Machida, the short program leader who turned in a solid free skate just minutes earlier.

But the 19 year old, Japan’s first-ever Olympic men’s champion, was undeterred. He took to the ice in Saitama and delivered a clean and thorough “Romeo and Juliet” free skate, launching himself to the top of the podium once again, his second major international crown in a matter of weeks.

More: Asada sets world record in ladies’ short program | Savchenko/Szolkowy win pairs

Hanyu, who is coached by former world champion Brian Orser, stood alone to celebrate as his score was announced, jumping up and pumping his fists over his head. Orser was already tending to his other world class pupil, Javier Fernandez, who skated next.

Fernandez ended up third, making up for his botched finish in Sochi last month, where he fell to fourth place because he miscalculated his points during the free skate.

Yet there was no miscalculation for the U.S. men in Saitama, who earned a third spot for the World Championships for the first time since 2011.

They did so thanks to an inspired skate from Jeremy Abbott, the four-time national champion with a history of international hiccups. The Colorado native skated with gusto in his long program and moved from eighth to fifth overall. 2013 U.S. champ Max Aaron placed eighth.

The U.S. needed the final skater of the competition, Takahiko Kozuka, to fall below Abbott. He did just that, putting his hand down on several jumps and moving tentatively on the ice.

Skating in what he’s said will be his last-ever competition, Abbott summoned the same free skate spirit he found in Sochi, connecting with the “Symphony Number 3” music as it seemed to sway him over the ice. Technically, Abbott lost little points from jump to jump, but overall the feeling of the program was one of triumph, Abbott’s final spin was not quite done when the capacity crowd rose to its feet to congratulate him.

“I have so many emotions going through my head. I’m happy with how I skated and that was exactly what I wanted to do here,” said Abbott in a U.S. Figure Skating statement. “That’s what I’ve been training for. That’s the best I’ve ever skated that program in competition. I’m so proud and honored to do it in Japan. I had such a warm welcome.”

More: Full men’s scores and standings

Aaron’s long program, meanwhile, was reflective of his entire season: he skated fast but messy, attacking his jumps aggressively but seemingly unable to find his skates underneath him. Just two of his eight jumps were marked as cleanly executed.

“I’m frustrated. I came out here and gave it my best,” Aaron said in the same statement. “I trained hard for this but obviously it didn’t go the way I trained it. It’s reality. I have to go back and see what I can do for next season.”

The U.S. men needed a combined finish of 13th to gain a third spot at Worlds next year. They got just that, with Abbott fifth and Aaron eighth. This is the first time the U.S. men will have three spots at a World Championships since 2011.

Hanyu wasn’t completely alone in the Kiss and Cry: He brought along a stuffed Winnie the Pooh bear, which has famously followed him around the world, garnering its own Twitter handle. He mocked shaking hands with the bear before his scores came in, a world champion already confident in what he had accomplished, yet still a playful teen at heart.

Overall, the men delivered a much more engaging, dramatic and technically sound free skate than in Sochi, where falls dominated the final two groups. Many argue that a day between the short and long programs allow for better rest and recovery and thus better skating. Saitama may have proved that.

Ice dancing
A surprising turn of events ended the short dance program of the ice dancing competition, which is without the two teams that have dominated the discipline over the last five years.

Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte were the ones to step up Friday and take advantage of that, skating a near-flawless routine to score a 69.70 and sit a half point ahead of Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

It’s Weaver and Poje’s compatriots Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir who are skipping the World Championships, as are reigning Olympic gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. The two teams own the gold and silver medals from the last two Olympic Games.

America was well represented in the short dance, however, where both Madison Chock and Evan Bates as well as Maia and Alex Shibutani put out strong performances, finishing fourth and sixth, respectively.

“We had the most fun today that we have all season performing [our short dance],” Bates said via U.S. Figure Skating. “Our goal was to pay tribute to the program and skate it well. It’s been a great program for us.”

Chock/Bates were eighth in Sochi, the Shibutanis ninth.

Chock/Bates sit just half a point off the podium behind veterans Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who have medaled just once at Worlds (bronze in 2012) and were fourth at the Olympics last month.

Sochi bronze medalists Yelena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia looked poised to continue their strong run before Katsalapov stepped out of a sequence of twizzles, costing the team valuable points and putting them in fifth heading into the free dance.

Men’s overall standings
1. Yuzuru HANYU JPN 282.59
2. Tatsuki MACHIDA JPN 282.26
3. Javier FERNANDEZ ESP 275.93
4. Maksim KOVTUN RUS 247.37
5. Jeremy ABBOTT USA 246.35
6. Takahiko KOZUKA JPN 238.02
7. Han YAN CHN 231.91
8. Max AARON USA 225.66

Ice dance standings – Short dance
2. Kaitlyn WEAVER/Andrew POJE CAN 69.20
3. Nathalie PECHALAT/Fabian BOURZAT FRA 68.20
4. Madison CHOCK/Evan BATES USA 67.71
5. Yelena ILINYKH/Nikita KATSALAPOV RUS 65.67
7. Nelli ZHIGANSHINA/Alexander GAZSI GER 62.27
8. Victoria SINITSINA/Ruslan ZHIGANSHIN RUS 62.11
18. Alexandra ALDRIDGE/Daniel EATON USA 53.34

Seeking redemption, Asada leads with world record short program

Mao Asada. AP Photo.
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This time there was no room for tears, no room for dreams dashed on the world stage, no regretting what she had done as soon as it was over.

Just a month after veteran Mao Asada skated herself out of medal contention at the Sochi Olympics, the two-time world champion brought her A-game – and set a new world record – at the World Figure Skating Championships Thursday in Saitama, Japan.

The 23-year-old home favorite didn’t shy away from the triple Axel that abandoned her in Sochi and left her in 16th place, instead attacking it with gusto to open her Chopin short program, then executing a triple flip and a triple-double combination to score a 78.66, topping Yuna Kim’s 78.50 record from the Vancouver Games.

More: Savchenko/Szolkowy win in pairs | Men’s short program review

Asada, the Vancouver silver medalist, who ended up sixth after a brave free skate in Sochi, topped the leaderboard after an enthralling and emotional ladies short program in front of over 20,000 ardent fans at the Saitama Super Arena.

Fellow veteran Carolina Kostner, who at 27 won her first Olympic medal last month (bronze), continued her inspiring run at the twilight of her career, skating to a 77.24, a personal best by three points.

Kostner finished in second behind Asada while 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya, the phenom who helped Russia to a team gold at the Olympics, was in third, skating to a 74.54.

Reigning national champion Gracie Gold was good if not great in her short program, scoring a 70.21 to land in fifth place. Ashley Wagner finished in seventh place while 15-year-old Polina Edmunds was 12th.

“That’s a pretty good score,” Gold said matter-of-factly to coach Frank Carroll after seeing the marks, her best-ever.

It wasn’t a best-ever for two-time U.S. winner Wagner, who appeared tired during her short program that left her in seventh. The 22-year-old was downgraded on her triple-triple combination, costing her valuable points and leaving her outside of the medal conversation.

San Jose-based Edmunds was ninth in Sochi, but sits just two points outside of eighth, five skaters separated by 2.33 points.

Gold, meanwhile, is still within striking distance of the podium at 4.23 points back from third place.

“I’m looking forward to skating it clean and being on my feet for all my jumps and really nailing the spins,” she said about her free skate in a U.S. Figure Skating statement. “Especially the last minute of my program when all the hard tricks are done and just enjoying myself at my second Worlds.”

“It’s been a long season and I’m exhausted,” Wagner said in the same statement. “Mentally, it’s tough to go out and compete after I’ve given all I could this season. I’m ready to wrap this season, go home and start working on some stuff next season when I want to come back stronger than ever.”

Reigning Olympic gold medalist Adelina Sotnikova pulled out of the event last week, the Russian skating federation saying the 17-year-old was resting and recuperating for the following season. Silver medal winner Yuna Kim has officially retired.

The controversy from Sotnikova’s win lingered in Saitama. The Japanese audience, ever supportive and knowledgeable, met Lipnitskaya with lukewarm applause as she took to the ice.

The crowd, however, roared for Asada, who has said this will be her last competitive event. She’ll skate Saturday in Japan for a third world title (2008, 2010) and in a much different position than in Sochi: she was 16th after the short program there. Here, she’s the frontrunner.

Ladies short program standings
1. Mao ASADA JPN 78.66
2. Carolina KOSTNER ITA 77.24
3. Yulia LIPNITSKAYA RUS 74.54
4. Akiko SUZUKI JPN 71.02
5. Gracie GOLD USA 70.31
6. Anna POGORILAYA RUS 66.26
7. Ashley WAGNER USA
12. Polina EDMUNDS USA 60.59