Figure Skating

Shcherbakova, Tuktamysheva keep momentum going, carry squad to lead at World Team Trophy

The recent world medallists were in prime form on Thursday in Osaka, as Sinitsina/Katsalapov won in the rhythm dance, as well. Sakamoto Kaori was the standout Japanese skater.

By Nick McCarvel ·

If it's not broke, don't fix it.

That was the approach for recent world champion Anna Shcherbakova and silver medallist Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who skated brilliantly on Thursday (15th April) at the World Team Trophy in Osaka, Japan, the final event of the pre-Olympic figure skating season.

Six teams are taking part, with points being awarded in each of the four disciplines to award a final winner.

Shcherbakova, who won gold for the Figure Skating Federation of Russia (FSR) at the Worlds in March, outscored her teammate again, 81.07 to 80.35 to tally 23 points (12 and 11, respectively), as home hope Sakamoto Kaori was the standout skater for Team Japan in third, scoring a 77.78.

Her compatriot Kihira Rika fell on her triple Axel to finish fourth.

The event takes place every other year, with the U.S. having captured the most recent staging in 2019.

In ice dance, recent world champions Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov continued their momentum from Stockholm, skating to a 86.66 in the rhythm dance to earn the maximum points (12). Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy were second (82.93), while Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker were third (76.79).

In the overall team standings through the rhythm dance and ladies' short, it's the Russians who lead at 35 points, followed by Japan with 27, and the U.S. with 25, ahead of the men's short later on Thursday.

Shcherbakova, Tuktamysheva not missing a beat

The second group of women in the ladies' singles event was a sight to see, as American Karen Chen was followed by Sakamoto, who delivered one of the performances of her career in a strong short program, which saved a triple flip-triple toe loop combination for last.

Sakamoto was most pleased with her stand alone triple Lutz, however: "It’s the first time I threw in the Lutz in the short program," she told reporters in Japanese. "I’ve been working on it more than anything the last two weeks and I wanted it to show. I’m happy with the mark but I have to keep doing it and start to turn it into an advantage."

Like in Stockholm just a few weeks ago, however, it was Shcherbakova and Tuktamysheva who were able to raise their respective games when they needed to the most.

Tuktamysheva skated first, effortlessly putting out her patented triple Axel and going from strength to strength thereafter, her 80.35 just a sliver shy of a career best.

"As you all saw, I was very pleased with my program today," she said in her native language. "I felt relaxed and liberated and I’m very happy to be here. I hope to have a clean free skate and go into it with confidence."

Shcherbakova was the penultimate skater and looked razor sharp, earning positive GOEs (grades of execution) for her double Axel, triple flip and difficult triple Lutz-triple loop combination. She was the judges' favourite in the component (artistic) mark, too, scoring a 37.56, some two points north of Sakamoto.

"This was the year’s last [short program] performance and I didn’t force anything," the 17-year-old said. "I wanted to have fun on the ice and I managed to do that. I probably could have been better if I were to nitpick but I’m not too concerned at the moment."

"I practiced a lot this past year and I like to think it is showing. I want to be able to express myself more and always looking to push myself. I had a lot to overcome this season to get to where I am." - Anna Shcherbakova

Chen finished in sixth, while teammate Bradie Tennell was fifth behind Kihira.

Kihira had been dealing with a back injury ahead of the competition, but said she wasn't physically hampered in the short.

"I was calm out there but I was shooting for a clean skate which I didn’t get," she said. "I wasn’t too sure about the triple Axel but I decided to give it a go. I know what I have to do now to make it work and hope to apply it in the free skate."

Skaters looking for strong finish to season

Shcherbakova had plenty to overcome this year, having contracted Covid-19 in the midst of the season and then coming back to win her third consecutive domestic title.

The same went for Sinitsina on the illness front, and she and Katsalapov appreciated being back in front of fans having skated in an empty arena in Stockholm for worlds.

READ: Exclusive Q&A with Anna Shcherbakova | Sinitsina & Katsalapov

World Team Trophy is being held with Covid measures in place, with a limited amount of fans in attendance.

"We are very excited about being able to perform in front of all the fans," Katsalapov said after the rhythm dance.

Skaters from the six participating nations are looking to finish an interrupted season on a strong note ahead of next year and the lead-up to the Beijing 2022 Games.

The skating season - save small domestic and regional events - will be on hiatus until in September, when the ISU Challenger Series is set to start before the Grand Prix Series in October.

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