Grand Prix Espoo is the last of the six Senior GP events leading up to the Grand Prix Final in December. The final chance to qualify, this competition saw a multitude of memorable and powerful skates in all disciplines, with the crowd in Finland cheering the athletes on. Here’s is a round-up of what went on!
🥇Ilia Malinin (USA)
🥈 Shun Sato (Japan)
🥉 Kevin Aymoz (France)
🥇 Mai Mihara (Japan)
🥈 Loena Hendrickx (Belgium)
🥉 Mana Kawabe (Japan)
🥇 Piper Gilles / Paul Poirier (Canada)
🥈 Kaitlin Hawayek / Jean-Luc Baker (USA)
🥉 Juulia Turkkila / Matthias Versluis (Finland)
🥇 Rebecca Ghilardi / Filippo Ambrosini (Italy)
🥈 Alisa Efimova / Ruben Blommaert (Germany)
🥉 Anastasiia Metelkina / Daniil Parkman (Georgia)
Ilia Malinin of the USA won his second Grand Prix gold medal in his Senior GP debut season. In his short program to Garou’s rendition of ‘I Put A Spell On You’, he nailed the first two jumping passes (4T-3T and 4S) with ease, but had an imperfect landing coming out of the triple axel, leading to a negative GOE. There was a slight stumble transitioning into the step sequence, and he also lost valuable points elsewhere, with one spin being the only element to be given a level four: his final spin received a GOE of -0.26. He nonetheless showed charisma in the performance, which was displayed once more in the free skate to the soundtrack of ‘Euphoria’. The opening element was the quad axel, landing it although it was later judged as on the quarter (as were two other jumps). Ilia added a quad flip to his program layout and landed it cleanly: a jumping pass which made up 14.30 points of his total score of 192.82. Alongside the quad axel, his technical prowess was evident elsewhere as well, with his final jump being the Rippon triple axel in combination, and the largely positive grades of execution contributed greatly to the overall score. His artistry and performance skills have improved over the past few competitions, showing attention to details such as the use of his arms to enunciate specific accents of the music, especially near the end of the step sequence and in the final spin. Whilst there is room to develop the fluidity in his step sequence as an intermediary section between the different tempos and tonalities of the three pieces of music, he will no doubt continue to grow into the movements. He displayed incredible athleticism not only in the jumps, but also throughout the program, such as the aerial in the choreo sequence: the slight alterations made to this penultimate element of the FS do not go unnoticed, and it is exciting to see where this program will be in two weeks’ time at the GP Final.
Winning the silver medal with 262.21 points was Shun Sato of Japan. Coming in with a chance at securing a spot at the Grand Prix Final, he opened his short program with a strong quad toe-loop, but fell on the next quad lutz, which was later marked as landed on the quarter, further lowering his TES. Despite the error, he showed musicality in his movements, and matched the dynamism and intricacy of ‘Carol of the Bells’ in his step sequence. His free skate was almost flawless, seeing him nail the quad lutz as the opening element, and deliver two clean quad toe-loops as well, with one in combination. Aside from a 3F-1Eu-3S jumping pass which was given a -0.30 GOE, all his other elements were given a positive grade of execution. However, Shun received a level two for his step sequence, which indicates that his TES of 97.73 has the potential to be higher still in his next competitions, the soonest being the Grand Prix Final. There was intensity and focus throughout the performance, and he achieved a new personal best of 180.72 points.
France’s Kevin Aymoz won the bronze medal. He was unable to compete at the GP France several weeks ago due to an ankle injury and thus lowered the technical difficulty of his programs, with no quads shown. He opened with remarkable originality and creativity to the choreography in his short program to music by Labrinth, showcasing his commitment to each move throughout the program and underscoring his strengths as an artist. The triple axel was given a GOE of +2.51, and he racked up points elsewhere in the level fours given to all spins and the step sequence, as well as the PCS of 44.37. Despite the jump combination incurring a negative GOE, his step sequence showed skilful edgework with his trademark aerial, and masterful control of movement. His free skate used the soundtrack of ‘Gladiator’ to emulate the world and narrative of the novel ‘The Song of Achilles’, which plays to all his strengths as a storyteller. It was a clean skate save from a negative grade of execution on the triple flip, with Kevin nailing all the other jumping passes. His astounding musicality and attention to the performance created an emotive program, with over 90 points for the PCS; he was visibly delighted by his skate.
In fourth place was Tatsuya Tsuboi of Japan, who put out two strong programs. Although there was an error in the opening quad salchow in the short program, he maintained focus to deliver a good triple axel as the subsequent element, and was in fifth place after the SP. In his free skate to the soundtrack of ‘High Strung’, he opened with a solid quad salchow, and followed up with two triple axels, one of them in combination with an euler and salchow. He demonstrated quality elsewhere as well, with level fours secured in all spins.
Camden Pulkinen of the USA finished seventh in the short program after a disappointing skate, with a mistake on the opening element, the quad toe-loop, and going on to pop the triple axel into an invalidated single, as well as struggling with the camel spin. Nonetheless, he demonstrated beautiful lines in his skating as usual, performing with elegance and expressiveness to ‘Fly Me to the Moon’. He delivered a stronger free skate, landing the opening quad toe-loop. Despite small jumping errors in the rest of the program, he gave a passionate performance to Piazzolla’s ‘Invierno Porteno’, especially in the choreo sequence: he is a charismatic skater and the music fits him well.
Fourth after the short program and eighth overall was Keegan Messing of Canada, in what will be his final competitive season. He wasn’t able to land any of his jumps cleanly in the short program, with negative grades of execution for all of them, but secured points in PCS, given 43.07. The intricate and fun step sequence is a highlight, matching the tonality of the upbeat ‘Grace Kelly’ with skill; he is ever the performer and entertainer. The skate earned him a season’s best of 80.12 points. He struggled in the free skate, with a TES of just 45.11 due to errors such as falls and a popped jump, but was rewarded strongly in the second score, of 81.79 points. He gave a rousing performance to ‘Home’, which brought the crowd with him as always.
Mai Mihara of Japan won the women’s event, her second GP gold medal this season following on from a victory at the MK John Wilson Trophy: she will thus be going to the Grand Prix Final. Skating to ‘Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence’ in the short program, she gave a clean skate save from a triple toe-loop landed on the quarter. The program enables her to display the beautiful flow and grace of her skating, and her musicality and lyricism were integrated into the entirety of the performance, from the timing of the jumps to the transitional content. The variations in speed during her spin also complemented the changes in tempo of the piece. Her free skate had some minor errors, such as the absence of a triple-triple combination and a popped triple flip. Nonetheless, it was a great skate, showcasing her versatility as a performer through the different tonality of the music from her SP. She secured level fours, as she did in the short program, for all three spins and the step sequence.
Winning the silver medal was Loena Hendrickx of Belgium, who earned the highest PCS and TES in the short program for a total of 74.88 points. Aside from an edge call and a triple toe-loop landed on the quarter, it was a clean skate, with five of the seven elements awarded a GOE of over 1 point. It was a stronger delivery than that in her Grand Prix outing in France; she gave a vibrant performance, especially in the ‘Mi Gente’ section of the program, displaying a fun and engaging step sequence and securing level fours in all spins and the StSq. The latter is an element where she can demonstrate her performance skills and artistry more, after the pressure of the jumps is alleviated. Loena was unable to put out a clean free skate the following day, popping a double axel into a single and going down on the triple lutz. However, the top quality of her skating was evident, once again receiving level fours and high grades of execution in many elements. She performed with an intensity which complemented the music choice of ‘Heaven’ and ‘Fallen Angel’: third in the free skate and second overall, we will see her at the Grand Prix Final.
Mana Kawabe of Japan came third overall and won the bronze medal, with the second highest free skate score. She was third after the short program, with an edge call on the lutz and a triple flip landed on the quarter. She was clean otherwise, with level fours in all spins and the step sequence. The intricate step sequence to the ‘Bad Guy’ section of the Billie Eilish medley complemented the music and its energy well. Although in France she had a disappointing free skate, here she had the second highest FS score. Although there were errors such as edge calls and under-rotations, she attained a season’s best of 130.38. She emulated both the delicacy and strength of Anne Sila’s ‘Drowning’, using the Ina Bauer in the choreo sequence to transition into the louder climax of the music.
Rika Kihira of Japan had her second GP skate this year after her performances in Canada, coming back after injury. Her SP to ‘The Fire Within’ is by the same musician, Jennifer Thomas, as the ‘Beautiful Storm’ piece she skated to in her Grand Prix debut four years ago. She successfully landed the opening double axel and triple salchow-triple toe-loop combination. Although she wasn’t completely clean with the triple loop, she managed to hold onto the landing, and achieved level fours in the spins and step sequence. It was a dynamic and compelling skate, and she showed incredible attention to the music and its nuances; the performance was a new season’s best of 64.07. Her free skate delivered the highest TES of the women’s event, with positive grades of execution in all her elements and level fours in all spins. Adding a triple flip back into the program, she nailed this jump as well. The program built up to its climactic finish, showcasing power and artistry in the choreo sequence and step sequence at the end.
Madeline Schizas of Canada was fifth in both the short program and free skate. She put out a strong skate to ‘Black Swan’, although she had a GOE of -1.10 on the opening jump combination. Whilst she is a strong performer, she perhaps needs to grow into the balletic world and choreography of the program a little more as the season progresses. Her free skate was much better than that of Skate Canada, yet the TES can be much higher in future competitions, as she popped an axel, missed out on the combination of her opening triple lutz, and was given just a level two for her step sequence. Nevertheless, she delivered a great interpretation of West Side Story, engaging with the audience and judges in the step sequence.
Anastasiia Gubanova of Georgia, winner of the Bronze medal at the MK John Wilson Trophy in Sheffield, was ninth after the short program here. She missed out on the jump combination on the opening triple flip in the SP, and fell on the triple lutz. She fell again on the lutz in the free skate, but finished seventh overall with 166.57 points.
Bradie Tennell of the USA finished eighth overall, coming back from injury. Three of her elements were given a level four in the short program, although she struggled a little with the jumps. Her free skate to music by Vivaldi was also riddled with jumping errors, but she showed quality in the spins and step sequence, with the final spin being awarded +1.25 GOE.
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Canada won the Ice Dance event with a margin of over seventeen points. Their rhythm dance was given a season’s best score of 87.80 points, surpassing that of Skate Canada, where they won the gold medal. They delivered an engaging rhythm dance and showed speed in their twizzles, as well as strong showmanship. Their free dance was another great skate which enabled them to win and secure a spot in the Grand Prix Final. They skated to a medley of songs from ‘Evita’: a soundtrack which suits them well, and they managed to compress the musical into the length of the program, tracking the trajectory of Eva Perón’s life. Using their skills as storytellers, the two built up to the climactic and emphatic finish of ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’, with the integration of lifts and the choreo slide to develop this crescendo.
In second place was Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker of the USA. They were second in the rhythm dance in both TES and PCS, where they showed great twizzles, an element which earned a GOE of +2.29. They enunciated every detail of the choreography to make for a dynamic program. Their free dance was a beautiful skate to ‘Requiem’ and ‘Sofia’, opening with one-foot turns which showed flow and precision: two words which easily apply to their entire program as well. They secured level fours in their curve lift and twizzles. The tonality of the program is almost an antithetical opposite to their rhythm dance, which displays the breadth of their repertoire. The team has thus secured a spot in the Grand Prix Final.
Winning the bronze medal was Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis of Finland, skating in front of a home audience. Whilst they were fourth after the rhythm dance, their free dance score was the third-highest, and they were hence able to come third overall with a total score of 191.79 points. Their free dance was to music by Schubert, and was a flowing performance with the elements seamlessly linked together. Whilst maintaining this fluidity, they also showcased definition in their movements; they were furthermore rewarded strongly for their stationary and rotational lifts, which contributed 14.47 points to the free dance score of 116.73.
Third after the rhythm dance but fourth overall was Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko of the USA. Their rhythm dance was a clean skate, which had both of them displaying confidence and verve. The two were rewarded well for the twizzles and curve lift, which respectively contributed 6.75 points to their total score of 76.20. Their free dance enabled them to showcase a different side to their musicality, and they both fit the suave tone of ‘Summertime’ with skill. Whilst there was a deduction for an extended lift, they secured level fours in multiple elements.
In first place for the Pairs event was Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini of Italy, who were fourth in the French Grand Prix and thus qualified for the GP Final. First in both the SP and FS, they delivered an exuberant short program to a medley of Queen’s music. It was a clean performance, although the grades of execution and levels of the elements have the potential to be higher still. They nonetheless had the highest TES and PCS of the Pairs field. Their free skate was to ‘The Barber of Seville’, and only one element was given a negative grade of execution, the 2A-2A combination. They received GOEs of over 1 point in all their lifts, which maintained fluidity and speed. The music increased in tempo to build up to the emphatic climax of the program, and the two reflected these variations with skill.
Alisa Efimova and Ruben Blommaert of Germany, who withdrew after the short program at Skate Canada, finished in second place here. They were fourth after the short program, which was a strong skate to ‘Moonlight Sonata’ despite some mistakes. The only negative grade of execution was for the side-by-side triple toe-loop. However, the following element, the spin, was given just +0.09 and the step sequence was a level two. They opened with speed and flow into their first two elements of the free skate, which were the triple twist and throw triple flip. They struggled on the side-by-side jumping passes, both of which led to a fall, and two points consequently deducted from their total score. The pair maintained momentum throughout the program however, and showed a quality throw triple loop as well.
Winning the bronze medal was Anastasiia Metelkina and Daniil Parkman of Georgia, who were third in both the short program and free skate. They skated to ‘I’ll take care of you’ for the SP, showing a good triple twist: an element which made up 7.03 points of their total score of 62.59. The side-by-side triple salchow and throw triple flip were both given negative grades of execution, with the latter being a step-out. There is no doubt room to earn more points through these GOE scores, as their final four elements were given just 2s and 1s by the judges. Their free skate to ‘Lamentations’ opened and closed with a creative and difficult pose. There were errors in both of their side-by-side jumping passes, however they were rewarded well for their throw triple loop which was given a +1.14 GOE, as well as their triple twist.
Anastasiia Smirnova and Danylo Siianytsia of the USA were second after the short program but fourth in the free skate, finishing in fourth place overall. Their short program to ‘The Sound of Silence’ encapsulated the intensity and grandeur of the rendition well. There were small mistakes on the side-by-side triple salchow and throw triple salchow, but they showed a solid performance elsewhere, being given over +1 GOE for their lift and triple twist. Their step sequence was furthermore a level four, and showed their musicality and attention to the choreography. They skated to ‘Je Suis Malade’ in their free skate, connecting well with the piece and timing their elements to accents in the song. However, there were multiple mistakes which cost them valuable points, such as an under-rotated side-by-side triple salchow, a fall from the side-by-side toe-loop, and a missed lift.