Well, now we are officially halfway through this season’s Grand Prix series. Alena Kostornaia won the Internationaux de France and landed three triple axels. I just love her axel; I feel like she could even do a quad axel one day because she gets so much height and her legs don’t even look as if they are as tight as they could potentially be in the air. I’m probably getting far, far, far too ahead of myself because I don’t think this is likely to happen, but in a dream world… Her short program score here was lower than her score at the Finlandia Trophy where she did not have a triple axel in the short and I think she was very underscored in her PCS, while her landings on the axel and her lutz did not look as secure as they could and can do. She did not look happy at all with the short program score and she certainly showed the judges that she deserved a higher score in her free skate. I did not expect to like this Twilight free skate in the least, but it is amazing; I’ve been watching it on repeat since I first saw it and she did it so well here. She has great speed with turns into the triple axels and just her overall skating is so satisfying to watch. The moment when she does her triple flip, triple toe on the music sends ripples of excitement through my veins and I thoroughly recommend watching this program repeatedly if you haven’t been doing so already. Her overall score here is only 5 points off Trusova’s and the current world record so it’ll be fascinating and exciting to see what happens over the course of the rest of the season and I expect both of them will be at the Grand Prix Final.
I hope the silver medalist, Alina Zagitova, will also make it to the final. I have to admit, I really do not like her short program music this year; it’s very dreary and although I think the overall composition of the program works for her, the music is a distraction and takes away from the joy of watching her skate. Overall, her pair of skates were nowhere near the calibre of which she is normally capable and she looked less prepared than she had done at the Russian Test Skates, albeit a completely different environment and situation. The lutz-loop in the short was not her strongest at all, but at least she got the job done. She basically fell on her opening lutz in the free skate as well, although did manage to get the combination on in the second half – again though, it was not her best. We saw last year that she wasn’t unbeatable and she certainly isn’t this year, what with the three juniors who have moved up to senior. At the end of both programs, she looked as if she knew these skates weren’t her best, but she also didn’t look as devastated as she would have done in previous seasons after these performances and I’m wondering if she’s feeling less pressure to be the best now that her younger teammates have moved up and everyone is so focused on them. Whether she will be happy to settle for second best (and potentially lower) as the season goes on is another matter and we shall have to see, but I do wonder if she will even get to go to Europeans or Worlds given how the other three have been skating…
And then in third place, we had Mariah Bell and I really don’t know why I didn’t predict her as the bronze medalist instead of Kaori Sakamoto because I had an inkling she might win it and I should have gone with my inkling, especially after she won the Nebelhorn Trophy. I think I actually would have had her in second place overall as her set of skates was cleaner than Alina’s and she did beat her in the free skate – beating a Russian and the current World and Olympic champion is a huge thing for Mariah here so I hope she is proud of herself. It was great to finally see her full short program after the Nebelhorn stream died and it is such a fun program (thank you, Adam Rippon!). It’s like clubbing on ice and I am here for it. It really makes her stand out and makes her extremely memorable. I’m less keen on the music for her free skate, just because it’s very overdone, but it suits her well nonetheless. She is simply looking so confident and strong so far this season, especially in her jumps and I don’t think we’ve quite seen this jumping confidence from her before so it’s very exciting. I’m not really sure if she has a chance to make the final yet, but it would be wonderful if she could. It’s nice to see the American ladies winning some medals again!
Apart from these three, the rest of the skates here were very mixed. Wakaba Higuchi skated a clean short program again (I would like to reiterate how great it is), but her free skate was less strong again. Kaori Sakamoto is now out of the running for the final unless something crazy happens and there are a lot of withdrawals. It’s a shame because her short program is exciting to watch and she really fought for everything in the free. Lea Serna from France also surprised me and she finished ahead of Mae Berenice Meite; I hadn’t really heard of her before, but I liked both of her programs and she was determined to make her mark here which I think she did. She fought for most of her jumps (she probably got a little tired at the end of her free skate) and I think she can be proud of what she did here. It’ll be interesting to see how she does against Mae Berenice and Laurine Lecavalier (who withdrew from this competition) at French nationals as I think she has the potential to be a good skater for France. Finally, I would like to say how much I miss the Maria Sotskova of two seasons ago. She came last here which was such a shame because I don’t think she has much chance of getting many (if any) more competitions outside of Russia in the future. I like both of her programs this year and I’m sorry that we might not see them again outside of Russian Nationals really. It’s a difficult and distressing thing to see because she has had success in the past, but Russia simply has far too many good skaters at the moment that even the current Olympic champion is not guaranteed a spot at Worlds this year.
Next week it is the Cup of China and there have been withdrawals left, right and centre, including from Elizabet Tursynbayeva and Gabrielle Daleman. Young You now has a second assignment and therefore the potential to make the final depending on how the final qualifying scores add up. My podium prediction for next week is Anna Shcherbakova, Young You and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, but quads and triple axels are risky so who can really predict?
What was your favourite moment from the Internationaux de France?
My highlight: as much as I love Kostornaia’s free skate, I think the officials awarding Mariah the gold medal instead of the bronze and her promptly awarding it to Alena and shaking her hand is too funny not to mention. If you haven’t seen this floating around on Instagram already, message me and I’ll send you the video because it will make you chuckle all day.