Kagiyama, Shcherbakova's comebacks the story of the weekend at the Gran Premio d'Italia: Five things we learned

From world silver medallist Kagiyama and world champ Shcherbakova's come-from-behind wins to the sheer brilliance of Papadakis/Cizeron and dominance of Sui/Han, here's what you missed from a busy figure skating Grand Prix weekend in Turin.

By ZK Goh
Picture by © International Skating Union (ISU)

Surprises in the short programs and comeback victories for two favourites were the order of the weekend at the Gran Premio d'Italia.

The third of six stops on the 2021 ISU Figure Skating Grand Prix calendar in Torino provided plenty of intrigue and action on Friday and Saturday (5 and 6 November).

It was highlighted by pre-event singles favourites Kagiyama Yuma and Anna Shcherbakova, seventh in the men's and third in the women's after the short programs respectively, bouncing back from mistakes on Friday to top the standings on Saturday.

Multiple-time world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong (pairs) and Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (ice dance) were also victorious.

The Gran Premio d'Italia, a late replacement for the cancelled Cup of China due to coronavirus restrictions, marks the halfway stage in the 2021 Grand Prix season en route to December's Grand Prix Final in Osaka, Japan; the circuit heads next to that country's capital, Tokyo, for the NHK Trophy from 12–14 November.

Read on for five things we learned from the weekend that was at the Torino Palavela.

Kagiyama a real Olympic podium hope - if he keeps it clean

The Kagiyama we saw on Friday, when he made multiple errors and missed his jump combination to leave him down in seventh place 17 points adrift, is not the Kagiyama he can afford to show at major competitions.

If the Japanese produces clean skates in both the short program and free skate, the world silver medallist and Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games champion will be a clear threat for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic podium.

Despite scoring a new personal best by seven points in his free skate in Torino on Saturday, even that was not a perfect program as he turned out of a quad Salchow.

Nail that, as well as his short program, and he could be looking at a total near 300 points. Put into context, only two men have ever achieved a score that high – Nathan Chen and Hanyu Yuzuru.

"My goal for this season is the Olympic podium," Kagiyama acknowledged. "But in order to get there, I have to focus on each competition in front of me. I feel the growth, little by little."

Mikhail Kolyada took silver, although he will surely be disappointed at not securing a second career Grand Prix win. He seems to be a lock for the ROC men's team in Beijing, with the main question being who will join him.

Italy's Daniel Grassl gave the home fans something to cheer with a strong showing across both days, resulting in a third-place finish, but for South Korea's Cha Jun-hwan and China's Jin Boyang, there will be some soul-searching to do after nightmare free skates cost both a spot on the podium.

READ MORE: Kagiyama Yuma smashes free skate personal best to stage stunning Gran Premio d'Italia comeback win

Shcherbakova continues Russian dominance of season

The other comeback wasn't quite as dramatic as Kagiyama's, but for Shcherbakova not to be leading after Friday's short was certainly a surprise, even more so as her training mate and compatriot Maiia Khromykh wasn't the leader either.

That honour went to Loena Hendrickx, who turned 22 on Friday. Although she was unsurprisingly passed by both Eteri Tutberidze-trained skaters in the free skate, it was a successful birthday weekend for the Belgian.

But Shcherbakova – the reigning world champion – looked a lot more composed on the Saturday, easing to a win in a program that featured a quadruple flip, which she later said had been her main aim of the weekend.

"I think that for me on this competition my main goal was to show my quad is back and this goal I [did] well.

"I had some mistakes, especially in the short program. I will work on it because it's not possible to show such mistakes in the short program; it needs to be good and clean every time."

With Khromykh finishing second, Russian women have now taken the top two spots at each Grand Prix so far, setting the stage for a potential Grand Prix Final women's event involving only Russians.

READ MORE: Anna Shcherbakova sets free skate personal best to clinch Gran Premio d'Italia victory

Sui/Han set for Grand Prix Final after busy period

In pairs, China's Sui and Han are set for the Grand Prix Final after winning their second consecutive Grand Prix, improving on their score from last week's Skate Canada International by half a point.

It marks the end of a busy period for the PyeongChang 2018 silver medallists, who will now head home to China before next month's Final in Osaka, Japan.

Sui and Han have competed at three events in a little under a month, winning the Asian Open Trophy in Beijing – the Olympic Test Event for Beijing 2022 – before travelling to Italy for training, proceeding to Vancouver for Skate Canada, and then returning to Turin for the Gran Premio d'Italia.

While it has been a successful month for the pair, Sui did look a little tired towards the end of her free skate in Turin, a fact she pointed out herself afterwards.

"I felt my energy and my body [were] not really well. We still have some problems we have to fix and we need to keep working to make the program better."

Their compatriots Peng Cheng and Jin Yang were second on their only Grand Prix outing of the season (having withdrawn from the Internationaux de France).

With a home Games upcoming in a few months' time, both Sui and Han and Peng and Jin look well-placed to provide Olympic cheer for their fans in China.

Were Papadakis/Cizeron ever away?

Was that really ice dance winners Papadakis and Cizeron's first Grand Prix event in nearly two years?

It certainly did not feel that way, with the manner the French duo presented their routines with such aplomb.

Having spent the best part of a year and a half away from the ice until their return earlier this season at the Finlandia Trophy Challenger Series event, Papadakis and Cizeron have hit the ground running.

Their near-flawless free dance helped them to a clear 12-point margin of victory over Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of USA in second place.

And they're not done yet. They will return to France for their first major competition on home soil since 2019 at the Internationaux de France in Grenoble in two weeks, before likely heading to the Grand Prix Final and then subsequently the Olympic Winter Games where they will be favourites for the gold.

"We leave a lot of room for improvement because we know the kind of growth we can have in the next few months," Cizeron said. Watch out, dance teams.

What's next this season?

If we've really learned anything from this weekend in Torino, it's that nothing is ever set in stone in figure skating.

Even the biggest favourites will have off-days – and those same favourites are more than capable of stunning fight-backs.

Indeed, especially in an Olympic season, things seem more unpredictable. Already next week's Grand Prix, the NHK Trophy in Tokyo, will be without two of its biggest home Japanese stars in Hanyu and Kihira Rika due to ankle injuries.

It seems increasingly likely that the six Grand Prix Finalists in the women's category will all be Russian, although the exact identity of those will be shaped over the next three weeks in Tokyo, Grenoble, and then Moscow at the Rostelecom Cup.

A few skaters have yet to make their Grand Prix debuts this season – notably current pairs world champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov, and reigning ice dance world champions Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov. Both duos will appear at NHK and Rostelecom.

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