Japan's Kagiyama Yuma holds firm for French Grand Prix gold ahead of teammate Sato Shun

It was a topsy turvy men's free skate in Grenoble, as the teenagers went 1-2 and American Jason Brown placed third. World bronze medallists Boikova and Kozlovskii won pairs gold.

By Nick McCarvel and ZK Goh
Picture by Alex Morean/Olympic Channel

The ice belonged to Japanese teenagers on Saturday (20 November) at the Internationaux de France in Grenoble.

Eighteen-year-old Kagiyama Yuma of Japan and teammate Sato Shun, just 17, finished one and two at the International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix.

It was a second consecutive win this season on the Grand Prix for Kagiyama with former Junior Grand Prix Final winner Sato securing a career-first podium in the senior ranks.

Kagiyama, the Youth Olympics Lausanne 2020 champion and reigning world silver medallist in figure skating, was far from his best in the free skate following a triple-digit short program on Friday, but his 286.41 was 22 points ahead of Sato, who tallied 264.99 overall.

USA's Jason Brown held his spot from the short program, a 264.20 earning him the bronze medal.

The Internationaux de France is the fifth of six scheduled Grand Prix events, with Rostelecom Cup in Sochi, Russia, set to conclude the Series next weekend (26-27 November).

Latvia's Deniss Vasiljevs dropped to fourth, while Russia's Dmitri Aliev and Keegan Messing of Canada held their positions from the short program to round out the top six.

Lausanne 2020 silver medallist and former world junior champion, 18-year-old Andrei Mozalev of Russia, was second in the free skate, jumping from ninth to seventh overall with home favourite Kevin Aymoz moving up three places to ninth.

While Kagiyama put out three quadruple jumps, he struggled in the back half of his Gladiator free skate, fighting to stay upright on a quad toe, then held on for a triple flip-triple toe loop combination. He also popped an attempted triple Axel into a single on his final jumping pass.

But his 100.76 in the short program helped him, and he still won the segment - helped by a smattering of 9s and above for his program components, where he was only outscored by Brown's ethereal movement (92.72 to 90.20).

Kagiyama, with his win two weeks ago at Gran Premio d'Italia, has booked a spot at next month's Grand Prix Final, set to be held in Osaka.

Meanwhile, Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii won the pairs event from fellow Russians Iuliia Artemeva and Mikhail Nazarychev.

MORE: Shcherbakova, Papadakis/Cizeron skate to wins - and Final

Kagiyama hungry for more: 'I want to really improve'

While he's in his first full season on the senior circuit (with interruptions last year due to the pandemic), Kagiyama has set a high bar for himself. He stormed back from seventh after the short to win in Torino two weeks ago with a sterling free skate, though in Grenoble it was the second half of the free skate that left him wanting.

"If I'm asked whether I'm happy or I'm regretting things, there's much more regret than happiness," the teen said via an interpreter. "I still don't have what it takes and I need to look back at my previous competition and this competition and look what I still lack, and of course I want to really improve and practice more including my quad loop and also having better quality jumps in the second half of my program."

Kagiyama will now have three weeks to prepare for the Final, which is set for 9-12 December.

Sato, who finished fourth at Skate America in his senior Grand Prix debut, said: "This season was my first Grand Prix season [too] and finishing on a podium was my goal so I'm really happy to have achieved that."

Sato included four quads in his free, including a Lutz, toe and flip, though the flip was called for an unclear edge. He has an uphill battle to try and make Japan's three-man Beijing 2022 team, competing alongside Kagiyama, Uno Shoma and Hanyu Yuzuru.

Brown, who turns 27 next month, made his Grand Prix debut in 2013 - eight years ago.

"Oh my gosh! I feel so old! How did this happen?" Brown said, laughing. "I'm definitely learning a lot as the season has gone on, trying to just take every step along the way. ... So little bit disappointed, but at the exact same time there's a lot from this event that I'm really proud of and I'm walking away with my head held high and ready to take on the rest of this season."

Brown doubled an attempted triple loop, then put just a single Salchow on the end of final combination. With a second-place finish at Skate Canada International he now waits to see if he'll qualify for the Final.

Aymoz fights back for strong home finish

After struggling to a fifth-place finish at home for Skate Canada, Messing - who was sixth at Worlds last season - placed sixth here and expressed the need for more time to get settled in his programs.

"Slow start [to the season]; it's taken me a little long to figure out my routine for this year, and after Skate Canada we decided to redo the long program a little bit and make it a little bit more… just to have a better strategy for the long," he said. "We recognise that we had a problem with Finlandia [Trophy, an ISU Challenger event] and Skate Canada, so we went to work and made changes. Still not perfect but I feel like we're on the right track now."

The 29-year-old has dedicated the program to his baby son, Wyatt. He said he plans to head to another Challenger, Golden Spin, next month.

It was an intriguing day for the French skaters, as each of Adam Siao Him Fa, Aymoz and Romain Ponsart had strong showings in the free skate. Siao Him Fa had the best finish among them, placing eighth overall.

But it was a day of redemption for Aymoz, who is from Grenoble, and who has suffered from both a groin and toe injury this season and was 12th and last after a nightmare short program.

"I'm really happy today because in the last three weeks, I worked a lot. A lot! I had a really bad summer," said Aymoz, who won bronze at the 2019 Grand Prix Final. "Yesterday, I was really stressed. Today, I was not stressed, maybe a bit mad about yesterday.

"My coach [told me], '[It's your] rink,' [because] that's where I've been training since I was five years old. So, all my friends, my family, all the people of the rink, all the skaters from this centre were there today and I didn't want to show them a bad Kevin today. I had to represent my centre, my rink, my country today so I had to fight."

Pairs: Boikova/Kozlovskii hold on to gold; Artemeva/Nazarychev take second GP medal in debut season

World pairs bronze medallists Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii were well short of their best, continuing a shaky weekend that saw them struggle from Thursday practice when Boikova fell three times during the pair's practice to music.

On Saturday, Boikova popped the second element of a planned side-by-side triple Salchow, double toe loop, double toe loop down to a single, before also having to step out on the landing of the throw triple loop.

However, the performance was still sufficient to better their result from their previous Grand Prix outing this season at Skate America, as they received 139.79 points to total 216.96. With their win, the duo have qualified for next month's Grand Prix Final in Japan.

"We are pleased because we skated better than we did at Skate America and that is progress and that is the most important thing, yes there were errors and some stupid ones but that is what competition is for and we will improve from one event to the next," Boikova said.

Kozlovskii added: "We achieved the most important pass, and that is qualifying for the Grand Prix Final."

Their young compatriots Iuliia Artemeva and Mikhail Nazarychev, bronze medallists two weeks ago in Torino, will leave Grenoble with a second Grand Prix medal after securing silver despite Artemeva doubling a planned triple toe.

They scored 132.13 for a total of 205.15 points, easily their career best, and are in contention for a Grand Prix Final berth depending on results at next week's Rostelecom Cup.

"We are pleased for today, there was one error – a rather big one – but not taking this into account, it was quite good overall," Nazarychev reflected.

"We set goals for ourselves for these two Grand Prix events and I think we fulfilled them."

Despite a fall on their planned combination leaving them without one, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier of the U.S. managed to leapfrog Canada's Vanessa James and Eric Radford into the final spot on the podium after struggles for the latter team on their lifts.

Frazier put a hand down on the triple toe in Thursday practice, but the error on Saturday did not affect the Americans in the remainder of their routine as they claimed their second Grand Prix medal as a team and their first since winning last year's mostly-domestic Skate America.

Knierim and Frazier received 131.54 points for their free skate, down on their 136.60 from Skate America, for a total of 201.69.

"We're very happy to win our first [international] Grand Prix medal," Knierim said. "We left some points on the table today but we made a lot of great improvements from our last event. Our plan is to keep improving and getting better and we're very proud of these two days' work."

Picture by Alex Morean/Olympic Channel


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