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

The Japanese teenager, seventh after Friday's short program, breaks his free skate best by nearly seven points to complete a stunning comeback in Turin. Sui/ Han capture the pairs title.

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

Kagiyama Yuma probably couldn't have written a better comeback story at the Gran Premio d'Italia on Saturday (6 November), as the Japanese figure skater added nearly seven points to his free skate personal best score en route to a come-from-behind win.

After a poor short program on Friday left him skating in the first group on Saturday, the Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games champion put in a fantastic recovery skate. He very much lived up to the Gladiator music soundtrack he used for the routine.

Although he had to turn out of his opening quad Salchow, Kagiyama's quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination was elegantly executed and well-rewarded by the judges.

The 18-year-old was visibly relieved and happy after his skate, in clear contrast to Friday. He earned 197.49 points for the free skate for a total of 278.02 points, enough to hold on to the lead through the entire second group of skaters.

Mikhail Kolyada of Russia finished second and home favourite Daniel Grassl was third.

Earlier, China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong as well as Peng Cheng and Jin Yang completed a 1-2 finish in the pairs, with Russia's Grand Prix debutants Iuliia Artemeva and Mikhail Nazarychev third.

Kagiyama's comeback for the ages

It was, truly, a comeback for the ages by Kagiyama.

The Japanese seemed to approach his free skate with the mentality that he had nothing to lose and to just go for it, and it paid off.

With three quads and two triple Axels in his program, all of which bar the quad Sal he landed with a confidence in himself that had been absent on Friday, the 18-year-old completed the comeback from seventh to first.

"Coming into today's free skate I didn't even think of being on the podium or having good scores. My goal was just to skate my best. Winning is something that I'm really happy about," he said.

Kagiyama admitted that Friday's routine was still on his mind today. "I couldn't change my mindset, feeling or psyche. Going into the practice this morning I was feeling low. I didn't know what to do with this whole situation.

"This is a very good experience for me. Today, coming from a lower rank to the top of the podium, it feels very good."

Kolyada's small mistakes the difference

It could have been different had the other main favourite for the win in Turin, Kolyada, skated cleanly.

The Russian, fourth after the short program, had to turn or step out of three of his jumps – a quad Salchow, triple loop, and quad toe – which cost him nearly six and a half points in his technical element score alone.

And with a total score of 273.55 points, his final gap to Kagiyama was around four and a half.

There were bright spots from the Russian national champion, including an impressive quad toe, triple toe combination.

But he will be rueing a missed opportunity to take a second Grand Prix victory.

Grassl provides home cheer

There was something for a very partisan home crowd to celebrate as Daniel Grassl was the only man of Friday's top three to finish on the podium after the free skate.

With Cha Jun-hwan of Korea (who had been third) and China's short program leader Jin Boyang both suffering falls in their routines on Saturday, Grassl – with the loud backing of the Italian fans – delivered a three-quad performance.

Although the 19-year-old landed three of his jumps – a quad loop, triple Axel, and triple loop – under-rotated by a quarter of a turn, the base technical value of his program kept him in the hunt for a podium position, which he held on to after Jin fell twice.

"Today the emotions were very big," Grassl acknowledged. "I wanted to do a good skate for the people who came and watched. It was amazing to perform here."

Sui/Han conclude busy month with pairs win

In pairs, Sui and Han, skating to a medley of Bridge Over Troubled Water, showed some signs of wear as they faded slightly after a strong start.

The Chinese pair have spent the last month in Beijing, then Italy, then Canada, before returning back to Italy, and the toll showed as Sui put her free foot down to prevent a fall on a throw triple Salchow, before the pair struggled on their final Group 3 lift.

"This month was hard for us because we had three competitions and [were in four places], and changed many different [timezones]. It's very hard for us," Sui explained in the press conference.

"I feel today, after the short program 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."

Han, meanwhile, thanked the audience – there was a loud section of Chinese support – for providing the team with encouragement.

"We are very happy we can win this competition, we want to say thank you to the audience members and the other teams. Because of them we are standing here."

Their total score was a season's best 224.55, thanks mostly to their strong short program. It was half a point better than the result from their last outing at the Skate Canada International.

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