Vincent Zhou holds off Uno, Chen for first-ever Grand Prix victory at Skate America

Zhou defied the odds to claim his first Grand Prix gold medal at Skate America in Las Vegas on Saturday night. The Russian duo of Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were stellar again as they won the pairs crown. 

By Nick McCarvel & Jonah Fontela
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Victory belongs to Vincent.

Vincent Zhou, who topped Friday’s short program with a sizzling performance, kept up the momentum and pressure in Saturday’s free skate at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, sealing an unlikely win ahead of pre-event favourite and U.S. teammate Nathan Chen, who had to be content with a rare third-place finish.

Zhou's joy at end of his performance on Saturday night was on display for all to see - and it was warranted: Marking the first time he has ever won a Grand Prix Series event in his career.

“This is the result of countless days of head down and setting goals and working toward them,” said a tearful and grateful Zhou, who won the bronze medal at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships.

“Preparing for every circumstance has led to this.”

Chen's win-streak snapped; Tarasova/ Morozov win pairs

Japan's Uno Shoma, the reigning Olympic silver medallist, finished in second after a powerful performance in his free skate, set to Bolero.

"I need to revisit the mistakes I made in this competition and make the necessary changes," said Uno, clearly feeling there are stronger performances to come. "I'll have to work hard and focus more on the next competitions."

Zhou won going away, totaling 295.56 points, followed by Uno at 270.68 and Chen, who scored a 269.37.

Chen, the three-time and reigning world champion, hadn't lost in an international event since his fifth-place finish at PyeongChang 2018, including three wins in a row at Skate America since those Olympics (and four overall). But he struggled through his short program and then doubled two planned quadruple jump attempts in the free.

Earlier Saturday evening, the Russian team of Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov followed their strong short program with similar skating in the free skate to seal gold in the pairs event with an overall score of 222.50 to top the field and send a message to the pairs discipline ahead of February's Olympic Games Beijing 2022.

"Today was a long and hard day. But we did it," said Morozov after the team's smashing performance to scoop up their fifth Grand Prix gold and their first Grand Prix win since the Rostelecom Cup in 2018. "It wasn’t perfect but it was a good step forward."

It was a busy Day 2 at the first Grand Prix of the Olympic season, as the women’s and ice dance competitions began, as well. Russia's Alexandra Trusova won the women's short, leading a 1-2-3 finish for her country, while Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue lead after the rhythm dance.

Zhou stands alone in men's event

Zhou, skating last thanks to his masterful performance in Friday's short program (when he skated in a rare spot: first), seized the moment in Saturday’s free skate – pulling off a huge winning score of 198.13 in the free.

The Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon program is one that Zhou used during the 2018-19 season, when he won bronze at worlds. He hit five quad jumps in a spirited performance, collapsing to his knees in celebration and putting his head into his hands as he finished.

“There are no words to describe how incredible this felt. I’m so humbled and I feel so thankful to have this experience and I have to thank everyone who was here tonight,” added Zhou, who - along with Uno and Chen - could likely be a part of the podium conversation in Beijing.

Looking ahead to the many tests to come, Zhou added: “This is the Olympic season and it’s the time for me to go all-out. I’m training and competing like I have nothing to lose.”

Chen’s mood was, predictably, more somber. His third-place finish breaking the aforementioned win streak, as well as four in a row at Skate America.

“These past two programs were not the ones I wanted to put out,” admitted Chen, who will compete next week at Skate Canada, the second Grand Prix of the season. “I can’t say enough about what Vincent has done. It’s great to have a teammate like him.

"It was inevitably going to end," Chen added about seeing his long winning streak come to an end in Vegas.

Speaking to the changes he needs to make looking ahead, Chen was eager to keep his feet on the ground: “It’s all about preparations and I’ll refocus for next week [Skate Canada] and then I have some time off and I can work on things from there.”

Pairs: Japanese team surprises in second

The Russian pairs team of Tarasova and Morozov picked up where they left off in Friday's short program to take a deserved place at the top of the Skate America podium. They finished in front of the surprise second-place team of Miura Riku and Kihara Ryuichi of Japan (208.20) and their Russian compatriots Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii (205.53) by some distance.

"It’s a great feeling to win again," said Morozov about the team's dry spell of nearly three years. "Who we are [as a team] right now is the result of the work we put in over the last eight years and [we're] always trying to bring something new to our team and our style and skating. We never stop that progress – we work on every element every day."

With their second-place finish, Miura/Kihrara became the first Japanese pairs team to win a Grand Prix medal since 2011, despite a heavy fall on a throw triple Lutz that saw Miura crash into the boards and draw a gasp of concern from the crowd.

"What we really want to do is enjoy ourselves and we do," said Miura, clearly enjoying this moment with her teammate. "This might be our greatest strength as a team: our desire to enjoy our skating."

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia.

Knierim/ Frazier finish as top U.S. team

The American team of Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier finished best among Team USA representatives in the pair events (fourth), with a stirring performance - and personal best (136.60) - in the free that had the Vegas crowd on their feet in appreciation.

"Today we wanted to make a statement," said Knierim, aiming to become one half of just two American teams eligible to take part in the Beijing 2022 pairs event. "The crowd was so loud and excited and it was just so fulfilling, but we can do so much better. That program was just the beginning of what we're capable of – it's just scratching the surface."

"I was hurting after yesterday, and this means everything to us," added Frazier, addressing his fall in Friday's short program. "No matter what, we don’t lay down."

Knierim and Fraizer hop-scotched their training partners, Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, who each had a fall in their free and finished fifth, swapping places with Knierim/Frazier.

Alexandra Trusova, Russia

1-2-3 for Russian women; U.S. dance team starts strong

Earlier on Saturday, the women’s competition got started with the Russians dominating the short program. 2021 world bronze medallist Alexandra Trusova finished first, Daria Usacheva second and Kseniia Sinitsyna rounded out of the top-three in a message-sending opening salvo.

Team USA's Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue finished atop of the rhythm dance, followed by American teammates and training partners Madison Chock and Evan Bates (second) and Canada's Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen (third) ahead of the third and final day of skating on Sunday (24 October) when Skate America wraps up with the free dance event followed by the women’s free skate.

The next stop on the six-event Grand Prix Series is Skate Canada (29 & 30 October, Vancouver) with the Series pointing toward the fall season finale, the Grand Prix Final, from 9 to 12 December in Osaka, Japan.

Skaters will then head to their respective national competitions to try and secure berths for Beijing 2022 in late December and early January.

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