Two-time world champion Shoma Uno is in second place after the short program at the Grand Prix Final in Beijing on Thursday, December 7. Uno, who is defending his title in the event, was absolutely sublime with his performance. But he was outdone by American Ilia Malinin, who landed the first quadruple axel ever in a short program at a major international competition.
Malinin is in first place with 106.90 points, with Uno a close second at 106.02. Beijing Olympic silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama was outstanding in his own right and is third with 103.72, while Kao Miura is fourth on 94.86.
France's Kevin Aymoz is fifth at 93.20, while his compatriot Adam Siao Him Fa, the top scorer during the GP season, is far back in sixth at 88.36 after doubling his opening quad lutz.
The free skate is set for Saturday night and promises to be a real show.
Malinin, who turned 19 on December 2, made history with his opening jump in his skate to "Malaguena" and followed it with a huge quad lutz/triple toe loop combination jump. He went on to hit a triple axel and earned level fours on all of his spins and step sequence.
"I came here to surprise everyone," Malinin stated. "It was a lot of pressure on me. I knew it would be really hard for me to train it (the quad axel) and do it. Of course, hearing the audience go crazy after I landed it was a great feeling."
Added Malinin, "I will try to keep my focus, and I will probably do the quad axel again (in the free skate) and hope to show a clean performance."
Uno Comes Through with Incredible Show Under Pressure
The 25-year-old Uno was brilliant in bouncing back from a disappointing result at November's NHK Trophy. He skated to "I Love You Kung Fu" and began with a nice quad flip, then hit a beautiful quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo.
Uno landed a fine triple axel as well and notched level fours on all of his spins and step sequence while exhibiting amazing speed.
"At the start, I was calmer during the NHK Trophy," Uno commented. "But after the six-minute warmup, I was quite anxious. Until it was the time for the steps, it became a performance where I just focused on calming down and jumping."
Added Uno, "I am surprised that this is my season's best score. My flip wasn't the best either. But I think there are no big issues with the adjustment for my jumps."
Grand Prix Final Podium Finish Looks Likely for Kagiyama
Kagiyama, returning to the city of his greatest glory, put on a terrific showing to "Believer." The 20-year-old began with a fantastic quad salchow and followed it with a solid quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo. His triple axel was really strong as well and he also posted level fours on all of his spins and step sequence.
"I was able to enjoy the competition quite a lot today," Kagiyama remarked. "It was really fun because this was the competition that made me feel, 'this is what I wanted to do!'
"I think since (the 2022 Olympics) I have also improved," Kagiyama continued. "The short program has been cleared, so I want to move towards the free program. There is a day before the free, so I want to calmly work on it."
Miura Stays in Medal Race with Late Combo
The youngest competitor in the field at 18, Miura competed to "This Place Was a Shelter" and quickly recovered after not executing his planned quad salchow/triple toe loop combo at the outset. He landed his triple axel and then later executed a quad toe loop/triple toe loop to keep himself in medal contention. Miura recorded level fours on two of his spins and his step sequence in a gutty showing.
"The three before me had such amazing performances, so I worried if I would be able to do it too," Miura said. "I felt that I wanted to follow them up with a good performance without thinking about the rankings. Although I made some small mistakes."
The GP Final will continue on Friday with the junior rhythm dance, senior pairs and junior women's free skates, senior women short program, and the senior rhythm dance.
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- [ICE TIME] Japan Favored for Multiple Medals at the Grand Prix Final
Author: Jack Gallagher
The author is a veteran sports journalist and one of the world's foremost figure skating experts. Find articles and podcasts by Jack on his author page, and find him on X (formerly Twitter) @sportsjapan.