Japan's Ando skates to Cup of China title
Former world champ keeps free skate simple to beat Suzuki
Former world champion Miki Ando of Japan dominated the women's free skate despite a watered-down routine to win the Cup of China figure skating competition Saturday in Beijing.
Ando, who had been in third place after Friday's short program, opted not to attempt her double-Axel triple toe loop, substituting that with a double-double to stay simple and effective.
It paid off as she finished with 172.21 points, putting her comfortably ahead of fellow Japanese skater Akiko Suzuki, who was second with 162.86 points.
"After the short program, I felt bad because I was third, but I knew I had to skate better in the free program today," said Ando, who skated to Edvard Grieg's Piano Concerto in A Minor.
Alena Leonova of Russia was third with 148.61 points, while American Mirai Nagasu — who won Friday's short program — had to settle for fourth after falling while attempting a triple-flip double toe loop.
Diane Szmiett, 20, of Watford, Ont., was 10th. Earlier this season, she placed 12th at the NHK Trophy in Japan.
"It was pretty disappointing," said Szmiett. "I'm definitely having a slow start to the season, but I'm confident that with more training I can put the puzzle back together."
Kozuka wows crowd
Takahiko Kozuka of Japan won the men's competition, wowing the audience with the same spirit that left him in first after the short program.
Kozuka's intricate footwork and fluid interpretation of Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1 earned him 233.52 points, despite having grazed the ice with his hand on his quad toe loop opener.
"I'm very happy, it has been a while since I have won a big event," Kozuka said. "I am a little bit disappointed that I touched the ground in the beginning, but I hope to improve before the next Grand Prix in Paris."
Brandon Mroz of the United States had 216.80 points for second place and his first Grand Prix medal. Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic trailed with 214.81, delivering a crowd-pleasing routine to a medley of Michael Jackson songs.
Russian skater Sergei Voronov withdrew from Saturday's free skate event after injuring his right ankle on his opening quad toe loop.
There were no Canadians entered.
Earlier, French pair Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat won their first Grand Prix event in the ice dance.
Skating to an upbeat Charlie Chaplin medley, they carried that momentum through to the end of the performance to earn a total of 159.59 points.
"It feels great," Bourzat said. "We hope it will not be the last one."
Russia's Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev were second with a total of 145.39 points, while world bronze medallists Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali of Italy were held to third place with 139.52 points after another outfit-related gaffe.
Scali stumbled over Faiella's skirt during a lift in their flamenco-themed program, in a near replay of an incident in Friday's short program.
"It was an interesting week. We had twice the same mistake twice with the skirt, but we are pretty positive, because we have pretty good feedback regarding our performances," said Scali.
"So we know that this is the way to go and with more work and a shorter skirt, we hope we can do better next time."
Toronto's Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill were seventh. It marked the teenagers' first time on the senior circuit and they made the most of the opportunity.
The four-time junior Grand Prix medallists were happy with their performance, despite falling one spot after the short dance.
"It's a really big transition to go from junior to senior," said Hill, who is just 19. "The level of difficulty of our programs has been significantly raised. In addition, the judges are looking for constant movement and showing quality in all those movements."
Ralph called the competition "nerve-racking."
"It was also our first competition of the season and we knew we were facing a very strong field. I was really pleased with our short program, but we made a slight bobble in the free, which may have cost us a spot."
Chinese pairs team Pang Qing and Tong Jian won the free skate.
Pang fell during her opening double axel but Tong was solid throughout the routine. They skated to Franz Liszt's Liebestraum and nailed their triple toeloop to win with 177.50.
In a category dominated by Chinese skaters, the Olympic silver medallists were followed by their younger teammates Sui Wenjing and Han Cong at 171.47. Americans Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin were third at 166.72.
Kaleigh Hole of Virden, Man., and Adam Johnson of Chatham, Ont., finished eighth in their senior international debut.
"We didn't skate as well as we wanted," said Hole, 17. "We just went out there and tried to do our own thing.
The Cup of China is the third of six Grand Prix events.