The 2015-2016 Grand Prix season has started for the best figure skaters in the world, and some familiar names found themselves in the winners circle already.
In the Cup of China, former World Champion Mao Asada returned to Grand Prix action after a one year hiatus and picked up the gold medal over countrywoman Rika Hongo. Her total of 197.48, however, was only the fourth best skate to begin the season, and it is something Asada is working on.
“I didn’t feel satisfied with the long program today, but I will make myself to the Grand Prix Final,” said Asada after the event “We have something to improve in the future.”
The Grand Prix Final takes place in December, and Asada is in great shape to make the event. She needs a podium finish at the MHK Trophy in her native Japan in order to secure a spot, but Asada is a heavy favorite in that event.
Asada has made her goals very clear - she's looking to return to the Olympics and avenge a silver medal in Vancouver and a poor performance in Sochi.
“My feelings are much more geared toward the next event but the Olympics are at the back of my mind,” Mao told reporters Sunday.
The next Olympics will take place in 2018 in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Asada will be 28 when the Games begin.
On the men's side at the Cup of China, Javier Fernandez of Spain, the reigning World Champion, walked away with a gold medal despite a fall in his free skate. He finished 9.22 points ahead of Jin Boyang of China.
“It’s a hard day a little bit,” Fernandez said. “I fought it through from beginning to end. … It’s still early in the season. There are a lot of things to improve.”
Jin is a World junior gold medalist and made his Grand Prix debut in Beijing, so he is looking to become a major player in the skating world. His total of 261.23 make him the third highest scorer of the season, and the highest of anyone who did not win a gold medal.
The week before in Canada, three time World Champion Patrick Chan completed an emotional comeback in front of his home crowd and won the Skate Canada gold medal. He took down Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, the reigning Olympic gold medalist who denied Chan Olympic gold in Sochi.
“It’s been a battle," Chan said after his free skate. "A big relief. It was a challenging day, but I’m really pleased with the results. I didn’t think it would turn out this way. I had no expectations, results-wise.”
Chan skated a clean free skate after admitting to feeling "lost" and "vulnerable" in the warm up. Chan was second in the standings after the short program, in which he fell during a triple Axel.
Hanyu struggled in his short program and found himself in sixth position entering the final day. He skated a much better free program, but admitted he still has plenty of work to do.
“I felt more about skating my best and just showing what I’ve been doing at the practice rather than try and skate clean,” Hanyu said through a translator in a press conference.
Daisuke Murakami of Japan, the leader after the short program, finished in third. Chan's total of 271.14 is best among all skaters up to this point in the season.
On the women's side of the draw in Canada, Team USA picked up their first gold of the season when Ashley Wagner skated past the competition. She skated her best event of her career, marking personal bests in both the free skate and short program.
“Backstage, I was looking at [coach Rafael Arutyunyan], and I was just like, ‘I’m not ready to do this. I don’t want to do this,'” Wagner said at a press conference. “So I’m glad that I looked composed by the time I got out there.”
World Champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva of Russia had a disastrous short program but skated a beautiful free skate to push her all the way from seventh and into the silver medal position. Wagner, who was skating after Tuktamysheva, admitted to nerves following the flawless performance.
“I knew how well Elizaveta had skated,” Wagner said. “I was backstage just thinking, thinking, thinking about what I had to do, and then Raf pulled me aside and reminded me that — it sounds so cheesy — but he told me it wasn’t about what everybody else was doing. It was just another day on the ice. It was practice for me and an opportunity to train the program under pressure for Nationals and Worlds, which are my main focuses this year.”
Yuka Nagai of Japan finished third. Chan and Tutamysheva head to France, along with Skate America silver medalist Gracie Gold of the United States later this week. It is the fourth of six events prior to the Grand Prix final.