Grand Prix Espoo 2023 Recap & Commentary
The fifth stop in the Grand Prix series, Espoo in Finland, proved to be another messy mid-season competition with some big comebacks, a few surprises, and a stellar dance-off that left us wanting more from every team in the top 5!
Women’s Competition — Queen Kaori and Amber Glenn’s amazing comeback
As we’d hoped (and expected), Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto took her second Grand Prix title of the season — clinching her spot at the top of the standings going into the Grand Prix Final this December. Kaori’s programs weren’t flawless, but showed her signature style, power, and grit that reflect the champion she’s proven to be. After last season’s disappointment at the Grand Prix final, we know she’s hungry for the title — and this was a good step in getting her to it.
Also from Japan, Rion Sumiyoshi held on after a solid short program and a rather hot-and-cold free skate to capture the silver. Rion has definitely put herself in the running for a spot at the Grand Prix Final — now she waits for the shake-out following NHK Trophy next week!
In third, with perhaps the skate of the competition (or possibly the season in the women’s discipline), Amber Glenn from the United States skated a personal best in her free program and climbed from 11th place to bronze! Her short program was a heartbreaker, so to see her shine as brightly as she did in the long and find redemption in the most spectacular way was a joy. We cannot wait to see her at U.S. Nationals!
Ice Dance Competition — Chock and Bates win again
The top five teams in the competition made us feel things. Good to great things. They were all superb, but the reigning World Champions, Madison Chock & Evan Bates from the U.S. did just enough to grab the gold — and their ticket to the Grand Prix Final. With a near flawless Rhythm Dance and a gorgeous if imperfect Free Dance, they definitely showed they are very much in the hunt for another World title.
In the silver spot, the impeccably smoldering “Cana-danes” — Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Nikolaj Soerensen — brought two glorious performances to Finland and walked away with their spot at the final. Not only that, they improved upon their season’s best score — making Canadian Nationals even more intriguing considering what we’ve seen from Gilles & Porrier and Lajoie & Lagha!
In the third spot, the rising Finnish team of Turkkila & Versluis made quite an impression, with their free dance especially — creating something wholly unique on ice and setting themselves up as “ones to watch” leading into Worlds and, moreso, the next Olympic Games.
Off the podium but equally impressive, Carreria & Ponomarenko from the U.S. were possibly the best we’ve ever seen — looking incredible in their free skate. Both they and another American team here, Zingas and Kolesnik, applied pressure to other U.S. teams with their showings here leading into what promises to be a VERY competitive U.S. Nationals!
Men’s Competition — Kao Miura clinches while Kevin Aymoz rallies
The men definitely “men’d” in the short program with quite a few messy programs. However, rising to the top, were both Kao Miura and Shun Sato of Japan.
The two friends and rivals both skated stunning free programs, with Kao bringing on just enough extra power and emotional commitment to nudge him above Shun’s more subdued performance. This was a close one, but locks Kao in for the Grand Prix Final and makes a strong case for both of them to be in the hunt for World team spots at Japan’s national championships in December.
In another big comeback, after a somewhat disastrous short program, France’s Kevin Aymoz skated for the fans and won himself a bronze medal. The emotion and fire that Aymoz brings is almost unmatched by any other man skating competitively today — making this moment a very special one to witness. Fingers crossed he can hold on to a spot in the final after next week’s NHK Trophy — it’s going to be a nail-biter.
Pairs Competition — A surprise win for Hase & Volodin
Finally, in the Pairs competition, we saw quite a bit of change from the short to the long — with Germany’s Hase & Volodin doing just enough to take a closely fought battle for gold. Both of their programs weren’t without errors, but showed a beautiful team finding their footing together and making a case for themselves to be in the conversation this season.
Italy’s Sara Conti & Niccolo Macii continued to perform at a slightly lower level than we saw last season, placing second here with two nice but imperfect skates. This team is genuinely great, so we’re hoping they can find their way back.
The third spot, by just a few hundredths of a point, went to the Hungarian team of Maria Pavlova & Alexei Sviatchenko over China’s Cheng Peng & Lei Wang, who were in first after the short program. While the Hungarian team’s technical content was of higher value that Peng & Wang, this result was surprising as a viewer — if not a little disappointing. Both teams were deserving — however we would have had the result flipped.