ESPOO, Finland (AP) — American figure skater Ilia Malinin swept his Grand Prix assignments by taking the men’s gold medal at the Grand Prix of Espoo on Saturday, making the rising 17-year-old star one of the favorites to win at Grand Prix Final.
The stop in Finland replaced the Rostelecom Cup, which was stripped from Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, and helped to finalize the field for the annual showdown of the world’s best beginning Dec. 8 in Turin, Italy.
Malinin won his senior Grand Prix debut at Skate America to begin the season before triumphing at Espoo Metro Areena, where his score of 278.39 points was enough to hold off Shun Sato of Japan and Kevin Aymoz of France.
Malinin scored 280.37 at Skate America, which stands as the highest men’s score of the Grand Prix season.
Mai Mihara of Japan also swept her Grand Prix assignments, winning the MK John Wilson Trophy before beating Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx and countrywoman Mana Kawabe in Finland.
Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini of Italy won the pairs competition at Espoo with 189.74 points, easily outdistancing Germany’s Alisa Efimova and Ruben Blommaert. Anastasiia Metelkina and Daniil Parkman of Georgia were third.
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Canada followed their ice dance victory at Skate Canada by winning in Finland, scoring 219.49 points for the best score of the Grand Prix season. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker were second for the U.S., with Finland’s Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis taking third before a celebratory home crowd.
The American team will be well-represented at the Grand Prix Final, where Malinin will try to make it four straight for the U.S. following Olympic champion Nathan Chen’s streak of three in a row before the COVID-19 pandemic. He’ll be chased by Daniel Grassl of Italy and a quartet of Japanese: Sato, Shoma Uno, Kao Miura and Sota Yamamoto.
Fifteen-year-old Isabeau Levito of the U.S. qualified in the women’s event along with Mihara, Hendrickx, Olympic bronze medalist Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe of Japan and Kim Yelim of South Korea.
World champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier and the duo of Emily Chan and Spencer Howe will represent the U.S. in pairs. Ghilardi and Ambrosini also qualified along with Italian teammates Sara Conti and Niccolo Macci, while Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara of Japan and Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps of Canada round out the field.
The tightest competition might come in ice dance, where Gilles and Poirier and fellow Canadians Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen will be in the field. So will Olympic teammates Hawayak and Baker and Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the U.S., Britain’s Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson and Italians Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri.
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