Russians Natalia Zabiiako/Alexander Enbert skated to the first Grand Prix gold medal of their career in Helsinki on Saturday. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise of Italy took the silver, edging newcomers Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin of Russia by less than one point. The young Russian pair earned the bronze medal in their debut on the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating.
Skating to “Toi et Moi”, Zabiiako/Enbert produced a high triple twist, triple toe-double toe-double loop combination as well as an excellent throw triple loop and difficult lifts. Enbert fell on the triple Salchow and the throw triple flip was somewhat shaky, but the European silver medalists scored 130.92 points for the Free Skating and totaled 198.51 points to move up from second to first place.
“It means a lot to us to have won our first Grand Prix gold medal. It was a good experience for us,” Zabiiako said.
“For the first time we went into a Grand Prix as the top-seeded pair and there was a little pressure and it was harder. We usually skate much better in the short program and today it was hard,” Enbert added.
Kihira, 16, became the first woman to land two fully rotated triple Axels in one program on the top senior international level since Mao Asada at the 2010 Olympics and the youngest Japanese skater to win a Grand Prix since Kanako Murakami, also in 2010.
Kihira leaped from fifth after Friday’s short program to win NHK Trophy in Hiroshima on Saturday, beating winners of two of the first three Grand Prix events — Japanese Satoko Miyahara and Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva. It was her senior Grand Prix debut.
Kihira’s free-skate and total scores (154.72 and 224.31, boosted by an opening triple Axel-triple toe loop combination and standalone triple Axel) rank second in the world this season behind Olympic champion Alina Zagitova, whom she will likely face at December’s Grand Prix Final.
Kihira came into NHK as a wild card. Eighth at last season’s junior worlds, she won her senior international debut in September with two triple Axels in her free at a lower-level event. She fell on an under-rotated triple Axel in Friday’s short program, putting her six points behind Tuktamysheva and training partner Miyahara.