World Champion Sakamoto Wins Again at Beijing Grand Prix Final

AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto celebrates after winning gold in the Women’s Final for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final held in Beijing, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023.

Reigning world champion Kaori Sakamoto added another title to her winning streak as she crushed the competition in the women’s event at the Grand Prix Final in Beijing on Saturday.

Sakamoto entered the free skating four points clear at the top after Friday’s short programme, and ended with a commanding lead of over 20.

The crowd roared in appreciation as Sakamoto glided across the ice to Lauryn Hill’s versions of “Wild is the Wind” and “Feeling Good”.

Despite an imperfect landing on a triple flip, her otherwise impressive execution and powerful presence led to a score of 148.35, for a final tally of 225.70.

Her win means she has made a clean sweep of her three Grand Prix appearances this year.

“I am really happy now (after the two other wins). I am really excited, I have reached my goals, thank you everyone!” said a beaming Sakamoto after she stepped off the ice.

Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx held on for second place overall despite a disappointing fourth-place finish in the free skate.

Her performance to Beyonce and Madonna’s “Break My Soul” was described as a “skate with attitude” by commentators, but flaws in technique meant it was only awarded 130.11 by judges.

“I know I can do much better, but I will take this defeat with me and get back to work,” said Hendrickx in a press conference afterwards, adding she had been ill just before the competition.

Her strong showing in Friday’s short programme meant she finished with 203.36 though — just enough to snatch second from Japan’s Hana Yoshida by 0.20 of a point.

AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto performs her Free Skating routine on her way to the gold medal in the Women’s Final for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final held in Beijing, Saturday, Dec. 9, 2023.

Champions at last

Earlier, Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates said they felt “wonderful” after emerging victorious in the ice dance, winning the title on their seventh attempt.

The reigning world champions spun across the rink to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon”, wowing the judges and crowd with their lightning-quick turns and fluid lifts.

Chock and Bates were already leading by over three points after Friday’s rhythm dance, and they increased the gap in the free skate, earning a season’s best of 132.46 for a final score of 221.61.

“We’re feeling wonderful,” said Chock minutes after securing victory.

The pair have made the Grand Prix Final six times before without success.

“I guess our lucky number is seven… This has been a goal of ours for a very long time and it’s always a great pleasure to accomplish a goal,” said Chock.

The pair started the programme in an unusual diagonal lean off the ice, and referenced the theme of time throughout, their arm movements mimicking clock hands and Chock’s dress based on the “melting clocks” of surrealist artist Salvador Dali.

“We’re just going for it, having a little avant-garde in the programme,” said Bates.

Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri took second place with a final score of 215.51.

The pair kissed on the ice after finishing a commanding, passionate skate to a soaring medley which earned them a season’s best of 129.69.

Close behind them on 213.58 points were Canada’s Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who gave an intense performance to “Wuthering Heights”.