Russian teens pile on pressure at GP Final

Russian teens pile on pressure at GP Final

FUKUOKA, Japan - Agence France-Presse
Russian teens pile on pressure at GP Final

Adelina Sotnikova of Russia performs during the figure skating closing ceremony of the 2013 Eric Bompard trophy on Nov 17, 2013 at the Bercy Palais-Omnisport (POPB) in Paris. AFP PHOTO

Four Russian teenagers are turning the women’s figure skating Grand Prix final in Japan into their own battle for bragging rights, ahead of the Sochi Winter Olympics on home ice.

Japan’s Mao Asada, 23, topped the short program with 72.36 points Dec. 5, but faced heavy pressure from Russian rival Adelina Sotnikova, 17, who scored 68.38 for second place.

There are four Russians, all aged 17 and under, battling for glory at the Grand Prix final in Fukuoka, southern Japan, with Sotnikova insisting they could all “be in the top three”.

“You can feel them breathing down your neck,” U.S. national champion Ashley Wagner said after placing third with 68.14 points.

“You have to really push yourself as an older skater. You know, I feel like a grandma,” the 22-year-old joked.

Asada conceded she was the “oldest in the field” but said the finalists could use their rivalry to spur each other on.

Sotnikova, the oldest among the Russians at 17, said: “Four of us are very strong and we all can do a triple-triple (combination) well.”

“We all potentially could be in the top three,” she said. “At the moment I am higher than they are and I try not to relax.”

The women’s Grand Prix Final title will be decided with the free skating section Dec. 7.

Three to run in Sochi

Russian women have won three out of the season’s six Grand Prix events. In the series, skaters were allowed to compete in just two events and the top six in each category qualified for the elite finale.

The quartet in Fukuoka includes three world junior champions in the past three seasons -- Sotnikova, Julia Lipnitskaia, 15, and Elena Radionova, 14.

Lipnitskaia won two GPs, Skate Canada and the Cup of Russia, to become a major rival for Asada.
The other is Anna Pogorilaya, 15, who won the Cup of China in her first senior season. They are among a crop of figure skating talent Russia have cultivated with huge fiscal investment since Vancouver 2010, where they finished without an Olympic gold medal in the sport for the first time in 50 years.

Radionova, who will turn 15 in January, is not eligible to compete in the Olympics because of age restrictions.

The other three will battle for the two women’s Olympic berths for Russia at the national championships later this month.