Figure skating: Alina Kvitelashvili claims first Grand Prix medal

It wasn’t English and it wasn’t perfect, but Alina Kvitelashvili’s first Grand Prix medal of the season has been a perfect culmination of an arduous journey.

Kvitelashvili won the Grand Prix Final in Tokyo Sunday, edging rivals, including Pyeongchang Olympics bronze medalist Mao Asada, from a sudden-death free skate final spot.

The 25-year-old’s world championship bronze in December gave her and her team the bronze medal in the team event and helped her earn a berth in the singles competitions at Pyeongchang in February.

Kvitelashvili also earned a bronze medal at the European Championships and had been flying since. But she fell in Friday’s short program at the Grand Prix Final and failed to earn the victory she was looking for Sunday.

In the free skate, Kvitelashvili withstood early, high expectations and able opponent Kaitlyn Weaver. It’s the first figure skating medal of her career, and it was something she dreamed of since she was a child and began training.

“I had nothing (between my feet), I didn’t even have this, but I couldn’t fail,” she said after winning the free skate with 122.57 points. “I tried my best and we’re back.”

It comes as a contrast to what Weaver was going through. Weaver, who did not place in the top 12 in Friday’s short program, had been in a similar situation at last year’s Grand Prix Final and made another mistake and a bobble in the third of three programs that earned her a silver medal.

“I really, really, really wanted this,” she said. “I missed this last year and I knew I needed to make it count.”

KVitelashvili’s fall Friday may have been a shocker to fans. But it also highlighted another major flaw in her competition: slipping out of the sheet ice between the music and her partner. On the practice ice, she and Victor Kraatz were unable to correct the problem.

“Alina’s mistake on the second jumps is the type of error she needs to polish,” Kulak said. “The short program is a huge short, and you can make mistakes and still go on to become a champion. It’s not the result Alina wanted, but there’s more to come.”

At Friday’s short program, Kvitelashvili seemed as an awkward juxtaposition to her coach-partner. Kraatz almost brought Kvitelashvili down with his poor throwing of the launch. His mistimed twizzles had gone awry as well. The team of two were far behind the favorites.

Saturday was better. A relatively light presentation, they started out a little slow, and the first number needed a little more work. When the second sequence was over, Kraatz bent down on one knee in perfect hip-wiggle dance choreography. Then there was a sweep of her long and triple twist arms.

The band played Simple Twist and Tumble during Kraatz’s opening spins. For a brief moment, it felt like this might be the kind of emotional peak that helped jumpstart their singles campaign and win a medal in Tokyo.

Their score of 117.77 was good enough for second, but they did not move on. Kvitelashvili lost the lead to Choi Minjeong of South Korea. Choi became only the second woman to win the Grand Prix Final in consecutive years, following Nagasu from the 2010 edition.

But in the medal-on-first round elimination series that followed, Kraatz and Kvitelashvili triumphed over the other teammates, Asada and Choi, to reach the free skate final.

The prospect of a major step up was important for Kvitelashvili’s singles campaign. She also earned a bronze medal at the European Championships in Poland in May. She is an under-25 performer and is ranked No. 10 in the world.

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