By DAVE SKRETTA
AP Sports Writer
Shoma Uno finally has the medal the Japanese figure skater has long coveted from the Grand Prix Final.
The reigning world champion, who had twice finished second and third at the finale of the Grand Prix season, held off countryman Sota Yamamoto on Saturday to capture gold. Uno followed his winning short program with the highest score in the free skate to finish with 304.46 points. Yamamoto scored 274.35 points to take second.
Ilia Malinin of the U.S. rebounded from a sloppy short program with a strong free skate to win bronze in Turin, Italy.
“I didn’t particularly feel pressure just because I won the world championship,” Uno said, “but at this competition, especially during the free program, all the other skaters did so amazing that it instead motivated me to enjoy it.”
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier followed their winning rhythm dance by also winning the free dance Saturday, which allowed them to extend their sliver of a lead over American dancers Madison Chock and Evan Bates. Gilles and Poirier finished with 215.64 points, Chock and Bates scored 211.94 and Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri were third.
In the women’s event, Mai Mihara took advantage of a mistake-strewn program by Japanese countrywoman Kaori Sakamoto to win gold. She finished with 208.17 points to outdistance 15-year-old American Isabeau Levito, who leaped from fifth place after her short program to take silver. Loena Hendrickx of Belgium held on to bronze.
Sakamoto, the reigning world champ, plummeted from first after her short program to fifth place.
Malinin’s comeback to earn a medal after a fifth-place short program began with the 18-year-old American landing a quad axel, a jump only he has ever landed in competition. Malinin added three more quads in his program set to “Euphoria” by the English musician Labrinth, though he barely hung onto two of them.
He finished with a strong triple flip-triple axel to climb into the bronze-medal position.
“I guess I just believe in myself and believe in my training and just stay confident,” Malinin said. “Just know that everything that I’ve done to practice, I’m able to pull it off.”
Yamamoto featured three quads in his free skate, one in combination with a triple toe loop, allowing the 22-year-old former world junior bronze medalist to put the pressure on Uno as he took the ice at Torino Palavela.
Uno wasn’t flawless, holding onto his triple axel and putting a foot down on his quad toe loop. But the two-time Olympic medalist rotated through all five of his quads and finished atop the Grand Prix Final podium for the first time.
“I think I was able to bring out what I’ve been doing up until now,” Uno said, “but I think parts where I didn’t have enough practice also showed themselves, so I want to improve them until I can feel satisfied with my short and free programs.”
In ice dance, Gilles and Poirier appear poised to take their rivalry with Chock and Bates all the way to worlds.
The Americans trailed by about half a point after their rhythm dance, and with the exception of a bobble on their twizzles, they performed well enough to put pressure on Gilles and Poirier as they began their free dance.
“We gave everything,” Bates said. “We knew it was going to be a fight. We just dug deep and put it all out there.”
The Canadians were up to the challenge, though. And in doing so, they followed in the footsteps of compatriots Shae-Lynn Bourne and Viktor Kraatz, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir as Grand Prix Final champs.
“We felt great today from start to finish,” Gilles said. “I said to Paul after we finished, ‘I felt that was the most present we have felt all season.’ … We didn’t compete against any of the times we did it before, we just let it skate today and I think it topped the other programs because we just fell in love with the moment and the feeling and it was wonderful.”
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