Russia’s Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert captured their first Grand Prix title in Helsinki on Saturday ahead of Italy’s Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise

Zabiiako and Enbert′s golden campaign did not begin with a bang. In the short program set to Prokofiev’s “Alexander Nevski,”  (choreographed by Peter Tchernyshev) Enbert fell on a triple toe loop attempt. A score of 67.59 points left them in second place. “There was a huge mistake on the jump, but it happens,” Zabiiako said.

Last to skate in the free, the Russian duo again experienced technical issues in their “Toi et Moi” program. Enbert fell on the side-by-side triple Salchow and the landing of the throw triple flip was hesitant. But their other elements, including a triple twist, a triple toe-double toe-double loop combination, and a throw triple loop, were solid enough to elevate them into first in the segment (130.92) and into first place overall (198.51).

“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,” Enbert added. “We usually skate much better in the short program and today it was hard.”

Italy’s Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise won the short over their Russian counterparts by 0.59 of a point. Their performance to “Never Tear Us Apart” earned a new season high score of 68.18 points. “We were well prepared, we’ve trained a lot in the past weeks, but the legs were shaky. It was not our best performance,” said Della Monica. 

Guarise expressed a little disappointment with their performance. “We’ve trained very well, we’re in good shape, and there is no excuse. We really wanted to show our new program and there was some pressure,” he explained.

Skating second to last Della Monica and Guarise also experienced technical problems in their “Tristan and Isolde” long program. Della Monica doubled both side-by-side jumps (Salchow and toe loop) and touched down on the throw triple loop. The Italian duo ranked third in the free with 117.59 points and captured silver with a combined total of 185.77 points.

“This is our first silver medal on the Grand Prix. Last year we won our first medal, a bronze, so we are happy that we improved,” Della Monica said. “Next time it maybe will be gold – who knows. It shows that we are on the right track. Our next Grand Prix is in Moscow, so we have one week to work a little bit more on our mistakes.”

Reigning World junior champions Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin surprised many when they skated into third in the short in their senior Grand Prix debut. Their program, “When Winter Comes,” earned the young duo 63.80 points. “We were a little nervous. We try to do our work well and we want to skate flawless and clean,” Pavliuchenko said. “Our music is slow and beautiful … it’s about love.”

The Moscow-based team kept up the pace in their “The Great Gatsby” long program, landing the rarely seen side-by side-triple flip and a triple toe-double toe-double toe combination. Their score of 121.81 ranked second in the free but they remained in third place with 185.61 points.

Khodykin said he and his partner were happy about winning their first medal on the senior Grand Prix circuit, but added “this is only the first step in our skating. We will work more and more.”

“We really enjoyed this competition. We skated well, but we had some mistakes and we hope we’ll skate better next time,” Pavliuchenko said.

Miriam Ziegler and Severin Kiefer of Austria were fourth in both segments (174.81). North Korea’s Tae Ok Ryom and Ju Sik Kim finished in fifth with 174.24 points.