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Confident Juniors Shine in Junior Grand Prix Final

by Tatjana Flade

Nathan Chen Dominates Junior Men

Nathan Chen (USA) dominated in the Junior Grand Prix and headed as the top favorite to the Final. He won the title with 14 points to spare ahead of Russia’s Dmitri Aliev and Sota Yamamoto of Japan, but his free skating wasn’t as good as in earlier competitions. All six junior men went for quads in the free skating, most of them not only for one, but for two (Aliev, Yamamoto, Vincent Zhou) or even three (Chen, Daniel Samohin). That was a first. They probably would have risked a quad in the short program as well if it was allowed. On the downside, there were many mistakes in the free skating, maybe because the skaters are not ready yet for all those quads.

Chen took the lead in the short with a solid short that included a triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe and triple flip. The ambitious skater even had planned four quads in the beginning, but scaled back to three when they weren’t too consistent in practice. In the competition he stepped out of the quad Salchow and fell on the quad toe before he landed a quad toe-double toe and five triples, but he also took a hard fall on the triple Axel. “I’m very excited that I was able to become Junior Men’s Grand Prix champion. It’s a big accomplishment for me. I was happy that I was able to put out a program I have been training for but I was not 100 percent happy with my performance,” the 16-year-old commented. “Actually after practice this morning I decided it would be smarter to pull it back and only go for three rather than four quads. Hopefully in the future I will be able to do it but that’s just a goal for now,” he added.

Aliev emerged as the top Russian junior man this season and confirmed his position in the Final. He was second in the short with a strong skate and remained second in the long. He hit a nice quad toe-double toe and triple Axel, but ran out of gas towards the end of the program, popping three jumps. 

“In terms of my skate and the jumps I missed I think I was tired of waiting after the warm-up. I had to skate at the end, and I’m not used to that and at this competition of such a high level if you do well you compete at the end. So I have to learn how to skate as one of the last but it will come with experience but I’m happy to be here, happy to be on the podium and with every competition I will get better and focus on every jump and prepare,” the skater from St. Petersburg said.

Sota Yamamoto was a silver medalist in the Junior Final a year ago and also a World Junior bronze medalist, but he missed the triple Axel in the free, popped the second Axel and doubled a planned quad. On the other hand the Japanese junior champion nailed a quad-triple toe combo. “Last year I was second here so I think many people expected me to be better this year but I changed my jumping content to put two quads in the long program just before Western Japan Sectionals so I wasn’t able to nail it.”

Vincent Zhou competed in his first Final, as did Aliev and Samohin. He crashed on both quad Salchows in the free, but produced solid triples to finish fourth. “I was really pleased with my Axel-toe combination and the triple Lutz felt great. I thought I had the second quad. I did a good one in warm-up so I thought I’d go for it but I guess I rushed it. But I’ve only had my triple Axel and quads for a few months and it took me years to get my other triples consistent so I can only expect these will take years, too,” he commented.

Daniel Samohin, the first Israeli single skater in the Final, had a rough free skate and fell five times and Roman Sadovsky of Canada made a lot of mistakes in both programs to end up sixth.

Next: Polina Tsurskaya

Each season a new Russian junior lady comes out and dominates the field, this year it was Polina Tsurskaya’s turn. Let’s look back: Russian ladies have won gold at Junior Worlds since 2011 with Adelina Sotnikova, Julia Lipnitskaia, Elena Radionova (won back to back titles) and Evgenia Medvedeva. They also have swept the podium in 2013 and 2014. The other top junior ladies come from Japan and so qualified three Russians and three Japanese ladies for the Final for the second consecutive year.

Tsurskaya is 14 and competes in her first international junior season, but she is quite tall compared to her competitors, has high jumps and great speed on the ice. She easily won the Junior Final with two clean performances that were highlighted by her big triple Lutz-triple toe combos. “I was a little nervous before the free skating, because I was in first place after the short program and I needed to skate clean. The other girls are very strong. So I was focused on each element and I tried to execute them as ideally as possible. Compared to the seniors, I think I’m lacking power, speed and confidence on the ice. All this comes with time and years of training,” the new champion said.

Her teammate Maria Sotskova is already a regular in the Final. She won in her debut in 2013, then she finished off the podium in 2014 but now she came back to take the silver medal. In the short she ranked fourth because the Lutz combo and the triple flip were shaky, but she fought back in the long program with a clean skate and two triple-triple combos. “I’m very happy to be in second place because after the short program I was fourth and, of course, that’s not a great place to be. Second place is a great result. The competition was very strong and I didn’t cope with everything but I managed to compete with them,” the 15-year-old said. All skaters but Sotskova debuted in the Junior Final.

Marin Honda shone in the short program and landed a triple loop-triple toe combination. She remained third in the free skating, although she missed a triple flip. “I was satisfied with my short program performance but not the free program. I made mistakes which were regrettable. I’m happy about my medal but there are many issues that came to light in this performance that I need to work on,” the tiny 14-year-old commented.

Alisa Fedichkina was another newcomer and placed second in the short program. But a cheated triple toe (in combination with double Axel) and an underrotated triple loop cost her the medal and she was edged out by just 0.53 points. Fedichkina trains together with Dmitri Aliev in Evgeni Rukavitsin’s group. Yuna Shiraiwa and Mai Mihara made a few mistakes and finished fifth and sixth.

Ekaterina Borisova & Dmitry Sopot Win Junior Pairs title

Compared to last year, the whole Junior pair scene has changed and all six teams in the Final had qualified for the first time, three of them are even teams that compete in their first international season together. The top junior pairs from the past season have either moved up to the senior level or split up. So the medals were up for grabs. Russia once more proved that this discipline is their strength with Ekaterina Borisova & Dmitry Sopot taking the gold and Amina Atakhanova & Ilia Spiridonov the bronze. Anna Duksova & Martin Bidar of the Czech Republic became the first Czech pair team to win a medal at the Junior Grand Prix Final and it was silver.

Borisova & Sopot used their chance and took the title with two solid performances. Since he is big and strong and she is tiny, the couple from Perm has nice triple throws. They also include a side by side double Axel into their routines “Ninja” for the Short and “Lawrence of Arabia” for the Free. “We’re thrilled, I have no words. We’ve worked a lot and this is the result. Now we’ll just have to add a triple jump or even two,” Borisova commented.

Duskova & Bidar have been around longer than the new Russian team. Both are both still competing in singles and have a side by side triple toe in their arsenal. The Czech team made no major mistake and also execute triple throws and a triple twist. “We are so happy because we have never reached as high as (we have) now, I can’t explain how happy I am,” Duskova said.

Atakhanova & Spiridonov are another promising team. They probably have the most potential, but she underrotated the solo triple toe and triple Salchow in the long program while he struggled with a lift. „I was just tired and had no strength left for the lift“, he admitted.

Russia’s Anastasia Gubanova & Alexei Sintsov skated well to place fourth, but they don’t have a side by side triple yet and didn’t even try a double Axel.

Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter Dance to Junior Dance Gold

World Junior silver medalists Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter (USA) won the Junior Ice Dance event. Russia’s Alla Loboda & Pavel Drozd took the silver medal and Rachel Parsons &  Michael Parsons confirmed the strength of U.S. ice dance with their bronze medal.

McNamara & Carpenter were the top ranked junior dancers in the final and had not much trouble to win this event. They showed strong performances in both programs and collected good levels for their elements. Their Short Dance to “Peer Gynt” was a bit different from what you usually see, but for the Free Dance they chose “Carmen,” one of skating’s war horses.

“All teams that have skated to this (“Carmen”) have shown really strong performances and for us as a young team it is really necessary for us to watch and learn from them, we don’t want to show exactly the same thing, but I think our cuts are different to the others and we can show our own personality. We took inspiration from the other skaters so we could show what the music makes us feel and what resonates with us as a team, not to just copy and paste what others have done,” Carpenter said.

Loboda & Drozd looked also smooth in both programs. They even had higher levels in the Short Dance than the Americans, but were ranked third because of a lower component score and lower GOEs. The Muscovites then overtook Parsons & Parsons in their romantic Free Dance to “Lo ti amore” and “Paganini” to repeat as silver medalists in the Junior Final. “We skated well, but we could have done better. One step sequence was only a level two. We put in emotions and we enjoyed performing today. Result and our performance are both important to us. If we finish in first place, but didn’t skate well, we’re not too happy. And if we skated really well but don’t get the result we hoped for, we’re not too happy either,” Loboda explained.

Parsons & Parsons did very well in their “Cinderella” Short Dance, but a wobble on the twizzles in their Tango Free Dance was costly and they slipped to third. “Today we didn’t really put out the free dance we wanted to, a lot of it changed and we’re both frustrated we didn’t get to showcase our program but we know what to work on for the rest of the season and I think in the Final with the best teams in the world here there is maybe some increased scrutiny from the judging panel, they are looking even more closely at us so the scores are not necessarily the best,” Rachael Parsons said.

Russia had two more teams in the Final with Betina Popova & Yuri Vlasenko and newcomers Anastasia Skotpcova & Kirill Aleshin, that finished fourth and sixth. It was a bit disappointing for Popova & Vlasenko, who were bronze medalists last year and in their last junior season had hoped for more. Sandwiched between the two Russian couples were Marie-Jade Lauriault & Romain Le Gac from France, who competed in their first Final.