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2015 World Junior Championships

Russia and Asia dominate Junior Ladies

 by Tatjana Flade


(11 March 2015)

Glimpse of the future at Junior Worlds in Tallinn

The ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships are always an interesting glimpse into the future of the sport. However, success in juniors doesn’t necessarily lead to success at the senior level – and vice versa. Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten for example, the 2013 World silver and 2014 Olympic bronze medalist, never even made the podium at Junior Worlds. On the other hand, many World Junior Champions never made it to the Olympic Games.

So it will be interesting in a few years to look back at the World Junior Championships 2015 in Tallinn and to see what became of the champions.

The cozy Estonian capital hosted Junior Worlds for the first time, but after the European Championships in 2010 and several Junior Grand Prix events, the Federation is very experienced and the competition run smoothly. The Tondibara ice rink has opened only last summer is an excellent facility that has a main rink and practice rink as well as two ice sheets for curling (practice and competition) under one roof. The World Junior Curling Championships took place at the same time – a great idea actually and the young athletes had the chance to get to know another sport. So figure skaters cheered for curlers and curlers came to cheer for figure skaters.

A total of 163 skaters from 42 countries competed in Tallinn, a little less than one year ago. The level in the Ladies, Men’s and Ice Dance was very good, but something has to be done to support pair skating more. Lowering the minimum score as some officials suggest doesn’t solve the problem. Pair skating needs to be developed in more countries.

Russia Wins Fifth Consecutive Junior Ladies Title

 The result of the Ladies event (and in the Men’s as well) confirmed once again that Russians and Asians are currently the dominating forces in the sport. They occupied the top seven spots (and even the top nine if you consider that US competitor Karen Chen is also ethnically Asian).

Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva dominated the Junior Ladies the whole season and took Russia’s fifth consecutive World Junior Ladies title (following Adelina Sotnikova in 2011, Julia Lipnitskaia in 2012, Elena Radionova in 2013 and 2014). The lively 15-year-old skated to the lead in the short program “Umbrellas of Cherbourg” with a triple flip-triple toe, a triple Lutz, double Axel and level-four spins and footwork. The Lutz had an edge attention and therefore some slight deductions, and the landing could have been a bit better, too. “I am pleased with my performance for today, but there were a few small errors that I have to work on. Overall I am in a very positive mood now and I got the maximum from this performance”, she said. “In order to stay in the same place I think I just have to go out on the ice and give everything and not think about whether I’ll be the champion or not be the champion. I just have to go out and skate clean, skate my maximum then everything will happen”, she added when asked what she needs to do in order to remain on the top. This is what the 2014 World Junior bronze medalist did in her free skating to “Summer Night’s Dream” and “Tango Chack”: Medevedeva produced the maximum of seven triples including a triple flip-triple toe and triple Salchow-triple toe combination. The spins were a level four, the footwork a level three. Her elements garnered mostly plus 1 and plus 2 GOEs from the panel of judges, except for her Lutz that received an edge call. Evgenia has good flow on her jumps and a nice, expressive way of skating. She still can add speed and power, but this should come with time when she grows. The Russian scored 124.49 points, a personal best (like in the short program) and totaled 192.97 points. “I made some minor mistakes on many jumps, but it didn’t hurt my score. I just tried to go out and skate well, and some things weren’t so good, but everything is good that ends well”, the new World Junior Champion said.

The competition was really tough as her main rivals also skated clean with difficult program and there was no room for error. The young Russian remained unfazed by this pressure. “Obviously, my parents and my coaches help me to deal with this nervousness and, even if it might sound strange, the music. As soon as I hear the music, I am able to detach from everything and focus. When there are mistakes, my coaches are always telling me and they are always supporting me when it is necessary”, she explained.

Serafima Sakhanovich is a close competitor and friend of Medvedeva and even joined her practice group last spring. Compared to Evgenia, Serafima looks a little bit slower and she tends to land her jumps deeper in the knee. Skating to “My Sweet and Tender Beast” in the short program, the 15-year-old stepped out of her triple flip-triple toe combination and was ranked second. She was very upset at herself. “I am not very pleased with my performance as there was a serious mistake. Everything else I did well for myself, all spins, but this error on the combination has been following me the whole season in the short program”, the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalist noted. Similar to other competitions this season, Sakhanovich then put out a flawless long program to “I Love You, I Hate You” by Raul di Blasio. Her program also included seven triples (as all the other top junior Ladies’ programs) such as a triple flip-triple toe, triple Salchow-triple toe-double toe and a triple Lutz (with an edge call) at the end of the program. The 2014 World Junior silver medalist “tanoes” almost each jump, meaning she jumps with her hand raised above her head. “It is not hard to do for me. Last year I did already jumps with the hand up, but not all of them. Now I do almost all of them. I feel more comfortable and I can jumps higher and easier. Some people are saying, why does she do that, that’s not pretty, but I actually can’t do the jumps anymore without raising my hand”, she explained. Serafima ranked third in the free with 123.06 points but overall remained in second at 186.15 points to repeat as silver medalist.

Wakaba Higuchi is Japan’s answer to the Russian girls’ armada. She just turned 14 years old on January 2 and is a little dynamo on the ice. Her jumps are high and precise and she does not have the under-rotation issues some of her teammates at the senior levels have and it looks good for her future, too, because she jumps high and should be able to compensate growth. The junior high school student over-rotated the back end of her triple flip-triple toe combo in the short to “Beloved Czardas”, but the rest was good and she sat in third. The free skating to “Piano Concerto in F” by George Gershwin was excellent, with lots of speed solid seven triples (with triple Lutz-triple toe and double Axel triple toe). Wakaba finished second in the free and set a new personal best (like in the short) to accumulate 185.57 points. “I am fully satisfied with what I did today. In this competition I did quite well from the beginning to the end. I was nervous, but under this pressure I did what I had to do”, she said. Higuchi is not age-eligible for senior-level competition and if she continues to develop the way she did this season she has a good chance to dominate the upcoming junior season.

Like several other girls, the Japanese skater would like to include a triple Axel into her repertoire and says she is already close to landing it in practice. Even the double Axel is not the favorite jump of the Russian gold and silver medalists, but they might go for a quad Salchow in the future.

Elizabet Tursynbaeva of Kazakhstan is following into the footsteps of her famous compatriot Denis Ten. The tiny 15-year-old was somewhat shaky on her triple Salchow-triple toe and triple Lutz (the Lutz was underrotated) in the short to “Memoirs of a Geisha” to finish seventh in this segment. The free skating was clean with seven triples and so the Moscow-born skater moved up to fourth with 173.44 points. This is the best result for a female skater from Kazakhstan in an ISU Championship up to date. Elizabet didn’t train much with Brian Orser this season as she did not receive the Canadian visa, but apparently should get it now soon.

Russia’s Maria Sotskova had tough luck last season when she won the Junior Final and then couldn’t come to Junior Worlds because of an injury (she was replaced then by Evgenia Medvedeva). This season didn’t go as well for the now 14-year-old. She finished fourth in the Final and now fifth at Junior Worlds. Maria fell on her triple flip-triple toe combo in the short and was ranked only 10th. At this level, such a mistake costs a lot. Sotskova rallied back with a clean seven-triples long program to pull up (169.04 points).

Kaori Sakamoto of Japan started with a strong short program into the competition, landing a triple flip-triple toe. However, in the free skating the 14-year-old from Kobe fell on a triple loop and slipped from fourth to sixth.

Her teammate Yuka Nagai reduced her combination in the short program to a shaky triple-double toeloop and stood in sixth place. In the free, the 16-year-old singled her first Lutz, but then did a triple Lutz-triple toe seconds later. A triple Salchow was underrotated and she finished seventh.

Karen Chen (USA) was only 12th in the short when she was unable to tack at least a double toe to a shaky triple loop for a combination, and the triple Lutz was under-rotated. The free started well with a triple Lutz-triple toe, but later the Californian fell hard on a cheated triple Salchow and a double Axel (8th).

Korea’s Da Bin Choi turned in two solid performances, but some under-rotations cost her points (9th). Diana Nikitina of Latvia was the top non-Russian European lady in 10th place. She is quite tall and has big jumps, but needs to work on her components. In the free program she also made an error on her combination spin that received no level. Nicole Rajicova of Slovakia (but she was born and raised in the USA where she also trains) at in 5th with a nice short program without a triple-triple. But she made too many errors in the free skating (11th).

In order to be in the top ten at Junior Worlds, you needed a triple-triple combo in at least one of the programs.

There were also skaters from relatively exotic countries that made it to the Final: Anastasia Galustyan from Armenia (12th, lives and trains in Moscow), Deimante Kizalaite from Lithuania (18th), Juni Marie Benjaminsen from Norway (22nd), Niki Wories from the Netherlands (23rd) and Shuran Yu from Singapur (24th, lives and trains in Beijing). On the other hand, the two Canadian ladies Selena Zhao (26th) and Kim Deguise Leveillee (29th) failed to qualify. Overall 43 Ladies competed in the event.