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2016 World Junior Championships

ďCalifornian IsraeliĒ Daniel Samohin Wins Menís Competition

 by Klaus Reinhold Kany
Photos by Robin Ritoss



(20 March 2016)  The menís competition at Junior Worlds in Debrecen, Hungary had unusually huge placement changes after the short program. None of the top three in the short won a medal, but those who had been sixth, eighth and ninth. Most of the skaters in the best group made several mistakes in the long, so the whole level of competition was not too high, but there were exceptions. The level in the short program, however, was high with many clean programs.

The biggest one comes from a Californian who does not compete for the USA. One day after the first victory of Czech skaters at Junior Worlds, there was another first in the ISU history. Daniel Samohin is the first ever Israeli skater to win a gold medal in an ISU championships. In January 2016 the other good Israeli single skater Alexei Bychenko had been second at Europeans, and at the Worlds championships 2002 the Israeli ice dancers Galit Chait and Sergej Sakhnovsky had been third. But at no ISU championships any Israeli skater had been first before.

Daniel Samohin was born in Tel Aviv, but his Jewish parents had emigrated from Russia shortly before. His father Igor had been a skating coach there. So the 18-year-old skaterís first language is Russian, but meanwhile his English is perfect. When he was a little boy, his parents moved to the USA and settled in California.

 Samohin competed for the USA on the pre-novice and novice level, but the family was a bit afraid that he was not good enough to be competitive with so many good U.S. men. Therefore they decided to switch to Israel. Many Americans now regret that the USA released him easily. Samohin has trained with his father in Ontario, California in recent years. But some months ago they moved to a new ice rink in San Diego where there is more ice time for him and his father.

Samohin had been first in Salt Lake City last September, fifth in the ISU Junior Final and seventh at Europeans recently. He has the ISU minimum for Worlds, but Israel has only one spot. The better skater at Europeans was Bychenko and therefore he will take the Israeli spot, Samohin being only the alternate.

In a Junior short program, no quad jump is allowed, which is a disadvantage for Samohin. Moreover, he stepped out of the triple flip for which he also got an edge call. His triple Axel was excellent, but the combination of triple lutz and triple toe loop a bit shaky. The spins and step sequence of his short program to music of ďStill Loving YouĒ by the German pop group ďThe ScorpionsĒ were good and the components around 7.1. But because of his mistakes he was only ninth with 71.27 points and nine points behind the winner.

Competing as early as 13th of the 24 skaters he could win 165.38 points in an excellent free program to the soundtrack of Sherlock Holmes. This was 15 points more than any other skater and therefore he could easily move ahead the rest of the field with 236.65 points. He began with a good combination of quad toe loop and triple toe loop, which was rewarded with 15.60 points. An excellent quad Salchow (12.07 points) and another excellent quad toe loop in the second half (13.04) followed, plus a triple Axel and three other triples. He has a charming skating style and an extroverted personality, often smiles and shows that skating is fun for him. Therefore his components had an average of 7.5 and went up to 8.25.

The press conference after the competition was one of the funniest in skating ever. Samohin with his entertaining qualities made a lot of jokes and with his leadership qualities motivated his two fellow medalists, who normally are more serious, to do the same.

 He said: ďIt was really nice hearing all the screams and cheers that I got from the fans. It was very nice that everyone was here to support us. We had a judge for Israel (Katalin Alpern), she passed away last year due to cancer. She was from Hungary and before she passed I told her Iíll try my best and Iíll try to win here for her sake as well. Itís crazy that it happened and that I did it. Itís just a lot of emotions and a lot of happiness and sadness even. It was a great experience and it meant a lot to me. Thereíre a lot of great skaters here so I couldnít be sure that Iíd be first. Itís great, because it is kind of a little birthday present for myself because I turned 18 on March 12, but you have to forget that. I was already here and when they met me at the hotel they gave me a cake and I still didnít eat it, because I have to stay light.Ē

ďItís pretty crazy to come from almost tenth place to becoming the top three. Itís really great. For Israel it is amazing. My idol is my older brother. He is also a skater and we get to share the experience. He really helps me, pushes me as well my dad, because I come from a family of skaters. I definitely look up to him. He had an injury and he couldnít compete this season, but heíll come back next season and hopefully weíll be able to go together and that would be really cool. Also what motivates me is seeing younger skaters doing these awesome jumps. Iím going senior, but I will be coming back to Junior Worlds next year. But Iíll do mostly senior competitions, trying to grow up a bit and being more mature. Here I learned that you shouldnít worry too much. When I was ninth I was like now way I could be in the top three and I kind of let that go. I was like Iíll just try my best and have fun. Thatís what I did.Ē

The silver media with 224.76 points went to Nicolas Nadeau from Rosemere in the Montreal area in Quebec. He is tall, has a mature and manly style and looks like a senior skater or even like a pair skater. The only Canadian in the competition had been eighth in the short program. He was seven points behind the winner in spite of a clean program which included a good triple Axel and a combination of triple lutz and triple toe loop. But none of his spins had level 4. In the long, the student of Yvan Desjardins landed the quad toe loop on two feet, but seven triple jumps were clean, including two triple Axels. He skated to pieces of the soundtrack of Mary Poppins which is a bit strange because it is more music for children. But he interpreted it well.

He said: ďI like skating with big crowds and people cheering for me. It was amazing to skate here and to do such a great program. Work pays off. I was coming to do a top five. So after the short program I just left my sleeves and wanted to do my best on good program for the long.Ē He also felt motivated to tell a special story: ďLast year I was 25th and didnít even do the long program. I was really mad about it. My coach forced me to watch every single skater in the long. It was hard to watch it. So this year I was coming here and thought, Iím going to do the long, whatever happens, Iíll rotate my jumps. My idol is Kurt Browning Iíve been told I look a lot like him. He is so entertaining and thatís what I like about skating is to entertain people. I canít tell if Iím going senior internationally. Nationally Iím looking forward to get to the top three at Nationals. Weíll see with my coach what the plans will be.Ē

Tomoki Hiwatashi from the Chicago also had a special story. He came as a substitute for Nathan Chen and won a surprising bronze medal with 222.52 points. He had been fifth and third at this two Junior Grand Prix and was first at the Junior competition at U.S. Nationals. Competing to ďI feel goodĒ by Jason Brown, the student of Alexander Ouriashev, the former coach of Gracie Gold, was sixth in the short after a clean program with a triple Axel and a very good combination of triple lutz and triple toe loop. But his components were a bit lower than those of the top skaters. In the clean long he performed nine triple jumps, which is one more than allowed and cost him the silver medal. His second flip got zero instead of six or seven points.

He explained: ďI was very nervous, but at the same time there were a lot of people cheering for me. When I landed the second triple Axel I just felt I was going to make it. I was only aiming for top eight or ten. I just wanted America to get three places for Junior Worlds and that was the only thing I was thinking about. Yes, I did repeat too many jumps. I did two triple Axels, two triple flips and two triple Lutzes. It used to be two double Axels and I didnít really think about it when I was putting it in the program. I just really wanted to put two triple Axels in and did not think at that moment that a triple Axel counts as a triple jump. My idol is Alexei Yagudin. He had great skating skills, a great quad toe and it was really entertaining to watch him at the Olympics. For next year Iím planning to do senior level competitions for national competitions. For international Iím planning to do juniors. I think that is the right choice for me, because I donít have a quad. I want to do a quad next year and want to be able to be in the place where Daniel is right now next year for Junior Worlds. After this competition I will go to Japan for a few weeks.Ē

Alexander Samarin from Russia finished fourth, earning 222.11 points. He had been second in the short after performing his seven elements in excellent quality, including a triple Axel, for which he even had one GOE of +3. But in the long, he stepped out of the triple Axel, fell on the triple loop after showing a quad toe loop with a touch-down and touched down his hand on the second triple Axel. The other elements were good, but he showed not enough emotion.

Vincent Zhou of Colorado Springs ended up fifth with 221.19 points after a short program with a shaky triple Axel and a combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop with two arms over the head during the Lutz . In the free, the student of Tom Zakrajsek doubled the toe loop which was planned quadruple, and almost fell on the triple Axel. Both quad Salchows were under-rotated , but at least landed on one foot. Six other triple jumps were good or very good, however. The third and fifth places of the two Americans guarantee U.S. Figure Skating three spots for Junior Worlds in Taipei next year.

Dmitri Aliev from Russia had been in the lead after a clean short program with an outstanding triple Axel. After the short he said that he was very nervous, but could cope with it very well. But in the long he could no longer. He popped the quad toe loop after going into this jump with no speed and confidence, touched down on the triple Axel and doubled the second Axel. Therefore he dropped to sixth place with 211.18 points and only the seventh best free program. Denis Vasiljevs from Latvia is one of the most talented skaters, at least component-wise. But after being third in a good short he had bad nerves in the long and dropped from third to ninth place, winning 204.75 points.

Sota Yamamoto from Japan, third at the Junior Final, would have been a hot medal candidate. But the Japanese team leader in Debrecen confirmed that he broke his ankle during the last practice before heading from Japan to Debrecen. None of the three Japanese in Hungary gave top performances. The best one was Shu Nakamura who finished twelfth and just saved the second spot for his country for next year.