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Russian Dominance in Juniors Continues

by Tatjana Flade


(18 December 2017)  Russia continued its dominance at the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in Nagoya. Of the total of 12 medals, seven went to Russia, including a podium sweep in the Junior Ladies. The Russians only missed out in the Men’s event where the USA were the strongest nation with a gold and a silver medal (however, winner Alexei Krasnozhon is Russian-born and has been living in the USA only for four years). The level of competition was high especially in the Ladies and Ice Dance events, but also most of the Pairs showed good skating, while the Men were not so great.

Alexandra Trusova Leads Spectacular Junior Ladies

The Junior Ladies were probably the toughest competition of the whole Final, including the seniors. One girl was better than the next, there was a triple Axel-triple toe loop combination landed and a quadruple Salchow attempted. There was only one fall – and that came on the quad. Alexandra Trusova led a Russian sweep in the event. The 13-year-old from Riazan (but now living in Moscow) comes from the school of Eteri Tutberidze that has produced such champions as Julia Lipnitskaia, Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova. By the way, the competition felt like a normal practice for Trusova and her teammates as four out of the five young ladies train together under Tutberidze, Sergei Dudakov and Daniil Gleikhengauz.

“Rapunzel” Alexandra who sports long hair that goes down to her knees (the hair has been trimmed but never cut) won the short program thanks to the slightly higher technical difficulty as she hit a triple flip-triple loop combination. The music choice ‘Big Spender’ seems a bit odd for such a young girl, though. In the free Trusova went for a quad Salchow, but under-rotated and fell. Unfazed, she went on to complete her repertoire of triples including a triple Lutz-triple loop (with a three-turn) and a triple Lutz-triple toe combo, all of them in the second half of the program to ‘Four Seasons’ in a new arrangement by Max Richter. Doing all or almost all jumps in the second half has become a trademark of Tutberidze’s skaters, however, this is not a really balanced program. “Not everything worked out today and I am upset about missing the quad Salchow and I also made a little error on my combination. But I am happy that I was able to win the Junior Grand Prix Final," Alexandra said. “I don’t have any other competitions this (calendar) year, because they did not let me go to senior Nationals because of my age. So my next event is Junior Nationals. I’ll work on my jumps, I want to do the triple Axel and quad toe and I want to perfect the quad Salchow," she continued. She true seems fearless.

Silver medalist Alena Kostornaia impressed with her solid jumps and excellent spins as well. She got a little higher component scores and higher GOEs on her elements, especially on the spins to stay ahead of the rest of the pack. Obviously, in the short to the Tango ‘Dos Cadencias sobre Adios Noninos’ by Pablo Ziegler as well as in the long to ‘Stella’s Theme’ by William Joseph, she had triple-triple combinations on offer and made not a single mistake. Alena, however, needs to improve her posture. The 13-year-old was a little sad that she came second, but overall still happy with what she did. “I had not the feeling of competing here because most of participants are from my group. And we and our coaches were together here just like at home," Alena said. “I think that I am myself my biggest rival, because I must prove myself every time that I can do better," she added.

Anastasia Tarakanova captured the bronze medal. Her technical content was the minimum that a Russian junior lady needs in order to be competitive – all triples and triple-triple combinations. She at least does her first combination as the first element. In the short, the 13-year-old that originally comes from Volgograd in the south of Russia, is skating to music by Ludovico Einaudi and in the long to the powerful ‘Sarabande Suite’ (Aeterna) by Globus. She has the funny habit to lift her free leg high up when landing a jump. “Of course, I want to learn new elements and jumps. I will work on, improve my spins and think about creating something new, something mine, and will try to make people happy, to show them my emotions and strong skating so that they want to watch my programs," Anastasia noted. “I think that we have such results thanks to doing multiple full run-throughs of our programs in practices. And we don’t just skate the competition version, we make the programs more difficult. For example, we do jump combinations with three jumps instead of two, do additional elements. It makes us more confident,“ she continued.

Japan’s Rika Kihira was the sole non-Russian skater in the Junior Ladies and she came armed with the triple Axel. The triple Axel-triple toe combination in the free to ‘La Strada’ was impeccable and also the first ever performed by a female skater in competition. Unfortunately, the 15-year-old singled the second planned triple Axel and also underrotated a triple flip to finish fourth. “I really wanted to land two triple Axels today so, that must be the reason I was able to land at least one of it. After landing the first triple Axel-triple toe I felt more relieved than happy. When I popped the second triple Axel, I thought I can do the triple Lutz combination later while I was skating," Rika commented. “From today’s performance I learned a lot. Many things where my first experience it was a performance that will connect to the next event. Nationals will be at the end of this month so I want to do better,” she continued.

Daria Panenkova, who celebrated her 15th birthday during the event, is a quite athletic skater. Her jumps are high and powerful. She made no mistakes in her programs, but her component score was a bit lower and the step sequences were rated a level three – and this is already enough in this field to keep you off the podium.

Sofia Samodurova was the only Russian girl in the Junior Final that does not come from the Tutberidze squad, but trains in St. Petersburg under Alexei Mishin. She lost a few points because of an edge attention for her triple Lutz and while the 15-year-old landed a triple flip-triple toe combination in the short program, she did not go for one in the long program and finished sixth.

USA’s Alexei Krasnozhon Skates to Gold

Compared to the spectacular Junior Ladies, the Junior Men were a little of a letdown. Four out of the six men went for at least one quad, but none was really clean.

Alexei Krasnozhon skated well, though, to win with almost 20 points to spare. The Russian-born skater started off with a strong short to ‘Khorobushko’ that included a triple Lutz (the Lutz is the required solo jump in the junior short program), a triple Axel and triple flip-triple loop combination. In the long to a rarely heard version of the ‘Gladiator’ soundtrack by Hans Zimmer, the 17-year-old from Texas did his quad loop, but underrotated. At least he stood up on it and he still earned 6.86 points for it. His triples including a triple Axel-triple toe and a triple Lutz-triple loop combination were solid and the only wobbled on his final jump, a double Axel. Krasnozhon, who trains with Peter and Darlene Cain, needs to improve his component score and he knows it.

 After coming fifth in last year’s Junior Final, Alexei was obviously happy to take the title. “Tonight I will be very proud of myself and go to sleep and wake up tomorrow go home and train harder and achieve my goals for this season," he said. “During these past two days I learned a lot. Skating in front of a huge crowd I felt that I should be looking more up to the audience than to the judges. I think this will make a difference to become like the senior skaters to address the crowd instead of looking down. That’s one thing to improve. I also feel in need to include more transitions," he added.

Camden Pulkinen, also from the USA and training in Colorado Springs, was fifth in the short, after reducing his combo to a shaky triple flip-double toe in the short program, but then he pulled up to second place. The long program to Chopin Etudes was solid with two triple Axels, no quad attempt and there was only one glitch – the 17-year-old doubled a flip. “After my short I was a little disappointed but today I definitely skated better. I felt that the crowd was really into it so I was very happy with my result. So after this I’m going to go home and work harder for the next goal. From skating here, I definitely learned a lot about myself. I learned that I am the best when I perform and I am not focusing on just the jumps in the program, but performing to the crowd. What a great experience to perform in front of a huge crowd," Camden shared.

To the delight of the home crowd, Mitsuki Sumoto claimed the bronze medal. The short to ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ was clean, but the 16-year-old did only a triple flip-double toe and the change camel spin (required element for the Junior Men this season) garnered a level two. Mitsuki fell on his opening triple Axel in the long to ‘Les Miserables’ and also stumbled on a triple Lutz, but the rest of the program was good.  Interesting enough, he said that he didn’t even have a double Axel and no triples when he was 13 years old. He definitely has caught up in the past three years then. “I enjoyed both of my programs and felt happy. It was fun plus I was able to get on the podium with Alexei and Camden, this will make me feel even better. At the end of this month is Nationals which is a very important competition. I’m going to continue to brush up my jumps, my expression, spins and steps," Sumoto pointed out.

Russia’s Makar Ignatov, who trains in St. Petersburg in the group of Evgeni Rukavitsin, is another talented young skater, with good technique, but lacks consistency. He landed a nice triple Axel in the short to ‘Per Te’, but struggled with the landing of his triple flip-triple toe. In his long program to the Piano Concerto in F Sharp Minor by Alexander Skriabin, he missed the quad toe attempt, stepped out of a triple Salchow and doubled a flip, but the other jumps were solid and he came fourth. “Well, the short program was not perfect, but quite good, except some tiny mistakes. As for free skating maybe my efforts were not enough to skate the program clean. On practices I always did the quad without falling or other mistakes, and now it just happened. It's quite difficult to make conclusions right now. We will analyze it later," the 17-year-old noted.

Ignatov’s teammate Alexey Erokhov also trains in Tutberidze’s school and was together with Krasnozhon the only man to have won his two Junior Grand Prix events. The Muscovite was considered as a top contender and was second with his solid short program to ‘Lighthouse’ by Patrick Watson, three points behind leader Krasnozhon. However, in his ambitious long program to Sergei Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, Erokhov made too many mistakes. His two quad toes were wobbly and he fell on the quad Salchow as well as on the entry into the triple Lutz to slip to fifth place. “I was well prepared for this event, it's not a result of acclimatization or something else, everything was ok. I really don't know what happened. Maybe I was too tight and it didn't let me to do everything well. I didn't do mistakes like that before, in the (Junior) Grand Prix series. Anyway, it's an experience, too that teaches me to be stronger and not to make those mistakes in the future,” the 18-year-old told the press.

Andrew Torgashev of the USA did not have a good competition. The son of former Russian competitive skaters Ilona Melnichenko – a World Junior Ice Dance Champion – and Artem Torgashev – a World Junior Pairs silver medalist - has strong basics, but he struggles with the jumps. He made mistakes in the short on the triple Axel and the combination and the long was a disaster with three falls on downgraded jumps and popped jumps. Andrew was affected by back pain, as he explained after the performance. “I have been dealing with back pain from last month. It was getting a lot better, but after the fall on the Axel and toeloop, these weird falls, I just got into a lot of pain. I couldn't focus on the jumps and wasn't confident. Things happen in competition and before in training. This is just one of those things - it happens and get past it. And they say whatever that doesn't kill you will you make stronger. Hope this will make me stronger,” the 16-year-old from Coral Springs in Florida said.

Alexandrovskaya & Windsor Take Pairs Title for Australia

World Junior Champions Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya & Harley Windsor of Australia continued their success with victory in the Junior Final. Hard to believe that it is only their second season as a team, but Russian-born Ekaterina, who meanwhile is a naturalized citizen of Australia, and her partner are a great match and have strong technical skills. They stayed on the suggestion of their coach Andrei Pachin one more year in juniors and took the title they were missing in their already impressive repertoire. Compared to the other teams, their skating looks more ‘senior’ already.

The Australians were second in the short program to ‘Paint It Black’ as she touched down on the throw triple flip. In the Junior Pairs, no side by side triple jump is allowed. The required solo jump this year is the double Lutz (in other years, a double Axel is allowed), but the triple twist and a throw triple jump have become the standard. Therefore, the teams are usually ranked closely together if they don’t make major mistakes.

In their fast paced long program to ‘The Mask’, Alexandrovskaya & Windsor produced a triple twist, triple toe-double toe-double toe combination, a throw triple flip, throw triple Salchow and level-four lifts. However, Harley went down on the side by side triple Salchow. “It was a little tough, at least for me. There was one big mistake but we are happy that we pushed through it and everything else was relatively ok. We are not happy but we are not upset about our skate. We will slowly increase our training, get more consistent in practice and hopefully our confidence will build and we'll be able to perform a lot better in competition," he said. It was the last junior competition for this team that has qualified for the Olympic Games and is now moving up entirely to the senior level.

Apollinariia Panfilova & Dmitry Rylov come from the Perm skating school that year by year produces new and good junior pairs. However, most of them don’t have success in seniors for several reasons. Overall the conditions are not as good as in Moscow and St. Petersburg and so the strongest skaters from Perm eventually have to leave if they want to achieve anything in seniors. One example is Maxim Trankov.

Panfilova & Rylov are kind of typical for the pairs from Perm, they have good pair elements, but no side by side triple jump. They led in the short with a clean program to ‘Black Velvet’. Their long to ‘Alice in Wonderland’ was a pleasure to watch, clean as well with excellent throws and a double Axel as highlights. They finished a close second. “I think we lost points on the jumps, we only do double Axel and a double-double combination. We want to add a triple jump for the next competition, which is senior Nationals,” Panfilova shared. “I am in shock. I did not expect that (a medal) All the others have triples in their program and we don’t. We are working on a triple jump, most likely it will be the Salchow,” Rylov added.

Daria Pavliuchenko & Denis Khodykin are a team from Moscow, coached by Sergei Dobroskokov and Sergei Rosliakov. They set themselves apart with original elements such as a rarely seen forward outside death spiral that merited even a level three. Unfortunately, she fell on the throw triple loop in the short program. The long to ‘Chicago’ was fun and technically demanding with a triple toe-triple toe sequence and a triple Salchow plus obviously triple throws and they made no serious mistake, she only was shaky on the Salchow and the throw triple flip. The Muscovites took the bronze medals.

“We are pleased with our performance and glad that we managed to get on the podium. We were choosing the music with our coaches. We wanted something funny and cheerful and we decided to take ‘Chicago’. However, as Chicago is known as a movie mostly for adults we decided not to base it on movie’s storyline and just to show the atmosphere of that era but with another story," Khodykin explained.

World Junior bronze medalists Yumeng Gao & Zhong Xie of China finished fourth with two solid performances, but she doubled the side by side toe loop in the free skating. “I am fairly satisfied with the performance. We did fine for jumps and yes there are some small things that need to be fixed. But other than that, I feel pretty good. The crowd here is very supportive. I have to say, I was nervous during the six minutes warm up, but the crowd helped me to get over my nervousness during the performance," Xie said.

World Junior silver medalists Aleksandra Boikova & Dmitrii Kozlovskii came with high ambitious, but in the end had to settle for fifth place. She crashed on the throw triple loop in the short program. In the long, the team attempts three different triples, probably a first in pair skating. However, not everything worked. Aleksandra missed the side by side triple loop, but then they landed a triple toe-single loop-triple Salchow combination that was well done and received positive GOEs. The twist was good and the throw triple loop okay, but she went down again on the throw triple Salchow.

“Our performance wasn't very good, but after some mistakes I analyzed my skating and I told myself I can do everything," Boikova noted. In order to go to Junior Worlds again, Boikova & Kozlovskii, who train in St. Petersburg under Artur Minchuk and Tamara Moskvina, need to be strong at Junior Nationals, as competition will be tough with the three other teams that were in the Final plus other teams.

One rival team are for example Anastasia Polouianova & Dmitry Sopot, who both competed in the Junior Final before with different partners. Sopot was even the Youth Olympic Games Champion and ISU Junior Grand Prix Final Champion with his previous partner Ekaterina Borisova. She had a lot of spark, but unfortunately has had health issues like meningitis and has struggled to learn triple jumps.

Polouianova & Sopot have been skating together only since spring, but they were already solid technically. Both programs were clean, only the side by side jumps were out of sync, but the team is a bit weak yet on the components side. “We feel good about our performance, we skated clean and did everything we planned. We skated here maybe a little better than on (Junior) Grand Prix series. But we are not happy with our scores. Maybe it's because we are new pair and that's why we are not given the high scores yet. We just want all at once, but it doesn't work like that. So, we will just continue to work hard, we are not going to give up," Sopot commented.

Russia’s Skoptcova & Aleshin Beat Carreira & Ponomarenko for Ice Dance Gold

Russia’s Anastasia Skoptcova & Kirill Aleshin won the Junior Ice Dance ahead of World Junior bronze medalists Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko (USA). Following their two victories on the Junior circuit, the Americans were the slight favorites, but the Russians took a narrow lead in the short dance to Rhumba, Cha Cha and Samba thanks to the higher technical score. The couple from Moscow earned a level four for their curve lift, the twizzles and the Cha Cha pattern. The side by side footwork was a level three. Carreira &  Ponomarenko on the other and had only a level four for the second part of the Cha Cha pattern and the straight line lift in their performance to ‘Quizas Quizas’ (Rhumba), ‘Perhaps Perhaps Perhaps’ (Cha Cha) and ‘Conga’ (Samba).

In the free dance, the two top couples were really close. They had the same base levels for their elements – level four for the lifts, the twizzles and the combination spin and a level three for the step sequence. Dancing to a Tango, Skoptcova & Aleshin earned a little more on the GOEs while their program component score was 0.35 points lower than Carreira & Ponomarenko’s. The Americans shone as well in their romantic dance to the “W.E.” soundtrack. Eventually Skoptcova & Aleshin defended their lead and took the title. “We haven’t realized it yet,” was Aleshin’s first comment. “We are always competing with Carreira & Ponomarenko and that pushes us. For this performance, we are satisfied and now we would like to start our preparation for our next competition,” he added.

Ponomarenko was happy as well: “I feel like we executed our elements very well, we skated the best we can skate it. We still need to work on our GOE and presentation mark. In the beginning of the season, we created a story, she is a butterfly and I am the wind, carrying her through the free dance,” he explained.

The next competition for these teams will be their Junior Nationals where they obviously are the favorites for the title and it looks like Skoptcova & Aleshin and Carreira & Ponomarenko will fight for the Junior World title later this season.

Sofia Polishchuk & Alexander Vakhnov from Russia are newcomers in the Junior Final – as were the three couples below them. Their short dance to Cha Cha and Samba as well as their free dance to ‘Black Swan’ were well skated and the levels were also strong. Polishchuk & Vakhnov claimed the bronze medal. “Our choreographer made us to feel the atmosphere of theatre, she made us realize that it is the ballet, first of all, not just a program. In the beginning of the program I am a white swan, very innocent and tender girl who doesn't have any sins. Then I meet Sasha who is on the dark side, he enchants me like a demon, I have a struggle inside myself, and by the end of the program I become a black swan. We try to take different character to be able to skate and show everything, to be professional,” Sofia explained about their free dance.

Almost five points behind in fourth place were Sofia Shevchenko & Igor Eremenko, also from Moscow. They were fifth in the short dance as their side by side diagonal step sequence merited only a level two. In the free dance to ‘Heart Cry’ by Drehz and ‘La Boulange’ by Yann Tiersen, the students of Irina Zhuk and Alexander Svinin pulled up one spot. “This competition was a big step for us and was a great experience. The crowd was amazing it, it moved me and we felt connected to the audience. Not just showing to the crowd our performance. We want everyone to enjoy our program," Shevchenko commented.

Arina Ushakova & Maxim Nekrasov train in the school of Alexei Gorshkov in Odintsovo near Moscow. They turned in solid performances both segments of the competition, but earned only a level two for the step sequence to finish fifth. “Overall I am happy with the performance. The step sequences are the area we need to work for the improvement. This was our first time at the Grand Prix Final, I thought we did what we could do for both free and short dance. The Final is another great opportunity to watch the senior skaters. I personally like the Canadian pair (Virtue & Moir), but all of them are great skaters," Arina explained.

Canada’s Majorie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha started with a good short dance into the competition and stood in fourth place, but the couples behind were not far away points-wise. In their free dance to ‘Dream’ by Imagine Dragons and ‘Nemesis’ by Benjamin Clementine a level two for the circular step sequence and level three for the twizzles let them slip to sixth place. “We felt pretty good with how well we trained considering I was injured. We trained two weeks before coming here and we felt pretty good with the limited time we had. The crowd was amazing and it's really good to be here in Japan for the Grand Prix Final. We will review our videos and watch our skate and see what we have to improve,” Lajoie commented.