All photos copyright 2009 by George S. Rossano
It was an event that yielded three peas in a pod: a trio of young teens and a pre-teen, all about the same petite height and minimal girth, smiling happily before a small gaggle of reporters, willing to be helpful but almost giddily uncertain. They had done their talking on the ice, and it was loquacious.
Kiri Baga, 13, Midwestern champion, led the pack with scores of 26.47 for Executed Elements and 16.69 for factored Program Components for a 43.16 Total Segment Score.
Baga skated in black to Griegís Piano Concerto in A Minor, demonstrating considerable aplomb in presentation as well as musicality. The Minnesotan, on her first trip to senior Nationals, aced her elements, leading off with a triple toe loop.
"I thought it was very strong," she assessed. "I just had a great time out there. It was really fun."
The top five ladies all performed the same elective jumps, triple toe and triple Salchow, adding a double toe loop to one or the other. Baga received only one negative GoE, on her double Axel, and her component scores were generally in the mid-fours.
Mary Beth Marley, only fourth at Midwesterns (due in part to an injury that caused her to step out of two elements), finished the event just 1.12 behind Baga. Wearing orange, ponytail flying, the 13-year-old romped through her elements to a funky Trans-Siberian Orchestra version of Beethoven.
She said of the musical choice, "It really brings out who I am in skating and how much I love it."
Marley opened nicely with her triple toe loop and her triple Salchow Ė double toe loop combination, then skated clean through the remaining elements.
Asked to choose the strongest part of the program, she said confidently, and who could fault her, "I canít choose a part. I think that I was really strong in all of it. But if I had to, I would pick the beginning for my first two elements because it really shows what a competitor I am."
Like Baga, Marley had only one negative GoE, and her component scores ran to the mid-fours.
Soft-spoken Nina Jiang, second at Midwesterns, finished the Short Program in third place.
Wearing red with royal blue trim, the Texas youngster interpreted music from the Chicago soundtrack (she watched the movie for inspiration) with great control and maximum perkiness in the detail. That netted high marks for choreography, performance and interpretation. Jiang will need to work on the angle of her hands, but sheís only eleven!
Jiang opened with her big triple Salchow combination, then executed a layback before launching into her triple toe loop. Her scores were 24.85 (with only two negative GoEs and a row of ones and a two for the double Axel) and 17.01 for a segment score of 41.86, putting her right on the heels of Baga and Marley.
Yasmin Siraj, Eastern champion, came fourth. The 12-year-old from the Boston area wore white with black trim to delicately interpret Chopinís exquisite Fantasie Impromptu.
She opened with a triple toe loop combination and a triple Salchow, then glided through her layback spin and spiral sequence before a step out of her double Axel cost her a line of negative GoEs. Her component scores were solid for a Novice, particularly choreography and interpretation.
Siraj earned scores of 21.81, 16.89 and 38.70.
Angela Wang, 12, second at Pacific Coasts, finished fifth. She wore cotton-candy pink to interpret Pucciniís "Nessun Dorma".
The pre-teen from Salt Lake City had to put her hand down twice, on her triple Salchow combination and her triple toe loop, for -1 and -2 GoEs. Her component scores ran from a high 4.25 for choreography to a low 3.89 for transitions.
Wangís scores for the event were 19.20, 15.38 and 34.58.
Lindsay Davis, 16, Pacific Coast champion, ended up in sixth place. She skated in a sophisticated black dress to interpret soundtrack selections from Schindlerís List. The mournful music seemed more so when Davis fell on her second element, what was to be a triple Salchow combination. Since she had already completed her solo jump, a triple loop, there was no room left in the program to cobble together a combination.
To Davisís credit, the rest of her program was solid, and she was given high marks for interpretation. Her scores were 18.29, 15.99, and 33.28.
The Short Program top five ladies became the top five overall, and in the same order, with one exception: fifth-placed Angela Wang won the Free Skate and jumped up to the bronze medal spot.
With the second best Free Skate, Kiri Baga stayed on top to win the Novice Ladies title.
Baga, FSC of Bloomington, chose selections from Chaplin. The Midwestern championóit was a great day for the Midwest, with fellow Novice champ Joshua Farris having locked up the menís title just hours earlierówore a burgundy dress with hot-pink accents to render a pleasant, relaxed program.
Baga said, "I like to take one thing at a time. If I think too far ahead, then I get distracted. One thing at a time, thatís what I always remember."
That approach became very useful when Bagaís first element, meant to be a double Axel, opened wide and received no credit. The triple toe-double toe combination that followed was fine, and the next jump, a triple Salchow, was excellent.
Baga said of the shaky opening, "It really spooked me. I thought, ĎOh, man. Iíve got to focus.í After that, I really had to get my head in the game. But I think all the training has paid off so much. I can just keep going after [an error]. It worked out really well."
By the time Baga had completed a double flip with a Tano arm-up variation, she was sailing through spirals to the familiar "Smile" ballad.
Baga received extra credit for a late triple Salchow combination and the triple toe-double toe-double loop feat that led into her final spin.
She said of the big finale, "It was really tough when I first started doing it, but Iíve trained so well, and I wasnít very tired, so I could pull it out. I was very happy."
Baga received 41.84 for Executed Elements, 35.16 for Program Components, 77.00 for the segment, and 120.16 overall to win the Novice title, a big jump for someone who was only fifth in Regionals last year.
"After Regionals, I just really had to move on and focus on the year ahead. I was really sad because I hadnít made it, but after I rethought everything, I realized you canít think about the past."
Mary Beth Marley, DuPage FSC, second in the Short Program, third in the Free and second overall, wore fuchsia to interpret a lilting "Leyenda," music that she chose herself. She went flying, but with control, through her opening elements: double Axel, triple Salchow, combination spin and triple toe loop.
"I do go pretty fast in my program," she agreed. "That was one of my challenges this year: to stay under control. But I do like going fast. It makes it more fun."
After a spiral sequence, Marley stepped out of a planned triple Salchow combination that was past the half-point, with extra credit for the subsequent jumps, a double Axel-double toe-double loop combination and double Lutz-double loop.
She said of the Salchow, "I over-rotated, and I tried to do a double three, but I had too much rotation. It was a little bit of over-excitement, but it was better than falling, so I was happy about that."
Marley, who was tenth in 2008 in the Intermediate ranks, saw all of the hard work that she had put into her triples rewarded by her marks: 39.87, 34.62, 74.49, and 116.53 overall.
Wang, Salt Lake Figure Skating, was a 12-year-old revelation. The fourth-rated 2008 Intermediate wore red with silver trim to skate a composed, measured and smooth interpretation of a Dvorak variant called New World Concerto.
"I was very disappointed after my short," she said, "and I just thought, ĎOkay, itís going to be the last program I do all season. Make it good.í"
Wang began her program with double Lutz, triple Salchow, and triple toe-double toe before relaxing into a really lovely layback. After her double flip came two big elements that earned extra credit for their position in the program: triple Salchow-double toe-double loop and a double Axel sequence. Somehow she found the energy for an attractive Ina Bauer in between.
Wang was the only skater in the event to receive component scores of five, for performance and choreography. The general downward drift was from high fours to mid-fours to threes at the bottom of the pack.
Nina Jiang, Texas Gulf Coast FSC, third in the Short Program, took fourth in the Free and overall. The 2008 Intermediate champion wore royal blue to skate to music from the Anastasia soundtrack.
Like Baga, Jiang missed her opening double Axel. Unlike Baga, though, she fell. Then she hit her triple Salchow-double toe loop and left negative GoE territory except for deductions on the double Lutz-double toe-double loop and the planned triple toe that became a flawed double. All told, Jiang racked up bonus points for four jumps, including a late triple Salchow.
Jiang was scored 37.70, 34.25, 70.95 and 112.81.
Yasmin Siraj, SC of Boston, rounded out the top five overall after a fourth place in the Short Program and fifth in the Free. She performed in turquoise with gold accents to Rimsky-Korsakovís beautiful Song of India, leading off with a nice triple toe-double toe combination, a double Lutz-double toe-double loop combo, and a slightly loose flying sit spin.
Sirajís major error was a fall on her triple Salchow. She came back with a solid double Axel-double toe, then faltered on a triple toe before performing another double Axel and a final spin combination.
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