For the Nguyen! Canadian takes world junior titlePitkeev pulls up for silver; Chen goes from sixth to third for Team USA
Nam Nguyen is only 15, but he's having a very big month.
On Saturday at the 2014 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, the youngster became the fourth Canadian man to win world junior gold, after Daniel Beland (1977), Dennis Coi (1978) and Andrei Rogozine (2011).
Later this month, he will leave his training home in Toronto once again. This time, it will be to compete in the 2014 World Figure Skating Championship in Saitama, Japan, in place of three-time world champion Patrick Chan, who has elected to end his season early.
Those are some pretty big boots to fill, but if Nguyen's performance in his free skate here is any guide, he will do just fine. Skating to music from Johann Sebastian Bach, he hit two clean triple Axels at the start of his program, followed by another six clean triples, five in the second half.
His three spins and the step sequence all gained Level 4 from the technical panel, and he got mainly +1 grades of execution (GOEs) for his elements. He handled David Wilson's choreography and interpreted the music well, and that was reflected in his components scores, which averaged 6.8. Nam won the free skate with a score of 144.19 and ended with 217.06 points overall.
"This is the best I have ever skated in competition," a smiling Nam said at the press conference. "It is also the first time I've done two triple Axels in one program, so I'm very happy.
"On the podium, I had no thoughts; I was just soaking in the moment," he continued. "It is very cool to hear the national anthem and to stand on top of the podium.
Nam seems undaunted by the challenge that lies ahead.
"I fly back home on Monday, and I have to go back to training on Tuesday, full speed," he said. "I'll leave on Saturday for Japan."
Two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, who coaches his students at Toronto's Skating and Cricket Club, is truly the unofficial international coach of the year. Each of his three top students won an important gold medal this season: Javier Fernández at Europeans, Hanyu at the Olympics and now Nguyen at junior worlds. Since all three will compete in Saitama, Orser has another chance to add yet more titles to his coaching résumé.
After a disappointing seventh-place short program, Russia's Adian Pitkeev climbed to second place with the second-highest free skate, ending the competition with 212.51 points.
Pitkeev deservedly earned the event's highest technical elements score (TES) for his high, well-landed jumps, including two excellent triple Axels, the first in combination with a triple toe loop. However, his choreography was not as intricate as that of the other top men.
"I think I gave a good performance in the free skating, but not in the short program, especially the loop (which he popped), my favorite jump," the 15-year-old said.
U.S. junior champion Nathan Chen, who trains in Artesia, Calif., under Rafael Arutunian, moved up from sixth after the short to win the bronze medal with 212.03 points, just half a point behind Pitkeev.
Skating to a Big Band medley, Chen stepped out of his first triple Axel and did not try a second one, but his seven other triples and the two double Axels were very good. Six of his eight jump elements were in the second half, which helped him rack up bonus points.
Judges awarded Chen's speed and exuberance with the highest program components of the field and could have given him even better scores for transitions and choreography. His components ranged up to 7.50 and had an average of 6.9.
"I am really happy; this is honestly a really cool experience," the 14-year-old said of his first junior worlds. "I always say to myself, 'Don't think too far ahead; stay in your own zone.' My next goal is to do a quad."
Chen skated in Sofia with his hand heavily taped and wrapped, due to a fall in training on a triple Axel.
Russia's Alexander Petrov was fourth with 210.03 points.
Shoma Uno of Japan dropped from third to fifth with 206.50 points, due largely to a fall on his opening triple Axel.
China's Boyang Jin dropped from second to sixth with 203.64 points after losing points with his three quad attempts. He popped his Salchow, fell on his first quad toe loop and was only able to do his second quad toe loop with a shaky single toe.
Latvia's Deniss Vasiljevs placed seventh in the free and eighth overall, gaining 189.33 points for two programs performed with world-class presentation.
U.S. junior silver medalist Jordan Moeller placed ninth after a solid outing of his tango free, which included a strong triple Lutz-triple toe combination. Although he stepped out of the landing of his triple flip, he landed three more clean triples, and his spins and steps gained high levels.
"I was proud of what I did here," the 18-year-old said. "My goal was the top 10 and to help the USA to get three spots for next season. I reached both goals, and I did not hold anything back."
Moeller's choreography was sophisticated and well-interpreted, and posed a rather great challenge to the skater.
"Both programs do not have the type of music he is familiar with artistically, but I want to develop him, and we agreed to take these pieces of music as a learning step," said Kori Ade, who coaches Moeller in Monument, Colo.
Although Moeller landed his first-ever triple Axel in competition in the short program, he elected not to try the jump in his free skate.
"The triple Axel is very new and not yet consistent enough," he said. "I have almost not trained it in the free program, and therefore, there was no time to include it there, but I'm proud I did it in the short."
Moeller added that he will compete as a senior next season and hopes he is assigned an international "B" event.
Bulgarian bits: With Chen's bronze medal and Moeller's ninth-place finish, the U.S. retained three men's spots for the 2015 World Junior Championships. It also has three ice dance spots but drops down to two pairs spots. ... Russia and Japan also earned three men's spots for next season. Canada has only two, as the combined finish of its top two men here was 14 (Nguyen's first and Roman Sadovsky's 13th). In order to qualify three skaters for the following season, the added placements of the top two must equal 13 or fewer.