Ice Network

Junior skaters in fine form on opening day in Spain

Medvedeva takes lead in ladies; Yamamoto ahead in tight men's field
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Skating to music from 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg,' Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva won the ladies short program with 67.09 points, a new personal best. -Getty Images

A Grand Prix Final is a treat: Going from one category to the next, you get the cream of the crop in a matter of minutes. That was the case with the junior skaters' short programs and short dances Thursday afternoon.

Yet new Russian ladies...

As many expected, the two ladies who won both of their two Junior Grand Prix (JGP) assignments sit in first and second place after the short program.

Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva won the short program, placing one point ahead of her teammate, Serafima Sakhanovich (67.09 points for Medvedeva, 66.09 for Sakhanovich). Japan's Yuka Nagai is third with 62.99 points. Russia's Maria Sotskova, the 2013 JGP Final gold medalist, is in fourth place with 62.28 points, followed by a pair of Japanese skaters, in Wakaba Higuchi (60.37 points) and Miyu Nakashio (51.74 points). All six skaters delivered a clean, if not perfect, program. (Nakashio doubled the planned triple toe from her opening combination.) Four ladies surpassed their previous season's best scores in the process.

Sakhanovich emerged victorious in her JGP assignments this season in Slovenia and Japan, each time winning over Nagai, by 27 points in Ljubljana and 16 points in Aichi. Medvedeva, also from Russia, also won her two JGP events. Each seems ready to win in Barcelona.

Meanwhile, Sotskova won last year's JGP Final over Sakhanovich. Can history repeat itself? Sotskova did win her final JGP, in Zagreb, Croatia, but was defeated by Japan's Nakashio in Tallinn, Estonia.

Medvedeva opened her Umbrellas of Cherbourg short with a beautiful change foot combination spin, followed by a long step sequence. Starting with more choreographic elements is not always easy, especially for younger skaters. Medvedeva managed to remain completely present to her steps and music. She received a Level 4 for both elements. One minute and forty seconds into her program, she launched her four jumps: double Axel, triple flip-triple toe combination and triple Lutz.

"I'm very happy to have improved my season's best by six points," Medvedeva said. "This season I managed to bring three jumps in the second half." 

Her final flying and layback spîns received a Level 4 as well. Medvedeva received the highest technical score (39. 29 points) for her performance.

Sakhanovich's short to music from the My Sweet and Tender Beast soundtrack was built in a similar way: spin, step sequence, then triple flip-triple toe combination, triple Lutz and double Axel. Sakhanovich's step sequence and flying camel spin received a Level 3, and her two other elements a Level 4.

"I don't know which position I did not hold long enough, but that last spin cost me," Sakhanovich reflected.  

Her triple flip-triple toe combination alone won her 11.74 points, the highest of the competition for a single element. Sakhanovich's components score was also the highest of the field (28.14 points, three tenths of a point higher than Medvedeva).

"You see, the way these programs are built allows them to grab more points, as the jumps are landed in the second half," said Eteri Tubterize, who coaches both girls, said. "Also, the way both Medvedeva and Sakhanovich promote 'candle jumps,' with their arms extended over their head, may add an additional GOE (Grade of Execution) to their jumps."

Nagai was certainly the most balletic skater of the field. She opted for a triple toe-triple toe combination, but her program to East of Eden was a delight to watch, as her elements were landed just like she skated the rest of her program: smooth and fluid.

"I am very surprised by the way I skated," Nagai said. "I really enjoyed this skate from the first moment to the last."

She delivered a good example of what a well-packaged and balanced program is.

Men's: Japan, China take the provisional podium

Japan's Sota Yamamoto, China's Boyang Jin and Japan's Shoma Uno sit within one point of each other after the short program. Yamamoto scored 76.14 points for his short program, Jin notched 75.30 and Uno came in at 75.21 points. Russia's Alexander Petrov is in fourth place, five points away from the podium. South Korea's June Hyoung Lee is in fifth place, right in front of Canada's Roman Sadovsky, who scored 56.98 points.

Yamamoto was second to take the ice. Skating to a Rachmaninoff piano concerto, he delivered a flawless program. Just like most of his competitors, he landed a triple Axel, triple flip-triple toe combination and a triple Lutz. But he managed to integrate each one of his elements into a pure and fluid skate, earning a warm applause.

"Today, I'm happy because I landed the triple Axel for the first time in competition," Yamamoto said.

Strangely enough, his components were rated lower than his two main competitors (32.66 points, compared to 34.14 for Uno, and 33.46 for Jin).

Jin was the only contestant to win his two JGP assignments this season. Skating last in Barcelona, he delivered a perfect program to Edvin Marton's "Tango Amore." Even though he skated perfectly clean, Jin skates in a somewhat classical style, going from one element to the next. This was not recognized in his components, however.

"My three jump elements were OK, but my spins could have been better," Jin said.

Uno, who won in Croatia, also had a perfect skate, except for a harsh reception to his opening triple Axel. His style was reminiscent to the style of his illustrous countryman, Tatsuki Machida.

Pairs: Canada's Seguin, Bilodeau on top

Four pairs from Russia competed against one pair from the United States and one pair from Canada. Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau, from Canada, took a slight lead over Russia's Lina Fedorova and Maxim Miroshkin (59.22 points for the Canadians, compared to 59.04 for the Russians). Maria Vigalova and Egor Zakroev, also from Russia, sit in third place before the free, with 57.41 points.

Séguin and Bilodeau won both in the Czech Republic and Germany, and they took the lead in Barcelona. They skated last and delivered a splendid performance of their short to the Grand Budapest Hotel soundtrack.

"We love that music, because we can really play great charcaters to it," Bilodeau said.

"We did what we do at home, and we can be proud of that," Séguin added.

All of their elements were rated Level 4, and they exploded in joy when they realized that their triple twist had been rated a Level 4 for the first time in their career. Their components score were also the best of the field. They topped their season's best score.

Fedorova and Miroshkin, the 2013 JGP Final bronze medalists, had a rough start to their season but proved to be ready. Skating to Michael Bublé's "Feeling Good," they landed all their elements with ease. They also topped their season's best score and edged Séguin and Bilodeau for the technical element score by 0.25. Thaeir triple twist was rated Level 4, and received a 1.80 GOE. They amassed eight points on that single element, 1.4 more than the Canadians, which gave them the technical advantage.

Just like Séguin and Bilodeau, Vigalova and Zakroev won both of their JGP events, first in Estonia and again in Croatia. They skated a near-flawless program, aside from a tumble in the middle of a sequence. All their spins and step sequences were rated Level 4, just like Fedorova and Miroshkin, and Séguin and Bilodeau.

Team USA's Chelsea Liu and Brian Johnson struggled in their first JGP Final. Liu fell during their throw triple loop, and they both missed their side-by-side double Lutzes.

"This is not what we expected," a rather disappointed Johnson said afterward. "We are doing much better in practice and in training. Bad days happen."

"We know we can do it, so we will put this behind us and focus on the free now," Liu added.

Ice dance: Russia takes top three

Four teams from Russia competed against two pairs from Canada. Russian teams stand in first, second and third place heading into the free dance Saturday.

Russia's Anna Yanovskaia and Sergei Mozgov won the short dance by more than five points over Alla Loboda and Pavel Drozd (59.12 points for Yanovskaia and Mozgov, 53.72 points for Loboda and Drozd), and almost nine points over third-place team Betina Popova and Yuri Vlasenko (50.52 points). Canada's Mackenzie Bent and Garrett MacKeen are in fourth place with 49.28 points, after he faltered on their (supposedly synchronized) twizzles.

The Spanish audience had to turn its eyes toward Latin America Thursday afternoon for the short dance. Rumba, samba, rumba, samba, was the motto of the hour -- along with one cha cha.

Yanovskaia and Mozgov were the only team to arrive in Barcelona with two JGP gold medals, which they won in Estonia and Croatia. In Barcelona, they displayed their unison and the amplitude of skating they owe to their size. (Mozgov almost hits the 6'5" with his skates on.) They earned the best GOE of the field, as well as the highest components mark. Their lift was rated Level 4, but their pattern sequences earned a Level 2 and 3.

"It probably wasn't our very best today. Maybe we were tight," Mozgov admitted afterward.

"The score is still a season's best, so we improved, which was the goal," Yanovskaia concluded.

Loboda and Drozd had won in Courchevel, France, during the first JGP event of the season. Just like Yanovskaia and Mozgov, they skated a samba-rumba-samba sequence. She, in sparkling purple, and he, in sparkling grey, also had a similar technical content as Yanovskaia and Mozgov, but their GOE and components were rated lower.

"It's our first time here, so we were very pleased to have the support of the crowd," Drozd said. 

Popova and Vlasenko, who won in Dresden, Germany, did not fare well with their key points, as their pattern sequences were rated Level 1 and 2.

"We are not too happy with our levels, and our technical scores were not as good," Vlasenko said. "Everything was scored well in our Grand Prix assignments, so there was no reason to change it. We don't really know what happened." 

They earned the second-best components score, however.

Bent and MacKeen, who won in the Czech Republic and finished second in Estonia, displayed a beautiful dance, carefully articulating each one of their elements to the next. However, they lost about three points in their twizzles, when he stumbled.