Ice Network

Uno in full control, runs away with men's title

Russians dominate ladies, ice dance; Séguin, Bilodeau win pairs
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Sitting third after the short, Japan's Shoma Uno roared back to run away with the men's competition behind an excellent, 163.66-point free skate. He finished with a final score of 238.27 -- more than 25 points better than his teammate and second-place finisher, Sota Yamamoto. -Getty Images

The Junior Grand Prix (JGP) Final concluded Friday in Barcelona, Spain, with different nations dominating various disciplines, particularly Japan in men's, and Russia in ladies and ice dance. The only American team to qualify for the junior Final, Chelsea Liu and Brian Johnson, showed great promise in skating a near-perfect free program.

No sweep for Russia in ladies, but close

Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva held on to the first-place standing she earned after the short program to win her first JGP Final on Friday. She won the free skate, finishing four points ahead of her teammate, Serafima Sakhanovich, and six points ahead of Japan's Wakaba Higuchi, who managed to rally from fifth place to win bronze. Maria Sotskova, who won the junior Final in 2013, placed fourth, in front of Japan's Yuka Nagai and Miyu Nakashio.

Who would even believe today that at one time Russian skating had waited for many years for one of its ladies to medal at a world championships? (It happened for the first time in 1983, when Elena Vodorezhova -- now Buianova -- won a world bronze medal in Helsinki.) Even though the three Russian girls did not capture the whole podium, they nearly did.

"You have to know that we have about 10 more at home!" a Russian official mentioned earlier.

Medvedeva landed all of her elements one by one, from her opening triple flip-triple toe combination to her last layback spin. All of her elements were rated Level 4, and her only sub par moment came in the second half of her program, when she hesitated to launch the triple toe following her triple Salchow. She waited for her subsequent double Axel to place the missing triple toe.

"I would give myself a four out of five," Medvedeva stated in a quiet voice. "I made a few mistakes, which forced me to make some changes as the program went, but, even though it was not perfect, I am still happy with it."

She amassed 123.80 points for her free skate, a new season's best, finishing with 190.89 points overall.

Medvedeva skated to "Ein Sommernachtstraum" by Hans-Gunther Wagener, with a portion of "Tango Tschak" by Hugues Le Barsin in the middle of her routine.

"The music was chosen by all of our team, not by me only," Medvedeva said. "The main music was chosen by Alexander Zhulin, who also created the program. I thank him, because I think he did a really good job. The program tells that everybody has two sides in his personality: a dark and a bright side. The 'Tango Tschack' reflects the dark side. The program ends with the light side and soft music again, because I think the bright side will eventually win."

Medvedeva skated with a quiet determination and was more into her music than her main competitor and friend, Sakhanovich.

Sakhanovich had an ambitious program to "Oblivion" by Astor Piazzolla and "I Love You, I Hate You" by Raul di Blasio. She skated flawlessly, although it wasn't easy. She had to change three of her planned combos at the last second.

"I had to change several things in my program," Sakhanovich confirmed afterward. "I had to change two combinations -- actually, all three!"

Sakhanovich switched her triple flip-triple toe combination, then her double Axel-double toe-double toe combination. Her program was built to allow this, however, and she could not launch her triple toe after her triple Salchow.

"I had to wait for the last jump to add the triple toe again, but I skated clean," she said.

Sakhanovich proved that she was a real fighter on the ice. Her program certainly received the loudest ovation in response to her energetic and charismatic skate. She was also the most expressive of all, and the fastest on the ice. She garnered 119.86 points for her free skate to finish with 186.01 overall.

Higuchi was only the second skater to skate on the afternoon. She delivered an incredibly packed program to "Concerto in F" by George Gershwin. At 13 years old, she landed seven triples in her free skate.

"Today's perfromance was much happier than the one I gave yesterday," Higuchi said.

When asked how she had managed to land so many triples so early in her life, she answered in a modest and shy way. 

"I've been aware of practicing my skating skills since I was very little, but my jumps came much later," said Higuchi, who earned 117.72 points in the free and 178.09 overall. "Some of them are even fairly recent."

Maria Sotskova skated to two world-acclaimed soundtracks: Funny Face and Breakfast at Tiffany's. History did not repeat itself, however, as she had a few mishaps and had to settle for fourth place, with 113.71 points in the free (a new season's best) and 186.01 points overall.

Russia owns the ice dance podium

The short dance rankings remained the same after the free dance, meaning Russia clinched a podium sweep.

Anna Yanovskaia and Sergei Mozgov, the 2013 JGP Final champions, defended their crown in Barcelona. They won the event with a superlative performance that earned 89.46 points (148.58 overall), ahead of Alla Loboda and Pavel Drozd (82.59 in their free dance for 136.31 overall), and Betina Popova and Yuri Vlasenko (81.38 points for their free dance and 131.88 overall).

Yanovskaia and Mozgov's first-place finish in the free was a far more obvious call than it was in the short dance. They executed a well-tempered Argentine Tango, which got the audience involved as soon as they performed their second element, a straight line lift which Mozgov executes with his feet in a spread eagle position. The team's two lifts, twizzles and spin were all rated Level 4. Two of their components hit the 8.0-point bar (for performance and choreography).

"I'm very happy abouty the way we skated today. It was probably our best skate, not only technically but also the way we felt and related to each other," Yanovskaia said, which Mozgov readily agreed with.

Loboda and Drozd secured their silver medal with remarkable lifts, which, like their spin, were rated Level 4. Their twizzles were rated Level 2, however.

"We would have liked to skate better today, but the music and the great crowd helped a lot," Drozd said.

The team danced to the theme (and music) of Giselle, by French composer Adolphe Adam.

"I was trying to play the Count," Vlasenko explained later. "Of course, it's difficult to show a two-hour ballet in just a few minutes, but we tried to come to the dramatic conclusion of the ballet in that short time."

"Even though today the conclusion was much happier for us!" Loboda concluded with a laugh.

Popova and Vlasenko danced to music from One Thousand and One Nights by Fikret Amirov. 

"We're very happy to be here at this Final. The audience helped us to keep our energy. We skated the way we wanted today," Vlasenko said.

"I love dancing and I always have. I like to show a story on the ice that will give me a lot of happiness," Popova added.

Canada's Mackenzie Bent and Garrett MacKeen danced to music from the Once Upon a Time soundtrack by Mark Isham and "Zombie Fight" by Ilan Eshkeri. They did not falter on their twizzles this time, as they had in the short dance. They amassed 79.33 points for their free dance and 128.61 overall, and missed the podium by 2.05 points. Their technical score was, however, the third best of the dance final.  

Their teammates, Madeline Edwards and Zhao Kai Pang, finished fifth, and Russia's Daria Morozova and Mikhail Zhirnov placed sixth.

Japan takes first and second in men's

Japan's Shoma Uno and Sota Yamamoto won men's gold and silver after an incredible evening, packed with tension, energy and ... jumps. Russia's Alexander Petrov took the bronze medal.

Uno's free to music from Don Juan DeMarco by Michael Kamen was stellar, a 100 percent masterpiece from his opening quad toe to his last combination spin, which he rotated so fast that it gave the audience chills. He received a spontaneous standing ovation, not only from his Japanese fans but from the whole crowd.

Uno entered so concentrated on the ice, it was as if nothing could shake him. He nailed his opening quad toe, and the rest of his program flew naturally afterward. Five of his technical elements reached the 10-point bar: his quad, his two triple Axels and his rather original double axel-triple flip combination.

"I was surprised by this performance, actually. I was able to give a good free and that made up for the miss in the short," said Uno, who gained 89.92 points for his technical elements and 73.14 points for his components.

Uno topped his season's best with 163.06 points for the free, amassing 238.27 points overall.

Uno is not a tall skater when you meet him in real life. When he was in his skates, however, he looked so in command of his skating, and so ample in his jumps and moves, that it was almost a surprise to see him so shy and unsure in the mixed zone.

"I don't jump very high, but I had the distance from the very beginning," Uno said.

The advantage of qualifying for a JGP Final is that you get a chance to see the seniors compete.

"I know I have a long way to go to reach the seniors' level, but I will be looking at their expression and skating skills," Uno acknowledged.

Yamamoto was last to skate. Dressed in a deep sea-blue outfit, he landed all his elements, with the notable exception of his opening triple Axel, which he singled. His two combinations (triple Lutz-triple toe and double Axel-triple toe) garnered more than 10 points each.

"I'm happy about the result," Yamamoto said. "I just regret that I was not able to complete my triple Axel as I did in the short."

His program to "Lorelei" by Raúl di Blasio got the audience's support. He was applauded throughout the second half of his program.

Yamamoto earned 70.48 points for his technical elements and 66.50 for his components. He finished third in the free skate behind Petrov, but his short program allowed him to remain in second place overall.

Petrov was third to skate, and the competition really started with him. He landed two triple Axels, and two combinations: a triple flip-triple Salchow and a triple Lutz-triple toe.

"I'm happy about being in third place," Petrov said. "Had I not missed the Lutz in my short program, I might have come second tonight." 

He scored 137.07 points for his free, the second-best score of the evening, for 207.14 overall.  

China's Boyang Jin was the only contestant to have won his two JGP assignments this season. Jin did not cheat with his program, and launched all of the three quads he had planned with an immense generosity. However, he could not raise himself to the level he had reached in Ljubljana, Slovenia, where he landed all of them.

He fell after his opening quad Salchow, the triple toe of his subsequent quad-triple combination was downgraded, and he fell on his second quad toe. Most of all, his other elements looked rather pale and shaky. Jin fought until the end, but the effort took its toll. His technical score, usually his best, was "only" 68.48 points, more than 20 points behind Uno's. The problem with such programs with high technical content is that missing elements can quickly mar the whole performance. Jin scored 60.24 points for his components to earn 125.72 for his free and 201.02 overall.

Pairs: Russia vs. North America

Canada's Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau concluded their winning ways in the JGP Series this season by winning the Final with a commanding win of almost 10 points over second-ranked Lina Fedorova and Maxim Miroshkin and almost 14 points over third-ranked Maria Vigalova and Egor Zakroev, both from Russia.

Séguin and Bilodeau performed perfect side-by-side triple Salchows, a triple twist, side-by-side double Axel to double toe combinations and two throw triples, a Salchow and a toe loop. All of them were completely mastered, as if they had belonged in the team's repertoire for ages. Their two lifts, death spiral and combination spin were rated Level 4.

Séguin and Bilodeau not only skated perfectly, but they also skated with emotion and exhibited a rare connection between each other.

"We really enjoyed our skate today," Séguin said.

"We felt good in that program. The crowd was really nice and supported us from start to end." Bilodeau added.

"We were not worried about our elements; we concentrated on our emotions and the joy we wanted to give to the audience," Séguin offered.

They have such an incredible complicity to support their technique. As they skate, Bilodeau and Séguin's eyes meet each other throughout, and, in a rarely seen approach from a male partner in pairs, Bilodeau keeps smiling.

"It's a matter of what we feel between each other," Séguin said. "It's not like pretending. It's about what we really feel."

"We work on that a lot, but the basic thing is to have fun together, and that's just what we do," Bilodeau said. 

"For us, it's natural to work in that way. We are a team. We have the same goals and we have to work together," Bilodeau added.

"Also, I have to say, we had to endure several tough times in our lives, so that really encouraged us to support one another," Séguin concluded, looking at Bilodeau's eyes, of course!

Fedorova and Miroshkin, the 2013 JGP Final bronze medalists, delivered an exquisite program to "Korobushka" by Bond. Dressed in Russian red, they opened with a sharp triple twist, and their throw triple loop was particularly spectacular. They had more difficulty with their side-by-side combination, as Miroshkin stepped out of his double toe. Their original combined Biellmann spin got instant applause from the audience.

"We're really happy about our skate, after so many failures last season," Miroshkin said.

Their triple twist was particularly impressive.

"We thought about doing a quad twist," Miroshkin explained. "It's been quite successful, but it needs a lot of training to make it right. We hope to include it in our program soon, however." 

They reached a new season's best with 106.74 points, finishing with 165.78 points overall.

Vigalova and Zakroev skated to The Phantom of the Opera, but their performance was not the one they had hoped for. Their side-by-side double Axel-double toe combinations were not complete, and the landing of their two throw jumps were quite low, if not two footed.

"We made lot of mistakes and they were visible, so we lost points. We came here to win gold and now we are left with the bronze," a rather disappointed Zakroev concluded.

They amassed 104.34 points for their free and 161.75 overall.

The next two Russian couples, Daria Beklemisheva and Maxim Bobrov, and Kamilla Gainetdinova and Serguei Alexeev finished fourth and fifth.

Team USA's Chelsea Liu and Brian Johnson skated a strong program to "Yellow River Concerto" by Chengzong Yin. They proved that their poor showing in the short program was just "a fluke," as Johnson said afterward, and that they deserved to be on the Barcelona ice.

"It was a lot better than yesterday," Johnson added.

"We did the best we could at this moment," Liu added, trying to catch her breath after they left the ice.

They landed their side-by-side double Axel-double toe combinations and double flip, as well as their two throws (she two-footed the landing of their triple Salchow). The team had the fourth-best score for the free skate due to their superior elements, finishing with 85.81 points for 124.16 overall.