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Russian skaters dominate on Day 1 of JGP Final

Russian men claim top three spots; Parsons siblings take second in dance
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Performing a clean rendition of his "Oblivion" short, reigning JGP Final silver medalist Dmitri Aliev sits atop the leaderboard with a personal-best 81.37 points. -Getty Images

The 2016 Junior Grand Prix Final opened in Marseille, France, on Thursday, with many skaters hoping to position themselves for a run at a gold medal. 

After the short program, numerous Russian participants have a chance to represent their country on the podium at the conclusion of the competition.

Russia, USA claim top three spots in short dance

Russia's Alla Loboda and Pavel Drozd were the last to take the ice Thursday, but they emerged at the top of the standings following the conclusion of the short dance, besting their season's best by 2.04 points in the process.

Four of their elements were rated Level 4 (twizzles, first blues sequence and lift), with the other two elements (second blues sequence and step sequence) receiving a Level 3 grade. The duo earned the top spot thanks to their superlative components, which ranged from 8.04 for skating skills to 8.36 for overall performance.

Team USA's Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons topped their season's best as well by securing 66.91 segment points for their short dance. Four of their elements, including their two blues sequences, were rated Level 4; they were the only team to achieve such a result. Their technical content -- which was scored as the highest in the field -- racked up 35.11 additional points, leaving the team pleased entering the free dance.

"We accomplished what we wanted to achieve," an enthusiastic Rachel Parsons said shortly after the team completed its exhilarating hip hop program.

"Hip hop is not a natural dance for me, and it was quite a challenge," Parsons continued. "We've been pushing ourselves. When you think hip hop, you don't think skating automatically, so we worked a lot with a hip hop dancer and our coaches to transition the moves onto the ice. Now we have so much fun skating to this dance."

The Parsons will advance to the free dance just 0.67 points behind leaders Loboda and Drozd.

Another U.S. team, Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter, skated with their usual grandeur to open their third Junior Grand Prix Final experience. They wobbled slightly at the entrance of their lift, but it didn't prevent them from garnering a Level 4 grade. Three of their elements were rated Level 4, but their second blues sequence received only a Level 2.

"Today was not our best skate," McNamara acknowledged.

"Hip hop and blues are very different styles of dance," Carpenter explained. "We try to isolate movements to match the music. At home, we practice each part individually so that our bodies differentiate the two parts, from the sharp hip hop to the fluid blues."

The team scored 63.73 points and sits in third place.

Russia dominates men's category

Russian men's skating has not been known for sweeping world podiums in recent years, but that didn't stop the juniors from making their presence felt upon arriving in Marseille. Each stellar program included a triple lutz-triple toe combination as well as a triple loop. The top four skaters included a triple axel in their programs as well.

Dmitri Aliev, who took silver at the 2015 JGP Final, skated a perfect routine to Astor Piazzolla's "Oblivion." Aliev amassed 81.37 points, providing himself with a solid opportunity to return home with a gold medal.

"Of course I'm pleased with the score, but most of all I'm pleased with my skate," Aliev said after leaving the ice. "I really did the elements with quality and precision."

His teammate, Alexander Samarin, who skated to Kongos' "Come with Me Now," stands in second place with 81.08 points, a mere 0.29 points behind Aliev. Both skaters received near identical components, which were scored between 7.0 and 7.50.

"This wasn't only a season's best, it was a personal best, and I'm really happy with my program," Samarin said.

Each skater significantly distanced himself from rest of the field, with fellow Russian Roman Savosin finishing third with 72.92 points, which topped his season's best as well.

South Korea's Jun Hwan Cha skated with his usual poise to the soundtrack of 'A Chorus Line,' but he missed his opening combination after being too slow going into his first jump.

"He gets really nervous before the short program," his coach, Brian Orser, offered. "He'll relax more for the free."

Cha stands in fourth place with 71.95 points, 1.13 points off the podium.

Team USA's Alexei Krasnozhon, who is appearing in his first Junior Grand Prix Final, is standing fifth entering the free program after securing 71.48 points. Krasnozhon tumbled on his opening triple axel, but the rest of his program to Frédéric Chopin's "Etude No. 3" was flawless, and he connected with the audience throughout.

"I'm so happy to be here," he said with a smile. "It's unbelievable to skate with all these amazing skaters, on the same ice, in the same rink. I try to connect with everybody, so that everyone can feel what I feel. In order to be ready to skate in the senior ranks, you need to start doing this early, and I try to connect more and more at every competition."

Russia's Ilia Skorda, the youngest skater in the field at 14, who trains alongside Evgenia Medvedeva in Moscow, skated a delightful routine to Robbie Williams' "Mr. Bojangles."


Four Russian teams took the ice Thursday afternoon in Marseille, and many wondered whether they would take the short program by storm.

Anastasia Mishina and Vladislav Mirzoev won the short, and Alina Ustimkina and Nikita Volodin are in third place, leaving the Czech pair of Anna Dušková and Martin Bidař in second position.

Mishina and Mirzoev landed their triple twist, throw triple flip and double axel with ease in a lively routine set to "Saragina Rumba." Their lift and step sequence rated Level 4, with a triple twist and spin earning Level 3. They amassed 64.73 points to secure a new season's best.

"Skating to a rumba was our coach Nikoli Velikov's idea," Mirzoev noted. "It's different, but we got used to it pretty quickly."

"We're really pleased, but it's too early to congratulate us," Mishina added. "Now our aim is to skate our free program clean, which is a bit more complicated."

Dušková and Bidař, who won the silver medal at this event last season, endured their only mistake at the landing of their triple twist, when Dušková lost balance.

"I messed up the landing of the twist, which never happens, so I'm upset," she said after the pair earned 61.38 points. "It could really be better."

The duo skated a creative program to "LA 40," a classical piece from Mozart's 40th symphony, which turns into an Argentine Tango.

"We try to have something original," Dušková said smiling.

Ustimkina and Volodin skated first and delivered a strong performance to music from 'Mad Max: Fury Road,' and secured 59.05 points.


Only two of the five ladies in the short program managed to land their triple lutz-triple toe or triple flip-triple toe combination. To no surprise, the two who completed those moves sit in the top two spots.

Russia's Elena Zagitova racked up 70.92 points en route to garnering the top honor, and she sits 6.44 points ahead of Kaori Sakamoto, who amassed 64.48 points to position herself second. Russia's Anastasiia Gubanova is in third place with 60.30 points.

Skating to Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade, Zagitova landed each element and delivered an exquisite and flawless program, which included beautiful spins and step sequence. She also surpassed her previous season's best by 2.81 points.

"There were some little mistakes, but I landed all my elements," she said. "This is the most important event for me so far, so of course I came well prepared."

Sakamoto delivered a delightful, yet powerful program to the soundtrack of The Artist. Skating with poise, she held the audience's applause throughout the duration of her program.

Gubanova skated a delicate program to Camille Saint-Saëns' "The Swan," gliding fluently as if to mirror the actions of the bird. She missed her triple lutz, as did those who finished below her in the standings.

Japan's Marin Honda, the reigning world junior champion, withdrew Thursday morning after coming down with the flu.