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Parsons siblings dance their way to JGP Final gold

U.S. duo moves up to claim top spot; Russia's Zagitova takes ladies title
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Team USA's Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons were simply sublime Friday, earning a personal-best score of 95.59 for their outing of their free dance to the Sophia Sin song "Singing in the Rain." The reigning JGP Final bronze medalists totaled 162.50 points to move up one spot from the short dance and claim the gold medal. -Getty Images

In an unexpected, yet impressive turnaround, Team USA's Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons rallied from second place after the short dance to win the gold medal at the 2016 Junior Grand Prix Final. Russia's Alla Loboda and Pavel Drozd, who stood first after the short dance, settled for the silver, while the American team of Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter secured the bronze medal.

All three teams reached the podium at last year's Junior Grand Prix Final, with the two American teams exchanging spots this time around.

The Parsons siblings danced to "Singing in the Rain" as arranged by Sophia Sin and Alexander Goldstein, and their performance was truly worthy of gold. Their twizzles, spin and lifts were rated Level 4, with two step sequences receiving a Level 3 grade.

Their component scores were slightly lower than those of their Russian opponents, but the Americans, who racked up 95.59 points for their free dance and set a new personal best, did more than enough to achieve the top spot.

"It's a huge honor for us to be on the podium again," Michael Parsons said after the event. "We tried to incorporate our life into our program. We're living it instead of just skating it."

The team displayed a fluid and expressive yet powerful rendering of their program, a feature they have been working on this season.

"This year we opted for a quite different program," Rachel Parsons explained. "Its style is more contemporary, so we worked on telling a story with it."

Loboda and Drozd performed a more dramatic routine to Ernest Lecuona's "Malagueña." They received Level 4 grades for their twizzles, spin and one lift. Their second lift was rated Level 3, as was their circular step sequence, with an additional step sequence receiving Level 2. They received 94.29 points for their free dance and 161.87 points overall.

"We're proud to represent our country in this event, and we'll have to work harder and harder to correct the mistakes we made," Loboda said.

McNamara and Carpenter danced to instrumental versions of "Thunderstruck" and "Nothing Else Matters." Their lifts, twizzles and spin were all rated Level 4, but two step sequences were only evaluated as Level 2. The second American team to grace the podium amassed 89.74 points for the free dance and 153.47 points overall, leaving them pleased with their overall performance.

"We're happy with our program since we could show every improvement we made," McNamara said. "We're gaining as much momentum as possible moving up to seniors. We're using this season as our bridge."

"We all have very different styles," Carpenter admitted during the post-event press conference. "It's very interesting to compete with one another. We all push one another to grow more and more."

Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko delivered an exquisite program of their own. Their music, "Exogenesis: Symphony Part 3" by Muse, gradually rose on an emotional level, from their opening spin to their final curve lift. Their elements were rewarded as the best of the field: Level 4 for their twizzles, lifts and spin, and Level 3 for their step sequences.

"We're really happy," Ponomarenko said. "This is our first Final, and we did what we came to do: perform two clean programs."

The duo totaled 88.59 points for their free and 149.98 points overall.

Russia hoists ladies gold once again

Some skaters manage to launch you into a story, or a belief, and to make you feel what they feel throughout their programs. That was truly the case in the ladies free skate, as Russians Alina Zagitova and Anastasiia Gubanova earned the top two places on the awards podium.

Zagitova was clearly in a league of her own, besting Gubanova by 13.36 points and Japan's bronze medalist Kaori Sakamoto by 31.10 points.

Gubanova and Zagitova had drawn to take the ice in the final two positions, and each delivered a perfect program -- the only flawless ones of the evening.

Zagitova landed three combinations: A rare, but all the more impressive triple lutz-triple loop, double axel-triple toe and triple flip-double toe-double loop. Though her loop was deemed under-rotated, Zagitova's three incredibly fast spins and step sequence were all rated Level 4. She was the only one in the field to receive those marks.

Electing to skate in a red velvet-like ballet dress to Leon Minkus's Don Quixote, Zagitova soon engulfed the audience into her skate. She scored the best components of the field as well, ranging from 7.64 (for transitions) to 7.96 (for composition). She amassed 136.51 points for her program, beating her season's best by more than 10 points.

Skating just ahead of Zagitova, Gubanova delivered her own flawless performance. She opened her routine to Abel Korzeniowski's Romeo and Juliet with a triple lutz-triple toe combination -- which she repeated a while later, only with a double toe added to it. She landed two additional triples, as well as a triple flip-double toe combination, and her three spins received Level 4 grading.

Gubanova's step sequence was scored as a Level 3, helping her achieve 133.77 points for her free and 194.07 points overall. Her components were nearly equal to Zagitova's (62.67 points for the latter, 62.50 points for the former), but she received more points for her skating skills and interpretations than Zagitova did.

"Before we chose the music for this program, I read William Shakespeare's play and watched the movie, so I was fully involved into the story," Gubanova said. "Then we worked to transfer the choreography to the ice and made sure the audience would enjoy it -- and I would enjoy it."

Sakamoto entered the day in second place, but she couldn't secure the silver medal, as she fell on a triple flip during her combination, and her triple lutz was penalized for a wrong edge. Her components, most notably her transitions, were significantly lower than those of the Russians.

She racked up 111.85 points for her free program and 176.33 points overall.

"At this competition, I focused so much on jumps and spins, without concentrating too much on the artistic side," she said afterward. "Seeing how the Russians performed made me realize that I really need to improve that part if want to win."