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Russia claims men's, pairs crowns at JGP Final

Aliev tops countryman Samarin; Mishina, Mirzoev score runaway victory
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Dmitri Aliev moved up one step on the podium from last season on his way to earning the gold medal in Marseille. The Russian junior champion posted personal-best scores across board -- including 158.70 points for his free to 'The Man in the Iron Mask' -- to skate off with the title. -Getty Images

Dmitri Aliev won the free skate and the men's title Saturday afternoon at the 2016 Junior Grand Prix Final in Marseille. The Russian triumphed with a total of 240.07 points, topping countryman Alexander Samarin (236.52 points) and South Korea's Jun Hwan Cha (225.55 points), who managed to sneak onto the podium to prevent a Russian sweep.

Skating last in the field, Aliev landed a quad toe, triple axel, triple lutz-triple toe and an unusual, yet beautiful, triple loop-triple salchow. He fell on the triple lutz that followed but managed to amass 158.70 points for his free, which topped his season's best by 3.22 points.

Skating to Josh Groban's "I Close My Eyes," Aliev did not receive the highest technical elements score (81.50 points, compared to 83.44 for Samarin), but his components were far superior to those of his challengers (78.20 points, whereas Cha earned 74.64 and Samarin 73.00).

Samarin opened his routine, choreographed to Scorpions' "Maybe I, Maybe You," with two quad toes, one in combination with a double toe. He landed one triple axel and fell on the other, and he received 155.44 points for his free program.

"I have mixed feelings about that program," Samarin said. "I'm happy that I went for two quads and two triple axels, but there was also a fall, so I couldn't congratulate my coach the way I wanted -- it's her birthday today!"

Wearing an elegant cream-to-black outfit, Cha delivered a nice package to music from the soundtrack of The Postman. His performance was very fluid, in spite of the difficulty of his elements, which included a triple lutz-triple toe, a perfect quad salchow and two triple axels. Despite a fall on the triple flip of his final combination, he still racked up 153.70 points for his free program.

What stood out most about Cha was his choreography, which was certainly the best of the field.

"I love doing choreographic things," he admitted. "I'm really trying to understand the music, the sad and the happy feelings it bears."

Alex Krasnozhon's Western-themed free skate was a hit with the audience. The American landed his opening quad loop (which was deemed underrotated), a triple axel-triple toe and two more combinations: a triple flip-double toe-double loop and an unusual -- yet beautiful -- triple lutz-triple loop (both of the loops were also deemed underrotated). He amassed 137.37 points for his free program and ended in fifth place.

"This is my very best skate so far," he said. "I accomplished everything I could do. I was not nervous, but I was excited!"

The crowd reacted quite well to his cowboy routine.

"My choreographer suggested that I skate to that music because our nationals are to be held in Kansas City," he explained. "To me, this program is like Javier Fernández' program from last year (Guys and Dolls): The music is not so serious, but he managed to do all the hard stuff and entertain people at the same time."

Junior pairs

Russia's Anastasia Mishina and Vladislav Mirzoev secured the gold medal, ahead of Anna Dušková and Martin Bidař of Czech Republic and the Russian pair of Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii.

Mishina and Mirzoev, who stood in first place after the short program, were in a class of their own. Skating to a medley of famous French songs, they landed a triple twist, a throw triple flip, side-by-side triple toe-double toe combinations and side-by-side triple salchows. When those elements were completed, Édith Piaf's song started, and it was "La Vie en rose" ("Life in pink"). She in dark green, he in black, they followed their step sequence and two lifts with a throw triple salchow, as perfect and fluid as the rest of the program.

They racked up 115.90 points for their free program, topping their season's best by 4.01 points, and 180.63 points overall, placing them 12.87 points ahead of the silver medalists.

"We noticed that the French audience started singing (to our music) right away," Mirzoev said. "It worked out well that we kept last year's program; it suited this competition perfectly.

"We are happy with our performance," he continued. "This victory will give us confidence -- our Russian nationals are in a week!"

Dušková and Bidař opened their routine to "La Leyenda del Beso" by Raul di Blasio with their two side-by-side jump elements: triple toes (on which he had to place a hand on the ice) and triple toe-double toe-double toe combinations (the best of the evening). They landed their throw triple lutz, but she lost the edge and fell on the landing of their throw triple salchow. They amassed 106.38 points for their free program and 167.76 points overall.

"Winning the silver medal is a great achievement for us," Dušková said. "Our performance was good, but we made some mistakes. Falling on the throw salchow after landing it is the kind of mistake I'm most afraid of: The jump is done, and the next moment you're on your butt. But our other combination worked really well. We've been fighting for it the whole season."

Boikova and Kozlovskii, who skated in the first group, showed all their potential Saturday, delivering a beautiful and element-packed package to Richard Kaufman's "Justification of Life." They landed side-by-side triple salchows and triple toe-double toe combinations (although they were slightly out of sync). She fell on the throw triple salchow, but they landed a gorgeous throw triple loop right after that. They topped the 100-point bar for their free (100.97 points) and surpassed their season's best by 4.10 points. They amassed 159.72 points overall.

"The mistake on the throw salchow was unlucky," Kozlovskii said. "That was a silly mistake."

Russia's Alina Ustimikina and Nikita Volodin skated a fluid routine, as fine and subtly choreographed as the violin of their music, Balansescu Quartet's "Aria," suggested. They had problems with their side-by-side jumps, however, as she could not complete her triple toe-double toe-double toe combo, and she also fell on her double axel. They scored 99.08 points for their free program and 158.13 overall.