Ice Network

Digerness, Neudecker use elegance to win gold

Kopmar, Barrett sparkle en route to silver; Yao, Hale gel quickly, finish third
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Despite suffering falls on both of their throw triples in their "Liebestraum" free skate, Nica Digerness and Danny Neudecker proved to be the class of the field, placing first in both phases of the competition and winning the gold by 5.45 points. -Jay Adeff

Nica Digerness and Danny Neudecker used a strong triple twist and superior skating skills to overcome falls on two throw triple jumps and win the junior pairs title at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Thursday.

The Colorado Springs-based skaters, who train in Dalilah Sappenfield's group at the Broadmoor World Arena, performed an elegant and mature free skate to Franz Liszt's "Liebesträume" that also featured side-by-side double axels, dramatic lifts and an effective closing sequence including Digerness' spread eagle into a death spiral, transitioning into a Level 4 closing spin. They won the free skate with 98.69 points and claimed gold with 153.35 points.

"The choreography felt the best we've ever skated it," Neudecker, 20, said. "Of all of our run-throughs, this felt the best in terms of expression."

"I was trying to fight for every point, trying to sell it and perform it as best I could," Digerness, 16, said. "By the end, I was on autopilot, doing what I always do in practice."

Sappenfield chalked up Digerness' falls on the throw triple salchow and throw triple loop to a bit of inexperience.

"She did beautiful throws in the warmup," the coach said, "but this was the first time we put two triple throws in the program, and I think she was thinking so much about not missing them that she missed them. Those are actually pretty easy throws for her now."

The win is especially sweet, since Digerness and Neudecker didn't even know if they would skate at the junior level this season.

"They wanted to move up to junior, and I said, 'You are going to have to really work to do that,'" Sappenfield said. "They said they were ready to work. So we competed at the Broadmoor (Open) and then Skate Detroit, they did well, and I said OK."

"We had kind of a slow start. Then we got into it more and more, and progressed," Neudecker said. "After Detroit, we got assigned to the Russian Junior Grand Prix, and that was that."

After claiming gold in the intermediate and novice ranks the past two seasons, Elli Kopmar and Jonah Barrett won silver here with a whimsical, cleanly skated routine to "Flying" from James Newton Howard's Peter Pan that included two throw triples, side-by-side double axels and a solid Level 4 combination spin. The performance earned 93.89 points, and they finished with 147.90 points total.

"I really like this program. I like playing Tinkerbell -- I'm all about the sparkles," Kopmar, 13, said. "It was very fun for me to do it."

"We put a lot of emphasis on performing our characters," Barrett, 19, said. "It was a strong performance. We skated close to the potential we could, but we're already talking about next season and our new plans."

Jim Peterson, who coaches the pair in Ellenton, Florida, thinks the skaters are exceptionally easy to train.

"For me, they're very easy and rewarding, because at young ages, they are both open to any artistic and choreographic direction," Peterson said. "It was a really easy character portrayal for both of them."

Skating to a romantic medley including John Barry's "Somewhere in Time," Indiana-based Alexandria Yao and Austin Hale hit a fine Level 3 triple twist as well as elegant lifts. Yao fell on a double axel, but the team placed third in the free skate and won bronze with 144.64 points.

"This is only our second competition together (after Pacific Coast Sectionals), so I'm happy with how we did," Hale said. "We just got the twist a month ago."

"We've only skated together for four months, which isn't much time to get the basics down, and the elements, too," Yao said. "I'm happy with what we tried, especially the twist."

Another Colorado Springs team, Lindsey Weinstein and Jacob Simon, were fourth with 137.22 points.