Ice Network

Lu, Mitrofanov set new standard in winning pairs

Record-setting free helps team bring home gold; Feng, Nyman claim silver
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov delivered a sterling performance of their "Memory" free -- for which they earned 112.51 points -- and with a two-day total of 173.31, the pair captured the gold medal by nearly 18 points. -Jay Adeff

Led by clean triple jumps, a solid triple twist and complex lifts, Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov capped their first trip to the U.S. Figure Skating Championships by winning the junior pairs title Tuesday in San Jose. The triumph is even more special when you take into account some of the trials and tribulations the pair has been forced to deal with in recent time.

"I dislocated my shoulder at sectionals last season doing a split twist," Mitrofanov said. "I got surgery, and it took six months of recovery. I didn't get back on the ice until March (of 2017)."

"He came back very gradual," said Aleksey Letov, who coaches the pair in Plano, Texas. "A little skating at first, then more skating, then (lifting) more weight. Step by step. He never got discouraged. It was all about just taking the time."

While Mitrofanov recovered, Lu worked on her jumps. They returned to competition at Skate Detroit in July, when they impressed U.S. Figure Skating officials enough to earn a Junior Grand Prix assignment.

Now, the injury is in the rear view mirror. Skating to selections from Andrew Lloyd Webber, Lu and Mitrofanov hit a fine triple twist, side-by-side triple salchow combinations and triple toes, an impressive lasso lift and other strong elements. Their only flaw was Lu's fall on a throw triple loop. Their free skate earned 112.51 points, and they won the crown with 173.31 total points, a new U.S. championships junior pairs record.

"We just did what we do in practice," Mitrofanov said. "Even if we have a mistake or two, we are able to recover and keep going."

"We both used to do singles, so we're pretty confident with the jumps," Lu said. "Now I also like the lifts a lot."

Mitrofanov is an experienced pairs skater, but this is Lu's first partnership.

"At first, everyone was nervous; I was nervous, even though I did pairs before and it was her first time doing pairs," Mitrofanov said. "Over time, we developed that trust. For lifts, it's not too difficult, because we have solid technique from our coach."

Sarah Feng and TJ Nyman opened their free to Maksim Mrvica's "Hana's Eyes" with a strong triple twist, and landed triple salchows in perfect unison. They lost ground when they stumbled on the entrance to a throw triple loop and then reset themselves, only to have Feng fall on the landing of the throw. Still, they recovered to land a throw triple salchow, and their 97.20 points gave them 155.57 in total and the silver medal.

"It was the first time they had a lot of pressure going in, and they are very inexperienced as pairs skaters," said Dalilah Sappenfield, who trains the skaters in Colorado Springs. "It's only eight months we've been doing pairs, so I was very happy with the fight after the trip on the throw loop. They never gave up."

The skaters have interesting competitive histories. Both competed through juniors in singles, and Nyman won U.S. juvenile and intermediate titles. In 2014, he won juvenile pairs bronze with former partner Sarah Rose; he has also competed with a Theatre on Ice troupe. Skating with Anthony Ponomarenko, Feng won the 2014 novice ice dance bronze medal.

"I know we can do a lot better than what we did today," Nyman said. "Overall, I am happy with the result, after being together for eight months. We both felt a little shaky, but Dalilah said keep fighting for the program, and we're here to fight."

The top two junior pairs bring solid triple jumps to the table, a valuable commodity. Two U.S. pairs spots are available for the 2018 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, in March, and both teams are anxious to leave their respective marks.

"[Sarah] and I are both very strong singles skaters," Nyman said. "We are here to change the impression of U.S. pairs, the whole 'Oh, they will never be able to jump' thing. We want to do that for the rest of our career."

Laiken Lockley and Keenan Prochnow, who train in Chicago under Rockne Brubaker and Stefania Berton, claimed the bronze medal with a sophisticated program to Yann Tiersen's "Les Retrouvailles" that included double axels and the finest triple twist of the event. They were third in the free skate and third overall with 153.04 points.

"It was a fight all the way through," said Lockley, who stepped out of the triple throws. "Throughout the program, we had to refocus and reconnect together. There were some good elements and some rougher ones."

"It was about relating to each other despite our shakiness and our mistakes throughout the program," Prochnow said. "Despite that, I think we're happy with how we skated."

Nadine Wang and Spencer Howe hit solid triple salchow-double toe combinations in their free, as well as a throw triple salchow, and placed fourth with 135.96 points.