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Krasnozhon takes lead with flawless short program

17-year-old seeking fourth win of season; Russians sweep pairs podium
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Alex Krasnozhon of the U.S. gave a marvelous performance of his short to the Bond song "Korobushka," landing all of his jumps cleanly and earning the highest program components mark in the event. With a segment score of 80.28, the Junior Grand Prix Final champion took a lead of almost four points over the field. -Getty Images

American Alex Krasnozhon catapulted himself into the lead with a winning short program Thursday at the 2018 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, while a trio of Russian teams -- including gold medalists Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin -- reached the pairs podium.

Men's

Performing to the James Bond song "Korobushka," the 17-year-old Krasnozhon nailed a triple axel, triple lutz and a rare triple flip-triple loop. His spins and footwork merited Level 4 grading, elements that helped the Junior Grand Prix Final champion land a segment score of 80.28 points.

"I think that was probably the hardest short program that I've done all season, because it is the last event of this year after a long season and I had to fight for some jumps today," said Krasnozhon, who is in pursuit of his fourth win of the season. "But I'm very happy with what I did.

"Now I'm done with my short program and very excited to go to the free skating," he added. "I plan one quad, the quad salchow. My goal is to land my first clean quad in competition."

Russia's Alexei Erokhov's program to Patrick Watson's "Lighthouse" featured a triple axel, triple flip-triple toe combination, triple lutz and two Level 4 spins. The Russian junior champion earned 76.54 points to slot second in the standings.

"It was good, but not everything was ideal," Erokhov said. "I feel like I can do more than that and I didn't show everything I am capable of. As for the elements (in the free skate) I am planning three quads -- two quad toes and one quad salchow -- and also two triple axels. I hope to execute everything cleanly."

Skating to "Singin' in the Rain," Japan's Mitsuki Sumoto produced a triple axel, triple lutz and triple flip-triple toe combination to score 72.94 points. Though he'd receive just a Level 2 for his change foot camel spin, the JGP Final bronze medalist still finds himself in third heading into the free skate.

"I am not really satisfied with my skating," Sumoto said. "I am surprised to be in third, and I'm happy about that. My goal for the free skating is to skate well and to secure three spots for Japan for next year."

Less than four points separate skaters who placed third through eighth in the short program, with Ukraine's Ivan Pavlov (71.05 points) and South Korea's Sihyeong Lee (70.70) completing the top five.

Italy's Matteo Rizzo -- who finished 21st at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games -- stands in sixth place with 70.24 points, while Germany's Jonathan Hess landed seventh with 69.88 points and Artur Danelian of Russia came in eighth with a mark of 69.15 points.

American Tomoko Hiwatashi fell on his triple axel to place 11th, while teammate Camden Pulkinen plummeted to 17th after suffering errors on his jump combination and triple lutz.

Pairs

Pavliuchenko and Khodykin opened their program -- which was set to music from Chicago -- with a triple toe-triple toe sequence, but Pavliuchenko touched down on the second jump. Unfazed by the error, the Junior Grand Prix Final bronze medalists recovered by nailing a triple twist, side by side triple salchow, throw triple lutz, throw triple loop as well as Level 4 lifts and spins.

The team from Moscow recorded a personal-best 117.41 points in the segment and 180.53 overall to take the title in their debut appearance at the world junior championships.

"We are pleased with the result," Khodykin said. "There were still some minor mistakes, probably because of nerves and stress -- it was the (junior) world championships after all -- but overall we are happy with our performance.

"For the future, we want to perfect what we have and maybe learn new elements," he added. "That could be jumps or pairs elements."

Russia's Polina Kostiukovich and Dmitrii Ialin's Cirque du Soleil free skate featured a quadruple twist, throw triple loop and spectacular lifts. Despite Kostiukovich falling on their throw triple salchow and triple toe loop, the St. Petersburg-based squad was still able to accrue 106.22 points in the segment and 167.99 overall to claim the silver medal.

"We are happy about the result, but there were quite a few errors and falls in the program," Kostiukovich said. "We prepared very well, but the last starting number affected us. We'll continue to work to make sure that doesn't happen again."

The third Russian team to reach the podium, Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galiamov completed a high triple twist, throw triple loop and triple toe-double toe-double toe combination during their Conquest of Paradise routine, but Mishina suffered a fall on the side by side triple salchow.

The 2016 world junior silver medalist and her new partner placed second in the segment with 110.29 points, and the 167.24 they accumulated helped the pair reel in the bronze medal.

"We are happy to be here -- it is not easy to get selected in Russia," Mishina said. "It was not our best performance. We can skate without mistakes."

When asked about the success of the Russian teams in the field, Galiamov added, "Russian pairs are working very hard, working a lot on the elements and all that work bears fruit and leads to a result."

China's Yumeng Gao and Zhong Xie, who won bronze at this event a year ago, slipped from third to fourth overall with 164.70 points, while Team USA's Audrey Lu and Misha Mitrofanov settled into fifth place with a two-day mark of 160.09.

Canadians Evelyn Walsh and Trennt Michaud rounded out the top six by ending their stay in Sofia with 158.96 points.