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Day 1 of JGP Lake Placid in the books

Samuelson and Bates hold comfortable lead in ice dancing

Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates lead the ice dancing competition by more than 3.5 points.
Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates lead the ice dancing competition by more than 3.5 points. (Daphne Backman)

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By Sandra Stevenson / special to icenetwork.com
(08/31/2007) - LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Puffy, little, white clouds skipped around the blue skies above the 1980 Rink | Herb Brooks Arena on Friday -- not at all skating weather. But inside, on the shimmering ice surface, competitors sweated beneath smiles as tough competition began in the first Junior Grand Prix of the season, and the prospects are excellent for the host country.

Compulsory Dance
Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, the U.S. junior champions, established a substantial lead of 3.55 points Friday afternoon and look set to dominate the ice dance event.

With steep, well-timed curves, beautiful posture and a fine appreciation for timing, Samuelson, 17, and Bates, 18, flew through the exhausting three sequences of the Viennese Waltz with no flaws.

None of their six technical scores were less than base value, and the Grade of Execution (GOE) for the first half of their first pattern rose to a +0.40.

Their success is all the more rewarding because both were sidelined with injury earlier this year. Samuelson was unable to train fully for two months, from March to May, while Bates' back injury kept them from competing at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships less than a month ago.

"It felt very good for the first real competition for such a long time - five to six months," Bates said. "We're at the point where we expect to be."

Their teammates, Pilar Bosley and John Corona, both of whom are 18 and were sixth as juniors at the 2007 State Farm U.S. Championship, lie in second.

Trained by Robbie Kaine at the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society, they were only 1.12 points behind Samuelson and Bates on the technical score, but the gap in presentation was a much greater 2.43.

Bosley, who wore a suitably gorgeous gold outfit worthy of any Viennese ballroom, said, "I feel we could have emoted more."

They had a misstep toward the beginning of the first half of the third sequence, which gained a -0.28 GOE.

"We were anxious and we felt a little rushed, but we settled in nicely," Corona said.

In third place, a little more than a point behind Bosley and Corona, are Joanna Lenko and Mitchell Islam, from Barrie, Ontario, who gained negative GOEs for three of the five sections of the waltz.

Lenko and Islam, who are trained by his father, were runners-up last season for the Canadian Junior title. Like Samuelson and Bates, they were forced to withdraw from the World Junior Championships in March, the cause being a breathing problem of Lenko.

Islam admitted the Viennese Waltz is not their favorite dance while Lenko said, "We thought we did it pretty well, but we aren't that pleased with our place."

Samuelson and Bates stayed rink side to cheer on their teammates, Sara Bailey and Kyle Herring, who skated immediately after them. The 2007 U.S. novice silver medalists are in sixth place, only .07 points behind France's Maureen Ibanez and Neil Brown.

"It helped to do the Lake Placid championships. It was like a run-through," said Herring, 18. "We are soaking up everything."

Bailey and Herring train with Christie Moxley and Alexandr Kirsanov in Newark, Del.

Brown, though born and living in France, speaks excellent English, which is not surprising since his mother is Scottish and his father English. Ibanez and Brown were disappointed to be more than a point behind their teammates, Charlene Guignard and Guillaume Paulmier, who were last-minute replacements.

In seventh are Canadians Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill. Ralph, 15, and Hill, 16, the Canadian novice champions who are both from Toronto, were laughing at their performance in which he accidentally stepped on her foot.

"We had a whole other pattern to go, so it was embarrassing," Hill said. "It was a definite learning experience."

Pairs Short Program
Canadians Olivia Jones, 13, and Donald Jackson, 20, pulled a surprise upset Friday evening to snatch the lead after the short program in the pairs competition, which will conclude Sunday.

Skating last, the duo, which is making its Junior Grand Prix debut, earned 44.57 points, 2.66 ahead of second-place Jessica Rose Paetsch and Jon Nuss from the Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The Russians, Anastasia Khodkova and Pavel Sliusarenko, are breathing down Paetsch and Nuss' collective necks, just a fraction (0.41) behind the Americans in third. Little is known about this pair, which performed to the ballet music "Swan Lake" for which she wore all white, including white tights and boot covers, and he was all in black. What is known is that they teamed together in 2006 and were 10th as seniors at the last Russian Championships.

The Canadian junior champions, Carolyn MacCuish and Andrews Evans, who finished eighth at the World Junior Championships in March, are fourth by the smallest margin possible - .01 points. They scored 41.49 to the Russians' 41.50.

MacCuish, who turned 15 on Aug. 29, and Evans, 19, are trained by Lee Barkell at the Mariposa Winter Club in Barrie, Ontario.

Skating last, Jones and Jackson, who train in Quebec with Annik Douaire, knew that few pairs had skated well and sensed it was their time to shine. They presented a routine which was packed full of "bullets." ("Bullets" refers to the various ways skaters can increase their levels, such as a more difficult entry.)

Both their spins were graded level four as was their Group 5 toe lasso lift. Their back inside death spiral had a back shoot-the-duck entrance, which helped gain them level three.

As befits someone named Don Jackson, he also does singles.

"I was named after my grandfather, not the famous Canadian champion," Jackson explained. "But everyone asks that."

(Don Jackson won the 1962 World championship, where he executed the first triple Lutz in that event, a feat not repeated until 12 years later.)

Paetsch, a normally bubbly, hyper-energetic 13 year old, and Nuss, her 20-year-old cavalier, gave a performance that perfectly suits their music, "Por Una Cabeza" by Carlos Gardel. But they just weren't able to match recent excellent showings.

Paetsch fell on the double Axel, and although she has fallen on this jump in competition in the past, she had been landing it here in practice.

Their side-by-side spin was also less than perfect, but coach Dalilah Sappenfield, who paired them together in 2005, said, "There was a lot of good stuff in the program."

After less than a year together, they won the 2006 U.S. novice title in 2006. This past season, they won bronze medals at the Junior Grand Prix Final and at the State Farm U.S. championships as juniors.

Does having this great record put pressure on them?

"With all my pupils, the goal is always to skate their best. That is all they can do. We NEVER put the emphasis on placings. That is not productive," Sappenfield said. "I'm just telling them to be aggressive in the long program."

Despite a jarring, bruising fall from a lift which cut short her practice on Thursday, Bianca Butler and Joseph Jacobsen (All Year FSC), runners-up as juniors at the 2007 U.S. championship, are sixth.

Butler shrugged off her painful experience.

"You learn to deal with injuries because that's part of training at a high level," she said.

Butler, 17, and Jacobsen, 20, who are trained by Angela Nikodinov, have competing together since 2000. They presented a lovely but flawed showing to music from the movie Love Story.

We have seen Jamie Salé and David Pelletier skate to this music, and we deliberately made sure our costuming was very different because we didn't want people to think we were copying them," Jacobsen said.

Megan Bryne and Nate Bartholomay, from the University of Delaware, collapsed on their very difficult lift, a Group 5 toe lasso, for which they received no points.

"The lift is the highest scoring of the eight required elements, so that, and the fall on the side-by-side jumps, cost them a lot of points," said their coach Vicki Helgenberg.

Byrne, 16, and Bartholomay,18, performed to unusual music called "Earth Dance."

Peter Oppegard was disappointed his charges, Amanda Sunyoto-Yang and Darryll Sulindro-Yang, did not fare better as they find themselves in eighth.

They are the first pair ever to represent Chinese Taipei. The brother and sister were both born in Los Angeles, but they lived for six years in Singapore and two in Taiwan.

Men's Short Program
Artem Grigoriev, a blonde, 15-year-old Russian from Moscow who is taught by well-known coach Victor Kudriatsev, won the short program on Friday. The U.S. entries, Armin Mahbanoozadeh, Austin Kanallakan and Tommy Steenberg lie second, fourth and ninth, respectively, going the into Saturday evening's free skate.

Grigoriev, who placed seventh in both of his Junior Grand Prix events last season, in Holland and Taipei, skated 11th of the 15 competitors. Right from his opening move - a combination of two triple jumps, Lutz to toe loop, which no one else accomplished - he served notice that he was a force with which to reckon.

That element has a base value of 10.0, and the lad executed it so well, the judges awarded him a +1.35 Grade of Execution (GOE), meaning Grigoriev banked 11.35 points almost immediately. All but one of his eight required elements, a spin, received positive GOEs.

His second-best move was his triple loop, which received a +0.75. His spins, however, were not in the same league as his jumps.

Although his straight line steps were awarded level twos, the other four moves for which levels are given were awarded only level ones. Mahbanoozadeh, the U.S. novice champion who is making his international debut, lies 3.98 points behind Grigoriev. Skating to Rachmaninoff's "Symphonic Dances," Mahbanoozadeh gained level threes for two of his three spins and a level four (the maximum) for the other.

"Spins are much more important now." Mahbanoozadeh said. "I'm now trying to increase the levels of my footwork."

Both his circular and straight line footwork sequences were only deemed level ones.

"I will definitely go for a triple Lutz to triple toe in the free," said Mahbanoozadeh, whose name is pronounced exactly as it is spelled. "I didn't do it today because the landing on the first jump wasn't perfect and made it too much of a risk."

Sitting in third, 2.14 points behind Mahbanoozadeh but only a sliver (0.32) ahead of Kanallakan, is Akio Sasaki, a 16 year old from Yokohama who presented a Flamenco number.

Sasaki is the sixth-ranked Japanese junior and made his international debut in Australia in January, when he won the silver medal at the Youth Olympic Festival.

Kanallakan is the U.S.'s third-ranked junior. Last season, he won his two Junior Grand Prix events, in France and Norway, and reached the Final, where he finished eighth.

Using Beethoven's Last Night, a modern twining of the great composer's immortal music, Kanallakan presented the event's second-hardest combination, a triple flip to triple toe loop, but it wasn't perfect and he had 0.38 points deducted from the combo's base value of 9.50.

His circular steps and one spin received level threes, but his other moves were all given the basic level one. A crooked landing in his triple loop caused the judges to knock off 1.13 points from its base value of 5.00.

In fifth place, 3.31 points behind Kanallakan, is Christopher Berneck, a German who trains in Newark, Del., with Priscilla Hill. Berneck, skating to Ladies in Lavender with chorography done by U.S. ice dancing silver medalists Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukov, pulled off a combination of two triple toe loops.

Steenberg may be in ninth, but since there is only 0.60 separating sixth and ninth, he could still easily move up with a strong free skate. He presented a beautifully created program to the music from the ballet Le Corsaire (which translates to "The Pirate").

All of his jumps, however, were flawed. The 18 year old, who won two Junior Grand Prix events last season, in Romania and the Czech Republic, confessed, "I just wasn't over my feet."

He fell on his triple loop, his combination turned into a bad double Lutz-double toe with a -0.95 GOE, and his double Axel was saddled with a -0.80 GOE.