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Americans dominate on Day 2 of JGP Lake Placid

Mirai Nagasu takes a lead of more than nine points into Sunday's ladies free skate.
Mirai Nagasu takes a lead of more than nine points into Sunday's ladies free skate. (Daphne Backman)

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By Sandra Stevenson / special to icenetwork.com
(09/01/2007) - LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Skaters from the United States were the big winners Saturday at the Junior Grand Prix event in Lake Placid, N.Y. Armin Mahbanoozadeh and Austin Kanallakan won gold and silver in the men's competition, while the U.S. occupies the top three spots in ladies after the short program and two of the top three in ice dancing heading into Sunday's free dance.

Men's Free Skate
Mahbanoozadeh, a 16-year-old from Fairfax, Va., stood on the top spot on the podium Saturday night in the rink where miracles happen, sporting a grin so wide you thought his face might break in two.

The boy with the impossibly long name had just heard the "Star-Spangled Banner" played to celebrate his runaway victory in his first International Skating Union event.

"It was definitely my personal best -- by far -- in both the short and long programs," said Mahbanoozadeh, who performed his four-minute routine to Khatachurian's Spartacus.

"Everything went well except for a bobble on a double Axel. I think I was a little slow on that," Mahbanoozadeh continued. "I was pleased with the triple Lutz to triple toe. That's new for me."

Mahbanoozadeh, who has been taught by Traci Coleman for his entire career, executed seven triple jumps. His first spin, the flying change foot sit, earned a level four and his two other spins were level threes. Both step sequences were level twos.

As U.S. novice champion, Mahbanoozadeh was entered as the third American in the Junior Grand Prix in Lake Placid, but the new boy on the block eclipsed the 14 other competitors from 11 countries. He finished 11.79 points ahead of the silver medalist, another 16-year-old American, Kanallakan, from Colorado Springs, Colo.

Kanallakan, who always wears something orange, his favorite color, performed to a modern version of Bach's Toccata and Fugue.

He had a dicey start.

"My first moves, the triple flip-triple toe loop combination and the triple loop, were rough," Kanallakan said. "I told myself to calm down, to breathe and get focused, and things got better.

U.S. Figure Skating does not assign a second Junior Grand Prix to skaters until it sees how the skaters fare in their first event. Obviously, Mahbanoozadeh and Kanallakan will soon learn what their next assignment will be.

The two Americans had been second and fourth, respectively, going into Saturday's free skate. They overtook Russian Artem Grigoriev, who made multiple errors after being almost four points ahead following the short program. He finished just sixth in the free skate, but his lead was such that he still received the bronze medal.

"That was all I was hoping for -- to get a medal," said the Moscovite, through an interpreter.

Akio Sasaki of Japan, who had been third after the short program, gave the most entertaining showing, portraying the Silver Streak, but he doubled four planned triple jumps and dropped to fourth overall.

Tommy Steenberg, who is in his fifth season on the Junior Grand Prix circuit, presented a very artistic number to Ravel's Bolero but fell on his triple Axel and a triple Salchow.

"I had a great warm-up," Steenberg said, "But the program today was nowhere near my personal best. I fought my hardest, and I'm proud of that, but I was off my axis."

The 18 year old, who trains with Audrey Weisiger in Fairfax, Va., came in fourth in the free skate and climbed to sixth overall.

Ladies Short Program
There's great news for the future of United States ladies figure skating.

Even skating what they freely admitted was less than their best, young Americans Mirai Nagasu, Alexe Gilles and Angela Maxwell claimed the top three spots in Saturday's short program at the Junior Grand Prix event in Lake Placid, N.Y. The competition, whose field included 25 skaters from 19 countries, concludes late Sunday afternoon with the free skate.

All three confessed to having nerves as they took the ice. Nagasu, a born-and-bred Californian who turned 14 on April 16, said, "I had stomach butterflies. I had to two-foot my triple loop to keep from toppling over."

But Nagasu's two-minute, 50-second routine was still dazzling.

Set to George Gershwin's classic, carefree "I Got Rhythm," Nagasu began with a textbook triple Lutz-double toe loop combination that was the envy of many of the male competitors in Lake Placid.

She flew around the 1980 Rink Herb Brooks Arena with a panache well beyond her tender years.

Two of her eight required elements -- her spiral sequence and layback spin -- earned level fours. The spirals showed great flexibility and sureness, with no wobbles in the change of edge. Her multi-position layback spin exceeded the minimum required rotations and incorporated several different graceful positions.

"I'm pleased with the marks for my components. I've really worked hard to improve on them," Nagasu said. "But I have to get more consistent with my jumps."

Nagasu beat Caroline Zhang last January to become the U.S. junior champion, only to be eclipsed a short time later by Zhang at the World Junior Championships, which she finished runner-up to her fellow California-based prodigy.

She has decided to skate at the junior level internationally, but she will again challenge Zhang -- and others -- at the U.S. Championships in Saint Paul, Minn.

The 4'11'' Nagasu lies 9.13 points ahead of Gilles. Maxwell, the U.S. novice champion, sits in third, 1.04 points behind Gilles. Both Gilles and Maxwell fell on their triple loops.

All three are waiting to see whether they will be assigned a second Junior Grand Prix, which depends on their placements here.

Gilles, a 15-year-old blonde from Colorado Springs, Colo., who placed fifth as a junior at the 2007 U.S. Championships, said she was "thrilled with this experience." She performed a sophisticated number to "Windspirits," a piece of Native American music, for which she wore an unusual bright orange outfit on which a huge snake was sewn coiling around her body.

Maxwell, a dark-haired bundle of energy who turned 15 on July 28 and comes from Hurst, Texas, skated a very vibrant number to Dave Brubeck's "Take Five." "I have to work at controlling my jumps more, not rushing into them," she said.

In fourth place, a significant 3.21 points behind Maxwell, is Sweden's Joshi Helgesson.

Original Dance
Macho types have been known to denigrate ice dancing as a sport for "wimps," but Saturday afternoon Emily Samuelson, fighting on despite a painful injury, showed how tough these athletes must be.

She and Evan Bates, her partner of more than seven years, gave a gritty, powerful performance in the original dance to "Kalinka," high-speed Russian folk music. Their energetic showing increased their lead from 3.55 points after Friday's compulsory dance to an almost unbeatable 10.29 points going into Sunday's free dance.

The widened advantage is a tribute to their exceptional ability, which shined through despite two whammies plus a misstep on a lunge move by Samuelson.

Their first handicap was her injury from the morning practice. One of Bates' blades slashed Samuelson's left knee, causing a gash so deep she had to be taken to a nearby hospital.

"They put one stitch inside the knee and three to close the wound," Samuelson, 17, explained. "But there was no way we would consider withdrawing."

Their coach, Iouri Tchesnitchenko, explained how the accident took place.

"Emily and Evan had come out of a Kilian hold, and they went into twizzles. They were just too close," he said. "It wasn't either of their faults. It was unfortunate, but they both have to be more careful to keep more distance between them."

How does this injury compare to the one Samuelson suffered at last year's World Junior Championships, where her tall, handsome, blond-haired, 18-year-old partner stepped on her hand, severing a tendon?

"This wasn't anything as severe as that," said Samuelson, who lost two of her front teeth in another accident some years ago.

Bates was also seen icing his knee for a chronic condition.

"It just hurts me. It's nothing to worry about," Bates said dismissively.

There also was the matter of the surprise penalty.

Samuelson and Bates said it was a definite shock when the scoreboard lit up after their entertaining presentation to reveal that two points had been taken off because of an "illegal" move.

As the call was a debatable one when it occurred, the technical panel and referee met afterwards to review the move in question. They concluded it was legal and awarded the two points back to Samuelson and Bates.

Samuelson's misstep came on the second of their six required elements, the level-three, non-touching, midline steps.

"My weight just went into the wrong position," she explained.

The two other U.S. ice dance couples lost ground and were overtaken by Canadians.

Pilar Bosley and John Corona presented a Turkish routine, with her in full belly-dancing regalia, head covered, midriff and the sides of her thighs exposed. Their inventive, enjoyable presentation did not dazzle the judges, however, and they dropped to third.

"Up to now we've been preparing the emotion side of the dance. It was our stronger side," Corona said. "It wasn't our best performance, but it carried the momentum from yesterday."

Bosley and Corona were eclipsed by Joanna Lenko and Mitchell Islam, who are second.

Despite their advance, Islam confided, "Actually, yesterday in the Viennese was a lot better than today. There was nothing really noticeably wrong today, but we were hoping for higher levels. Our technical marks were lower than expected."

Sara Bailey and Kyle Herring dropped to sixth.

"We tried to attack today, and I think we really accomplished that," Bailey said. "Our goal was to put as much energy into it as possible."

Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill, the Canadian novice champions, zoomed past them into fifth place with the third-highest score for the original dance. Ralph and Hill used vocal music from the African show "Umoja."

"I'm not sure whether my roots are African, but this seemed appropriate," said Hill, who is black. "The officials said they wanted us to do folk music showing our heritage, and this seemed appropriate. It was a lot of fun."