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Surprise ladies winner at the Finlandia Trophy

Jenni Vahamaa makes a splash at her senior debut

Parker Pennington, sitting with coach Audrey Weisiger, was pleased with his silver-medal skate in Finland and looks forward to U.S. nationals.
Parker Pennington, sitting with coach Audrey Weisiger, was pleased with his silver-medal skate in Finland and looks forward to U.S. nationals. (Jyrki Pirkkalainen)

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By Jyrki Pirkkalainen, special to icenetwork.com
(10/14/2007) - "I felt a bit like I was skating at Finnish nationals", commented Carolina Kostner after the ladies competition at the Finlandia Trophy on Sunday. Indeed, the Italian was the only non-Finnish skater in the top six. The Finnish ladies' winning streak started in 2003, and it was not snapped this year. The final outcome, however, was still quite a surprise.

Ladies

Jenni Vähämaa, who learned on Friday that she had made it to the Junior Grand Prix Final, made quite a splash in her first senior competition. The 15-year-old skater from Espoo has suddenly learned to master the hardest triple jumps, the flip and the Lutz, which she was unable to land in her two Junior Grand Prix events earlier this season. Raising her difficulty level paid off, and she made her new personal bests in both the short (51.22) and long programs (112.07).

"I didn't expect such high scores, or honestly to even medal at this competition. I haven't skated this well even in practice. I have been feeling quite confident in practice lately though," she said. "Before this competition, my main goal had been in junior competitions, but Europeans would be a great experience too, and [a medal at] junior worlds would be an awesome way to wrap up the season."

Finland has three spots for ladies at the 2008 European Championships in Zagreb, Croatia, and the best two will go to worlds. The battle for the spots will be tighter than ever. The three with the highest seasonal best scores after the Finnish nationals in December will go to Zagreb.

Vähämaa will now be hard to oust from the Finnish team at the European championships, since her score of 163.19 will be quite hard for other Finnish ladies to beat. Susanna Pöykiö came close in Tikkurila with 162.26 points, earning the silver medal. The 2005 European silver medalist had trouble with two jumps in the short program and had a couple of unclean landings in the free skate, but both of her new programs are at a very high level.

"I couldn't quite reach the level I wanted. My next goal is to work on the triple-triple combination," she said. "I hope to up my points in the coming events, but I can have a little sigh of relief, though, now that I have one good competition behind me and came close to my personal best."

Kostner, the reigning European champion, had a lot of trouble with her triple jumps. She was only able to land one of them cleanly during the competition, but her program components were remarkably higher than her rivals. She even managed to get +2 for her step sequences from the judges. The Italian finished third with a total score of 155.87 points, ahead of three more Finns in fourth to sixth places.

"I was very unsecure on my jump landings. Probably I'm still having more confidence in practice at this point than in competitions. That only comes with routine," Kostner said afterwards.

U.S. skater Taylor Firth had a good showing, finishing seventh, and she was the second best non-Finnish skater. Her free skate included a nice triple toe-triple Salchow jump sequence.

Men

Czech Tomas Verner skated to victory in Finland, but he was not error-free. He doubled the Lutz and missed a spin in the short program but won the event anyway. In the free skate, he was able to land a quadruple toe, but then he fell on his triple flip-triple toe combination. The 21-year-old student racked up 189.06 points.

"I felt good, but I was shocked that I fell, and then I wasn't concentrated any more," the defending European silver medalist said.

Colorado Springs skater Parker Pennington won the free skate, landing six triples. But he was not able to make up the 12 points that separated him and Verner after the short program, so he could only climb up to second overall with 185.08 points.

Pennington said he was totally focused on skating his own very best. "It was great, it went so smooth. This was my best performance since my very first senior season", he commented. His goal for this season is to land the quad and do well at U.S. nationals.

Kevin van der Perren continued to have bad luck with his skates. The Belgian crashed with another skater in the short program warm-up, and one of his toe picks got loose. He subsequently missed both the Axel and the Lutz in his program and left the arena very frustrated. The exact same thing had just happened with his other blade a couple of weeks ago. Nevertheless, he came back strong in the long program, landing a quadruple toe and climbing from sixth to third.

Pairs

Quite expectedly, Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov of Russia proved superior in the pairs event. The St. Petersburg couple won by an enormous margin of 52 points. Mukhortova had problems with solo jumps, but otherwise they skated very strong, earning 168.34 points.

U.S. pair Andrea Best and Trevor Young from Detroit edged out the more experienced German pair, Mari Vartman and Florian Just, for the silver medal.

"This was our first senior international competition, and just watching these two world-class pairs was very valuable for us," Young said.