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Japan, Russia split golds in Great Britain

Japan takes singles events; Russia takes the team ones

With Doug Razzano's silver in Sheffield, the U.S. won at least one medal at each JGP stop.
With Doug Razzano's silver in Sheffield, the U.S. won at least one medal at each JGP stop. (Paul Tortland)

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(10/21/2007) - The top of the podium at the Junior Grand Prix Series event this week in Sheffield, Great Britain, was strictly reserved for skaters from Japan and Russia. Those countries swept the gold medals at the competition, with Tatsuki Machida (men's) and Yuki Nishino (ladies) earning first-place honors for Japan and Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov (pairs) and Maria Monko and Ilia Tkachenko (ice dancing) bringing home the top prize for Russia. Russian skaters also won pairs silver and men's bronze at IceSheffield, while Doug Razzano's surge to the men's silver kept the U.S. from missing the podium entirely. The Americans won at least one medal at each JGP stop this year.

Ladies

Unlike Nishino's other JGP win this season in Tallinn, Estonia -- in which she routed the field by more than 16 points -- she faced some stiff competition in Sheffield, namely from Estonia's Svetlana Issakova. Issakova led Nishino by .2 points after the short program.

Skating first in the last group of the free skate, Nishino was far from perfect, but the level of difficulty in her Tchaikovsky medley free skate offset her mistakes. Though she had negative Grades of Execution (GOEs) on five of her jumps or jump combinations (triple Lutz-double toe, triple flip, triple Lutz, triple Salchow-double loop, triple toe-double toe), she was one of only two ladies to attempt as many as six triples in her free skate (fourth-place finisher Kristine Musademba was the other). She was aided by receiving level fours on two of her spins and her spiral step sequence. Her segment score of 83.58 and competiton score of 134.04 set the standard. Nishino joined Americans Mirai Nagasu and Chrissy Hughes as the only three ladies to win both of their JGP assignments this season, and they will all be considered top contenders for gold at the Junior Grand Prix Final, Dec. 6-9 in Gdansk, Poland.

Issakova was the only other skater in the last group within striking distance of Nishino, but she was not quite up to the task. She started with a nice triple flip-double toe combination, but her ensuing triple Lutz was given a negative GOE by all but one judge. Other high points of her program included landing a clean double Axel and triple toe, and receiving level fours for two spins and a spiral sequence. Errors on her triple toe-single toe combination and triple loop, however, kept her off the top of the podium. Her silver medal in Sheffield combined with the bronze she won in Estonia qualified her for the JGP Final.

The bronze medal went to Sonia Lafuente, who rose from sixth place after the short program. This result signaled a return to relevance for Lafuente, who finished fifth and second at her two JGP assignments last season but came in a disappointing 20th at her previous JGP competition this season, in Austria.

Men

A Russian skater led the men's event after the short program, but a different one ended up on the medal stand. Daniil Gleichengauz scored 61.09 points in the first segment to take a two-point lead over Machida (59.51), China's Nan Song (59.42) and the United States' Razzano (59.02). Gleichengauz's countryman, Artem Grigoriev, sat fifth after the short program with a score of 57.53.

Only one of the skaters who resided in the top three after the short program brought home hardware. Gleichengauz tumbled to an eighth-place finish in the free skate and dropped to fifth in the final standings. Song put out only the fourth-best free skate and had to settle for a fourth-place overall finish, a mere .12 points behind Grigoriev, whose third-place free skate earned him the bronze medal.

Machida's "Swan Lake" free skate started slowly, with a triple Axel and a triple Axel sequence that received GOEs of -1.88 and -2.0, respectively. He recovered nicely, however, landing five more triples (four cleanly) along the way, including a triple flip-double toe-single loop combination midway through the program and a triple toe-double toe later on. His spins and step sequences were all graded either level three or four. He earned a segment score of 117.69, giving him 177.20 points for the competition.

Razzano's "Tosca" free skate played out in stark contrast to that of Machida. He nailed his first three jump elements (triple Axel, triple toe-triple toe, triple Lutz-double toe), garnering him a combined 25.68 points. He had difficulty, however, with his triple flip midway through and his double Axel toward the end, and his two step sequences were only awarded level twos. Still, his 115.25 segment score vaulted him into second place overall. His silver medal represents his first of any kind on the JGP curcuit. He and Grigoriev are both alternates for the JGP Final.

Pairs

The pairs competition looked like it might be a Russian sweep after the short program, but the Chinese team of Yue Zhang and Lei Wang snuck past Ekaterina Sheremetieva and Mikhail Kuznetsov to claim the bronze. Still, Bazarova and Larionov and countrymates Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternikh took the top two spots in Sheffield, and they did so with very little intrigue.

Bazarova and Larionov took a three-point lead over Krasilnikova and Bezmaternikh in the short program, and both teams held those spots despite sloppy free skates. The gold medalists' program was highlighted by a triple Lutz twist, a Group 5 lasso lift and a throw triple loop. She fell, however, on the throw triple flip, and their ending step sequence and side-by-side spins were graded level ones. A score of 87.47 was the result, giving them a total of 139.32.

Krasilnikova and Bezmaternikh were sailing along in their free skate until she fell on their triple loop, and their ensuing change foot combination spin was given all GOEs of -2 or -3. Their segment score of 85.79 gave them 134.50 for the competition.

The Chinese nailed both of their throws (a Salchow and a toe) in the free skate, lifting them from fourth to third. With their third-place finish in Estonia, Zhang and Wang qualified for the JGP Final, the only Chinese pairs team to do so.

The Russians have made a statement this JGP season that they're ready to challenge China's world pairs dominance, as the top three seeds in that discipline at the JGP Final all hail from Russia.

Ice Dancing

The dance competition in Sheffield was never in doubt, and that's understating things a bit. Monko and Tkachenko grabbed a four-point lead in the compulsory segment, widened it to 13 following the original dance and finished with a 25-point win after a dazzling free dance of which no other team came within 12 points. The win puts the duo in the JGP Final, as their other JGP appearance this season (Austria) netted them a silver. They fell just short in that event behind Americans Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, one of only two dance teams to win both of their JGP assignments this fall (Canada's Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier was the other).

There was a good competition for the other two dance medals in Great Britain, though. Americans Piper Gilles and Timothy McKernan held the second spot after the compulsories, but a a fifth-place finish in the original dance knocked them out of contention. They would finish in fourth place.

It was up to the Ukraine's Nadezhda Frolenkova and Mikhail Kasalo and the Czech Republic's Lucie Mysliveckova and Matej Novak to battle it out. The Ukranians held the advantage after the first two segments, but the Czechs leapt ahead in the free dance to grab the silver, with Fronlenkov and Kasalo settling for bronze. The difference could be found in their diagonal step sequences: Mysliveckova and Novak were awarded a level three for theirs while the Ukranians received only a level two. The resulting point difference for that element, 5.95-5.27, was enough to turn the tide and give the Czechs the silver by a 148.08-147.89 margin.