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Saturday recap: Jiang takes ladies title

Yang, Baker take second crown in two years

Nina Jiang celebrates after winning the intermediate ladies title.
Nina Jiang celebrates after winning the intermediate ladies title. (Mickey Brown)

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By Mickey Brown
(12/01/2007) - Make it two in a row for Nina Jiang.

The 10 year old, skating out of the Texas Gulf Coast Figure Skating Club, won the U.S. intermediate ladies title Saturday at the U.S. Junior Championships in Salt Lake City, Utah. Jiang captured the juvenile crown last year.

"I really like the way I skated and that I pulled up," Jiang said. "I was really confident today."

Whereas last year she only had to skate twice at this competition -- once in the qualifying rounds and once in the free skate -- this time around she had to add a short program to her repertoire, and that was nearly her undoing.

Jiang found herself in seventh place after the short program, although that placement is a bit deceiving as she was less than 2.5 points behind the leader, Lexie Hood (Stars FSC of Texas). Jiang sailed through her "Yellow River Concerto" free skate with hardly a misstep, starting off with a clean triple Salchow and landing six clean doubles along the way. Of her three spins, two received level fours and the other a level three. Only her double Axel-double toe combination received a negative Grade of Execution (GOE).

"So much heart and soul went into that performance," said Jiang's coach, Shannon Vallon. "I felt she could grow into [the program], and she's done that over the season."

Her segment score of 64.78 gave her a total of 94.57 points. Skating first in the second group, she had to wait through 11 more skaters before her victory became official.

Jiang is a born performer, one who feeds off the audience's energy. Even though it was a partisan crowd, as most were rooting for hometown favorite Angela Wang (Salt Lake FS), they knew a good thing when they saw it.

"I love how the arena has everybody around you. All eyes are on you," Jiang said. "That's what I like about skating -- getting your own individual turn to show what you can do."

The silver went to Kelly Nguyen (Cascade Valley FSC), who was in fourth after the short program. She opened her free skate, set to a Tiawanese opera, with a gorgeous double Axel-double toe-double loop combination, which earned her a whopping 7.10 points. She followed that with a solid triple Salchow and a double flip-double toe. The rest of the program was a little up and down, though her three spins were all graded either level three or four. The 61.16 points she scored for the free skate gave her a competition score of 91.38.

Although Nguyen was accompanied in Salt Lake City by Nadia Kanaeva, a former world junior bronze medalist, she trains in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., with famed coach Rafael Arutunian.

"[Rafael] gives good advice," Nguyen said. "He doesn't push too hard."

The hard-luck bronze medalist was Lauren Dinh (Broadmoor SC) -- "hard-luck" not because of her placement but because she came oh so close to winning the gold.

Dinh had nailed everything in her "Devil Went Down to Jamaica" program, (including a triple toe-double toe and a triple Salchow) until the second-to-last element, her triple toe, which she stumbled out of. She then did a little half-hop, which turned it into a combination. Since she had already done three combos, she received no points for that element.

Still, her segment score of 60.72 gave her a total of 91.07, keeping her in third.

"[The program] has a good pace," said Dinh, who finished 10th in juvenile last year. "It's fast at the beginning and the end, but I have a break in the middle so I can catch my breath."

Dinh's main coach is Tom Zakrajsek, but she was at the U.S. Junior Championships with Eddie Shipstad.

"She skated in the two places where she hates to skate: first [in the short program] and last [in the free skate], so she showed she can do well skating anywhere," Shipstad said.

Wang finished fourth overall with 89.74 points. McKinzie Daniels (Springfield FSC) actually came in second in the free skate (61.33 points) but was only able to finish eighth due to her 15th-place finish in the short program.

Intermediate Free Dance
It's been a day for repeat winners at the U.S. Junior Championships.

Joylyn Yang and Jean-Luc Baker took the intermediate dance title Saturday at the U.S. Junior Championships, giving them their second U.S. crown in as many years. Last season, they were the juvenile champs.

Their feat mirrors that of Nina Jiang, who earlier in the day won the intermediate ladies championship. Jiang was the 2007 U.S. juvenile champ.

The diminutive duo from the Seattle Skating Club scored 51.02 points for their "Harem" free dance. How they arrived at that score is what's really interesting. Their total element score (22.60) was only fifth best in the segment, but their program components score (28.42) was almost three points better than the next highest mark.

This little team really packs a punch when it comes to presentation.

"[Expression] is something that comes naturally to us," Baker said. "We're taught some of it, but a lot of it is inside us. It's easy to express this kind of music."

Despite coming into this competition as one of the favorites, Yang and Baker made sure to not set the bar too high for themselves.

"Our goal was just to qualify for the finals," Baker said. "We had no expectations for the podium."

Garnering the silver were Susan Enright and Michael Bramante (SC of Boston), who finished fifth in juvenile last year. Skating to a Spanish and French tango, they earned an element score of 23.60, tied for the best in the competition. They earned level fours for both of their lifts and their synchronized twizzles.

"We had no idea how we would do," Bramante said. "We've had good and bad practices. It could have gone either way; we're happy it went the right way."

In just their second year together, Enright and Bramante have been aided by having a couple model training mates in Una Donegan and Andrew Korda and Kate McDermott and Colin McManus, the 2007 U.S. intermediate gold and silver medalists, respectively.

Grabbing the bronze were Taylor and Zachary Elliott (Stars FSC of Texas). Their "Proud Mary" free dance was filled with the typical enthusiasm the irrepressible Elliotts always seem to bring to their programs.

The team partly credits their success to Zachary's love of sports statistics. He has made a concerted effort to learn the international judging system inside and out, and their scores show it. Their step sequence went from a level one in Lake Placid to a level two here.

Just don't ask them to pat themselves on the back. They are always deflecting praise and heaping it on their fellow competitors.

"Everyone here who makes it to the final round is already terrific," Taylor said. "Getting a medal is like the scoop of ice cream on top of the icing on the cake."

Fourth-place finishers Vanessa Wade and Erik Kaiser (Arctic FSC/Rocky Mountain FSC) improved their placement in each segment, finishing eighth in the first compulsory dance, fourth in the second and second in the free dance.

Intermediate Men's Free Skate
It wasn't pretty, but Joshua Farris (Broadmoor SC) remained at the top of the standings to win the intermediate men's gold medal Saturday night at the U.S. Junior Championships. It's Farris' second U.S. title in three years; he was the juvenile champ in 2006.

Farris struggled through his "Henry V" free skate, receiving negative Grades of Execution on five of his elements, including a -1.6 on his opening double Axel, a -1.2 on his triple toe-double Axel sequence and a -2.0 on his triple loop. It wasn't all bad, though, as he managed to land a nice triple Salchow-double toe-double loop combination and received either level three or four on all of his spins.

Despite his errors, Farris still won the segment, edging silver medalist Jason Brown, 64.62-64.39. He was the only competitor in the event who broke 100; his total was 101.54.

"I'm happy I did so well, but I'm disappointed with how I skated," Farris.

With his trademark ponytail flopping behind him, Brown skated a relatively clean program to Vivaldi's "Storm," highlighted by a double Axel-double Axel sequence midway through and a beautiful triple toe-double toe-double loop combination at the very end. The latter was worth 7.48 points, the most of any one element in the segment.

"Going in, I was a little nervous, but I tried to pull it all together," Brown said. "I really focused on taking it one jump at a time."

Just before Brown takes the ice, his coach, Kori Ade, always tells him to "bring it."

Well, tonight he brought it.
"We were shooting for him to peak at nationals, and that's what he did," Ade said.

Brown was unquestionably the most popular male skater at the competition, as evidenced by the horde of female fans stationed just outside the kiss and cry while he sat awaiting his scores. When he went out into the hallway to be interviewed by a reporter, five girls (all club mates of his) gathered around him and refused to disperse until Ade stepped in and ordered them to leave Jason be.

The kicker: when they were asked which one is the president of the fictional Jason Brown Fan Club, three of the girls raised their hands.

The bronze went to last year's juvenile silver medalist, Jay Yostanto (All Year FSC). He started his Rocky program solidly, with a double Axel, a triple Salchow-double toe combo and a triple toe. His only glaring mistake was a fall on his triple Salchow.

To prepare for this program, Yostanto took boxing lessons at a place called L.A. Boxing and has sparred before, but he said he isn't going to trade in his blades for gloves any time soon.

"It's a very fun program to skate," Yostanto said. "It's easy to get into character."

It's a wonder he was able to perform so well considering he was off the ice for two and a half months this summer after cracking the knuckle in his right tap toe. He didn't return to the ice until two weeks before the Southwest Pacific Regional Championships (where he finished third), then took two more weeks off after regionals.

Harrison Choate (SC of Boston) came in fourth in the free skate with his baseball-themed program to pull himself up from eighth and finish fourth overall.

Juvenile Boys Free Skate
Kevin Shum (St. Moritz ISC) won the juvenile boys title Saturday night at the U.S. Junior Championships. Shum scored 48.55 points for his "Sing, Sing, Sing" program, besting Ryan Santee (Rochester FSC), Nathan Chen (Salt Lake FS) and B.J. Conrad (Texas Gulf Coast FSC), who took the silver, bronze and pewter medals, respectively.

"I wasn't expecting this," Shum said. "I just wanted to make it out of qualifying and finish in the top 10."

Shum landed five clean doubles in his program (he was marked down on his double flip-double toe-double toe combination) and had two level-four spins, but he was most proud of his footwork. In both the qualifying round and the free skate, he received a level two for his straight line step sequence, the first time all year that's happened.

The surname of the silver medalist should be familiar to many. Santee is the nephew of David Santee, the fourth-place finisher at the 1980 Olympic Winter Games and executive director of the Professional Skaters Association.

Like his uncle at those Olympics (and intermediate bronze medalist Jay Yostanto), Santee skated to music from Rocky. He demonstrated good use of his arms with intense, punching motions. While his program did not contain the difficulty of Shum's, Santee skated cleanly and made a nice save on an Axel-double toe combination. His score of 45.57 was .3 points more than that of Chen.

This is Santee's third year skating juvenile. He is coached by his mother Jamie, and he dedicated his performance to his parents and his uncle.

"It's amazing. I pictured myself [finishing] in the middle of the pack," Santee said.

Eight-year-old Chen took third after placing 10th at this competition last year. Donning a ninja outfit, Chen cleanly landed a double flip, a double Salchow and a double flip-double toe combination, exhibiting a distinct arm flourish while in the air during the former two jumps. He also showed good flexibility on his spins.

Maybe most impressive, he stayed in his martial arts character the entire time.

Conrad finished fourth with a score of 44.80. He and intermediate ladies champion Nina Jiang share the same coach, Shannon Vallon. He was very solid in his double jumps, which included a flip, a Salchow and a Lutz-toe combo, and he received level fours on two of three spins. Like Santee, Conrad has an Olympic connection - he is the son of 1984 Olympic pairs silver medalist Kitty Carruthers.