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JGP Final sees a return to tradition

Americans dominate singles; Russians on top of the teams

Ladies silver medalist Rachael Flatt sits with her coaches, Tom Zakrajsek (left) and Becky Calvin, after her silver-medal performance in Gdansk.
Ladies silver medalist Rachael Flatt sits with her coaches, Tom Zakrajsek (left) and Becky Calvin, after her silver-medal performance in Gdansk. (Sara Kastner)

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By Tatiana Flade, special to icenetwork.com
(12/09/2007) - The Junior Grand Prix (JGP) Final this year turned out to be an American-Russian duel. The Americans dominated the singles, and the Russians took the team events. The two countries took 11 out of the 12 available medals and produced two historic podium sweeps. Japan's lone entry, Yuki Nishino, captured the bronze medal in the ladies event.

The U.S. swept the men's podium and got the gold and silver in the ladies, while Russia grabbed all the medals in the pairs and the gold and bronze in the dance. This split was a return to tradition.

The U.S. qualified five ladies and four men for the Final. A fifth man, Doug Razzano, came in as a substitute for Artem Borodulin. Adam Rippon , Brandon Mroz and Armin Mahbanoozadeh ended up on the podium, with Razzano fourth and Austin Kanallakan sixth in Gdansk. Rippon, Mahbanoozadeh and Razzano were competing for the first time in the JGP Final. Mroz and Razzano included a triple Axel in their programs, and that jump will be a key to their success on the senior level.

China's Jinlin Guan was not as strong in Gdansk as he was in his Junior Grand Prix appearances, but he certainly is a contender for the world junior championships. Russia's two entries, Ivan Bariev and Artur Gachinski, finished seventh and eighth. They both qualified for the Final for the first time.

World junior silver medalist Mirai Nagasu and Rachael Flatt both gave strong performances to finish 1-2 in the ladies event. Neither of them competed on the junior circuit last season. Flatt was assigned to two events but withdrew due to a back injury. Now she's back and was the only one to risk and hit a triple-triple combination. Nagasu wasn't selected for the Junior Grand Prix last year. She splashed onto the scene in January, winning the U.S. junior title over Caroline Zhang, who is competing in senior Grand Prix Final next week.

Both Nagasu and Flatt should be strong contenders for junior worlds this season. The delicate Nagasu is the more artistic skater; the athletic Flatt has solid triple-triples. Nishino is a new hopeful from Japan, who hasn't had any top contenders in junior ladies after Mao Asada moved up to seniors. Kristine Musademba was fourth in Poland and also showed promise. Alexe Gilles and Chrissy Hughes didn't skate their best this time, finishing sixth and eighth, respectively. Hughes in particular did not skate as well as she did during her two gold-medal performances during the JGP season this year.

Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates represent the new wave of American ice dancing that has grown stronger and stronger over the past few years. They took the silver medal at the Final like they did last year. The second U.S. couple was Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein, who practice at Igor Shpilband's school in Canton, Mich. They competed in their first international junior season and placed fifth in their first Final.

Russia continued their strong ice dance tradition. Maria Monko and Ilia Tkachenko are competing in their first full season together after teaming up in the summer of 2006. They didn't participate in the Junior Grand Prix Series last year but ranked fifth at junior worlds. Now they seem poised to fight for the title next March. Their strongest competition will probably come from Samuelson and Bates and their Russian teammates, Kristina Gorshkova and Vitali Butikov, who claimed the bronze medal in the JGP Final this week. The young team of Ekaterina Riazanova and John Guerreiro were Russia's third entrant in the Final and are another promising team. Canada's Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier have also progressed significantly since last year and placed fourth in the Final.

Russia can be very proud of its three pairs teams -- Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov, Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternikh and Ekaterina Sheremetieva and Mikhail Kuznetsov. All three are very different and very talented.

Bazarova and Larionov, the reigning world junior silver medalists, have improved a lot since last year and seem ready to challenge for the gold at junior worlds. Their strongest competitors should be Krasilnikova and Bezmaternikh, who already include a side-by-side triple toe in their free program. Sheremetieva and Kuznetsov have not yet shown their full potential, since Mikhail is still coming back from injury, but they have been developing nicely.

Jessica Rose Paetsch and Jon Nuss are the highest ranked U.S. junior couple right now and were close to the podium in Gdansk, finishing in fourth place. They should be contenders for a medal at junior worlds, especially if they master the double Axel. The fourth Russian pairs team, Anastaisa Khodkova and Pavel Sliusarenko, and the second U.S. team, Bianca Butler and Joseph Jacobsen, are not yet at the level of the top junior teams.