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Paetsch, Nuss surge to junior pairs gold medal

Internationally experienced couple prove to be too strong

Jessica Rose Paetsch and Jon Nuss relied on their international experience to surge ahead and grab the junior pairs gold medal in Saint Paul.
Jessica Rose Paetsch and Jon Nuss relied on their international experience to surge ahead and grab the junior pairs gold medal in Saint Paul. (Paul Harvath)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(01/25/2008) - The favorites coming into the junior pairs competition at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships could be determined just by looking at the number of Junior Grand Prix appearances made by the teams in the field.

Jessica Rose Paetsch and Jon Nuss -- six. Rest of field -- six.

Paetsch and Nuss, representing the venerable Broadmoor Skating Club, didn't skate perfectly in Friday's free skate, but they didn't have to as the quality of their skating is just that much better than that of their competition. Their overall score of 143.19 bested that of silver medalists Tracy Tanovich and Michael Chau (Southwest Florida FSC) and bronze medalists and short program-winners Chelsi Guillen and Danny Curzon (Coyotes SC of Arizona).

It was the second U.S. title in three years for the 20-year-old Nuss and 14-year-old Paetsch, who also are the 2006 novice champions.

"It's a great relief for us," Nuss said. "We've been working so hard the last couple months. It's nice to have it pay off."

International experience, however, is one thing. International success is quite another, and Paetsch and Nuss' JGP season was a bit of a letdown, especially for a team that medaled the year before at the JGP Final. They followed a disappointing fifth-place finish in Lake Placid, N.Y., with a win in Germany, qualifying them for the Final in Gdansk, Poland. There, a fifth-place short program was too much for them to overcome, and they missed out on a medal by less than a tenth of a point.

In the nearly two months since that performance, they re-dedicated themselves, and it showed in Saint Paul.

"It made us work harder to come here. We were more determined after the Final," Nuss said.

In their "Capone" free skate, they cleanly landed a throw triple Salchow and a throw double loop, and they received Level 4 on both of their lifts, their pairs combination spin and their spiral sequence. Their mistakes included her slipping on the landing of her double Axel, her stepping out of the landing on the back end of their double Lutz-double toe combination, and him uncharacteristically falling on their straight line step sequence.

But none of those were enough to keep them from the gold and a probable trip to the world junior championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, where their goal is to land on the podium.

In their first year as juniors, Tanovich and Chau showed the potential to be major players on the U.S. pairs scene for a long time. Some of that has to do with their age or, more specifically, her age. She's all of 11 years old, which is a double-edged sword.

"Normally they would be doing Junior Grand Prix, and they can't because of her age. By the time she becomes eligible for international competition, they'll have competed in five national championships," said their coach, Kerry Leitch. "There's nothing that can stop them as long as they put it all together."

Their elegant Nutcracker program included a well-executed throw triple Salchow, double Lutz-double loop combo and double loop. Additionally, their Group 3 lift and their opening Group 5 Axel lasso lift were given a Level 4 and Level 3, respectively. On the downside, she came out of a spin at the end of their change foot combination spin and fell on their throw triple loop.

The formation of the pair, which is in its third year together, was a serendipitous one.

"It was a little thing we tried for an ice show. It was a little bit of a joke. They needed another pair to skate, and I was available, and we kind of progressed from there," Chau said. "We couldn't have imagined we'd end up like this."

Tanovich and Chau will remain juniors next season. They won't be able to compete internationally until 2010-11, and they're in no hurry to take their skating outside the boundaries of the U.S.

"For someone so young, especially in a sport like this, you mature much faster than you age," Chau said. "To be at the young age of 11 and already at her third national championship, it's something else."

Of the six other JGP assignments in the rest of the field, Guillen and Curzon had two of them, finishing ninth in Estonia and 10th in Great Britain last fall. They only attempted one throw triple in their The Legend of Zorro free skate at those competitions, but they decided to add a second at this event.

"The second throw has gotten better throughout the year," Curzon said. "The fact that it was good enough to put it in is a good sign for next year."

The team, in their second year together, earned Level 4 for its Group 4 lift, spiral sequence and pairs combination spin. They are going to need to gain more consistency on their jumps and throws, however, as they plan on moving up to the senior ranks next season.

Andrea Best and Trevor Young (Detroit SC) came in fourth, moving up one place after finishing fifth a year ago.