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Several skaters make moves after world juniors

Samuelson, Bates make largest jump, up six spots

The ice dancing medalists from world juniors all moved up in icenetwork.com's rankings.
The ice dancing medalists from world juniors all moved up in icenetwork.com's rankings. (Klaus-Reinhold Kany)

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By Todd Hinckley
(03/03/2008) - The figure skating world focused on the best young skaters last week at the 2008 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria. All four gold medalists moved up in icenetwork.com's World Figure Skater Rankings on the strength of their winning performances. The biggest movers of the week were American ice dancers Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, who jumped six places, to No. 6 overall.

Ice dancing

The top five finishers in Bulgaria all improved their ranking after their showings at the world juniors. Samuelson and Bates were the most impressive, taking first in all three dances. The couple that trains in Ann Arbor, Mich., has been in the rankings all year long, but this is by far their highest position.

Samuelson and Bates moved ahead of several senior teams with the points they gained from their world junior gold medals. One of the teams they passed was Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the U.S. silver medalists. Samuelson and Bates finished well behind Davis and White, in fourth, at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, so this ranking might not exactly correlate to where they'll stand against senior competition. It is clear, however, that they are the class of the junior ranks.

World junior silver medalists Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier of Canada returned to the rankings, moving into 15th place after their strong showing in Bulgaria. They too finished only fourth in their senior national championships but have excelled at the junior level internationally.

Kristina Gorshkova and Vitali Butikov of Russia won the bronze medal and moved up two places, to 11th overall. Their high ranking now is reflective of a very strong last month and a half, during which time they beat teammates Maria Monko and Ilia Tkachenko at both the Russian junior nationals and world juniors.

Monko and Tkachenko, the gold medalists from the Junior Grand Prix Final last December, struggled after the compulsory dance in Bulgaria, finishing in a disappointing fourth place. They did, however, move up three spots, to No. 14, but they must return to their form from the end of last year if they hope to succeed at the senior level.

Americans Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell entered the rankings at No. 20 after their fifth-place finish.

Men

The second biggest jump of the week came from the men. Adam Rippon of the United States moved up five places, to 12th overall, after winning gold at the world junior championships. Coupled with his U.S. junior national title, the Pennsylvania native has made quite a statement over the last six weeks.

Rippon, who began working with coach Nikolai Morozov before the start of the 2007-08 season, won his first Junior Grand Prix appearance back in September, but he only took the silver in his next outing. He has not finished off the top of the podium since, adding the gold medal from the JGP Final to his two 2008 wins. He seems to be very deserving of his high ranking, and Rippon certainly hopes to succeed at the senior level as quickly as the 2007 world junior men's champion, Stephen Carriere, has.

Artem Borodulin, the only person to beat Rippon this season, won the silver medal in Bulgaria and entered the rankings at No. 17. After recovering from a broken ankle, he has shown that he is indeed one of Russia's most promising young skaters.

While Rippon has deserved his place in the rankings, his teammate, Brandon Mroz, is an example of junior points overstating a young skater's position in the rankings. Mroz, who dropped to 13th after his fourth-place finish in Sofia, has been ranked all year, and he has had a very successful season, taking two JGP gold medals. He failed, however, to improve upon his finishes from last season in all the biggest events -- silver at both the JGP Final and the junior division at U.S. championships and fourth at the world juniors. The St. Louis native needs to perform better on the biggest stages if he hopes to maintain his ranking when competing against seniors.

Ladies

The Americans were expected to dominate the ladies competition at the world juniors, and they did. The only question was in what order they would finish. In the end, it was Rachael Flatt taking the gold, Caroline Zhang the silver, and Mirai Nagasu the bronze.

As she did at the U.S. championships, Flatt excelled in the free skate. This time, it was enough to earn her the gold medal, unlike in Saint Paul, where her first-place long program left her just behind Nagasu. With the first-place finish, Flatt entered the rankings for the first time all season, at 15th overall. The win was sweet redemption for the California native who now trains in Colorado Springs, Colo. She had finished just behind Nagasu at both the Junior Grand Prix Final and the U.S. championships. And by beating Zhang, who garnered much more publicity by succeeding in the Senior Grand Prix Series this season, Flatt finally had the spotlight to herself, and she deserved it.

Because of their slightly more successful seasons before landing in Bulgaria, Zhang and Nagasu remained ahead of Flatt in the rankings. Zhang moved up one spot, to No. 8, while Nagasu also jumped just one spot, to 13th. All three ladies have only bright futures ahead of them, and Flatt, a year older than the other two, may now be ready to have an impact on the next level.

Pairs

The pairs rankings saw the least moving around of all four divisions after the world junior championships. The field was also lacking its gold-medal favorite. Russians Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov could not compete in Bulgaria, because of a positive drug test Larionov took in November. Instead, their teammates, Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternikh, were the team to beat. They did not win both programs, but the couple from Perm did win the gold and moved up one place, to 10th, in the rankings.

There were two other ranked teams competing at the world juniors, and both had very disappointing finishes. The top Americans, Jessica Rose Paetsch and Jon Nuss, remained 20th overall after finishing in fifth place. The pair seems to struggle putting together two clean programs. As was the case at the U.S. championships, their short program was not perfect, and they could not recover this time. Estonian national champions Maria Sergejeva and Ilja Glebov finished sixth, just behind Paetch and Nuss, and held their spot at No. 19 in the rankings.

There seem to be not as many promising young skaters in pairs as there are in the other divisions. The performances by the Americans and Estonians did not prove that they deserved to remain in the rankings. There most likely are a few senior teams that could defeat them both head-to-head. Krasilnikova and Bezmaternikh, however, did prove that they merit a position in the top 20.