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Bulanhagui tackles triple Axel at Liberty

Denney wins junior ladies qualifying group A despite fractured wrist

Melissa Bulanhagui and Ron Ludington.
Melissa Bulanhagui and Ron Ludington. (Lindsey Goff)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/18/2008) - The triple Axel eludes all but a few female skaters. Just two top senior ladies -- Mao Asada and Yukari Nakano, both of Japan -- regularly include the jump in their programs. The last American to land it in competition was Kimmie Meissner back in 2005.

Melissa Bulanhagui wants to add her name to the list. The 17-year-old, who trains at University of Delaware, thinks she needs the three-and-a-half revolution jump to set herself apart.

"I want to make it to the top," she said. "Everyone is working on triple-triples. I want to do a bit more than everyone else.

"I was working on [triple Axel] in 2006, and then I got injured and had to get all of my other jumps consistent. It's getting there. It's not clean yet."

Bulanhagui's coach, Karen Ludington, confirmed that the jump is a work in progress.

"She hooks it, or it has a quarter-turn cheat," Ludington said. "But she's always over her feet; it's just a matter of getting that little hook out."

The skater tried the jump in the junior ladies group A free skate yesterday at the 2008 Liberty Open, but it was judged under rotated and she gained just 1.45 points for the move. Bulanhagui landed four other triples in her free skate to music from the motion picture soundtrack Slow Dancing in the Big City and earned 76.83 points, good enough for first place. (Since Bulanhagui did not compete a junior short program, Caydee Denney of South West Florida FSC won the combined group A event).

Bulanhagui, who placed eighth in senior ladies at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, entered the junior free skate to sharpen the three-and-a-half minute version of her program for the upcoming Junior Grand Prix in Merano, Italy. She will compete in the senior ladies short program event today.

"I'm trying to put more emotion in to my skating," she said. "I'm working on everything from spins to jumps to the in-between choreography."

Denney, who is also competing in the senior pairs' event here, landed four triples in her free skate to Saint-Saëns' "Danse Macabre." The 15-year-old showed two Level 3 spins, including a solid closing combination spin, and earned 75.60 points. Combined with her second-place finish in the short, she earned 115.38 points overall.

"I felt really good," Denney said. "I just wanted to go out there and do my best. I'm competing a lot this week."

The skater fell while practicing a triple Lutz during a freestyle session on Monday.

"We were afraid it was broken, but it's a minor fracture to the wrist," James Peterson, Denney's coach, said. "She's wearing a guard and a brace."

Agnes Zawadzki (Broadmoor SC) was second overall in group A, with 108.45 points.

Secundy wins junior ladies group B with solid triple loop combo.

U.S. novice champion Marissa Secundy (Broadmoor SC) won her group with 114.01 points overall. She placed first in the free skate and second in the short program.

Performing her free to music from the motion picture soundtrack Elizabeth: The Golden Age, the tall brunette hit a solid triple loop-double loop combination and a triple Lutz.

Haley Dunne (Washington FSC) came back from a seventh-place finish in the short to place second in the free and second overall with 109.27 points. Dunne is coached by Shirley Hughes, former coach of Ashley Wagner and Derrick Delmore.

Qualifying groups C and D compete today. The top four skaters from each group qualify for the junior ladies final, to be held on Saturday.

Sylvia Yu contributed to this article.