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Fresh faces top podiums at JGP Belarus

Three of four golds captured by first-time winners

Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello will be among the the ice dancing competitors at JGP Poland.
Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello will be among the the ice dancing competitors at JGP Poland. (Karen Terry-Perreault)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(10/04/2008) - Skaters representing four different countries stood atop each of the podiums at this week's Junior Grand Prix Series event in Gomel, Belarus, and three of them were first-time winners.

The gold medal-winning neophytes were Japan's Haruka Imai (ladies), Kazakhstan's Denis Ten (men) and Ukraine's Alisa Agafanova and Dmitri Dun (ice dancing). Only Russian pairs team Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze were repeat victors, having also earned the top prize at this fall's JGP Czech Republic.

Ladies

The ladies podium in Gomel was comprised entirely of first-time JGP medal winners. Japanese skaters Haruka Imai and Kana Muramoto won the gold and bronze, respectively, while Russian Oksana Gozeva, the most accomplished of the three, captured the silver.

Gozeva led Muramoto by 1.42 points and Imai by 4.24 points after the short program. Muramoto skated the cleanest short program of the three with her only negative Grade of Execution (GOE) coming on her opening double Lutz.

Imai won the free skate by exactly seven points over Gozeva and a hefty 23.32 points over Muramoto, who tumbled to seventh in the segment. Imai, skating in her first international competition, opened her free skate with a clean triple loop, triple flip and double Axel-triple toe combination. The rest of her jumps were not quite as good, but she did perform two Level 4 spins.

Gozeva, who has three top-10 JGP finishes to her credit, started her free skate with four triple jumps, two of which she landed cleanly (flip, Salchow) and two that she did not (loop, Lutz). She also executed a nice jump sequence consisting of a double Axel-double Axel at the end of her program. The levels for her spins and step sequences were low, however: one Level 1, two Level 2s and a Level 3.

Muramoto, who finished one spot behind Imai as a junior at the 2008 Japanese Championships, received negative GOEs on six of her jump elements in the free skate, though her spins were all graded Level 3 or Level 4. Russia's Evgenia Tarasova came in third in the free skate despite landing just one clean triple jump.

The top American finisher was Brittney Rizo, who placed fifth. She posted the third-best program components score in the short program and the fourth best in the free skate.

"I attacked everything. I was very feisty; I really sold my program," said Rizo, who uses Carmen for her free skate. "In the middle, everyone started clapping. That helped me get into the character."

U.S. skater Melissa Bulanhagui pulled up from 16th in the short program to finish ninth.

Men

Ten followed his fourth-place finish at the JGP France with a win in Belarus. The other two spots on the men's podium were occupied by Chinese skaters Chao Yang (silver) and Gongming Cheng (bronze).

Ten took a sizable, five-point lead with his Flamenco/Once Upon a Time in Mexico short program, which he opened with a clean triple Axel. After a shaky triple flip-triple toe combination, he landed a triple Lutz and followed that with a superlative spin combination with change of position and change of foot.

Russia's Stanislav Kovalev was second after the short program. His performance was highlighted by an opening triple flip-triple toe and a Level 4 spin combination with change of position and change of foot. A fall on his triple Lutz put Cheng third in the short program, with Yang sitting back in fourth.

Yang rebounded in his free skate, which is set to Tonci Huljic's "Lee Loos Theme" performed by Maksim Mrvica. He was credited with landing six triples (three in combination), including an opening triple Lutz-triple toe combination. His spins were excellent as well, as he earned two Level 4s and a Level 3. He won the segment with a score of 123.59. This is Yang's third career JGP medal and his first silver; he won the bronze in Poland in 2005 and again in Estonia last season.

Ten's "Piano Concerto No. 2" free skate was also quite good, with his only major mistake being a fall on his triple flip. He did five triples, including an Axel, and his three spins were all graded Level 3. His segment score of 119.71 gave him 188.07 for the competition, 4.60 more than Yang.

Skating to music from The Guardian soundtrack, Cheng, like Yang, started with a terrific triple Lutz-triple toe. He dug himself a hole with a near fall on his next jump, a triple Axel, but rebounded nicely by landing four more triples in the remainder of the program. He finished just behind Ten in the free skate with a total of 118.45. This is Cheng's second bronze medal of this JGP Series; he also finished third in Mexico.

American Curran Oi pulled up from ninth in the short program to place fourth in the free skate and fifth overall. Teammate Austin Kanallakan placed eighth.

Getting to Gomel was quite the ordeal for Kanallakan, who did not receive his skates until the day of the men's short program.

His take on his JGP Belarus experience?

"You win some, and you learn some."

Pairs

Iliushechkina and Maisuradze established themselves as the team to beat this season as they pulled out a 2.39-point win over countrymates Ksenia Ozerova and Alexander Enbert, who were skating in their first international competition together. China's Yue Zhang and Lei Wang took the bronze, while reigning world junior champions Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternikh shockingly finished off the podium, nearly eight full points out of third.

Iliushechkina and Maisuradze, the 2008 world junior silver medalists, took a lead of more than two points over Ozerova and Enbert and almost six points over Zhang and Weng in the short program. In that segment, they landed a throw triple loop and executed a stellar double Lutz twist.

The free skate was a two-horse race in which Iliushechkina and Maisuradze edged Ozerova and Enbert, 97.17-96.90. The first half of Iliushechkina and Maisuradze's program was shaky, with negative GOEs for their side-by-side triple toe-double toe combination, throw triple flip and side-by-side double Salchows. They picked it up in the latter half with a huge Group 5 Axel lasso lift, a clean throw triple loop and a forward inside death spiral to, well, die for.

Ozerova and Enbert started well, with side-by-side triple toe loops and a sequence consisting of a double Axel followed by another double Axel. They hit a rough patch in the middle, however, as they received a -1.23 GOE for their throw triple flip, and she fell on their throw triple loop. In between those two elements was a Group 5 Axel lasso lift that received a Level 4 and earned them almost as many points (7.75) as Iliushechkina and Maisuradze received for theirs (7.88).

Zhang and Weng, who finished just off the podium at last year's Cup of China, picked up the third JGP bronze medal of their career. They actually skated the cleanest free skate of the medalists in Belarus, their only major mistake being a fall on their double Axels.

Krasilnikova and Bezmaternikh found themselves almost seven points back after the short program, and a poor free skate, in which they experienced two falls, left them more than 20 points behind the two other Russian teams.

Americans Brynn Carman and Chris Knierim improved on their ninth-place finish at JGP Mexico with a fifth-place finish in Gomel. Their teammates, Brittany Chase and Andrew Speroff, placed ninth.

Ice Dancing

Skating in the Junior Grand Prix Series for the fifth season, Agafanova and Dun won their third career medal in the series and their first gold. Russians Ekaterina Pushkash and Dmitri Kiselev and France's Terra Findlay and Benoit Richaud took the silver and bronze, respectively, their first JGP medals of any color.

Pushkash and Kiselev had a small lead over Agafanova and Dun and an almost two-point advantage over Findlay and Richaud after the compulsory dance. The Ukrainians, however, won the final two segments to catapult to the top of the standings.

Agafanova and Dun started their original dance with a dazzling midline no touching step sequence and followed that with Level 4 spins. Their last element, a Level 3 rotational lift, received a +1 GOE from eight of the 10 judges.

Findlay and Richaud received Level 4s for three of the five elements in their "Sing Sing Sing" OD. Among those was a straight line lift which received nine +1 GOEs and earned them 7.45 points, the most for any one element in the segment. Findlay and Richaud bettered Agafanova and Dun's total element score in the second phase (27.44 to 26.12), while Agafanova and Dun received the higher program components mark (22.64 to 21.13).

Agafanova and Dun's free dance hit its high point in the middle with a straight line lift followed by a lift combination (curve lift to rotational lift), both of which were awarded Level 4s. Each of their step sequences, one a Level 3 and the other a Level 2, earned a +0.38 GOE. They amassed 73.40 points in the segment and 152.97 for the competition.

Aside from one mistake, Pushkash and Kiselev knocked their free dance out of the park, receiving GOEs ranging from 0.25 to 0.63 on six of their seven elements. It was that seventh element that did them in, however, as something went awry on their rotational lift, the result of which was a -0.44 GOE. The first four elements of their program -- a twizzle sequence, combination spin, lift and lift combination -- all earned Level 4s. A total segment score of 72.31 gave them a competition total of 150.71, 0.57 more than the French.

Findlay and Richaud presented the cleanest free skate of the three medalists, as unlike the other two, none of their overall GOEs were negative. They also performed the best element of the day, a Level 3 circular step sequence that brought in 7.95 points. Their combination lift was masterfully executed as well, earning all +1 and +2 GOEs. They accumulated 71.93 points for their program, which they skated to "Justice" by Genesis and "Mondotek" by Alive.

Americans Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello came in fourth, improving on their fifth-place finish in Italy earlier in this JGP Series, while Sara Bailey and Kyle Herring took sixth.

Cannuscio and Lorello had quite the eventful competition. At various points in the week, she kicked him in the head, he hit her in the eye, and he kicked his own finger.

"This was an intense week," Cannuscio said. "We beat each other up a bit, but we skated well in the end."