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U.S. sweeps gold medals at the JGP South Africa

Gilles, Dornbush and the Hubbell siblings top the podium

Ice dancing gold medalists Keiffer Hubbell (left) and Madison Hubbell (middle) stand with coach Yasa Netchaeva off the ice in Cape Town.
Ice dancing gold medalists Keiffer Hubbell (left) and Madison Hubbell (middle) stand with coach Yasa Netchaeva off the ice in Cape Town. (Rick Perez)

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By Becca Staed, special to icenetwork.com
(10/11/2008) - The U.S. claimed five medals, including three golds, at the JGP event in Cape Town, South Africa, bringing the U.S. medal count to 23. For men's champion Richard Dornbush and ice dancing victors Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell, it was their second gold medal of the 2008 JGP Series.

Alexe Gilles avenged her loss to U.S. teammate Amanda Dobbs at the JGP Mexico. Gilles won gold this week, Dobbs took the bronze and Canadian Diane Szmiett took the silver. In the men's category, Russia's Ivan Bariev grabbed his second silver medal of the season, while Canadian Elladj Baldé took the bronze.

American ice dancers Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue grabbed the silver medal, their second JGP medal in as many international competitions together, defeating both Russian teams -- bronze medalists Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin and fourth-place finishers Marina Antipova and Artem Kudashev -- in a close competition.

Ladies

After the ladies short program, Gilles and Dobbs sat third and 12th, respectively, while Japan's Shoko Ishikawa stole the show, earning a segment score of 53.52 for a more than 4.5-point lead over her field.

Gilles' short program, skated to Debussy's "The Girl with the Flaxen Hair," was strong except for a botched Lutz. She later slipped on her Axel, which led to no jump at all and all-around zero Grade of Execution (GOE) marks from the judges. She, however, opened her performance with a solid triple toe-triple toe. Her spins and step sequence earned Level 3s and 4s, and her Level 4 spin sequence was particularly strong. Her 46.75 segment score trailed Ishikawa by nearly seven points.

Szmiett took second in the short program. This season marks the first since 2004, when the Canadian won the Copenhagen Trophy, that she has positioned herself as a true international contender. She took bronze in August at the JGP Series-opening event in Courchevel, France. Her "Once Upon a December" routine was shaky in the beginning -- her first three elements received negative GOEs -- but she encountered no major errors and earned a segment score of 48.93.

Perhaps the most nail-biting performance came from this season's JGP Mexico gold medalist, Dobbs, who experienced a trying short program. The "Warsaw Concerto" routine was highlighted by a clean triple toe-double toe and a Level 4 spin sequence, yet her opening flying camel spin was graded a Level 1 and was the first of four negative-GOE elements, She also fell on her double Axel. Yet, the performance barely nicked Dobbs' characteristic winning spirit.

"I tried to put it in the back of my mind and show them I can do a double Axel," she said.

In the free skate, Dobbs came back with a vengeance, placing first with a segment score of 88.04, less than a point more than teammate Gilles. Dobbs opened with a flying sit spin, her first of two Level 4 spins, then landed a triple toe with ease and conquered her double Axel, for which she earned the highest GOE (1.00) of her program. Her high-scoring elements were a double Axel-double toe, immediately followed by a triple toe-double toe-double loop that together totaled 13.64 points.

"I was like, OK, I just have to go out and have fun and enjoy the experience," Dobbs said. "It's not about winning; it's about skating."

Of the field, Dobbs' made the largest improvement, earning a 128.64 competition mark and the bronze medal.

Gilles, the reigning U.S. junior ladies champion, gave an equally strong free skate. She opened with a triple toe-double toe, followed by a triple Lutz-double toe, which together totaled 13.86 points. She collected the most points (8.03) for her triple Salchow-double toe-double loop and would have outscored Dobbs had she not fallen on her triple flip and lost balance on her triple loop, which was downgraded to a single.

"I thought my spins and footwork were pretty good," Gilles said. "I just tried to do what I could."

She said she looks forward to the combination of the JGP and Grand Prix Finals in Seoul in December.

"I think I will give more effort and be a little more trained then," said Gilles. "It will be fun and interesting and a new experience having the seniors there."

Szmiett's early lead in the short program helped her claim the silver medal. She executed a clean triple toe, two Level 4 spins and a triple toe-double toe-double toe to place fourth in the free skate with a segment score of 82.53 and a competition mark of 131.46.

Ishikawa placed fourth after slipping to 10th place in the free skate, just missing a spot on the podium for the second time in her three years on the JGP Series.

Men

Dornbush's goal for this season was just to make it to the JGP Final in Seoul in December. After finishing sixth last year at the JGP event in Austria, his tour stopped short. However, this year he captured his first JGP gold medal at the event in Mexico in September and then again, here, at the JGP South Africa in Cape Town. Not only has Dornbush "made it" to Seoul, he's done so with style.

"I've been more successful this season because I was able to keep my head on straight and get the job done," Dornbush said. "I've been training harder and am looking to put the better performance out there each time I skate."

Dornbush performed his "La Virgen de la Macerena" short program with nary a mistake -- not a single negative GOE mark from any of the judges. He was only the second skater with running positive GOE values, alongside Canada's Baldé.

Dornbush's program was highlighted by an opening triple flip-triple toe that received an impressive 10.50 points. More impressive, however, were his Level 4 spins -- a change-of-foot sit spin and a combination spin with change of foot, which received all but one +2 marks from the judges. His 68.73-point short program was a personal best and put him in first place, nearly seven points ahead of Japan's Daisuke Murakami in second.

Murakami's short was highlighted by his opening triple Axel, which was near perfection, receiving almost all +2 marks from the judges and a GOE of 2.00.

Russia's Bariev gave a short program with a base value that started nearly five points below that of Dornbush. His 60.08 points put him in fourth. Yet, he made up for it with a seamless free skate, claiming first with not one negative GOE. He opened with a clean double Axel-triple toe, followed by a triple Lutz that together gave him 16.13 points. His spins and step sequences were good, and his two combination jumps -- a triple Lutz-double toe, followed by a triple flip-double toe-double loop -- earned him 18.41 points later in the routine. His 129.04 segment mark beat Dornbush by more than five points, giving him a 189.12 competition mark and the silver medal.

Dornbush's early lead, combined with another technically loaded program, enabled him to edge out his competitor in the end by 3.54 points for the gold. Though difficult, his free skate, to selections from the motion picture soundtrack Backdraft, was shaky and received four negative GOEs. He opened with an excellent triple flip-triple toe and closed with a solid triple Salchow-double toe-double loop that together earned 18.28 points. He received his first negative GOE when he had to fight for his triple Axel. Later, he stepped out of his triple Lutz, put a hand down on his triple flip and completed another shaky triple Lutz -- but not in combination as planned -- all of which earned him negative GOEs. Characteristically, however, he displayed textbook Level 4 spins.

"My performance was way better than last time [in Mexico]," Dornbush said. "I am happy because I landed the more difficult things, and next time, I just have to put it together with the little stuff."

Baldé, the reigning Canadian junior champion, took the bronze medal after placing third in the free skate with 123.48 points for a 184.89 competition mark. His performance was mostly clean except for a few negative GOEs, mainly on his spins. Clean jumps were the highlight of his program, including a triple flip-triple toe and a double Axel-triple toe-double toe.

Murakami slipped to fourth place after having trouble on almost every jump in his free skate, which put him in fourth overall with 168.06 -- nearly 17 points behind the medal winners.

American Andrew Gonzales finished in sixth place.

Ice Dancing

The American ice dancers finished one-two this week in Cape Town. Experience played on the side of the Hubbells, the brother-and-sister team, as they breezed through all three portions, taking first each time en route to their second gold medal of the season. Newly formed duo Gilles and Donohue faced a slight struggle with the Russian teams in the beginning as they vied for a coveted spot on the podium.

The Hubbells consistently edged ahead of their competition throughout the week, beginning with a flawless compulsory dance that received a significantly higher program component score (15.00) than the rest of the field and outscored the second-place team, Antipova and Kudashev, by more than three points.

After the compulsories, Gilles and Donohue trailed the other Russians, Monko and Khaliavin, in fourth place, but only by a razor-thin, 0.11 points. They made up the deficit in the original dance, earning Level 4s for their lift and twizzles and Level 3s for their spin and step sequences, to place second in the segment and overall.

That wasn't enough, however, to lose sight of their Russian competitors. Monko and Khaliavin earned 50.54 points and third place in the original dance, which put less than a point between the two teams heading into the free dance.

"We focused on skating clean and precise going into the free dance," Gilles said. "We knew we were in a tight position, and by the end, we were kind of like, 'Who cares? Let's just put it out there.' It was a good push for us."

It was enough of a push, too, for Gilles and Donohue to not only keep their lead but also widen it in the free dance. They earned Level 4s on all but two elements in their routine, which was highlighted by a Level 4 curve lift into a rotational lift. They came away with a 73.34-segment score (more than three points ahead of Monko and Khaliavin), a 154.99-point competition mark and the silver medal.

The Hubbells, who held a steady 6.13-point lead after the original dance, put on a nearly flawless free dance. They began with a Level 4 synchronized twizzle, followed by a curve lift and straight-line lift that earned Level 2s and 4s, respectively. Their step sequences, though, garnered the most points in their program -- 15.40 total. Their 164.24-point competition mark was nearly 10 points ahead of the rest of the field.

Though the Hubbells' domination this JGP season has been palpable, the duo prefers to keep a level-headed approach going into each competition. They retain no notions that this season will be a repeat of 2006 when they won gold at the JGP Final in Sofia, Bulgaria, even though their record this season has been better.

"It always feels good to win," Madison said. "There's a big release of stress, and it definitely puts my confidence up for the rest of the season. But there will always be skaters working hard, and there is no reason to believe we don't have to work.

"It's a great start, but we still have a lot to work on. I try to not think about what we have done in the past and that we have had the experience. We are just going to use everything we can to go into the next performances."

Russian teams Monko and Khaliavin and Antipova and Kudashev, placed third and fourth, respectively, with just 1.56 points separating the two. Though they gave two solid performances, their levels were not enough to catch up to the Americans.