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Miner holds lead to win junior men's title

Keegan, Johnson reach podium with silver and bronze, respectively

Ross Miner (center) in the kiss and cry with Mark Mitchell (right) and Peter Johansson (left).
Ross Miner (center) in the kiss and cry with Mark Mitchell (right) and Peter Johansson (left). ()

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By Becca Staed, special to icenetwork.com
(01/23/2009) - Winning the junior men's title was the last thing on the minds of Ross Miner and his coaches, Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson, when they arrived in Cleveland for the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"Honestly, I didn't think coming here that I was going to do well. I didn't bring a costume or music for the exhibition, so I don't know what I am going to do," said Miner, referring to the event's final show in which all the champions perform.

Miner was the 2008 novice silver medalist and took second place as a junior at the 2008 Gardena Spring Trophy, his first international competition. But his lack of focus during competition has hampered him in recent years, even failing to advance to the 2007 U.S. Championships after a fifth-place finish at sectionals at the novice level.

"He had trouble keeping everything under control," Johansson said. "As a kid, he did not always practice well, but he could compete well. He finally learned to practice well but then had trouble in competition. I think he is finally learning how to balance, which is all about growing up."

Miner will turn 18 tomorrow, just a day after his victory.

"It is an excellent birthday present -- an 18th birthday, a national champion. It's pretty awesome," he said.

Though not flawless, Miner's free skate to a Gershwin medley was a testament to his abilities and hard work in the last year. It began as a struggle after he put a hand down on his triple Axel and two-footed the landing on a triple flip. But he proceeded to land six more triples, in addition to five doubles, including a double Axel in combination. All of his spins were graded Level 4, and he garnered 117.18 points for a 183.80 competition mark.

Silver medalist Keegan Messing will also celebrate his birthday atop the podium -- literally -- as he turns 17 today.

Best of all, he did not feel the pangs of a nagging back injury he'd been trying to heal all week, which boosted his confidence to attempt two triple Axels in his Gremlins free skate. That plan did not pan out, however, when he fell on the first; he was able to land the second in combination.

"I was pretty psyched when I got second place," Messing said. "I was pretty disappointed with the first [triple] Axel. It was the first one I've missed all week. But I was like, 'Oh well.'"

In his free skate, Messing landed six triple jumps and four doubles, in addition to the triple Axel, notching 117.14 points en route to a 176.94 total, landing him on the podium in his second year at the junior level, wherein he finished fifth last year.

Alexander Johnson rallied back from a seventh place short program finish to lead the free skate event, accruing 119.40 points for a total score of 171.08 and the bronze medal.

"I was really angry and frustrated with myself after the short program, and I was like, 'I need to use that as motivation for the free skate,'" Johnson said.

Johnson is just coming off of a successful international season, in which he won his first Junior Grand Prix event assignment -- in the Czech Republic and placed third in the next -- the JGP Great Britain. He advanced to the Finals, where he landed a mediocre sixth after a bad free skate.

All season long he had been skating good short programs and bad free skates, which sent him back to the free skate drawing board -- and it paid off.

Despite a shaky landing on his opening triple flip that was planned to be in combination with a triple toe, he was nearly flawless throughout, landing five triple jumps and six doubles, including a double toe tacked onto a later triple flip in lieu of his earlier blunder.

"I came into today thinking, 'I've been practicing the long for three months -- day in and day out. Give it your all, and whatever happens, happens," Johnson said.

"Whatever" turned out to not be so bad.

Fourth place went to Grant Hochstein, who also pulled up from ninth after the short program. His 110.91-free skate gave him an overall score of 162.15.