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Russia's Leonova moves up to take world junior title

American skaters finished second, third and fifth in Bulgaria

Alena Leonova (right) sits in the kiss and cry with her coach, Alla Piatova (left).
Alena Leonova (right) sits in the kiss and cry with her coach, Alla Piatova (left). (Klaus Reinhold Kany)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(02/28/2009) - The ladies free program was the last competition of the 2009 World Junior Championships in Bulgaria's capital of Sofia. Alena Leonova from Moscow, who finished fourth at the European championships in January, won the gold medal. She was third in the short program and second in Saturday's free program, but, overall, her 157.18 points were enough to win.

She performed her free skate with an energetic and speedy style. Five of her triple jumps and the two double Axels were clean, but a loop was downgraded.

"The medal means a lot for me, and it took me a lot of time to get there," she commented afterwards. "It was a little shock for me to win here, because I had been 12th and sixth in my other junior worlds. At senior Europeans, the pressure was bigger, but here I tried to focus more on the competition. During the event, I did not think of my jumps, but more on my emotions. And I liked the applause of the public."

Caroline Zhang of the United States rebounded from a disastrous 10th place short program to win the free skate and the silver medal. She landed six clean triple jumps in her free program but had one marked down for being taken off the wrong edge. She also excelled with her spins and an elegant style.

"I gave away most of a chance for the title in my short program but did well today in the long program," she said. "I had tried to stay refocused and not to think about my short program any more. I went back to juniors because I like to compete. In order to qualify for the Olympic team, I have to work on my technique and have to fix a lot of things."

Ashley Wagner, also of the U.S., won the bronze medal with a dynamic program that included five relatively clean triple jumps, but a fall on the triple Salchow cost her the chance to finish higher.

"It was a good program for this week, except for the Salchow," she said. "I will work on a triple-triple combination, after a short break, and plan to put it into competition and will work on my skating skills."

The third American, Katrina Hacker, finished fifth overall after a fourth-place free skate that included three clean triple jumps (Salchow, toe loop and loop). She missed a chance at the podium after one shaky toe loop; her Salchow was also downgraded.

Elene Gedevanishvili, who finished first in Friday's short program, made several mistakes in the long program and ended up sixth overall.

With three skaters in the top five, the U.S. was the most successful nation in the ladies competition. Overall, Team USA won six medals, the most of any federation competing in Bulgaria. Russia won five medals, including two golds, and the Czech Republic earned one.