Miner, Shibutanis lead at JGP Lake Placid

Canadians Hole, Johnson lead after pairs short

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani trail by .49 points heading into the free dance.
Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani trail by .49 points heading into the free dance. (Daphne Backman)


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By Becca Staed Bishop, special to
(09/04/2009) - U.S. junior champion Ross Miner sits atop the men's field following the short program in his first appearance at the Junior Grand Prix Series. His 63.82 segment score leads Japan's Kento Nakamura, an unexpected second-place contender, by just 1.34 points.

Miner gave an explosive opening with a beautiful triple Axel that garnered a 1.43 Grade of Execution (GOE). He stumbled on the landings of his following triple Lutz-triple toe -- the latter of which was downgraded -- receiving a -1.14 GOE. But he regained composure to secure Level 3s for his straight-line step sequence and subsequent flying sit spin. He landed a triple flip with a slight negative GOE, but his closing change foot combination spin merited a Level 4.

"Obviously the [triple] Lutz-[triple] toe and [triple] flip could have been slightly better, but I think I did what I have been training to do," Miner said. "I was really happy with my triple Axel."

This is Miner's first season successfully landing the triple Axel in competition. He landed the jump in the short program and free skate at the 2009 Liberty Summer Competition in July, where he came in second in both segments as a senior.

"They weren't perfect, but it's fun to work on so I enjoy doing it," he said of the jumps.

With 27.67, Miner earned the highest component mark and the second-best element score of 36.15 points. One challenge for him is what he calls always "pulling a Ross," tripping over his own two feet on the ice, which happened both during his practice session and his short program.

"It's just my natural clumsiness," said Miner, who also tripped at the 2008 U.S. Championships whilst approaching the opening position of his free skate.

The biggest surprise of the night was Nakamura, who finished fourth as a junior at the Japanese nationals. His only and best finish on the JGP circuit was 10th at the 2007 JGP event in Romania.

Nakamura's 37.05 element score was the field's highest. He opened with a triple Lutz-double toe, followed by a nice triple Axel that garnered a 1.29 GOE. He also landed a clean triple flip and received Level 3s for both step sequences and his change foot combination change.

"I felt my performance was very good," Nakamura said. "Last year, my short performance was bad, so I was happy today."

Reigning Swedish silver medalist Alexander Majorov, who has collected four top-10 finishes in the JGP Series, is in third place with a 59.72 segment score.

He opened with a powerful triple Lutz-triple toe that earned a 1.43 GOE for an 11.43 element total, followed by an excellent triple flip. He fell during his first change foot combination spin, which earned no points, but recovered with a Level 4 flying sit spin.

"I have trained this program for the last five months, but I didn't expect that it should be so good," Majorov said. "But I don't why I fell in the spin. I only saw the roof after spinning, and when I got up everyone was clapping their hands. That is the only thing I remember."

His 26.12 program component score was the field's second highest.

"I really like the choreography," he said. "I take it more easily than last year. I try to skate calm and not rush the program every time."

Germany's Daniel Dotzhauer sits fourth with 56.24 points.

Pairs short program
An unexpected pair of new teams popped up at the top following the short program, including Canadians Kaleigh Hole and Adam Johnson in first, and Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov of Russia in second. Switzerland's two-time reigning national champions Anais Morand and Antoine Dorsaz sit third.

New partners Hole and Johnson are making their international debut at Lake Placid, having only teamed up in July 2009. They came in 10th at this year's Indy Pairs Challenge.

The team opened with a Level 3 double Lutz twist lift, which received a .50 GOE. They landed clean side-by-side double flips, and their group 4 lift was given a Level 4. Both of their pairs spins earned Level 4s as well.

They earned the highest technical elements mark of the field, with 29.70 and 19.69, respectively. Yet their 49.39 segment score leads the Russian team by less than two points.

Also making their international debut, Stolbova and Klimov collected a 47.53 program mark.

The team lost crucial points after falling on their opening double Lutz twist lift, for which they received a -1.00 GOE. Yet, they regained confidence to display a nice throw triple Salchow, as well as flawless side-by-side double Axels that garnered a 1.00 GOE. Their closing pairs combination spin earned a Level 4.

Swiss team Morand and Dorsaz are appearing in their fourth JGP Series. They collected their best JGP finishes last year, placing eighth and sixth in the Czech Republic and Belarus, respectively.

The team's nerves were ruffled when their skates got lost amid their travels to Lake Placid. The skates arrived only a day before the short program event, which allowed for their first and only practice on competition day. They received negative GOEs on six of eight elements, including a -2.00 GOE for falling on their opening throw triple Salchow.

"We are really disappointed with the throw because it was pretty good in the warm-up, but overall, it was not too bad for the first short program of the season," Morand said.

The only bright spot came at the beginning of their routine -- a level 4, group 4 lift that earned a .29 GOE.

Americans Britney Simpson and Nathan Miller closely trail the Swiss in fourth with a 44.11 program mark. They fell on their throw triple Salchow and their double Axel was downgraded.

"It wasn't what we were expecting," Simpson said. "I don't think I had enough attack, but I felt like even after the throw, we came back and stayed strong throughout the rest of the program."

Yet, the team opened strong with a Level 2 double Lutz twist, received a Level 4 for their group 4 lift and earned a .50 GOE on their straight-line step sequence. Most impressive was their 20.22 component mark -- the field's highest by more than a half point.

"Over the summer we've been working on our extension, our lines, and making sure we have a connection between us," Miller said. "Since nationals we've grown from having a relationship between the two of us that is carried out onto the ice to having a relationship between us throughout our programs."

Compulsory dance
Even a 30-minute music malfunction delaying the second group of the compulsory dance event could not fray the nerves of Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who took the ice first after the mishap.

"We've been in this situation before," said Alex. "It kind of brought a lighter atmosphere to the competition."

"We felt OK about it because all the skaters were in the same boat," added Maia.

They earned 34.09 points for their Argentine Tango, placing them more than three-and-a-half points ahead of Canadians Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill.

The Shibutanis exhibited beautiful lines and precise twizzles, collecting a 15.19 component mark that topped the field by nearly two points. They received nary a negative mark from the judges, with four GOEs equal to or greater than .50, and a total element score of 18.90 that again bested the field by nearly two points.

Ralph and Hill, who finished fourth at this event in 2007, brought in a 30.43 compulsory score.

"I was happy with our performance," said Ralph. "I think it was the best we could have done at this point in the season. We know we have to work on the performance level, speed and overall edge quality. But our performance scores are getting better."

The duo earned a 13.41 component mark and a 17.02 total element score. They received one negative GOE, a -.14, near the end of their performance. They will perform an African-themed original dance.

"It's kind of different from what a lot of people are doing," Hill said. "We are going to have fun with it. We are really looking forward to performing and getting out on the international stage for the first time this season."

Sitting in third is the Russian team of Victoria Sinitsina and Ruslan Zhiganshin with 29.87 points. In only their second-ever Junior Grand Prix event, they earned the second-highest element score with 17.12, a 12.75 program component score and no negative GOEs.

In their first appearance on the JGP circuit, reigning U.S. novice champions Lauri Bonacorsi and Travis Mager are in fourth place with a 29.73 segment score.

"We couldn't be happier with how we skated because we had fun," Mager said. "We were in the warm-up and Lauri looked at me and said, 'this is so much fun,' and I was like, 'you are completely right.'"