U.S. earns one silver, two bronze at JGP Poland

Russia earns top-two spots in dance



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By Becca Staed Bishop, special to
(09/12/2009) - Japan's Kanako Murakami earned her second gold on the Junior Grand Prix Series in the ladies event, while American Christina Gao picked up the bronze in her JGP debut. Gao's teammate Austin Kanallakan earned his third JGP silver medal in his fourth appearance on the circuit. Japan, Russia and Canada claimed the top three spots in the pairs event, while the Russians established their status as an ice dancing powerhouse, sweeping the top two spots in Torun. But American duo Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello snagged their first JGP honor in their third season on the circuit -- the bronze.

Japan's Murakami, Anna Ovcharova of Russia and American Gao grabbed hold of the top three spots at the JGP Poland, respectively, throughout the duration of the ladies event.

Murakami, last year's fourth-place finisher at the JGP Final in Goyang City, Republic of China, garnered her third JGP medal and second gold in as many years on the circuit, commanding the field with a 160.85 competition mark -- a more than 18-point lead.

In her short program to "Nectar Flamenco" and "Frente A Frente," Murakami landed a clean triple flip and excellent double Axel, which received a 1.14 Grade of Execution (GOE). She incurred a 1.43 deduction for taking off on an incorrect edge in her opening triple Lutz-double toe, but all of her spins earned Level 4s. Yet, her 56.16 segment mark led Ovcharova by a slim 1.95 points.

Murakami widened the gap with her "Swan Lake" free skate that featured five flawless triples, of which three were in combination, and five doubles, including two double Axels. She received one deduction of 1.29 for another incorrect takeoff edge on her opening triple Lutz. Yet, her three spins were again consistently flawless, earning Level 4s. Her 104.60 free skate score topped her pursuer by more than 16 points.

Ovcharova displayed two strong programs, particularly in the component marks, in only her second international event, significantly improving upon her fifth-place earlier this season at the inaugural JGP stop in Hungary.

Her short program was nearly spotless, with only a -.29 GOE on her opening triple flip. She went on to land a clean triple Lutz-double loop and a double Axel, which earned the highest GOE of .86. Her three spins were graded Level 3s, and her 21.76 component mark trailed Murakami by a mere .01 points.

The Russian could not stand up to Murakami's performance in the free skate, however. Both her triple Lutz's were downgraded, and she fell on her triple flip-double loop, receiving a -1.29 GOE. She did land two clean triples and four doubles, three of which were double Axels, including a double Axel-double Axel sequence.

Ovcharova 44.80 component mark once more closely trained Murakami by just less than two points. She finished with a 142.71 total. The 2009 U.S. junior bronze medalist, Gao, entered into her first international event with a few nerves but didn't let that get in the way of her skating.

"I was a little bit more nervous than usual because it's my first time competing out of the country," she said.

Gao collected 50.52 points for her "Morning Passages" short program, sitting a comfortable 3.82 points ahead in third.

She started off shaky, receiving a -1.29 GOE for an incorrect edge on her opening triple Lutz-double toe and then incurred another -1.86 for stepping out of her triple flip. Her flying sit spin received only a Level 1. Yet, she finished strong with three beautiful Level 4 spins, including a spin sequence that earned a 1.00 GOE. Her 20.65 component mark also kept her afloat going into the free skate.

Skating last, Gao enjoyed the anticipation.

"I like being last," she said after the draw. "Plus, I've done a lot of run-throughs, which has helped me because I am more sure of my program now."

Gao opened her free skate, performed to music from the ballet "La Fille Mal Gardee," with an impressive triple Lutz-double toe that took only a slight deduction. She followed that with a triple flip-double toe-double loop and a double Axel. Her flying sit spin received a Level 4, and the remaining two were graded Level 3s.

Though she fell on both her triple Lutz and triple flip, she was able to land both her triple Salchow and final jump -- a triple flip-double toe. She finished with a personal-best 134.55 competition mark.

"My free skate was not one of my best," Gao said. "I don't know what happened on my second Lutz and second flip. I usually don't miss them. But I feel really good about placing. I hope to get a second JGP and will definitely be more prepared and know what to expect.

"I want to get my spins and footwork a lot stronger and just make my overall program look a lot more strong and confident."

Italy's Alice Garlisi settled into fourth place with 121.74 points, a remarkable improvement upon her 17th-place finish earlier this season at the JGP Hungary. Gao's U.S. teammate Karen Zhou finished fifth with 121.01 points.

Japan's 2008 junior champion, Yuzuru Hanyu, controlled the men's event, separating himself from the pack with a 27.46 difference. He was the only skater in a wildly oscillating field to maintain his position after the short in the free skate program.

U.S. team member Kanallakan placed fifth in the free skate but retained his second-place short program finish to earn his third silver medal and fifth JGP medal in four years on the circuit. Russia's Gordei Gorshkov finished third in the short program and third overall with a 166.59 competition mark, garnering his first medal on the JGP Series.

Just .03 points separated Hanyu and Kanallakan in the short program, but Hanyu's strong 30.11 component mark gave him a more than two-point advantage despite several careless mistakes in his Mission Impossible 2-themed short. Hanyu started well with a clean triple Axel, followed by a triple Lutz-double toe and two Level 4 spins. However, he took off on an incorrect edge on his triple flip, losing 1.14 points, and exceeded his program time limit to lose another point.

He nailed his "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" free skate, receiving only a -1.14 GOE for the same mistake on his triple flip. The rest of his performance was spotless and featured six clean triples -- including two triple Axels -- three doubles in combinations and a single Axel. His three spins were on point and graded Level 4s, and his 64.40 component mark led the pack by more than 10 points. He earned 131.88 for his free skate and 198.65 overall.

Kanallakan had a clean short program that received no negative GOEs. His first four elements were clean triples, including a triple Axel, followed by a triple Lutz-triple toe. He received a Level 4 on his flying sit spin but only Level 1s for his remaining spins and Level 2s on his step sequences.

"I feel like my performance was a culmination of things -- being ready and having more time than before previous summer competitions," Kanallakan said following his short program. "Experience definitely helps too."

He slipped to fifth in the free skate performed to the Pink Panther theme, after three jumps were downgraded, including his opening triple Axel, and another was taken off on an incorrect edge. He also lost 1.60 points on his final jump -- a double Axel.

"My free skate wasn't so great," said Kanallakan. "I think I was just not in the right place going into it mentally and made some mistakes. I am happy with my placement, but I am disappointed in my skate. I hope to work on my program component scores for next time."

He did land a clean triple loop, triple flip and an impressive triple Lutz-triple toe, for which he received the full 11 points. In addition, all of his spins were graded Level 4. He finished with a 104.51 free skate score -- only 4.11 points behind second place - and 171.19 overall.

Gorshkov earned 59.88 points for his short program, in which he landed a clean triple Lutz-triple toe and double Axel. Two of his spins earned Level 4s. He finished fourth in the free skate segment with 106.71 points, having landed five clean triples and four doubles, two of which were Axels. His spins were all graded Level 4s.

Gorshkov's teammate Alexander Nikolaev came in sixth in the short and second in the free skate to finish fourth overall with 163.94 points.

Despite an on-ice accident, in which American Keegan Messing's hamstring was cut, the 2009 U.S. junior silver medalist chose to skate. Luckily, the cut did not reach down into the muscle. He placed 11th in the short program but rallied to finish third in the free skate with 107.73 points, and sixth overall with a 153.46 competition mark.

Gold medalists Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran of Japan garnered their second JGP medal this season since winning bronze last week in Lake Placid. The Japanese national champions set a personal best overall score of 150.03 at the event -- a nearly 19-point increase from their previous record.

The newly-paired team of Tatiana Novik and Mikhail Kuznetsov of Russia finished just .99 points behind Takahashi and Tran in second, while reigning Canadian junior champions Brittany Jones and Kurtis Gaskell came in third with a 129.45 competition mark. Takahashi and Tran scored a personal best of 54.53 for their "Farrucas" short program, highlighted by clean side-by-side double Axels, a Level 4 double flip twist lift, a Level 4-Group 4 lift, and flying change-foot combination spins that also received a Level 4.

Though second in the free skate, their 95.50 score was also a personal best and just .23 points behind Novik and Kuznetsov. Their 46.28 component mark led the field by more than two-and-a-half points. They displayed six Level 4 elements, including a strong Group 3 lift, a superb Group 5 Axel lasso lift and a closing forward inside death spin. They also landed three side-by-side double jumps.

Novik and Kuznetsov gave a flawless short program performance, featuring two Level 4 spins, a Level 4-Group 4 lift and clean side-by-side double Axels. They earned a 53.31 segment score. They pulled into first in the free skate with 95.73 points, displaying a nice throw triple loop, three Level 4 spins, and a side-by-side double Axel-double Axel jump sequence. They finished with a 149.04 competition mark.

Jones and Gaskell finished fifth in the short program with just 43.78 points. They received Level 4s for their Group 4 lift and closing combination pairs spin, but lost a full point on their Level 1 backward outside death spiral.

They came back to finish third in the free skate, losing just over a point on four elements throughout but opening strong with a triple flip twist lift, followed by a throw triple loop that garnered a 1.30 GOE. Two of their spins were graded Level 4s, as was their Group 5 Axel lasso lift and final Group 3 lift.

Russia's Alexandra Vasilieva and Yuri Shevchuk finished fourth with 127.12 points.

The U.S. teams of newly-paired Felicia Zhang and Taylor Toth, and Tori Vollmer and Zack Sidhu finished sixth and eighth, respectively, in their international debuts.

Ice Dancing
The Russian teams of Elena Ilyinikh and Nikita Katsalapov, and Marina Antipova and Artem Kudashev, the 2009 Russian junior bronze medalists commanded the ice dancing event, garnering the gold and silver medals, respectively. But the lone American duo of Cannuscio and Lorello trailed Antipova and Kudashev closely to earn their first JGP medal -- a bronze -- in their third season on the circuit.

Ilyinikh and Katsalapov clung to their first-place spot throughout all three segments. They took a nearly three-point lead over their teammates in the compulsory dance and further distanced themselves in the original dance, in which they earned Level 4s on their opening twizzles and their straight-line lift. Their 25.07 component mark topped the field by nearly three-and-a-half points.

Their 82.56 free dance score was 12.55 points ahead of Cannuscio and Lorello, who finished second in the segment. The Russians' three lifts, twizzles and spin all received Level 4s. Both step sequences earned Level 3s, and their component mark once more significantly bested the field. The team earned a personal best total score of 171.61, beating their previous record of 166.06 set earlier this season at the JGP Hungary, where they also won gold.

Antipova and Kudashev finished second in the compulsory dance and third in both the original and free dance events. They trailed Canadians Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam by just less than two points in the original dance with 46.14 points. They displayed a Level 4 lift and Level 3 twizzles, and their 21.61 component mark was the segment's second highest.

In the free dance, Cannuscio and Lorello took a slight lead of .31 points over the silver medalists, who received three consecutive Level 4s for their spin and three lifts. The Russians' 34.07 component mark was again the second best. They finished with 148.03 overall, just 2.44 ahead of Cannuscio and Lorello.

The American team sat third after the compulsory dance and dropped to fifth in the original dance when they lost their rhythm on the twizzles and the level dropped on their step sequences.

"Our twizzles were screwed up, and it knocked them down to a Level 3, but we also got some deductions that messed up the next section for us," Lorello said. "That made it look sloppy. The footwork wasn't as deep as it could have been, but I felt like we could come back with the free dance. It's very strong for us this year."

Despite a few nerves going into their "Hernando's Hidewaway" free dance after Lorello's screws fell out of his skate during practice just an hour-and-a-half before competition, the couple gave an excellent performance. They received Level 4s on five of seven elements, including their opening twizzles, three lifts and combination spin.

After three seasons in the JGP Series, the team was thrilled to finally go home with a medal.

"Every JGP we've gone to, we have learned something new," Lorello said. "We've faced different problems or none at all, but we just get through them and focus on the competition."

New team Paul and Islam trailed close behind the U.S. team by a mere .46 points to finish fourth.