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Middleton, Hennings win intermediate pairs title

Belt, Johnson second; Klopstock, Botero third

(Renee Felton)

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By Renee Felton, special to icenetwork.com
(12/17/2010) - The 20-minute delay between groups two and three did not seem to faze Elise Middleton and Robert Hennings, as the duo became the 2011 intermediate pairs championships.

Sophia Dai suffered a bloody nose but toughly skated through it with partner Jeffrey Fishman. The amount of blood on the ice forced an unexpected resurface and two warm-up periods for the third group of competitors.

Middleton and Hennings were ready to perform their The Sound of Music free skate but were called off the ice when it became evident a shovel and bottle of water would not sufficiently clean the skating surface. Mo< The Angeles Figure Skating Club representatives finally took the ice and executed a program that featured a beautiful throw double flip and Level 3 death spiral, while their program components added up to a competition-best 30.45 points.

The newly-formed pairs of Caitlin Belt and Michael Johnson, who have skated together since June, and Hannah Klopstock and David Botero, who paired up in July, took home the silver and bronze medals, respectively.

Middleton, 11, and Hennings, 14, have won their second U.S. Junior Championships medal in as many tries after being 2010 juvenile bronze medalists. The pair, who has skated together for over three years, was surprised when coach Peter Oppegard decided to have them move up to the intermediate level after last season.

"We couldn't believe that we made the move up this year," Hennings said. "But Peter had faith in our abilities and knew we would rise to the occasion."

Their transition hasn't always been an easy one with the level of competition and difficulty of elements growing significantly at each level.

"To compete as intermediates is two times harder than juvenile," Middleton explained. "We have to fit so many elements into our programs. Plus, there are so many tough competitors here that we have to work even harder to be our best."

Belt, 14, and Johnson, 16, of the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club, earned 4.79 for their Level 4 pairs spin and cleanly landed their side-by-side double loop-single loop combination. They finished with 56.53 points.

"It really means a lot to us to do well at this competition," Johnson said. "We make a lot of sacrifices for skating, so it's nice to see our hard work pay off."

One of those sacrifices for Johnson includes living in Delaware to train while attending boarding school. His family resides in Virginia.

Klopstock could barely contain her excitement when discussing their bronze-medal-winning performance. The bouncy 13-year-old said her favorite, and most improved, element was death spiral. The judges also seemed to enjoy their Level 4 pair spin and step sequence, as they awarded the pair 53.92 total points.

"We skated well," Botero said. "We are just excited, even though I'm not sure it has really sunk in yet."

2010 juvenile champions Christina Zaitsev and Ernie Utah Stevens skated to a fourth place finish with 53.77 points despite having to overcome some obstacles in their first year as intermediates.

A broken toe has hampered Stevens since the week before Sectionals, while Zaitsev came down with the flu shortly after they qualified for the U.S. Junior Championships.

"We are proud of ourselves," he said. "It's been a challenging year, but I think we have handled it with grace."

As for Dai and Fishman, the Arctic Figure Skating duo finished in eighth place.