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Sui and Han say 'Howdy!' to first place

Chinese pair looking for second JGP Final title in three years; Canadians second, Americans third

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han have big things planned for the pairs free skate.
Wenjing Sui and Cong Han have big things planned for the pairs free skate. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(12/08/2011) - Hee haw!

As expected, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China won the pairs short program at the 2011 Junior Grand Prix Final with a clean, energetic outing of their country western routine, hitting a big throw triple loop, strong Level 3 triple twist and tight pairs combination spin along the way.

The gingham-clad, two-time world junior champions earned 57.43 points for a 4.66-point lead over Canada's Katherine Bobak and Ian Beharry. Americans Britney Simpson and Matthew Blackmer sit third after gaining a season-best 50.91 points.

"Tonight we just did our best," Han said. "I think today was our best short program as juniors. We will also try to do our best tomorrow."

Sui and Han also competed on the senior Grand Prix circuit this fall, winning silver at Skate Canada as well as gold at both of their junior events. Last season, they also did double duty, qualifying for both the senior and junior Grand Prix Final. This year, a disappointing fifth-place finish at the Cup of China relegated them to just the junior event.

The high-flying duo, which is coached by Bo Luan in Harbin, will serve up some excitement in Friday's free skate: They plan both a quadruple twist and throw quadruple.

Bobak and Beharry impressed with their slow, lyrical short to "I Had a Farm in Africa," the main theme from Out of Africa.

The Canadians, teamed by coaches Kris and Kristy Wirtz in February 2011, had the highest double twist of the event as well as a solid throw triple loop and Level 4 straight-line steps and combination spin. Their 52.77-point total is a new season high.

"It felt really good to qualify for the Final, especially since this is our first year together," Beharry said. "It's also great to skate in front of a home crowd."

The Colorado Springs-based Simpson and Blackmer put out an intense, well-paced program to music from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, including a solid throw triple loop and Level 4 death spiral and combination spin.

"It felt really good to just go out and skate the way we've been training," Simpson said.

Simpson and Blackmer were teamed by their coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, in February 2011. Simpson won a U.S. junior silver medal with previous partner Nathan Miller.

"We spend a lot of time on our component mark because we feel that is something we are strong at," Blackmer said. "We work on basic posture and stroking and enhancing the dynamics of our skating."

"Matthew has come such a long way," Sappenfield said. "At the beginning, he was riding Britney's coattails a bit. Now, he has really grown to be the leader of the team on the ice."