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Lipnitskaia leads Gold, Sotnikova in Belarus

Russian displays mind-bending elasticity; Americans Gao, Lam in fifth, 11th, respectively

Julia Lipnitskaia is looking to become the third Russian lady in the last four years to win gold at the world junior championships.
Julia Lipnitskaia is looking to become the third Russian lady in the last four years to win gold at the world junior championships. (Robin Ritoss)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(03/02/2012) - Julia Lipnitskaia once again used her remarkable flexibility to her full advantage in Friday's short program at the 2012 World Junior Championships, jumping out to a five-point lead over American Gracie Gold.

Skating to "Dark Eyes," the 13-year-old Russian, who won the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, piled up points with her remarkable spins, all rated Level 4, and transitions in bone-defying positions. She also excelled with her jumps, including a triple toe-triple toe combination and the required triple Lutz.

Her 63.09 points give her a solid edge heading into the free skate.

"I am very happy with my performance today because everything I tried was very good," Lipnitskaia said. "I did not absolutely expect to be first here, so I am pleased with the result."

Lipnitskaia is still too young, under ISU rules, to compete at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships, and she will not be eligible for the 2013 World Championships either.

But she has big ambitions.

"My plan is to compete at the Sochi Olympics in two years, because in 2014 I am finally old enough," she said.

Gold, the 16-year-old Chicagoan who won the U.S. junior title in January, sits second with 58.00 points.

She opened her short to Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" with a triple flip-triple toe combination, but the second jump was a bit shaky. Her triple Lutz was solid, and she gained Level 4 for all three of her spins as well as Level 3 for her steps. However, her program components score (23.57) was a bit lower than those of the other top skaters, likely because she only competed in one Junior Grand Prix last fall.

"I am happy with my overall performance today," Gold said. "I got all the levels I had hoped for, and my jumps were very good, even if they could have been a little bit better. This is my first big international competition, so maybe that is why my components were not as high as before."

Like Lipnitskaia, Gold has Olympic dreams.

"I would like to represent my country at the Olympics in two years," she said. "I am not yet thinking about the next Olympics in 2018, but it would be amazing to be there as well."

Lipnitskaia's teammate, Adelina Sotnikova, the reigning champion at this event, is third with 56.57 points after a dynamic performance to Ravel's "Bolero." She landed a solid triple toe-triple toe, followed by a good triple Lutz, but her closing combination spin was too short and gained only Level 1.

"My spins were not so good today, but I hope to do clean spins tomorrow in the free program," said Sotnikova, who competed on the Grand Prix circuit last fall. "I was first last year, and I will fight to win the title back."

Christina Gao, who trains in Toronto under two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, is in fifth with 52.66 points. She hit a triple toe-triple toe combination and performed two Level 4 spins, but her triple Lutz got an edge call, and her flying sit spin gained just Level 1.

"I had to fight for every element, but I am glad I did everything," Gao said.

"I am proud of her; she did a very balanced program today," Orser said.

Californian Vanessa Lam is 11th after falling on her triple flip and failing to complete a combination.

"I am happy with my presentation part but not so much with the jumps today," she said. "Maybe I did not attack enough going into the flip, so it did not work as well as in practice."

Minsk madness: Unlike seniors, juniors are required to complete specific jump elements in their short programs. This season, ladies and men must include Lutz jumps, and pairs must include throw loops.