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Miyahara stands tall among Lake Placid ladies

Americans Hicks, Wang win silver, bronze, respectively; Baga bags fifth-place finish

Japan's Satoko Miyahara captured her first gold medal in the Junior Grand Prix Series.
Japan's Satoko Miyahara captured her first gold medal in the Junior Grand Prix Series. (Daphne Backman)

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By Mickey Brown
(09/01/2012) - Everything about Satoko Miyahara's skating is big.

It's only the skater herself that isn't.

Standing just 4-foot-8, Miyahara used a dazzling array of triples, incredible flexibility and a commanding ice presence en route to winning the ladies free skate and the gold medal Saturday night at Junior Grand Prix Lake Placid.

"I was a little nervous, but I did my best," Miyahara said. "I'm really happy."

The Japanese skater started her Romeo and Juliet program with a triple Lutz-triple toe combination (-0.70 grade of execution) and followed that with four more clean triples. Her spins were nonpareil -- she received Level 4 for all three of them, making her the only skater in the competition to achieve that feat -- and when it was over, the crowd in Herb Brooks Arena gave Miyahara a well-deserved standing ovation.

When asked if that was the best she'd ever skated that program, she replied, "Yeah ... until now."

The reigning Japanese junior champion used Tom Dickson to choreograph this program, which requires a skater with gravitas, something not often found in a slight 14-year-old girl. She credited a lesson with Marina Zoueva with improving her interpretation of the music.

Courtney Hicks made her triumphant return to competition, taking the silver medal. The 16-year-old Californian looked like she hadn't lost a step since the last time she competed on American soil, when she won the junior title at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Skating to "Red Violin" by Ikuko Kawai, Hicks opened her program with a triple flip-triple toe and landed the majority of her jumps with ease, punctuating her routine with her trademark Tw-Hicks spin.

"I actually feel stronger on all my jumps," said Hicks, who suffered a broken leg at 2011 JGP Italy. "The technique is more solid."

Hicks was recently reunited with coach Scott Wendland, who coached the skater when she was an intermediate and novice.

"What makes it easier for us is we do have a history together. I know her skating very well," Wendland said. "When we come to events, we're used to each other because we've done it before."

Hicks' free skate score of 102.41 is a career best, as is her competition total of 153.77.

Finishing second in the free skate and third overall was Angela Wang, who earned her first JGP medal.

A difficult short program, in which she missed her first two jumping passes, had the Colorado-based skater eighth heading into the free. Skating in the second-to-last group, Wang came out on the attack, landing an incredible triple Lutz-triple toe-double toe, an element for which she earned 12.10 points. From there, she skated lights out, save for a funky landing on her double Axel.

"It was like at nationals, when I found myself in the same situation," said Wang, who placed 16th in the short at the 2012 U.S. Championships before rallying with an eighth-place showing in the free. "I thought about what I did at nationals, what I was thinking, and I brought that out today."

Wang's sensual interpretation of her Ladies in Lavender program earned her 105.69 points, 20 more than her previous international best, giving her a competition total of 150.40.

She credits her coaches, Damon Allen and Christy Krall, with helping relax her before it was her turn to skate.

"They brought games to play, for after the warm-up and before my skate, so I wasn't totally focused on what I had to do," Wang said.

Which game did they play?

"Scattergories."

Kiri Baga put out a fairly clean performance of her "Samson and Delilah" free skate. She placed fourth in the segment and fifth overall.