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Hawayek, Baker capture lone U.S. medal at JGP Germany; Keiser clinches spot in Final
|JGP Germany silver medalists Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker with Pasquale Camerlengo. (Jenny Mast)|
But all eyes were on the JGP Final board, as JGP Germany represented the last event of the qualifying season. Bolstered by a strong ladies field, the United States will send six athletes to the Junior Grand Prix Final in Sochi, Russia, Dec. 6-9. Team USA entered the competition with five athletes having already qualified for the Final, and Leah Keiser earned her spot as well.
In her first season on the Junior Grand Prix circuit, Keiser held on tightly by finishing fourth, landing her the last spot in the Final. Team USA will have three of the six ladies in Sochi, also home to the 2014 Olympic Winter Games. Keiser will join teammates Angela Wang and Hannah Miller, who clinched their spots earlier this month.
The ice dancing team of Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton will also represent the U.S. at the Final, where they took fourth place last season.
JGP rookie Anna Pogorilaya of Russia, who was third after the short program, ran away from the field with a strong free skate to earn the gold and a spot in the JGP Final. Pogorilaya finished with 160.52 points to easily defeat silver medalist Miyabi Oba of Japan (144.51 points) and bronze medalist Maria Stavitskaia of Russia (143.52 points). Keiser's 141.15 points put her in fourth.
Coming off the heels of a gold-medal performance at JGP Turkey, Keiser looked poised to make the podium. She pulled off a dazzling short program in which she landed a triple Lutz-triple toe, a triple flip and double Axel for a personal-best score of 55.14 points. That put her less than two points behind leader Stavitskaia (57.07), but a rough free skate took a toll, earning Keiser only 86.01 points and seventh place in the segment.
But Keiser gutted it out. The nine points she picked up for finishing fourth were enough to clinch that final spot in the JGP Final.
Team USA's Samantha Cesario, the JGP Austria bronze medalist, saw her chance at the JGP Final disappear after she strained a hamstring during practice before the short program. She skated through it and placed 10th with 42.36 points.
Cesario tweeted after her short program: "Rough skate today. Hoping my hamstring feels better in the morning."
She later withdrew from the competition and will be fully evaluated upon her return to the U.S.
Russia's Maxim Kovtun skated well, winning both programs to earn 193.04 points and the gold medal. Japan's Shoma Uno was close behind with 188.48 for the silver, while Alexander Samarin of Russia won the bronze with 179.83 points.
Kovtun, the JGP Croatia winner, posted 68.13 to lead after the short program, building a solid advantage over Uno, who had 63.48 points. American Jay Yostanto tallied a personal-best short program score of 61.04 to put him in third, but he stumbled in his free skate (100.32) and dropped to sixth overall with 161.36 points, just 0.49 behind German Martin Rappe.
Competing in his fourth JGP event of his career, American Shotaro Omori finished fourth with 172.56 points. Omori, who is still seeking his first JGP medal, has never finished outside of the top five. Omori was fifth after the short program with 58.70 points.
Both American men turned in personal-best performances in their short programs. Yostanto landed a triple Axel, triple Lutz-double toe combination and a triple flip. Omori landed a triple Lutz-triple toe combination and a triple flip.
Russia placed three pairs teams in the JGP Final, as Lina Fedorova and Maxim Miroshkin and teammates Maria Vigalova and Egor Zakroev finished 1-2 at JGP Germany. Canadians Brittany Jones and Ian Beharry also punched their Final ticket with a bronze-medal finish.
The 2012 U.S. junior silver medalist team of Britney Simpson and Matthew Blackmer finished the final qualifying event in fifth place with 131.13 points. They also placed fifth in the short program, posting a score of 45.64 points.
In the short program, Fedorova and Miroshkin jumped out to a 5.42-point lead with 53.26 points. Home-country favorites Annabelle Prölss and Ruben Blommaert of Germany were second with 47.84 points. Jones and Beharry were third with 46.90.
Team USA will need a little luck if it is going to send a pairs team to the Final. Americans Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage are the first alternates, while Simpson and Blackmer are the third alternates. At the 2011 JGP Final, Simpson and Blackmer came home with bronze medals.
The Russian duo of Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin stepped it up in the free dance, holding on for the gold medal with 147.10 points. Hawayek and Baker, who trailed by less than two points after the short dance (58.66), earned the silver with 138.61 points. Daria Morozova and Mikhail Zhirnov of Russia took the bronze with 124.41 points.
Stepanova and Bukin, the 2012 world junior silver medalists, will lead four Russian ice dancing teams into the Final. If the name Bukin sounds familiar, Ivan is the son of 1988 Olympic ice dancing champion Andrei Bukin.
For Hawayek and Baker, the silver medal represents good things to come. They only became a team in June, and their 138.61-point total topped their debut competition at JGP Turkey -- where they finished fifth -- by a whopping 10.62 points.