Russians down show-stealing French in short
Stepanova, Bukin lead by three points; Aldridge, Eaton sit third
|Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin are angling to become the fourth straight Russian team to win the world junior ice dancing title. (Getty Images)|
The new technical minimum points required by the ISU for entry helped set a high standard for the event, as there was only one fall.
Stepanova and Bukin skated a near-flawless blues and swing program at high speed, with fast, well-synchronized twizzles as the highlight. The other elements were very good as well, and they gained Level 4 and Level 3 for the two blues sections. Their program components reached an average of 7.5.
"It is always a great feeling when you are winning and you reach your goals, and this makes us really happy," Stepanova said. "Now we have the free dance left, and we have to focus and skate as well as we do in practice."
"[The blues] is a dance that we really like and it suits us well, so maybe we will use this program for an exhibition," she continued. "Probably now we are at the peak of our preparation. We learned from our mistakes in previous competitions and corrected them."
Although they are three points behind the Russians, Gabriella Papadakis and Giullaume Cizeron of France stole the show with their brilliant performance to "Minnie the Moocher" and "The Dirty Boogie." The students of Muriel Zazoui and Romain Haguenauer were even speedier than the Russians, while showing off their great flexibility and extroverted style.
Their program components averaged a bit lower than the Russians, and Haguenauer said he was not pleased with the Level 2 and Level 3 the team received on its two blues sections. Papadakis and Cizeron's lift and twizzles both gained Level 4, and their step sequence rated Level 3.
They bring 61.58 points into Friday's free dance.
"It was our season's best score. We did quite well technically in the dance," Cizeron said. "We will do our best the day after tomorrow to perform without any mistakes."
"We will have fond memories of this program, as we finished with a strong performance of it," Papadakis said. "We will move on to seniors next season. We are doing a lot better than last year, and there is a certain pressure to deal with."
Two-time U.S. junior champions Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton, who hail from the Detroit Skating Club, are third with 56.39 points.
The reigning world junior bronze medalists chose to skate to a swing rhythm, "Pennsylvania 6-5000," as well as "Down Home Blues." Aldridge had a small slip at the end of their step sequence, reducing that element to a Level 2, but otherwise the program was clean and energetic. The blues sections gained Level 2 and Level 3, with the lift and twizzles earning Level 4s.
"We feel great with our performance for the short dance, and we are excited for Friday's free program," Eaton said.
"For us, definitely the high point of the season was to qualify for the Final for the second time, and to qualify for junior worlds," he continued. "We had a very successful season, with gold medals at both of our Junior Grand Prix. It's just been a train ride of experiences, all building for the future."
Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter, who train at Maryland's Wheaton Skating Academy, sit eighth with 51.80 points after a strong performance of their entertaining and innovative "Zombie Blues" program, which includes a fun hip-hop rhythm. They earned Level 3 and Level 4 on their blues sections but just Level 1 for their step sequence.
"It was a great way to start the competition, our first junior worlds ever," McNamara said. "I think we had a great program today, a very special theme with the 'Ramalama (Bang Bang)' hip hop. It really stands out."
"It started out a little shaky, but very quickly we felt on stride, and then it really smoothed out," Carpenter said. "I think we can both be very happy with it. The result is as much as we could expect today and as much as we had hoped for. We are hoping for another exciting performance on Friday."
Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, also from Detroit Skating Club, sit in 11th place with 49.63 points. Skating to blues and swing rhythms, they gained two Level 4s but lost some ground with a Level 1 on one of their blues parts and Level 2 for the step sequence.
"We put out the best performance we could have," Hawayek said. "We are a brand new team, and this is the start of our career, so we are very happy with the way it worked out. For the free dance, we hope for another nice, clean skate."