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Chinese team stakes out slim lead in pairs short

Five points separate top seven teams; Denney, Frazier pull into third

Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin tallied 54.95 points in their triumphant short program.
Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin tallied 54.95 points in their triumphant short program. (Getty Images)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(02/27/2013) - The 2013 World Junior Championships in Milan continued with 16 pairs competing their short programs on Wednesday evening in front of fewer than 100 spectators. All will move on to the free skate, to be held Thursday evening.

World junior silver medalists Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin of China, fifth at the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, grabbed the lead with 54.95 points, but the difference between first and seventh place is just over five points.

The highlight of their program was the huge triple throw Salchow, for which they got seven +2 grades of execution (GOEs) from the judges. Four of their five elements gained Level 4, even the step sequence. Their side-by-side double Axels were flawless, and their double twist very high.

Their program, choreographed by Marina Zoueva to Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto, had good flow, but their presentation was not outstanding, their program components score averaging to just 5.9 points.

"It was the best performance of the season, and I am especially proud of my partner today; she did a good job," Jin said. "I think we have made a lot of progress, and I want to thank our coaches [including Bo Luan] for the work they did with us."

In the press conference, the three top teams were asked to name the pair that inspires them most. Yu and Jin's response was not surprising.

"We really like [Qing] Pang and [Jian] Tong and look up to them, but we are still far from them and still have to learn a lot," Jin said. "But, our biggest idols are the Olympic champions, Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao."

Canadians Margaret Purdy and Michael Marinaro, who placed fifth at this event last season, are second with 53.09 points. Like the Chinese pair, they made no mistakes, but had lower GOEs.

Their components reached an average of 6.0. Performing to music of Puccini, they brought some local flavor to the rink.

"We are very pleased with our skate today," Purdy said. "It was our last competition of the season, so we just wanted to enjoy it. We soaked up every moment of it and we are proud of what we did."

For their idols, they surprisingly chose a team in another discipline.

"We feel especially inspired by Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. We look up to them a lot," Purdy said.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who train in Florida under three-time U.S. champion John Zimmerman and his wife, Italian champion Silvia Fontana, are third with 52.61 points.

The Americans made no mistakes in their stylish "Malaguena" short, choreographed by Julie Marcotte, and their required double twist was excellent. However, the levels on the death spiral and step sequence were lower than that of the top two pairs.

On the other hand, they had the highest program components of all of the pairs (6.2 on average) due to their high speed and good presentation.

"It was a great feeling that my partner and I were definitely connected together," Frazier said. "It was not just that we skated a clean program; it was how well we felt getting into the program and fed off of each other. It's been a very long season and it was nice to get out there and show off some of the hard work we've done, to be able to perform like that."

Denney and Frazier are most inspired by three-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany.

"We're trying to focus more on the program components and skating structure, while still doing the elements well, just as Aliona and Robin do," Frazier said. "Our biggest challenge is trying to give a feeling to our programs while still focusing on the skating, as well as doing the technical elements. I feel the Germans have accomplished this."

Frazier has one wish.

"If we could have an element taken out of the short program, we would [remove] the back outside death spiral and maybe we would put in a triple twist."

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia are fourth with 52.25 points, despite Morozov falling on the double Axel.

Brittany Jones and Ian Beharry, who train in Kitchener-Waterloo under Kris and Kristy Wirtz, are fifth with 51.57 points, while Annabelle Prölss and Ruben Blommaert of Germany sit sixth with 49.95 points.

Jessica Noelle Calalang and Zack Sidhu, who train under three-time U.S. pair champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand in Alisa Viejo, Calif., placed eighth with 45.72 points. Calalang fell on an under-rotated double Axel, and their death spiral gained just Level 1. The other elements were clean.

"We had a little mistake in the beginning, but after that we put it behind us and did really well," Calalang said. "Without the mistake our result could be better, but generally we skated well," Sidhu said.

U.S. junior champions Britney Simpson and Matthew Blackmer of Colorado Springs, Colo., are ninth with 43.16 points after Simpson fell on an under-rotated double Axel. In addition, their spin and death spiral were a bit shaky.

"It was not our best today, but we are hopeful for tomorrow," Blackmer said. "It is still a relatively new program (set to a Flamenco by Didula). We are still kind of rough with it."

"It is a really long season, and we are going to compete tomorrow and try to have fun," Simpson said. "We made this new program because the other program had no fire; it was not really meant for us. We changed it to something that was more fun."