Cesario seizes slim lead in crowded ladies field

Russia's Pogorilaya, USA's Hicks tie for second; Lipnitskaia takes fourth

Samantha Cesario was pleased with the final performance of her <i>Carmen</i> program.
Samantha Cesario was pleased with the final performance of her Carmen program. (Getty Images)


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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to
(03/01/2013) - Samantha Cesario's sultry and expressive short to David Garrett's version of the classic Carmen won the day in Milan, where the New Yorker took a 0.71-point lead over the field at the 2013 World Junior Championships.

The spectators at Friday's ladies short program witnessed a tight, if imperfect, battle; just one point separates first from fifth place. However, most of the skaters made mistakes, with many of the favorites putting out programs far off their season's bests.

Once again, a snafu delayed the proceedings; due to a partial power failure, organizers could not play music or make announcements, and the final two skaters had to wait 30 minutes to compete their programs. This came after, on Thursday, the pairs free skate started 85 minutes late when a malfunctioning Zamboni carved gouges into the ice.

Cesario, a 19-year-old brunette from Long Island, gained 54.69 points for a short that included a fine triple flip and solid double Axel. Although she completed her planned triple loop-double toe loop combination, the loop was judged under-rotated by the technical panel.

Her spins and step sequence were excellent, gaining high grades of execution GOEs from the judges, and her program components averaged around 6.2.

"I'm really happy with how I skated today," Cesario said. "It wasn't my complete best, but I wanted to come out and do a nice, clean program, and I think that's what I did. I'm happy with how it went, and it feels really good to be in first."

Cesario, who trains under Mary Lynn Gelderman and Peter Burrows in Monsey, N.Y., placed eighth at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships after missing the event in 2011 and '12 due to back and knee injuries.

"I've had my Carmen program for three years now, and it has gotten better each season. I'm really comfortable with it now," she said. "I'm happy that that was my last performance of it, and I feel good about it. My strategy for the free is just to go out and do what I do every day in practice and just skate confidently and cleanly."

Anna Pogorilaya -- considered Russia's third-best lady here, behind better-known teammates Julia Lipnitskaia and Elena Radionova -- is second with 53.98 points. Her triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination was good, but she got an edge call on her triple flip, and her flying combination spin was a bit shaky.

"All of our [Russian] girls didn't skate so great today," Pogorilaya said. "I skated the cleanest, and therefore I am in second place right now. I am overall pretty pleased with my performance."

Courtney Hicks, the 2011 U.S. junior champion who placed fourth at the 2013 U.S. Championships, also earned 53.98 points for her short and stands just 0.71 off of the lead.

Skating to the Russian folk song "Korobushka," Hicks began her jump combination with a good triple Lutz, but the triple toe loop was landed forward and was downgraded by the technical panel. Later, she stepped out of a triple flip. Her three spins were excellent.

"I was very happy with my performance, even though it wasn't quite as well as I could skate," said Hicks, who trains in California under Jere Michael and Alex Chang. "I went out and I did what I wanted to do. I'm just going to keep it light for the free program. My strategy for the free is to go out and skate my best and keep it confident and strong."

Russian favorites Lipnitskaia and Radionova are in fourth and fifth place, respectively, less than a point off the lead.

Lipnitskaia, the defending world junior champion, began her program with a combination, but after the triple Lutz, she added only a single toe loop instead of a triple or double. Her triple flip was also a bit shaky, but the other five elements were excellent. For her marvelous layback spin, she even got seven +3 grades of execution (GOEs) from the judges.

Radionova, winner of the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, under-rotated the triple Lutz in her combination but was able to add a good triple toe loop. Her more costly mistake was turning an intended triple flip into a double, and then falling on the jump. Still, her spins and step sequence were world class, with her difficult layback gaining six +3 GOEs from the judges.

Yasmin Siraj of Boston sits in 13th position with 47.65 points after under-rotating the second jump in her triple toe-triple toe combination and falling on her triple flip.

"I am happy that I did the triple toe-triple toe combination, but I was not so pleased with the fall on the triple flip," said Siraj, who trains under Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson. "There is still room for improvement; I was not quick and sharp enough on the landing of the flip."