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Wenjing Sui and Cong Han Take Slim Lead

Just weeks after China won two of the three Olympic medals in the pairs discipline (including gold for Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao), the country's young upstarts are making their play for the top spot on the podium at the 2010 World Junior Championships being held in the Netherlands. The ISU is awarding a global prize pot of $200,000 (U.S.) at the competition with couples placing between first and 12th receiving cash rewards. The top pairs and ice dances will receive $15,000, respectively, to split.

Pairs Short Program

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han have already made for themselves by claiming the gold in the pairs discipline at the 2009-10 Junior Grand Prix Final. The young Chinese pairs team took the lead in The Hague yesterday. Japan’s Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran placed a close second in the short program and Russia’s Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov ranked third.

Sui and Han train under coach Bo Luan at the Harbin Training Center. They gave an energetic performance to the Russian folk music “Barynia” and scored a season best 60.94 points (36.46/24.48). “Overall we’re quite satisfied with our performance,” Han said, “although in some places it wasn’t our best.”

Sui and Han hit solid side-by-side double Axels and a high double twist. They earned level fours for their death spiral and the pair combination spins. Their only miscue came when Sui put her hand down on the landing of the couple’s throw triple Salchow.

Takahashi and Tran’s expressive Flamenco program earned a season best 59.54 points (36.46/23.08). Their routine was highlighted by a throw triple Salchow and a one-armed lift. They hit double Axels and performed a nice double twist. Their spins were excellent; both sets were graded level fours. The duo placed second at the JGP Final.

“Today was really good,” Tran said. “We had a few wobbles here and there, but we were together in the side-by-side spin, which is better than usual.”

Stolbova and Klimov earned a season best 54.26 points (32.12/22.12), despite their straight line footwork being awarded just a level one. They landed a superb throw triple Salchow, a double twist and double Axels in their routine to Russian folklore.

“We executed all our elements. We did [the] minimum and we didn’t outdo ourselves,” Klimov said. “We are pleased that it was a clean performance and that we got our best score of the season.”

Americans Britney Simpson and Nathan Miller turned in a solid performance to rank fourth in the short program with 52.20 points. Tatiana Novik and Mikhail Kuznetsov (RUS) are currently in fifth place (she fell on a double Axel) with 49.38 points.

Compulsory Dance

Russia’s Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov took the lead in the Westminster Waltz Compulsory Dance followed by Americans Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani ) and Russians Ekaterina Pushkashand Jonathan Guerreiro who are in second and third places, respectively.

Ilinykh and Katsalapov delivered a flowing, confident Waltz to score a seasons best 37.52 points (20.24 element score/17.28 program component score).

“It is a little unexpected for us to be in the lead, after all, we are not the top-ranked Russian team,” Ilinykh said, referring to the fact that they placed second to Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin at the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final and Russian nationals at the junior level. “We’ve worked very hard since the final in December. We worked especially on our technique and physical strength. We did many run-throughs of our programs. We are pleased that we were able to improve the technical side of our skating.”

Shibutani and Shibutani put out a solid Westminster Waltz to score 34.27 points (18.48/15.79). “We’re very happy with our dance, and we really enjoy skating the Westminster. It’s very joyful. We just want to put out strong performances,” Maia Shibutani said. “We think this is a great start to the week and we’re just going to focus on the skating.”

Alex Shibutani said they skated well and had a lot of fun. “We were relaxed,” he added. “The placement is the placement. We still have our goals, how we want to skate, and we’re going to stick to that.”

Pushkash and Guerreiro produced a strong Waltz, showing off their elegant lines. The Russians earned 34.20 points (18.38/15.82). “We showed everything as we can do it in practice, and so we are happy and our coach was pleased as well. We like the Waltz. The flow of the Waltz suits us probably better than sharp movements in other dances,” Pushkash said. “We skated last and we were a bit nervous, but we actually like to skate last. We won’t relax now, as the difference in points between the couples is very small.”

“We are in our first season,” Guerreir added. “We are still gelling as a team, but the Waltz works well for us as we have matching body lines. A quickstep probably would have been a little harder for us.”

ISU Junior Grand Prix Final champions Maria Monko and Kirill Khaliavin (RUS) ranked fourth in this segment of the competition with 34.17 points and Canadians Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam were fifth with 33.32 points. Lorenza Alessandrini and Simone Vaturi (ITA) had the sixth-best score of the evening (32.35 points).

The 2010 World Junior Figure Skating Championships continue Wednesday with the men’s short program and the pairs free skating.