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Alexe Gilles Takes Lead at Junior Grand Prix Final

After one day of competition at the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final, Americans were in the lead in two events. The event opened Thursday in Goyang City, Republic of Korea.

Junior Ladies

Alexe Gilles (USA) won the short program. Kanako Murakami (JPN) came in second and Angela Maxwell (USA) was third.

Gilles, 16, earned 54.24 points (31.04 element score/23.20 program component score) and improved her previous personal best of 49.91 points significantly. “It feels good, especially because it’s the Junior Grand Prix Final. I just wanted to get better each time I went out there and competed, so it felt pretty good,” the 2008 U.S. junior champion commented.

Skating to “The Girl with Flaxen Hair,” Gilles completed a triple toe-double toe combination, a triple Lutz, a double Axel and a level-four combination spin. The flying camel spin was graded a level two and the layback was a level three.

“My levels are good but I think I’ve gotten better ones earlier,” Gilles said. “Other than that my triple-triple (planned triple toe-triple toe, but did triple-double), I just checked out a little late, but I got good scores.”

Gilles said it good being back at the final. “It’s a better competition and because it’s together with the senior Grand Prix Final,” she said. “That is a new experience and it’s pretty cool.”

Murakami’s entertaining program to Charlie Chaplin soundtracks featured a triple flip-double toe loop, a triple Lutz and a level-four combination spin, but she underrotated the double Axel which was downgraded. The Japanese scored 51.04 points (28.08/22.96).

Maxwell landed a triple toe-triple toe combination and a double Axel in her routine to “What Hands Can Do,” but she fell on the triple Lutz. The American received 48.84 points (27.88/21.96).

Becky Bereswill (USA) hit a triple flip-double toe loop combination but singled the Lutz to finish fourth (48.68 points).

Junior Men

Florent Amodio of France captured the lead in the short program ahead of Armin Mahbanoozadeh (USA) and Richard Dornbush (USA).

The Frenchman scored 68.20 points (39.10 element score/29.10 program component score). “Everything was smooth and fresh today. This is my first final. I really wanted to have a good start with a strong short program and I wanted to show what I can do. Now I want to do the maximum in the long program tomorrow,” he said.

Amodio opened his passionate performance to “The Mask of Zorro” with a triple Salchow-triple toe loop combination followed by a triple Axel. He also completed a triple Lutz and a level-four combination spin.

The defending Junior Grand Prix Final bronze medalist, Mahbanoozadeh posted a personal best of 67.05 points (38.20/28.85). “I’m really happy. It’s a new personal best and I skated how I’ve been training,” he said. “I tried really hard to improve on my program component scores.”

Performing to “Armenian Rhapsody” by Are Gevorkian, Mahbanoozadeh landed a triple flip-triple toe combination, a triple Lutz, double Axel and earned a level three for the change foot sit and the flying camel spin as well as a level four for the combination spin.

Dornbush’s program to “La Virgen de la Macarena” featured a triple flip-triple toeloop combination, a double Axel, triple Lutz as well as two level-four spins and two level-three step sequences. The American scored 66.50 points (38.00/28.50). “I felt like I put a lot more into the component part of the program, and paid more attention to detail this time,” he said.

Alexander Johnson (USA) came in fourth with another clean performance (64.85 points). Ivan Bariev (RUS) also skated well and is currently in fifth place (63.75 points).

Ice Dance

The original dance for the 2008-09 season is rhythms and dances of the 20s, 30s and 40s.

Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein (USA) danced to the lead with Ekaterina Riazanova and Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) and Alisa Agafonova and Dmitri Dun (UKR) following in second and third.

Chock and Zuerlein picked a Blues, “Minnie the Moocher” and a Quickstep, “The Dancing Floor”, for their original dance. The highlights of the program their straight line lift and the spin, which each earned a level four.

The Americans earned 51.84 points (28.60 element score/23.24 program component score). “We are a little more experienced this year, which always helps,” Chock said. “It’s just more comfortable on the international scene. We kept changing our programs throughout the season to make them better and more comfortable, more difficult.”

“It’s amazing,” Zuerlein added. “I’m only happy about it, because there are so many teams in the senior final that I look up to and admire. … It (the performance) is up there with the other ones. I felt a little shaky today, but I guess it’s the nerves.”

Riazanova and Guerreiro put out a lively Foxtrot and Swing program and performed a level-four rotational lift. The Russian couple scored 50.85 points (28.00/22.85).

Agafonova and Dun danced a Charleston to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” highlighted by a one-armed rotational lift (level four). The Ukrainians collected 49.45 points (27.20/22.25).

Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill (CAN) came in fourth with a smooth Foxtrot (48.72 points) and are less than one point away from the podium. Ekaterina Pushkash and Dmitri Kiselev (RUS) remained in contention with a Charleston and Ragtime dance and 48.59 points.

Americans Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbel, the top-ranked team going into the final, placed sixth out of the eighth teams. “I think I went a little bit shallow into our counter and Choctaw in our mid-line step sequence and I kind of got off my feet a bit," Keiffer said. “It wasn’t our best skate. It was not really what we had planned, so hopefully we’ll skate better in the free dance.”

The two won the title two years ago but missed last season due to injury. “It’s not the way we’d like to come back, but, hopefully, we can really fight and still come out on top,” Madison Hubbell said. “We’re going to be fighting for the free dance and hopefully do our best.”

Junior Pairs

Liubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze led a Russian sweep of the pairs short program.

"It’s hard for me to judge, but I think it was quite good, especially considering the time difference (to Russia). We wanted to complete all elements carefully and exactly. We are competing in our first Junior Grand Prix Final and everything is new to us,” Iliushechkina said.

The reigning World junior silver medalists earned 56.88 points (33.28 element score/23.60 program component score) and slightly improved their previous personal best. “This feels like Russian Open Championship,” Maisuradze joked, referring to the five Russian junior pair teams in the final.

Iliushechkina and Maisuradze landed an effortless double Lutz, a throw triple loop, a rarely seen level-four double twist and a hand-to-hip lift with changes of position in their routine to “Prologue” by Lorena McKennitt.

Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternykh delivered a strong performance as well. Skating to “Valpurgis Night” by Charles Gounod, the reigning World junior champions landed a high double twist, throw triple loop, a double Lutz and earned a level four for the pair combination spin, the spiral sequence and the death spiral. The couple scored a seasons-best of 51.54 points.

Krasilnikova has been able to train fully only for one week after recovering from pulled ligaments in her left leg.

Anastasia Martiusheva and Alexei Rogonov’s routine to “Korobushko” by Bond included a double twist, throw triple loop, a level-four death spiral and pair combination spin. However, she fell on the double Lutz and their side by side spin was graded only a level one. The team earned 50.60 points (29.64/21.96).

Yue Zhang and Lei Wang (CHN) came in fourth with a clean performance (50.22 points).

The finals of the two ISU Grand Prix Series are being held at the same venue for the first time in the history of the two Grand Prix series. The Junior Grand Prix Final continues Friday with the junior pairs and junior men’s free skating, while the senior Grand Prix of Figure Skating opens with the senior original dance, senior men, ladies and pairs short programs.