Americans Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates hold a slim lead after the compulsory dance at the 2008 ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships, being held in Sofia, Bulgaria.
In the pairs event, Russian pairs teams swept the short program with Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternykh, Liubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze, and Ekaterina Sheremetieva and Mikhail Kuznetsov in 1-2-3, respectively.
In all, a record number of 207 skaters are entered for the competition. Brazil is represented for the first time at the World Junior Championships with an entry in both the ladies and men’s singles.
The compulsory dance at the ISU World Junior Championships is the Cha Cha Congelado. Samuelson and Bates (USA) edged out Russia’s Maria Monko and lia Tkachenko by 0.12 points to take the lead. Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier of Canada placed third.
Samuelson and Bates performed the dance with excellent timing. “The first time we competed the Cha Cha was at the Junior Grand Prix Final and we’ve worked on it a lot since then and we were really hoping to show our improvement out there today. It’s definitely great to be rewarded,” Samuelson said. “It’s a fast dance. There are a lot of steps and not a lot of ice to fit them in. You have to be deep. You have to be quick and also maintain speed and be on music. So there’s a lot of things to work on.”
They improved their previous seasonal best of this dance significantly and earned 35.11 points (18.99 element score/16.12 program component score).
“We’ve worked very hard on this dance,” Bates said. “When we went to the final, we weren’t really satisfied with our performance. I think here we did a much stronger performance and I’m really happy with the score. We work a lot off ice with a ballroom instructor.”
Last year the two were knocked out the competition after an injury (Samuelson sliced open her hand when she fell and Bates’s stepped on her, causing a laceration to her right hand, which required surgery). “Last year, we had a Latin free dance, which at Junior Worlds didn’t go very well. So we brought back the dress; this is the same dress. We couldn’t just throw the dress away after that,” he said, referring to their fall during the free dance last year.
Monko and Tkachenko delivered a strong Cha Cha as well, showing off precision at good speed. The Junior Grand Prix Final Champions posted a new seasonal best of 34.99 points (18.92/16.07). “We skated quite well and we’re just happy that this is our last competition [of the season] and we were able to show off our work we’ve done this season. We skated this dance at the Junior Final and in England (JGP in Sheffield),” Monko said. “I started to like this dance this season. I didn’t like it as much before. Now it was the best of all the dances for us this season."
Crone and Poirier’s Cha Cha was good as well, and the team scored 33.71 points (18.38/15.33). They, too, set a new personal best score. “Since the [Junior] GP Final, we looked at the top teams, the teams that medaled, and we really saw what we need to do if we want to be medal contenders here in this event. We worked on the technical aspects of the dance as well, and I think it’s really paid off,” Poirier said.
Kristina Gorshkova and Vitali Butikov (RUS) are just behind the Canadians at 33.52 points. Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell (USA) follow in fifth (30.52 points) and Lucie Mysliveckova and Matej Novak (CZE) are currently ranked sixth with 30.43 points.
The competition continued with the pairs short program. The required throw jump in the pairs short program in the 2007-08 season is the throw toe loop (double or triple). The required solo jump is the double loop or double Axel.
Krasilnikova and Bezmaternykh had drawn to skate last out of the 20 couples and delivered a strong performance to “Quidam” from Cirque du Soleil. The two-time and reigning World Junior bronze medalists hit a solid side-by-side double Axel followed by a throw triple toel oop, and a high double twist, that was graded a rarely seen level four.
They also produced a level-three side-by-side combination spin and a lasso lift with variations of position to pick up a new personal best score of 56.30 points (33.56 element score/22.74 program component score).
“Overall it wasn’t bad, but obviously all of us could have skated a little better tonight. Not all of us showed what we can do,” Bezmaternykh said.
Iliushechkina and Maisuradze, who debut in international competition, opened their routine to “The Gadfly” by Dmitri Shostakovich with an excellent double Axel and a double twist that was awarded a level four. The team from Moscow also completed a difficult toe Lasso lift with an unusual entry, but Iliushechkina fell on the throw triple toe loop. The Muscovites scored 52.05 points (30.31/22.74).
“We’ve been competing only since this season. Obviously we made an error, which is too bad, but apart from that we skated quite well,” Iliushechkina aid. “It was just a technical error. We both were single skaters before, and the most difficult part for us was to get used to each other. We’ve been training a whole year and started to compete only now.”
Skating to “Winter” from “Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi, Sheremetieva and Kuznetsov put out a solid short program that contained a side by side double loop, a double twist, a fast and very well synchronized side by side spin. The throw triple toe was high, but she had trouble to control the landing and stepped out of it. The Muscovites received 51.94 points (30.05/21.89), which was a new personal best for them.
“We tried to do everything at the maximum speed and we didn’t quite cope with the speed on this element,” Sheremetieva said, referring to the error.
China’s Yue Zhang and Lei Wang and Huibo Dong and Yiming Wu came in fourth and fifth, respectively, and are less than a point away from the podium.
The World Junior Figure Skating Championships continue Wednesday with the men’s short program and the pairs free skate.