The U.S. team turned in many stellar performances at the 2008 ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final, held in Gdansk, Poland this weekend, while the Russian team also came up with some excellent results.
Eight skaters in each discipline battled it out for top honors with many earning new personal best scores in the process.
The American men made history by sweeping the Junior podium, led by Adam Rippon from Scranton, PA. The Russian pairs teams also swept the podium, a first for the discipline at this competition. As expected, Mirai Nagasu from the U.S. claimed the ladies title but it was far from a runaway.
Nagasu skated off with the gold medal but teammate Rachael Flatt came in a close second, less than three points behind. Yuki Nishino of Japan placed third.
Nagasu, the 2007 World Junior silver medalist won the short program but was out-skated by Flatt in the long. In keeping with the ISU dictum this season, judges downgraded two of Nagasu’s jumps. She received 102.74 points and ranked second in the free skate but held onto first place with an overall tally of 162.09 points.
“I was really scared going into the long program,” Nagasu, 14, said. “But after my music started I knew that even though I was scared and nervous, I had to do what I had been doing in practice. I really had to fight out there today.”
Flatt, who earned a new personal best in the short put down a strong performance in the long landing a series of solid jumping passes. The 15-year-old scored 107.55 points achieving another new personal best score. She won the free skating portion and skated away with the silver medal with 159.66 points.
Nishino also paid the price for under-rotated or cheated jumps and found herself in third place at the end of the competition. She earned 94.79 points for the free and slipped to third with 149.42 points.
Rippon led the podium sweep for the U.S. with Brandon Mroz in second and Armin Mahbanoozadeh in third. It was the first appearance at the Final for both Rippon and Mahbanoozadeh. Mroz claimed his second consecutive silver medal at the event.
Rippon, 18, collected 134.77 points, a significant improvement on his previous personal best of 123.26 points. His total score of 203.20 points assured him the gold. “I think that the biggest thing that has helped me to skate so much better this year is my coach Nikolai Morozov,” he said. “I’ve been training a lot better, I’ve been working a lot harder and I feel that it’s really paying off. I think I brought my skating to a different level this year.”
When Mroz took to the ice for his free skate, the music played was not his but that of his teammate, Rippon. With the music glitch sorted out, the 16-year-old skated a solid performance to the music “The King of the Forest,” by Edvin Marton. Mroz scored 124.21 points for the free and 187.34 points overall.
Mahbanoozadeh, 16, posted a new personal best score of 122.97 points for the long program and moved up from fourth to third with 182.04 points.
Russia’s Vera Bazarova and Juri Larionov led a Russian sweep of the pairs podium. Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternykh placed second and Ekaterina Sheremetieva and Mikhail Kuznetsov claimed bronze.
Bazarova and Larionov, the 2006-07 World junior silver medalists earned 98.90 points for the free skate and walked away gold with an aggregate total of 157.35 points. It was the first medal for the team at the Junior Final. “We skated well and we are very happy. We did not expect to finish first in this event as the competition was very tough,” Bazarova told the post-event press conference.
Krasilnikova and Bezmaternykh, the 2007 World Junior bronze medalists scored 93.10 points and an overall total of 146.25 overall to claim their second consecutive silver medal at the Final.
Sheremetieva and Kuznetsov scored 83.77 points in the free skate. Though they ranked fourth in the final portion of the event, they held on to the bronze medal in their debut at the Junior Final with 134.02 points.
Maria Monko and Ilia Tkachenko of Russia Cha Cha-ed to first place in the compulsory dance and never looked back, claiming the title over Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates from the U.S. and Russia’s Kristina Gorshkova and Vitali Butikov.
Monko and Tkachenko edged out their teammates by less than one point in the compulsory dance but their performance to a Russian Folk song “I’m going out on the street” earned them a new personal best score and widened the gap. The team put down a strong performance in the free dance set to “Waltz of the Spirits” by Karl Jenkins, earning a new personal best score of 85.49 points. The young Russians collected 175.72 points in their golden debut at the Final.
“Our coach and choreographer suggested this music to us, but we didn’t like it at first, because it wasn’t the style we wanted,” Tkachenko said. “We know that Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin had skated to it before, and that was also a reason why we didn’t want this music, but now we like it.”
Samuelson and Bates, the 2007 Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalists lay in third after the compulsory dance. They finished second in the original dance earning a new personal best of score 55.66 points but they remained in third place. The U.S. Junior Champions delivered a solid performance in the free, scoring 84.49 points and moved up from third to second with an overall score of 171.85 points.
Gorshkova and Butikov who lay in second heading into the free dance fell one spot after the free to take the bronze. The Muscovites earned 168.63 points. It was their first medal at a Junior Grand Prix Final.