The 2011 World Junior Championships unfolded in Gangneung, South Korea in early March.
Getting to Gangneung, a vibrant city situated on the eastern coast of this Asian nation, was a long journey for many.
After arriving in Seoul, teams then had a three- to four-hour bus ride (depending upon traffic) to their luxury hotels in the mountain resort of Pyeongchang, one of the bidding cities for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games.
Gangneung, which is a 45-minute bus ride from Pyeongchang, hosted the Four Continents Championships in 2005.
Nonetheless, the events were well-attended, with approximately 4,000 spectators taking in the action each day. More than 2,000 people were in the stands for the qualifying rounds, many of them school children and soldiers.
Russia was the most successful nation at these championships, claiming five medals ahead of Japan and the U.S., who each went home with two. Canada, China and Sweden rounded out the podiums with one medal apiece.
RUSSIAN GIRLS DOMINATE
The level of skating in the ladies competition was very high, at least at the top. Two of the many Russian wonder girls captured the top two steps of the podium.
Golden girl Adelina Sotnikova from Moscow produced excellent triple-triple combinations. In the short program, she executed a triple Lutz-triple toe loop (slightly under-rotated) and in the free, a triple Lutz-triple loop.
Although she is only 14 years old, Sotnikova has an elegant maturity mixed with a down-to-earth style. She will be age-ineligible for senior Worlds next season, missing the cut by one day as her birthday falls on July 1.
“Overall I skated well for myself,” Sotnikova said following the final. “I didn‘t think about it being the Junior World Championships. It was like an ordinary competition for me and I was calm.”
Silver medalist Elizaveta Tuktamysheva from St. Petersburg is six months younger than Sotnikova. She has an energetic style and behaves more like a future diva. After a flawless short program, which included a clean triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, her long program fell short.
“My free skate wasn‘t so good. I doubled two jumps,” she explained. “Second place is good, but I could have won if I had shown my technical content. If I had the chance, I‘d go back out on the ice right away and skate my program again.”
America’s Agnes Zawadzki, the bronze medal winner, is anything but a diva but lacks sparkle. After a disappointing short program, she fought back in the long, producing seven triple jumps, two of which were deemed under-rotated.
“I was ecstatic about my long program, but not so happy with my short,” Zawadzki later admitted. “I did a triple-double toe loop combination instead of a triple-triple. But I worked through that and fought hard in the long. I think I‘ll stay senior and not do juniors again.”
Teammate Christina Gao, who was fourth, has more charisma. Her style is reminiscent of Yu-Na Kim, with whom she trained for more than a year.
A positive surprise was the energetic Courtney Hicks from the U.S., who was competing in her very first international event. She is coached by the venerable John Nicks in California.
The promising Chinese skater Zijun Li was not as stable in Korea as in her Junior Grand Prix events and ended up in ninth.
Neither of the Canadian ladies, Alexandra Najarro or Vanessa Grenier, reached the final after relatively weak performances.
The field of 30 in the men’s short program had a high level overall. There were only four falls, but 18 triple-triple combinations and 12 triple Axels were attempted. In the long programs, however, there were many mistakes.
Canada’s Andrei Rogozine was lucky to win after placing third in the short and second in the long. The 18-year-old from Richmond Hill had four triple jumps in the short and eight in the long, but his landings were quite short and not very elegant.
Though Rogozine lacks a certain charisma, the judges nonetheless gave him good marks. It had been 33 years since a Canadian (Dennis Coi) claimed the Junior World title.
“Like in practice, I just went out there and did every jump,” he said. “I was so concentrated. It was great.”
Winner of the free program and overall silver medalist was 16-year-old Keiji Tanaka of Japan, who also won the qualification round. In all three programs, he had the complete repertoire of triple jumps. They all looked so easy, but he earned lower component scores than Rogozine.
“The free skating was a great experience for me. I just wanted to skate well and move up from sixth place (after the short) so I focused on that,” Tanaka said.
Alexander Majorov claimed the bronze, the first medal ever for Sweden in the history of Junior Worlds and, in so doing, kept a promise he had previously made.
Following his national championships, Majorov criticized his federation on his Facebook page for not nominating him for Europeans, even though he had won two international events in the fall.
His statement was published in a popular Swedish newspaper, which caused a major scandal. The federation forced him to issue a public apology. He promised he would do his utmost for Sweden in the future if he were ever nominated for an international competition again.
“With my story, I helped Swedish figure skating become more popular,” Majorov said. “Now they write about me all the time. I was on TV, and in the clubs, many children are coming and want to learn to skate.”
Majorov excelled in the short program, especially in his spins and step sequence; in the long program, he landed seven triples and showed a unique skating style.
The U.S. men did not win any medals. Alaska’s Keegan Messing won the short. He landed a huge triple Axel which one judge awarded a +3 grade of execution (GOE) and had the best spins of all competitors. But in the free his nerves got the better of him; he popped the triple Axel, executed a triple instead of the planned quad toe loop and fell before takeoff on the loop.
His teammate Max Aaron was more stable but had little sparkle. The third American, Jason Brown, is dynamic and was the best skater in the field without a triple Axel.
Russia’s Artur Dmitriev, Jr. was almost forced to withdraw. During the warm-up for the qualification round, the blade separated from his boot. However, his father quickly made provisional repairs so he could compete. Dmitriev’s short program was flawless, but he made several sloppy mistakes in the long.
CHINESE DUO UNBEATABLE
Wenjing Sui and Cong Han from China repeated as Junior World pairs champions, the first team to ever claim two titles. They showed excellent elements, among them a throw quad Salchow which Sui landed backwards, albeit on two feet, and their triple throw flip earned a +3 GOE. However, Sui missed both side-by-side jumps in the free program.
Their country-and-western-themed short program as well as the Charlie Chaplin free skating routine were both crowd-pleasers.
“We didn’t skate so well in the free program. My partner fell and we lost some points,” Han said. “I asked my partner, and she said that she doesn’t know why she missed the jumps. We talked about it and we think that we need to train harder.”
Russia’s Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov deserved the silver medal with two almost flawless programs. Their Spanish-themed short to Isaac Albeniz’ dramatic “Asturias” was a highlight. In both the short program and the long to “La Strada,” they showed good speed.
“We are very pleased that we did our job today. We skated clean, and are very happy,” Stolbova said.
Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran from Japan showed a more elegant style and were seven points ahead of the Russians after the short program. But Takahashi missed several elements in the free that caused them to drop from second to third place.
“It wasn‘t our best performance, so we are disappointed with that,” Tran explained.
Takahashi added: “I don‘t have that many problems with the jumps, but when it came to the side-by-side jumps in the free, I lost my timing.”
The North American pair teams also had a high level of execution. The best were Texans Ashley Cain, daughter of 1980 Australian Olympic pairs competitor Peter Cain, and her partner, Joshua Reagan. Their fourth-place finish secured three spots for U.S. pairs at next year’s Junior Worlds.
As at the Junior Grand Prix Final in December, the winners of the ice dance competition were Russia’s Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin, but this time their victory was even more decisive.
After the short dance to Edith Piaf’s “Padam, Padam,” the Muscovites were five points ahead. They were the only couple to earn a level 4 for both compulsory Viennese Waltz sections. In their otherwise excellent free dance to the soundtrack of “Frida,” they had two small mistakes which were barely visible.
“We are just incredibly happy to have won,” Khaliavin said. “Our free dance wasn’t the best. We had a problem with the twizzles and with the last lift.”
Russia’s second team, silver medalists Ekaterina Pushkash and Jonathan Guerreiro, also gave very promising performances, showing more elegance and better lines but not the precision of the winners.
“Of course, we wanted to fight for first place, but more than that we wanted to show how we’ve improved,” said the Australian-born Guerreiro. “We had a good connection with the audience and with each other, which is the most important thing to us.”
Charlotte Lichtman and Dean Copely from the Marina Zoueva/Igor Shpilband school of ice dance captured the bronze with entertaining performances and very good elements. Unfortunately, the Americans do not have the pizzazz of the Russian teams.
“This was our first Junior Worlds and Dean and I are both thrilled to have placed third,” Lichtman said. “We were pleased with our free dance. When Marina Zoueva suggested ‘Beetlejuice’ for this year’s free dance we jumped on it right away.”
The French team of Tiffany Zahorski and Alexis Miart went to Korea with high hopes, after being first substitutes for the Junior Grand Prix Final. But Zahorski made a serious error during the twizzle sequence, which cost the team about five points. With an excellent free dance, they moved up from ninth to fourth, earning the highest technical score of all couples.
Zahorski and Miart did not skate in the exhibition and were therefore fined approximately US$1,100. The reason? The French Ministry of Sport booked their return flight for Sunday, because it was afraid that a war between North and South Korea could break out.
The Spanish couple of Sara Hurtado and Adria Diaz also showed promising performances, especially spectacular lifts. They placed ninth in their debut at the Junior World level.
Karolina Prochazkova and Michal Ceska from the Czech Republic were the unluckiest of skaters. They were forced to withdraw after their luggage got lost en route from Prague (via Istanbul) to Korea. It arrived four days later, eight hours after the short dance. They had hoped for a top-ten placement.
Originally published in June 2011