Junior

The 2019 Junior Grand Prix Final showcased a wealth of talent with new champions crowned in all four disciplines, and all but one of the podium steps claimed by those who made their debuts in Torino. 

In a scenario similar to that of a year ago in Vancouver, the man who qualified sixth and last for the Junior Grand Prix Final ended up stealing the show.

With a win and a third-place finish on the Junior Grand Prix circuit, Japan’s Shun Sato headed into the Final in sixth place in the Series standings.Despite executing a clean short program in Torino, Sato sat in third with a score of 77.25 — 5.20 points out of first place. Though he was satisfied with his performance, his goal was to win a medal. “But first, I need to do my best and stay calm and concentrated,” the 15-year-old Sendai native said.

Skating second to last in the free, Sato followed his own advice, nailing all the elements in his Nino Rota “Romeo and Juliet” program, which included three quads (Lutz, a toe-triple toe combination and a solo toe), two triple Axels and a trio of other triples. As the final note of his music faded, the audience rose to its feet in a standing ovation. Sato earned a personal best score of 177.86 for the segment and his combined total of 255.11 — the highest score awarded in the junior ranks this season — was 35.42 points better than the top score he received on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. In the end, it was a runaway victory for Sato who claimed the title by a margin of 13.63 points.

“I am surprised that I could win here and receive such a high score,” he said. “To be among Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno as winners of the Junior Grand Prix Final is an honor.”

Russia’s Andrei Mozalev, 16, headed into the competition ranked first following his two wins on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. First after the short with 82.45 points, his long program to the “Step Up” soundtrack and “In This Shirt” had a couple of challenges. Though he landed two quad toe 
loops, a triple Axel-triple toe combination and four more triple jumps, he fell on a second triple Axel attempt and lost levels on a spin and the step sequence.

Mozalev earned 159.03 points for his long program performance, but slipped to second with a combined score of 241.48. “I feel very comfortable and it is great to be here at the Final. There were some errors, but I have drawn conclusions and will work on them. I’m happy with the silver. I’m already very satisfied with getting here at all. It has given me a huge experience,” said the native of St. Petersburg.

Daniil Samsonov may be small in stature, but he packs a powerful punch on the ice. Hailing from Moscow, the 14-year-old trains with Eteri Tutberidze on the same sessions as many of the Russian ladies who competed at the Final. His campaign did not get off to a great start in Torino, with a fall on the opening triple Axel in the short program, but he recovered immediately and went on to execute a triple loop, a triple Lutz-triple toe combination and Level 4 spins and footwork. A score of 77.75 had him in second place.

Determined not to repeat the mistake he made in the short, Samsonov opened his long program with a clean triple Axel followed by a quad Lutz. He stumbled out of a second triple Axel, but went on to land five more clean triple jumping passes. Though he ranked fourth in the free skate with 152.44 points, he finished in third place overall with a total of 230.19.
“Not everything worked out today. But I’m very happy to be here considering these are the best six skaters in the world and in my first year on the Junior Grand Prix I got to the Final and won the bronze,” said Samsonov.

“I was a bit nervous to be skating in such a big competition in such a big arena with so many people. But when you have a lot of people you have a lot of support too.” Samsonov was so popular with the international media that he held his own press conference at the conclusion of the competition.
Japan’s Yuma Kagiyama ranked second heading into Torino, but struggled in both segments. He pulled up from sixth after the short to finish fourth with 227.09 points.

Petr Gumennik of Russia, the runner-up at the 2018 Final, placed fifth with 212.62 points ahead of Italy’s Daniel Grassl, the 2019 World Junior bronze medalist (195.66). Grassl later explained he had to skate in new boots after his old ones broke two days before the Final.

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TWO-WAY BATTLE

It was a tight race in the ladies short program with the top four separated by just 2.17 points. From the outset, it was pretty much a given that the battle for gold would be between Russia’s Kamila Valieva and Alysa Liu of the U.S., who ranked first and second, respectively, heading into Torino.

In a field that showcased the best junior ladies in the world, there was no room for error. Unfortunately for Valieva, an unsteady landing on a triple loop jump sealed her fate in the short program, leaving her in fourth place with 69.02 points. She later admitted to a case of nerves and said that after the loop problem she knew she had to “pull herself together, carry on and skate as well as possible.”

It was a different story in the long program. The 13-year-old dynamo did not put a foot wrong in her routine to “Exogenesis: Symphony Part 3 (Redemption)” by Muse. Valieva reeled off seven clean triple jumps, including two combinations, earning Level 4s for her spins and the footwork sequence. She racked up 138.45 points for the segment and, with a combined total of 207.47, claimed the gold. “It is a little unexpected,” she said of her victory. “I’m happy with my skate and with the jumps I did, but it was a simple version today. I wanted to do a quad toe loop but I was injured three weeks ago and I do not want to attempt it until I feel confident again.”

“Don’t Rain on My Parade” was an apt choice of short program music for Liu, who landed a triple Axel-triple toe combination, which propelled her into the lead. (The triple Axel is not permitted as the solo Axel in the junior ladies short program and can only be done in combination).The 14-year-old earned 71.19 points for her efforts, giving her a 1.04-point lead at the end of the segment. Speaking to the media backstage, Liu said she does not suffer from nerves and does not feel any pressure. “I just tell myself it’s just another competition.”

The free skate did not go quite as well. Though Liu landed six clean triple jumps in her program set to “Illumination” by Jennifer Thomas, both quad Lutz attempts and the second triple Axel were deemed under-rotated. She earned 133.46 points for her performance and dropped to second with an overall score of 204.65. “I’m happy I came here. It’s a relief it’s over, but I’m disappointed. I could have done better,” the California native admitted. “My goal is always to skate a clean program but I didn’t do it. It went OK, but I could have been better in a lot of things. I should have done only one quad, but I really wanted to go for it just for the fun of it. It was a big risk.”

Russia’s Daria Usacheva, 13, finished second at both her Grand Prix events and ranked fifth at the end of the Series. In Torino, she showed improvement in many areas, finishing second after the short program with 70.15 points. But Usacheva also had technical issues in her long program set to “Je suis malade.”

Though she executed a clean triple Lutz-double toe combination, both her triple-triple combinations were downgraded. Nonetheless, Usacheva earned a personal best score of 130.22 and finished third with a total of 200.37 points. “I expected a good result, but of course you always want to do and get more,” she said. “I’m happy to be on the podium but not so pleased that I didn’t get all my elements clean and perfect. I could have skated better. There were mistakes and issues and that’s not what I wanted today.”

Russia’s Kseniia Sinitsyna, third after the short, dropped to fourth overall with 195.57 points. South Korea’s Haein Lee finished fifth with 194.38 points ahead of Russia’s Viktoria Vasilieva (184.37).

DOMINATION

Five Russian pairs teams qualified to compete in Italy led by Apollinariia Panfilova and Dmitry Rylov. In their third trip to a Junior Final the duo finally captured the title that had eluded them the previous two seasons. They now have a complete set of medals after winning silver in 2017 and bronze in 2018.

However, their victory in Torino did not come easily. The 2019 World Junior silver medalists won the short program by a narrow margin of 2.16 points over their teammates Kseniia Akhanteva and Valerii Kolesov.

Rylov acknowledged they could have skated better. “On three elements we did not do as well as we could have done. We could have received more points and also got more in the components. At the end of the step sequence, I just improvised a bit because we were ahead of the music.”

The duo made just one mistake in their long program set to the “Third Person” soundtrack when Panfilova fell on a throw triple loop. Though they executed a high- flying triple twist, a throw triple flip and Level 4 lifts and spins, their performance ranked only second best of the evening. But with 116.43 points for the segment and 185.23 overall, they held on to win by just 0.86 of a point. “To come here as the leaders for the first time didn’t change anything inside, but it did give us extra confidence,” said Panfilova. “Right after our performance we didn’t feel so good and I guess everyone knows why. After the short we thought that we would be on the podium, but did not expect to be first. We are happy that we won. We always want to do our best, independent of the placement.”

Russia’s Diana Mukhametzianova and Ilya Mironov, third after the short, won the free skate with a solid performance to music from “Chess” that included a Level 4 reverse lasso lift. The Moscow-based team achieved a personal best score of 119.47 and finished second overall with 184.37 points. “This was our first Junior Final and we have very positive emotions. It’s our best performance by points but not the best by the quality for sure,” said Mironov, adding that their coaches changed the short program just weeks before they went to Torino. “We are going to work on our skating skills and the quality of pair elements like height and clean landings because without these things our programs don’t look complete in our opinion.”

When asked about the Russian dominance in the junior pairs discipline, Mironov responded: “After the 2002 and 2006 Olympics, a lot of people took up skating and, of course, the most talented ones go into pairs skating.”

Akhanteva and Kolesov struggled with the side-by side jumps in their “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” long program. Second after the short, they ranked fourth in the free and dropped to third overall with 179.68 points. “The jumps did not work and there were also some errors on other elements,” Akhanteva admitted. “We showed like 60 percent of what we can do,” Kolesov added. “We basically lost two elements and we’re quite upset with our performance. It is our own fault that we didn’t do better, but obviously it is nice to be on the podium.”

Russia’s Iuliia Artemeva and Mikhail Nazarychev landed in fourth with 178.56 points, ahead of their teammates Alina Pepeleva and Roman Pleshkov (172.53). Germany’s Annika Hocke and Robert Kunkel, the only non-Russian team to qualify for the Final, finished sixth with 159.22 points.

DANCE REVOLUTION

For 13 years, Russian and American ice dance teams had dominated the Junior Grand Prix Final. But this year, Maria Kazakova and Georgy Reviya of Georgia not only broke that stranglehold, they made history as the first skaters from their nation to ever claim the title at a junior or senior Final.

Though Kazakova and Reviya finished sixth in 2018, it was obvious to everyone that this was a talented team with loads of potential. This season, they finished second at their first Grand Prix assignment, losing to a Russian team by 0.33 of a point. At their second competition, the Georgian duo defeated another Russian team by almost 15 points to win the gold.
They headed into the Final ranked fourth, but in Torino, Kazakova, 18, and Reviya, 20, led from the outset, claiming top spot in the rhythm dance with a new personal best score of 68.76 — just 0.04 of a point above the heavily favored American team of Avonley Nguyen and Vadym Kolesnik.

“It wasn’t easy today. We are very happy with our marks but not so happy with the skate,” Reviya admitted. “We had a few small issues with the twizzles which didn’t go quite as we needed them to. On a few transitions we lost speed, but we got back into the program quite quickly.

The Georgian team delivered a solid performance of their innovative free dance to “In the End” by Tommee Profitt, which earned them a standing ovation from the audience. The duo collected 106.14 points for the segment for a total of 174.90, which gave them a winning margin of just 0.16 of a point. “We came out knowing that there was nothing to lose, that we had worked not to be afraid of anything. Of course, we have a lot of emotions now and it’s hard to realize that we won,” Reviya said.

When asked about the unique moves in their free dance Reviya smiled. “We like crazy, unusual elements. It is like Cirque de Soleil, but we feel totally OK with it because we do it every day,” he explained

Nguyen and Kolesnik earned Level 4s for the twizzles and the lift in the rhythm dance, but the midline step sequence and the first Tea Time Foxtrot sequence garnered a Level 2. They finished second with 68.72 points. “We just want to do as well as we can and keep improving our programs. We hope the judges like what they see and we hope the people who see us feel something from our skating,” Nguyen said.

The American team flowed through their free dance, set to Rachmaninov’s “Piano Concerto No. 2,” earning 106.02 points for their efforts. With an overall score of 174.74 they captured the silver, narrowly missing the top step of the podium. “We’re a little disappointed,” Nguyen admitted. “We were only a fourth of a point behind after the rhythm dance and we felt we could push and get to the next level, but it didn’t work out.”

Russia’s Elizaveta Shanaeva and Devid Naryzhnyy won both their Junior Grand Prix assignments and ranked second heading into their first Junior Final.The duo finished third in both segments in Torino and captured the bronze with 164.22 points. “We didn’t feel the Olympic atmosphere of the arena straight away, but when we saw the rings and our coach told us all about it we started to feel it has its own atmosphere,” Shanaeva said of Palavela, the venue in which figure skating events were held at the 2006 Winter Games. “It was really fun to skate for such a big audience. I couldn’t imagine skating for this many people.”

Russia’s Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva and Andrey Filatov finished fourth with a total score of 163.03, missing the third step of the podium by 1.19 points. Loicia Demougeout and Theo Le Mercier of France placed fifth with 156.26 points, while Diana Davis and Gleb Smolkin of Russia finished sixth (152.21).