Monday, 16/7/2018 | : : UTC-7
Skate Today

Looking into the Future — Junior Worlds Day 1

The World Junior Figure Skating Championships kicked off today at the Winter Sports Hall in Sofia, Bulgaria. Approximately, 208 skaters from 50 ISU member countries are on hand to delight Bulgarian fans with their technical and artistic skills.

The Championships which were originally called the ISU Junior Figure Skating Championships held its inaugural event in 1976, in Mageve, France. In 1978 the name was changed to the World Junior Figure Skating Championships.

It serves as sort of a coming out party for future champions and many have gone on to win World and Olympic medals. Names like Paul Wylie who won the event in 1981 went on to claim an Olympic silver medal in 1992 and Olympic Gold Medalist Victor Petrenko claimed the Junior Title in 1984. Other note worthies included two-time Olympic Champions Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, 1998 Olympic Champion Ilia Kulik, 2002 Olympic Champion Alexei Yagudin, 2006 Olympic Champion Evgeny Plushenko, 1992 Olympic Champion Kristy Yamaguchi, two-time Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan, 2007 World Champion Miki Ando, and current World Champion Mao Asada, just to name a few.

This is the third time the event has been held in Sofia. The first time was in 2001 when American Johnny Weir claimed the men’s title, Russian Kristina Oblasova captured the ladies, Natalia Romaniuta and Danil Barantsev grabbed their second in ice dance and Olympic silver medalists Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang won their first of two in the pairs. In 2008, the USA grabbed three gold medals when Rachel Flatt was crowned ladies champion, Adam Rippon took men and Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates won in Ice Dance.

Compulsory Dance —

The dancers were the first on the ice and started the competition out with the performance of the compulsory dance.

The compulsory dance for this event is the Paso Doble. The Paso Doble was first performed in 1938 by Reginald B, Wilkie and Daphne B. Walls at Westminster Ice Rink in London. The dance is characterized by strong dramatic movements and precise steps.

It was a strong showing for the Americans when Grand Prix Champions Madison Chock, 16, and Greg Zuerlein, 20, edged out teamates Madison Hubbell,18, and Keiffer Hubbell, 20, for the top spot. Chock and Zuerlein of the USA picked up 33.15 points and the Hubbells are second with 31.39 points. Russians Ekaterina Pushkash, 16, and Dmitri Kiselev, 19, grabbed the third spot with 30.44 points ahead of Canadians Kharis Ralph,16, and Asher Hill,17, who are fourth with 30.09 points. The brother and sister team of Maia Shibutani, 14, and Alex Shibutani, 17, of the USA are currently fifth with 29.71 points.

Chock and Zuerlein skated a dynamic Paso Doble which was punctuated by dramatic expression and strong deep edges. They have improved their speed and definition, something the duo has been working on since their win at the Grand Prix Final last December.

“We have been working since nationals to improve our definition,” Zuerlien stated. “By definition we mean the position of our legs in order to give us more speed, a more defined pattern and better ice coverage.”

The Americans received a season best score, but the duo reluctantly admitted it felt a bit shaky in spots.

“It’s one of my favorite dances of all the compulsories,” Chock stated. “We have done it all season, and it’s got a lot of emotion and it is fun. We are happy with our season’s best score, even if it wasn’t our best performance.”

Chock and Zuerlien laughed when asked about winning every event they entered this season.

“Well, not exactly,” Chock said sheepishly looking at coach Igor Shpilband.

“They didn’t win Lake Placid,” Spilband interjected.

“And he’s just not going to let us forget that either,” she retorted with a devilish smirk.

In contrast, the brother and sister team of Madison and Keiffer Hubbell have not had an easy season. They placed second to Chock and Zuerlein at the Junior Grand Prix Final after entering as the favorites. They had a disastrous original dance at that event which left them in sixth place at the end of that segment. The duo rebounded in the free dance to claim the silver medal.

Madison and Keiffer produced a more mature look during their sophisticated presentation of the Paso Doble. They displayed well-defined patterns and skated with confidence.

“It’s a great way to spend my birthday, and it’s a good way to celebrate,” Madison who turned 18 today stated. “I just got second at Junior Worlds on the Paso Doble, so what could be a better celebration than that. The last two – times we competed at Junior Worlds haven’t been so great. The first time things did not go well, and last year we missed most of the season due to injury. This year we feel the most prepared we’ve ever felt. I am so happy to be here, and I feel so ready to compete.”

The Grand Prix silver medalists exhibited strong unison and polished steps despite only practicing the dance for a few short weeks.

“We have been skating the Paso Doble only for a couple of weeks, so I think this was good for us,” Keiffer told the press. “It is a great dance and a lot of fun. Best of all I love the outfits.”

Less than one–point behind Pushkash and Kiselev were delighted with their placement after the compulsory dance. They are cousins and teamed up in 2000. The Russian junior silver medalists performed a lively dance which was solid and smooth.

“We didn’t expect to place so high, and we’ll try to stay up there. The Paso Doble is our favorite dance.” Pushkash stated. “We’ve had it in all our competitions this season. So, we have really gotten into the Paso Doble, we got used to it and like it more than the others.”

Nipping at their heels are 2008 Canadian Junior Champions Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill who presented a technically sound skate which featured a strong interpretation of the Paso Doble.

“I think it was okay,” Kharis explained. “The compulsories are usually not that good for us, they are really hard and exhausting. We are really much stronger in the original and free dance.”

They modeled their costumes for the press. “I love the fan in the back. It’s fuscia and black,” Kharis said of their costumes. And the curl on my forehead was done by Asher’s mother, she always does my hair. Last year she did my braids for our African free dance, also.”

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani who watched the event on the internet last season was so excited to be here. The U.S. Junior silver medalists charmed the audience with a strong Paso Doble, dancing with increased speed and great facial expression.

“I thought we skated really well. It was a great start to the week. It was very exciting,” Maia bubbled.

Their marks seemed a bit low for what they put out on the ice and when their coach Igor Shpilband was asked to comment he said: “”I am proud, of how they skated. It was a great dance. They had good intensity, good speed and good attack. As to the marks, they do seem low but the competition isn’t finished yet so I can’t comment on that.”

Canadians Karen Routhier and Eric Saucke-Lacelle took the sixth spot with a compulsory dance worth 29.24 points.

Junior Grand Prix bronze medalists Ekaterina Riazanova and Jonathan Guerreiro of Russia seemed shocked that their marks were so low and seemed very perplexed as to the reason.

“We feel we skated well, and we don’t understand why the marks are so low,” stated Guerreiro who was born in Australia and speaks perfect English. “There are two interpretations of this dance. One is the traditional matador and the other is about the passion between the man and the woman. We are very passionate people, and we like to skate this dance.”

The duo finished seventh with 29.02 points. While their technical marks were only seventh best they ranked third on the component scores.

Tarrah Harvey and Keith Gagnon ended in twelfth place with 27.53 points.

The dance event continues Thursday afternoon with the original dance.

Pair short program —

In the pairs event, returning Junior World silver medalists Lubov Iliushechkina, 17, and Nodari Maisuradze, 21, of Russia, skated first in the last group and executed a technically demanding short program to the music “Prologue” by Lorena McKenna. The duo was clearly the class of the field exhibiting difficult entrances into their elements. They skated with great speed and confidence.

The Grand Prix Champions who teamed up in 2006 took to the ice and looked determined. They landed their opening triple Lutz, but she had a turnout on the landing. It was smooth sailing from that point on as they executed an impressive double twist lift and a huge throw triple loop. They received level four on all non-jumping elements except for the twist which was level two and the spiral step sequence which was called level three by the technical panel. The Muscovites were rewarded with a segment score of 55.12 points and enter the free skate in first place.

“We skated with a lot of expression, but we made some small errors,” Maisuradze stated. “Overall it was a successful performance.”

“Pressure or not, there is always nervousness before the competition.” Iliushechkina added. But, we’ve been to bigger events before and we have learned to be calmer.”

Americans Marissa Castelli, 18, and Simon Shnapir, 21, were just elated when they skated a clean short program and found themselves in second place with 49.10 points.

Shnapir was born in Moscow and emigrated to the United States with his parents at the age of sixteen months. He started skating at age six because he wanted to “try something new.” Castelli was born in Cranston and started skating at age three because her mother was a figure skating coach.

Skating to “Survivor Guatemala” the duo put out a seasons best skate when they delivered eight solid elements. While less technically demanding than Iliushechkina and Maisuradze the duo admitted that simpler done well is a strategy that works for them. That strategy paid off tonight as they received all positive GOE’s on those elements.

Their opening double twist was strong earning a +0.80 GOE for that element. The program featured a double Lutz, a strong throw double loop, a level one forward inside death spiral and three level four elements.

“The program is planned that way, as we rather do a lower level of difficulty of higher quality. We are very happy with the way we skated. Our goal tonight was just to go out and to sell our programs and really put out a lot of emotion. We have been working hard on our component scores, and I think that showed in our performance tonight,” Shnapir told the press. “We had a nice clean program, and we really sold it. We both felt emotional throughout the whole program. I just wanted to have fun on the ice and come off with a smile on my face, and I did.”

Very close behind with 48.84 points Ekaterina Sheremetieva, 17, and Mikhail Kuznetsov, 20, currently sit third. The pair from Moscow teamed up in 2003, and is competing in this event for the second time. They placed fourth last season after losing most of the 2006/2007 season because Ekaterina broke her foot.

They presented a high energy program set to the music “Wild Dancers by Rustiana”. Their first element a throw triple loop was very well-done as was the double twist that followed. However, the duo seemed to lose steam when she popped the Lutz into a single and they struggled on a hand to hip lift. They did recoup at that point with a level three forward inside death spiral and a strong pair combination spin which was called level four by the technical panel.

“We made big errors today, but we just skate the way we prepared,” Kuznetsov said of the program. “We did not skate together for three months from the middle of October, and we started skating together again on January 10th.”

When questioned further Sheremetieva added: “I couldn’t practice the jumps and the throws. Unfortunately, we did not show all that we can do, but we hope that we can show everything in the free skate.”

Paige Lawrence received an unexpected birthday present when she and partner Rudi Sweigers placed a very close fourth in the short program here in Sofia. Lawrence who turned eighteen on February 22, and her partner were thrilled with this result. The duo eclipsed their personal best by 1.06 points which they set back in 2007 at the Junior Grand Prix Pokal der Blauen Schwerta.

The senior level Canadian team is coming off a strong showing at their national championships where they placed fourth in their home province of Saskatoon.

“Of course at home it was different (at Nationals). We were the local favorites there,” Paige said smiling. “However, at any competition you have to deal with nerves. You learn to use the nerves to help you instead of making it worse. You have to stay focused and do your job.”

They produced a joyful presentation to the music “Orange Blossom Sorbet” by Joe Trio. The program was highlighted by a double twist, a double Lutz, and a strong throw triple Loop. They delivered three level four elements as well and captured the second highest technical score of the evening.

Rudi notably had a small cast on his right hand which he said was to protect it as it was broken for the second time this year.

They picked up a segment score of 48.54 points and enter the free skate in fourth place.

Arais Morano, 15, and Antoine Dosaz, 19, narrowly hold the fifth spot with a segment score of 46.60 points. The pair team is two-time Swiss national Champions and placed twelfth at this season’s European Championships in the senior division.

The duo produced a solid program which featured a throw triple loop, a double Lutz and a double twist. They managed all level four elements except for the twist which was level two and the spiral sequence which was level three.

Canadians Maddison Bird, 14, and Raymond Schultz, 18, picked up the sixth spot for a score of 46.60 points. The couple was delighted and just thrilled to be skating at Junior Worlds and to be seventh in the short was just icing on the cake. Madison two-footed the throw triple loop, and they had a wrong edge take-off on a double Lutz. They managed four level four elements. However, the forward inside death spiral was called level three and the double twist was a level two.

“We are really happy with the program. It was much better then at Nationals, for sure,” Maddison said beaming. “We are just so happy to be here. This is such a huge event and we have learned so much.”

Junior Grand Prix silver medalists Yuen Zhang, 16, and Lei Wang, 20, of China, had a disappointing performance after the couple had troubles on a forward inside death spiral and received zero points for that element. They currently are seventh with 45.98 points. The duo are virtually tied with the Japanese, but were granted the higher placement on the strength of their technical scores.

Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran of Japan are currently eighth with 45.98 points after they singled a double Lutz and she two-footed the throw triple loop.

Americans Brynn Carman and Chris Knierim finished in ninth with 45.94 points and Anastasia Martusheva and Alexei Rogonov are eleventh after an uncharacteristic disastrous short program that earned them 44.60 points. The duo fell twice in their program once on a planned triple Lutz and one on the throw triple loop.

The pair event concludes tomorrow evening with the pairs free skate.

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