Thursday, 21/6/2018 | : : UTC-7
Skate Today

Leonova Leaps to the Top

For 18-year-old Alena Leonova winning the World Junior Title was like a dream. After placing third in Friday’s short program, the St. Petersburg native was hoping to win a medal. The five foot-five-inch perky blonde took to the ice on Saturday bursting with excitement and managed to pull off a second ranked free skate that was so delightful — the roar of the audience was deafening. However, when her free skate score of 101.68 points was added to her short program score of 55.50 points the Cupe de Nice silver medalist was stunned to find herself in first place overall — with a personal best score of 157.18 points.

“This medal means a lot to me. It took me a very long time to get there,” Leonova said smiling. “Two years ago I was 12th, last year, I was 6th, and now I am first.”

Leonova, who placed fourth at the recent European Championships on the senior level, told the press she only came to Sofia for the experience before her upcoming debut at the senior World Championships in Los Angeles. She had not anticipated winning a medal – never mind The Gold Medal.

“I like to skate in Juniors,” Alena admitted. “I meet all my friends here. In seniors the skating is much more mature and of course there is a lot more pressure. I came here not expecting to win a medal. I just wanted to test myself one more time before the World Championships in March. This is only my first senior season so it’s nice to come back and skate juniors.”

Skating to “Al Andaluz” by Manolo Carrasco in the short program, Leonova nailed her opening triple flip/double toe combination, but had a scratchy landing on the triple Lutz that followed. She received a negative one point two zero (-1.20) Grade of Execution (GOE) for that element. Then she rebounded quickly with a strong double Axel. Leonova produced all level three spins but the spiral step sequence was level four and her straight line steps were awarded a mere level two.

“I didn’t expect to be third (in the short program),” Leonova said with excitement. “I only planned that I would be in the top five. Of course, I am very happy with the result, and I am pleased that I exceeded my best.”

The youngster attacked each element in her free skate which was set to the music “Le Leyenda del Beso” by Raul di Blasio. She struggled with the landing of her opening triple flip/double toe and her triple loop was downgraded as well. However, she blasted through four clean triples including one combination and one sequence to claim the title.

It was her facial exspressions and excitement that sold the program as the teen seemed to gain energy and speed throughout the program.

“I’m still in shock, but I’m very happy that I’m in first place,” the Russian said of her win. Usually I don’t expect such high placements, and it happened by itself. I went out in a good mood, and I just skated like I do in practice.”

In an unanticipated turn of events the 2007 Junior World Champion Caroline Zhang had a disastrous short program which left the 15-year-old in a disappointing tenth place.

“Last week I was really sick with the flu and now I feel weak,” Zhang stated with disappointment. “I had no energy out there, and I just couldn’t do it.”

She took to the ice but lacked energy and her “La Bayadere” short program seemed flat. Things quickly went astray when the American bronze medalist (on the senior level) fell on a downgraded triple flip of a planned triple flip/triple toe combination and then received a downgrade on the triple Lutz that followed as well. Her spins, however, were magnificent and her final element – a lay back spin—earned extremely high GOE’s from the technical panel.

“I am very mad at myself,” Zhang stated tearfully. “It is probably the worst skate I ever performed.”

Zhang zoomed back with a free skate that was so inspiring that the teen moved up eight spots to catch the silver medal. Zhang performed like a top-notch ballerina on ice. The spunky teen sparkled in her presentation of “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert.

The teenager from Brea, California was mesmerizing. Her program featured five clean triple jumps and spins that were so well-done one might think she was spineless. Her final lay back spin was absolutely outstanding and earned plus three GOE’s from six of the nine judges. Caroline made only one costly error when she took off from the wrong edge on a triple Lutz/double toe combination.

“I am happy with my performance today,” the teen told the press. “I tried to refocus the best that I could today, and I think I did pretty well.”

Zhang won the free skate with 107.03 points and vaulted from tenth to second place overall with a total score of 154.67 points.

“I made a lot of mistakes in the short program,” she confessed. “It was kind of like, I gave away my chance for the title. But I think I did well in the long program, and I came back strong. I showed myself I am tougher than that, and that I can fight back from disappointment.”

Teammate Ashley Wagner hung on for the bronze medal after placing second in Friday’s short program and third in Saturday’s free skate.

Her “Somewhere in Time” routine was solid and featured a triple flip/double toe combination, a double Axel and strong spins. Her triple Lutz was penalized for a wrong edge take-off and her spiral step sequence earned only level two when the American failed to properly execute a change of edge.

She received 57.50 points and stood in second place entering Saturday’s free skate.

“Mentally, this was one of the hardest programs for me because I was coming off a poor short program at Nationals,” 17-year old Wagner stated. “I feel old, I haven’t been a junior for so long. I won’t lie. I miss all the cameras, the glamour and the glitz of senior competition. But I didn’t qualify for Worlds or Four Continents, and ideally I would like to get two Grand Prix (events) next season. So any points I can rack up here, I wouldn’t mind having.”

In the free program Ashley began to falter. She collapsed on a downgraded triple Salchow and two-footed a triple toe+double Axel sequence. She also received a call of an edge watch on the triple Lutz receiving minus one-point four zero (-1.40) penalty on the GOE for that element. Wagner was awarded level two for her step sequences and level four for her spins.

“It was a good program for me,” Wagner stated with relief. “Throughout the whole week I have had a lot going against me, so I just wanted to do everything just the way I have been practicing it and focusing on everything just in pieces, not as a whole big thing.”

Wagner missed the silver medal by one-point one zero points, but captured the bronze medal with an event score of 153.57 points.

“I fell on a triple Salchow. I am still hitting myself in the head for that. But overall I am satisfied with the program. It was the best I could do this week. The thing I am happiest about is that I won’t have to ever do a flying camel spin again,” she laughed.

Joshi Helgesson of Sweden looked dazzling in Friday’s short program that was set to the soundtrack “Amelie” by Yann Tiersen. She skated second to last and highlighted her routine with a triple toe/double toe combination, a triple Lutz and a double Axel. She also executed two level four spins and a level four spiral step sequence as well.

Helgesson pocketed the second highest technical score of 33.30 points but settled for fourth with a personal best short program score of 55.14 points.

The three-time Swedish Junior Champion finished fourth overall after a lyrical performance to music by a variety of composers in the free skate. She nailed a triple toe/double toe combination and another triple toe. Her footwork was delightful, and she displayed an elegant style.

She placed sixth in the free skate but fourth overall with a new season best of 139.89 points.

Katrina Hacker produced a serene short program to the music from “On Golden Pond” which earned the American a segment score of 51.06 points. The Princeton-bound student executed a strong triple toe/double toe combination and a double Axel. Her triple Lutz done with her hands over head was penalized for a take-off from the wrong edge. Hacker’s spins and her spirals were strong showing outstanding flexibility and strength.

In the free skate Hacker placed fourth with 88.62 points. She managed only three clean triple jumps, as her triple Salchow was downgraded, and she had a shaky landing on the triple toe. She delivered two level four spins and a level two step sequence as well.

“I am slated to go to Princton in the fall, but I will still skate every day,” Hacker stated of her future plans. “I am not sure if I will compete, but I will definitely skate. I am thinking of being a doctor. I am not sure what kind maybe an orthopedist, but I am still not sure.”

Hacker who trains at the Skating Club of Boston under the watchful eye of Mark Mitchell and Peter Johannson picked up an event total of 143.76 points to place fifth overall.

Elene Gedevanishvili rocked the short program on Friday as she entertained the audience with a charming rendition of the music from “Cabaret.” The 19-year-old now lives and trains in Hackensack, New Jersey under Coach Robin Wagner. The Georgian Champion powered out a triple Lutz, a triple toe/triple toe combination and a double Axel. Gedevanischvili lit up the audience on her straight line step sequence which earned her plus two GOE’s from six of the nine judges.

She exceeded her personal best with a segment score of 60.32 points.

However, Gedevanishvili has been plagued by inconsistencies and Saturday was no exception. She tumbled to eleventh after a messy free skate worth 78.00 points. She singled the front end of a planned triple Lutz /triple toe combination, two-footed a triple toe/double toe/double toe combination, doubled a planned triple Lutz and three of her jumps were downgraded as well.

Canada’s two entries Diane Szmiett from London, Ontario and Kathryn Kang of Vancouver, B.C. were disappointed with their placements. Szmiett placed thirteenth with 119.09 points and Kang was 21st with 104.82 points.

“I am not sure what happened it’s just been a very long week,” Szmiett stated of the long wait before competing. “I have had a really good season, so I can’t really explain what went wrong.”

“I have had a really good season also,” Kang added. “Things just didn’t work right here. Things went really well at Canadians, and of course I was hoping for much better here.”

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