Junior Grand Prix Wraps Up in Italy
Home skater pulls off an unexpected win; one last Russian ladies battle ends with an unlikely two-event winner; last-minute replacements win the Russian dance battle.
The Junior Grand Prix concluded this year with the JGP Egna/Neumarkt in Italy. Very unusually, the last event had only singles and dance; the pairs series concluded last week in Poland. The men’s competition also took an unexpected course, and all three winners were at least mildly surprising. On the other hand, the lineups for the JGP Final, finalized after each competition ended, ended up being pretty much what they were expected to be at the beginning of this week, at last after a withdrawal and replacement in the dance competition changed the expected qualifiers there.
This event had five men in it potentially capable of qualifying for the Final. There was one American who could make it certain with a top two finish, and still had a chance so long as he made the top four. There was another American and a Russian who basically needed to either win or to get silver with the first American not medaling. There were also two guys who would’ve needed to win to have any chance at all.
None of them took gold or silver. The first instead went to a home skater who’s having quite a breakout year that’s looking very likely now to include an Olympics. Poor Matteo Rizzo actually blew his chances at the Final in Poland last week, where he followed up a second-place short with a bad free that left him sixth. This week, he was once again in second, by only a fraction of a point behind Russian Vladimir Samoilov, who was at his only event. Both men landed everything, included the night’s cleanest triple axel jumps. Rizzo was second mainly because of a weak spin.
The free skate was on the messy side. But Rizzo’s wasn’t; but for one doubled salchow he was perfect. It was pretty much the performance of the event:
Of course, he wasn’t going for any quadruple jumps, though he pulled off the triple axel twice more. Samoilov went for two quad salchows. The first he doubled; the second he landed in combination with a triple toe loop. But when his axels weren’t clean, and he fell on a flip, Rizzo had no trouble trouncing him. Third in the free skate, Samoilov nonetheless held onto silver. The Russian federation is no doubt greatly regretting they didn’t send him to another event. Especially because Egor Murashov, the Russian who came in with a chance, following up a weak short with an disastrous, and finished down in eighth.
Bronze, too, went a skater who couldn’t make it in with it. After not trying the triple axel at his first event, Tomoki Hiwatashi landed it in the short, if barely, and skated more well than not. In the free he stumble on axel and quad toe attempts, but pulled off the rest of his program, despite the final spin being close. Fourth in the free skate, he held onto the medal by less than a point over fellow American Andrew Torgashev. Torgashev came in second in the free skate. But through the competition his axels were all doubles, he fell on his one quad attempt in the free, and those weren’t his only mistakes in either program. One of four men left with second and fourth at his two events, he nonetheless did enough to take the last spot in the Final on the score tiebreaker.
Had either Japanese skater Tatsyua Tsuboi or Ukrainian Ivan Pavlov one, they would’ve gotten that last spot. But Tsuboi simply didn’t have the goods to compete with the top four. He did take a step up from his previous event, showing far more artistry in the short especially. Technically he was pretty much as he was in Minsk. Once again, his only attempt at the triple axel resulted in a fall and full downgrade. Landing everything else, once again he made it look pretty good, if not brilliant. Theoretically, Pavlov had the ability to beat Rizzo. But his short had a doubled axel, and his free far more problems, and he barely managed sixth.
JGP Finale Lineup
- Alexey Erokhov (RUS)
- Alexei Krasnozhon (USA)
- Camden Pulkinen (USA)
- Mitsuki Sumoto (JPN)
- Makar Ignatov (RUS)
- Andrew Torgashev (USA)
Two Russian ladies who had previously on the circuit battled for their golds, and one Japanese lady who had been disappointed with silver, finished the short program barely a point apart. Backloading all her jumps in a knockout skate in fact put Alena Kostornaia exactly a point ahead of Rika Kihira. Kihira backloaded her triples only, and did them a bit heavily, though the first half of her short was truly exquisite. Sofia Samodurova, who unlike the top two is still doing her triple flip-triple toe at the start of her program, still sparkled enough to get within .05 of Kihira.
It ended up being close in the free skate too. Now it was Kostornaia’s turn to verge on divine in the first half of her free skate. The second half had all but one of her jumps, starting with her her triple flip-triple toe and triple flip-triple toe-double toe, and easier triple salchow-triple toe. But then she turned out of an underrotated loop. Meanwhile, Samodurova nailed everything, and while the back half had less of her jumps, it did have the three-jump with the lutz, and the double axel in combination with the triple toe and in sequence with the triple flip. When the numbers crunched together, Samodurova was the surprise winner again, this time by only four hundredths of a point.
Rika Kihira had a much harder time in her free. She actually rotated everything, including her opening triple axel, but she stumbled on it, and again on the double axel-triple toe. After that she seemed to pull it together, and landed the rest of her jumps, including a triple lutz-triple toe and triple lutz three-jump in the back half. Except she then fell twice in the step sequence that should’ve been her strength! Still, the jumps were enough that when she won bronze, she got the last spot into the Final, beating out one of her countrywomen in the score tiebreaker.
She also benefited by another one of them faltering. Nana Araki was clean in her short, where she also frontloaded her triple flip-triple toe, and was only a couple of points behind. She opened the free with a triple lutz-triple toe, and had the same three-jump in the back half, along with a double axel-triple toe. But neither these jumps nor her programs were as beautiful as those of the top three, plus she stumbled badly on an underrotated loop, making her fifth in the segment. She came in with a shot at the Final not unlike Kihira’s, only to miss out in fourth. Young You, who beat her in the segment, skated a pair of programs similar to hers. Her biggest item was the opening triple lutz-triple toe; she tried a late double axel-triple toe, but underrotated and fell on it. That meant she only beat her by a point, not enough to move up from fifth.
She was one of two Koreans who would’ve mad the Final with gold, but had really had no chance at that. The other, Ye-Lim Kim, came in having changed both her programs after her last event. Her short was completely new, and while her free was still a La La Land one, it was now a version of her show program, to “Audition” only instead of a medley. The programs might have suited her better, but the short debut didn’t go well at all, leaving her down in ninth. Her free was close to clean, trying the same combinations as You and landing all three of them in a close to clean skate. But she just couldn’t get the presentation scores of the others; the judges might have undermarked her just a touch. She could only pull up to sixth.
JGP Finale Lineup
- Alexandra Trusova (RUS)
- Sofia Samodurova (RUS)
- Alena Kostornaia (RUS)
- Daria Panenkova (RUS)
- Anastasia Tarakanova (RUS)
- Rika Kihira (JPN)
Dance was supposed to be a clash between two of the circuit’s top Russian teams, but one of them withdrew. So Sofia Polischuk & Alexander Vakhnov came in favored to follow up a win at the series first event with another at its last. But the replacement team, Arina Ushakova & Maxim Nekrasov, were no slouches themselves. They came in with a bronze medal at their first event and great relief at getting a second, especially since they didn’t need too high a score to grab the last spot in the Final even with silver. Indeed, with those teams going unchallenged for the top, that lineup wasn’t in suspense here.
But first Polishchuk & Vakhnov got hit with some low levels of difficult and barely led after the short dance. They were lucky the difference wasn’t too much, and Ushakova & Nekrasov’s opening cha cha pattern wasn’t stronger. Then in the free dance it happened again; they took a level hit on a slow opening step sequence, and this time the difference in technical tariff was bigger, over a point. They still performed it and everything else excellently. But so did Ushakova & Nekrasov, and they came out again with a level of energy and commitment to the their program that simply could not be denied. They got past their countrymen to win by a little over two points.
Americans Chloe Lewis & Logan Bye might have contended for bronze. But they struggled in the short dance especially; their technical tariff was the lowest of the top nine. Their free dance was better done, and beautiful, but even there the score was kept down by an extended lift. They ended up fifth, and bronze instead became a battle between the two Canadian teams. The biggest difference ended up being the short dance tariff, which helped Alicia Fabbri & Claudio Pietrantonio beat Ellie Fisher & Simon-Pierre Malette-Paque by two points there. When the two teams matched tariffs, the free dance was extremely close. In fact, Fisher & Malette-Paque got a slightly higher technical score; maybe their elements were a hair sharper. But ultimately Fabbri & Pietrantonio prevailed, skating with elegance and feeling and squeaking ahead in the segment on presentation scores, as well as getting their first JGP medal.
JGP Finale Lineup
- Christine Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko (USA)
- Anastasia Skoptcova & Kirill Aleshin (RUS)
- Sofia Polishchuk & Alexander Vakhnov (RUS)
- Marjoie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha (CAN)
- Sofia Shevchenko & Igor Efremenko (RUS)
- Arina Ushakova & Maxim Nekrasov (RUS)