Better Singles Events and Close Finishes at the Junior Grand Prix Final
Alexei Krasnozhon wins a men’s event while skating well; Alexandra Trusova wins a very strong ladies event; Alexandrovskaya & Windsor make history for Australia in the pairs again; Skoptcova & Aleshin surprise to win the dance.
The Junior Grand Prix Final now always takes place in the shadow of the senior one, and this year is took place in the shadow of the International Olympic Committee news as well. This at least was less cause for stress for its Russian participants, since none of them have ever been likely to go to the 2018 Olympics anyway, and most of them are even too young to. Despite the JGP’s normal YouTube stream breaking late in the men’s free, the singles skaters made for superior watching than the seniors, not that that’s saying much in the case of the men. There were also two extremely close finishes for gold, and an upset in the ice dance!
The junior men were an improvement on the senior men, in that at least the medalists skated decently. Winner Alexei Krasnozhon even landed all his triple jumps, and his short was just fine. But most of his free skate triples he had to fight to hold, including both the solo axel and the triple axel-triple toe combination, plus he had a silly stumble on his double axel near the end. He also underrotated his quadruple loop attempt, but that’s normal for him.
He was the expected winner, but fellow American Camden Pulkinen was not expected to win silver. Especially not when he didn’t skate his short well at all, between stumbling through a triple-double combination and getting shaky on a spin. But in his free program, while he too had to hold onto a few jumps, including both axels, he landed a few better, and was clean aside from a late doubled flip. This was a competition where that was enough for a medal.
Mitsuki Sumoto, on the other hand, was clean in the short. But he opened his free by falling on his only triple axel attempt; he wasn’t trying as much as the rest of the field was. What he was trying after that he mostly landed, and beautifully, but he stumbled on his closing lutz. With the aid of higher presentation scores, he’d done enough to win bronze ahead of Makar Ignatov. Ignatov got through his short with a hand down in his combination, but in his free fell on a quad, struggled with a difficult triple axel three-jump, though he landed the solo axel, and generally struggled with the second half of his free skate, with a doubled jump and invalid spin.
Alexey Erokhov was the third skater to skate a clean short, where he was second. In the free, he landed the competitions only clean quad in combination. But even that he had to fight for, his other two quad attempts and one triple axel attempt weren’t successful, and then he doubled two more triples and also had a fall out of nowhere. He dropped to fifth. At least he still skated far better than Andrew Torgashev. He stumbled on multiple elements in the short, not even landing the triple axel, when all five of the other men did there. Then he did far worse on most of his jumps in the free, finishing way back of the rest of the field.
Five Russian and one Japanese girl took to the ice, and together they put together the best ladies competition of the season so far, and maybe one of the best ever. It started with the short program, where each and every one of them landed everything, and the only one who didn’t do a triple flip-triple toe did a triple flip-triple loop instead. The free program was almost as good, with four of the ladies landing everything, and the two that didn’t mainly had trouble with the quad salchow and triple axel attempts. But, as in the senior ladies, the one who won on her sheer technical content didn’t skate her best.
Alexandra Trusova was just fine in the short, where the flip-loop helped her secure the lead. Hers was the quad salchow attempt, where she underrotated and fell. Even with that, her free skate’s technical tariff was nearly six points higher than anyone else’s, her mostly backloaded content including triples lutzes done with both loop and toe, and a triple flip three-jump. But she outright bobbled on the lutz-loop, and while the rest of the jumps were clean, they were a little nervous; the three-jump especially was heavy, and her final spins succumbed slightly as well. She left the ice in tears, and she even lost the free skate. But she only lost it by a fraction of a point, so she still had about a point left over to win.
There was even more of a debate than in the senior competition as to whether she should’ve won, especially since in this case there was an obvious alternative. Silver medalist Alena Kostornaia started with high and completely backloaded content. She had the same three-jump in her free, plus a triple flip-triple toe and easier triple salchow-triple toe. But even in a field not lacking for artistry, hers stood out for its maturity and depth, especially in her top-scoring free skate:
Anastasia Tarakanova took bronze, third in both segments. She did her triple-triples-the lutz-toe in the free, at the beginning of each program. The rest of her jumps she backloaded, including a triple lutz-loop-triple salchow, but she really had to hold on to a few of them. She was loose and wild throughout, though she sells that as her style anyway. Like Trusova, hers wasn’t nearly as memorable a showing as that of she who came in below her.
Rika Kihira started her free skate with the ultimate triple-triple: a triple axel-triple toe. Though this was actually less ambitious than the triple-triple-double she landed at Japanese Junior Nationals last week, she still became the first junior lady to ever land it in international competition. She went for a second axel too, but that she singled. Combined with an underrotated flip, and even when she nailed the rest, including a triple lutz three-jump, her tariff was lowest, she was still only fourth in both segments.
Daria Panenkova actually had the second-highest tariff, doing all backloaded jumps and most of them with her arms up. Her big ticket items in the free were a triple lutz-triple toe and triple flip-loop-triple salchow. But as a skater and artist she couldn’t match the top four, and that kept her down in fifth, just below Kihira. Sofia Samodurova also suffered a little in that regard. She had personality to make up for it in the short program, but her nerves got in the way of that a little in the free. Combined with lower technical content than everyone else, and she was a little bit further behind in sixth.
The pairs short wasn’t as perfect as the ladies, but it wasn’t far off, if only because nobody tried to triple the required side by side lutzes, so they all landed them, Daria Pavliuchenko & Denis Khodykin with their arms up. However, they and Aleksandra Boikova & Dmitrii Kozlovskii fell on their throw triple loops. The other four teams landed those, but Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya & Harley Windsor had a hand nearly down. They ended up in second, narrowly ahead of Pavliuchenko & Kodykin, and narrowly behind Apollinariia Panfilova & Dmitri Rylov, who put on a good and neater show. Those three teams would stay close above the other three and close throughout, eventually finishing within a point of each other.
In the free it was Pavliuchenko & Khodykin who were strongest technically, landing a triple toe-loop-triple toe sequence, salchows with a swingout from her, and a throw flip with a hand down. Alexandrovaskaya & Windsor nearly had the salchows, but he slipped and fell after initially landing. They combined their throw flip with a triple-double-double, landing both. They also were a lot smoother on both elements and skating than the slower and less expressive Pavliuchenko & Khodykin. That ultimately proved the difference; presentation scores kept them ahead. In fact, Pavliuchenko & Khodykin fell behind Panfilova & Rylov, who tried nothing more difficult than a triple flip, but skated clean. Third in the segment, they did just enough for silver. Half a year after making history at the World Junior Championships, Alexandroyskaya & Windsor also became the first Australians to not only medal but win at the JGP Final.
After their short program, Yumeng Guo & Zhong Xie were only four hundredths of a point behind Pavliuchenko & Khodykin. But in the free, after landing salchows, they went only for a combination of double toes, and didn’t rotate even that. When their throws were easier and their side by side spins grossly out of sync, they couldn’t stay near the top three. Their beautiful presentation, while perhaps not rewarded as much as it should’ve been, helped them keep fourth ahead of Boikova & Kozlovski.
Falling on their throw had left the junior world silver medalists last after the short. That didn’t stop them from going for by far the most ambitious side by sides in the free. They got out triple toe-loop-triple salchow combinations, but she went down on their triple loops. They did easier throws, nearly fell on the second of them, and were awkward even on their non-jump elements. A bad transitional stumble also helped mar their presentation scores. In the end, they were barely able to pull up to fifth ahead of Anastasia Poluianova & Dmitry Sopot. They had the weakest presentation scores of the field, especially in the short and their only difficult jump element was a triple-double-double, while both side by sides were done way out of sync. Not their only rough spot either, though they ultimately pulled everything off.
The dance gold was also a tight battle. However, top qualifiers Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko first took a blow in the short dance. Well as they performed, their twizzles only getting a level 2 of difficulty left them with too low a technical tariff. Meanwhile, Anastasia Skoptcova & Kirill Aleshin got the highest of the field, and theirs was one of the most expressive programs of the night. The top four teams all got the same tariff in the free, where both performed with a strong intensity, though Carreira & Ponomarenko’s had more depth. But aside from a slightly awkward straight-line lift, Skoptcova & Aleshin were just a little stronger in how well they did the technical elements. Carreira & Ponomarenko got slightly higher presentation scores, and the difference in the segment was less than a tenth. But Skoptcova & Aleshin ultimately won both segments and the gold.
Sofia Polishchuk & Alexander Vakhnov and Sofia Shevchenko & Igor Efremenko were the two teams that matched the top two in free dance tariff. Polishchuk & Vakhnov also got higher enough a one in the short to make third place easy there, especially with their superior skating skills to the field’s bottom half. They benefitted from that in the free dance too, where they’re now good enough with their swan theme to further benefit in the presentation scores. Their margin for bronze was sizable. When they hadn’t benefitted from the tariff, Shevchenko & Efremenko had been fifth after the short. But their free dance was more effective a program even when they faded a little late, and they moved up for a comfortable fourth.
When the bottom three got the same tariff in the short, Majorie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha got fourth on the elegance of their skating. But in the free dance they got the lowest technical tariff, having trouble especially with the step sequence, and dropped to last, a fraction of a point behind Arina Ushakova & Maxim Nekrasov. The final qualifiers to the Final kept fairly close to teams considered a bit above them all together, and had an excellent free dance especially, though their height difference was an issue while doing the cha cha pattern in the short.
View full results here.
For most the junior and senior skaters in Nagoya, the next stop on their schedule will be their National Championships, either senior or junior (or in the case of the Russians, very possibly both), with an aim to qualify for the World Junior Championships. Although for Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya & Harley Windsor, who had to miss theirs to compete here, it might be Four Continents, if they choose to do that, or it might be the Olympics.