Russians Reassert Dominance at Junior Worlds
Erokhov wins men when Krasnozhon withdraws; Trusova makes history by landing two quads; Pavliuchenko & Khodykin lead pairs sweep; Skoptcova & Aleshin have an unexpectedly easy dance win.
The World Junior Figure Skating Championships is another competition put into an awkward position in the Olympic year, shoved in between the Olympics and Worlds. Except most of its participants aren’t even going to the latter, and even fewer went to the former. (There are exceptions, though; this year one 2018 Olympian even medaled in the men.) Many of them are too young for them anyway. The young Russians who led the fields in Sofia this week went on untroubled by the drama going on between Russia and the International Olympic Committee. And it seems they don’t have to worry about 2022 either, because the IOC has now reinstated the Russian Olympic Committee, and all is left is the uncomfortable question of whether those most guilty in the doping scandal were truly punished at all.
They came in, however, facing great expectations. Russians have spent most of the time since the Soviet days dominating skating in general. But in recent years, the junior scene especially has seen them often at the time. Last year, it was considered news when they won only one gold and only five medals. This year, they wanted to win a few more than that.
Ultimately, they actually won maybe a handful more than expected. That included all the golds, and all the pairs medals. It was a much more typical World Junior Championships. The ladies event made history. But the men’s event had a painful moment near the end involving the guy who otherwise might’ve kept Russia’s golds to three.
The men’s gold initially looked like it was going to a Russian-born American instead. Until Alexei Krasnozhon, after skating an excellent short for the lead, suffered a fall on his free skate’s opening quadruple salchow jump, one that left him in too much pain to continue. He ultimately staggered off the ice and was taken to the hospital. At last report, he had returned to the hotel and was thankfully “feeling better,” though right now we still don’t know exactly what happened.
Alexei Erokhov and Mitsuki Sumoto also landed everything in their short programs, getting second and third respectively. But Sumoto failed to keep it up, having enough struggles with his jumps in the free to drop down to ninth. Thus Erokhov was left to win in Krasnozhon’s stead. His opening quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination helped. He also attempted a quad salchow, which he got through with a turnout. Even with a little trouble on his solo triple axel and a fall, his winning margin was still over a dozen points.
Part of the reason Sumoto fell so far was because after the short, between him in third and Tomoki Hiwatashi in eleventh, there were barely five points anyway. In eighth was Artur Danielian, after he’d underrotated and fallen on a relatively easy jump combination. The most obscure Russian here with only a single seventh-place JGP finish to his name internationally, he’s still developing, and tried no quads. But he had a clean free with two triple axels, and that was ultimately all he needed to pull up and win silver.
The field was a volatile one all together, with the guy who was fourteenth after the short nearly riding his third place free skate to his second Junior World bronze medal. Joseph Phan, done in by his axel, had been less than eight points out of third anyway. The axel didn’t behave in the free either, though he more or less forced the solo one out. He stepped out of one quad, and landed the other in combination. He had a couple more jump issues as well, but still the second-highest amount of technical content. Ultimately he came well within a point of the podium. Sadly, his countryman Conrad Orzel could only manage thirteenth, so there was no hope of gaining Canada’s third berth back.
But ultimately, it was Matteo Rizzo who won bronze, pulling off another unlikely accomplishment in a season full of them, especially when he was sixth in both segments! He’d held on to most of his short program but struggled with his combination. The free too was more clean than not, if quadless, but he still doubled a couple of jumps. He managed to squeak the bronze out largely due to his performance ability. In the free program he even had the highest presentation scores of anyone.
Also eight points out of third after the short was the once more-successful Russian Roman Savosin. He was another skater with a bad short program combination, though that wasn’t his only problem there. In the free, he actually landed most his jumps, including two quads. But he didn’t do them well at all, plus he still popped a flip. He ultimately was fifth both in the segment and overall, barely edging out two Americans and a Ukrainian. Two disastrous elements in the short had left Camden Pulkinen seventeenth, but he charged back through four minutes of his fourth-place free skate. Even with a couple careless errors and no quads, he was good enough to climb eleven places to sixth.
Hiwatashi struggled badly with his one quad and three triple axel attempts, but landing all his easier jumps was enough to climb to seventh. That at least preserved the U.S.’s three men’s berths for next year’s Junior Worlds. Similarly, Ivan Pavlov managed eighth on the strength of all his easier triples, combined with minorly flawed axels, if no quads.
As expected, latest Russian baby ballerinas Alexandra Trusova and Alena Kostornaia were 1-2 after the short program. Trusova also had the lead with her backloaded jumps including a triple flip-triple loop, the hardest thing anyone attempted. Kostornaia’s included the triple flip-triple toe, the triple-triple of choice for nine of the top twelve. Nonetheless, her more mature skating kept the margin to within half a point. So in the free, Trusova took the ante up to eleven. For anyone else, a triple lutz-triple loop and flip-toe both in the back half would’ve been the story. But by then, they’d been blown away by her becoming the second lady in history to land a quad in international competition, and the first to land two!
Her technical score was the highest ever for a lady. Her free skate score was one only three points off that which recently won Olympic gold and silver, higher even than Erokhov’s. With only two backloaded triple-triples and only one of them difficult, Kostornaia couldn’t compete with that, even before her second half started with a stumble on her lutz. But she went on to nail everything else, including her flip-toe, and remained the most artistic skater on the ice. She maxed out the score for her opening spin too. Silver wasn’t a problem.
For the second year in a row, Stanislava Konstaninova earned the third spot at Russian Junior Nationals, and set off some debate as to whether she should’ve been sent. And this time it may well have cost Russia the sweep. Not that she even did much wrong. Though she fell after her short program ended, her only serious problem was underrotating the flip-toe there. She managed to get a triple lutz-triple toe out at the beginning of a free where she landed almost everything. But a handful of tiny technical glitches took a toll, and she simply could not get higher than fourth.
But it wasn’t Rika Kihira, who was supposed to be Japan’s biggest medal contender, she lost bronze to. Her troubles started in the short, where she fell on her underrotated flip-toe. Then in the free, she popped both her triple axel attempts, and followed a successful triple lutz-triple toe with a far more disastrous lutz combination that ended in a full downgrade and a fall. She dropped to eighth. Bronze instead went to Mako Yamashita. She came in a touch under the radar, but skated two clean programs. Her big weapon in the free was the triple lutz-triple toe, which she landed in the back half-after opening by combining it with a double toe.
Eunsoo Lim finished fifth with two good skates, both of which opened up with her difficult triple-triple. The back half of her free did see a couple of errors though. She only just held on, a fraction of a point ahead of Yuhanna Yokoi. She beat Lim and Konstantinova both in the free with a clean skate. It had only an easier triple-triple, but an impressive double axel-triple toe-double toe in the final seconds. She had landed a harder flip-toe in the short, where she also had the fall on the lutz that ultimately doomed her to sixth overall. Lim’s fellow Korean, Young You had an underrotation in her short, and a downgrade and two falls in her free, which left her all the way down in ninth. South Korea, sadly, just missed qualifying a third berth for next year.
The skater most done in my underrotations was Emmy Ma. She underrotated most of her triples and a few of her doubles as well, finishing a devastating twentieth. However, her fellow American, Ting Cui, had a bit of a breakout competition. She had only a triple toe-triple toe for triple-triples, which she did only in the short program. In the free her planned big ticket was triple lutz-loop-triple salchow, which she lost to a fall. But she promptly attached loop and salchow to her flip instead, and was graceful and clean outside the one error, finishing a very respectable seventh.
It was the pairs podium the Russians swept instead, with Daria Pavliuchenko & Denis Khodykin getting another gold won by over a dozen points. They started with an elegant and perfectly done short. In the free, they were almost as clean, just a hand down from her on their sequence of side by side triple toe loops, far less than most pairs suffered there. They were the only skaters in the top six to landed triple salchows, or even try a more difficult throw-jump, the throw triple flip.
Polina Kostiukovich & Dmitrii Ialin also delivered everything in their short program, which they would win silver on the strength of. Their free skate had three falls. But it also had the highest technical content of anybody, including a split quadruple twist and a triple salchow-loop-triple salchow. Meanwhile, the third Russian pair, Anastasia Mishina & Aleskandr Galimov, were the only pair in the top five after the short that hadn’t landed everything; they had a hand down on their throw. They also had significantly lower presentation scores, despite being the most fun of the three. They closed that gap with far cleaner free skate than Kostiukovich & Ialin. But while they pulled off an easier three-jump, she fell on underrotated salchows. They were second in the segment, but not by quite enough, coming in an extremely close third.
Yumeng Gao & Zhong Xie were the only pair with enough of the qualities of the Russians to possibly disrupt the sweep. But when most of their side by sides were doubles, they’d needed to land everything. They did in the short, where they were third. But in the free, their only triple element, the side by side salchows, were fully downgraded to doubles. They didn’t have enough to make up for that, and dropped to fourth.
In fact, the Chinese were beaten in the segment by Audrey Lu & Misha Mitrofanov. The Americans went for the same three-jump as Kostiukovich & Ialin, and just about landed it, with only the slightest of step backs from him. Otherwise throughout the competition their only problem seemed to be with the throw loop, which they had more trouble with in the short. They even beat Kostiukovich & Ialin’s technical free skate score. It was enough for them to bump Evelyn Walsh & Trent Michaud for fifth. The Canadians had pulled off everything in the short, but in the free had only solo double loops, and failed to finish their three-jump. With Sarah Feng & TJ Nyman managing eighth, their finish also earned the U.S. a third pairs berth for next year.
An expected battle between Christine Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko and Anastasia Skoptcova & Kirill Aleshin was derailed when Ponomarenko couldn’t keep his balance in the short dance twizzles. It cost them enough they landed all the way in sixth. They were less than two points out of second, though. Their free dance went much smoother, but even then they had a weaker spin, which also took a toll on their technical tariff. They still pulled up to win silver, but it was by less than a point.
If Skoptcova & Aleshin weren’t perfect, their short dance was more than close enough to seal the title up immediately. They took no chances in the free dance, though, skating a knockout program with elegance and precision. They were only able to tie for the second-highest tariff in the short dance. But in the free they got into a four-way tie for the highest, and, more vitally, had one two points higher than Carreira & Ponomarenko’s. That meant they won the free dance too, as well as the gold.
Arina Ushakova & Maxim Nekrashov have matured a bit in their skating over the season, doing things with more skill and refinement. That makes the crazy energy they’ve managed to retain even more potent. In the free dance especially they blasted through some of their elements. Even those things they didn’t do the best, they did well. That ultimately prove good enough for a surprise bronze, though that medal, too, was by less than a point over Marjorie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha. The Canadians were second in the short after tying Skoptcova & Aleshin in the tariff and putting down a solid skate. But in the free dance, they lost that advantage, and a couple of weaker moves cost them a medal.
Less than half a point behind them came Sofia Shevchenko & Igor Efremenko, who beat them in the free dance. They were supposed to be the second Russian team here. But first in the short dance they got hit on multiple elements, getting the lowest tariff of the top five. They made it into the four-way tariff tie for the free dance. But fatigue crept in a little in the second half of their program, resulting in split seconds of sloppy moving, which cost them. They were fourth in both segments, but very narrowly slipped down to fifth.
Also in the tariff tie were the other two American teams, Caroline & Gordon Green and Chloe Lewis & Logan Bye. The Greens also took the highest tariff in the short, where they had one of their best skates yet. Lewis & Bye weren’t as sharp as the top teams, but their free dance was a strong emotional moment, also one of their best; they beat the Greens in the segment. But even the best scores they’ve gotten was only enough to get the Greens sixth, and Lewis & Bye seventh.
View full results here.
Multiple Berths for the 2019 World Junior Championships
Three Berths: Russia (All Disciplines), United States (Men, Pairs, & Dance), Japan (Ladies)
Two Berths: Germany (All Disciplines), Canada (Men, Pairs, & Dance), South Korea (Men & Ladies), Japan (Men & Pairs), Italy (Men), the Ukraine (Men), United States (Ladies), China (Pairs), France (Dance), Georgia (Dance)