World Junior Figure Skating Championships 2012

April 6, 2012
By Vicky Azhoychik
Photos © Vicky Azhoychik

This year the ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships took place in Minsk, the capital of Belarus. This country has no strong traditions in figure skating, but we remember some good skaters from Belarus; like Sergei Davydov. Many skating lovers remember how he, at Europeans 2007, lost the bronze to Kevin Van der Perren by 0.03 points. And also that Olympic champion Tatiana Navka together with famous Russian coach Nikolai Morozov represented Belarus in ice dance. But all that is in the past, let’s look at the present.

The 2012 Championships were held at the Minsk Arena, a new contemporary sports complex that on the inside slightly resembles the Megasport Arena in Moscow. The competitions officially opened on February 29 with the Short Dance and the Pairs Short Program, but already on Monday and Tuesday, the Preliminary Rounds for men and ladies were held. This showed participants from all over the world, some from “traditional” figure skating countries but also from Mongolia, Greece, Singapore, Thailand and even Grenada and Malaysia. Michal Christian Martinez from the Philippines performed well and became the little sensation who finished third in the Junior Men’s Qualifications.

After the Short Dance the top three places were all occupied by Russian skaters. It’s worth mentioning that all of them were debutants at Junior Worlds, but each team is already well-known in the figure skating world. Anna Yanovskaya/ Sergei Mozgov, who were third, took the gold at the Youth Olympic Games two months ago and silver at the Junior Grand Prix Final. Victoria Sinitsina/ Ruslan Zhiganshin won that Final and placed first here. Alexandra Stepanova/ Ivan Bukin scored only 1.1 point less than their teammates. Ivan continues in his father Andrei Bukin’s footsteps. He is an Olympic champion and multiple Worlds and Europeans gold medalist in Ice Dance with his partner Natalia Bestemianova. Gabriella Papadakis/ Guillaume Cizeron of France and Alexandra Aldridge/ Daniel Eaton of the USA finished 4th and 5th with their thrilling programs, and still had a chance to fight for medals.

In Junior Pairs Short Program two Chinese couples, Wenjing Sui/ Cong Han and Xiaoyu Yu/ Yang Jin, took first and second place respectively. They both chose interesting music for their programs: Sui/ Han offered a dynamic performance to American country music and Yu/ Jin's performed “The Nutcracker” by Pyotr I. Tchaikovski. Ekaterina Petaikina/ Maxim Kurdyukov of Russia, who won the small bronze medal, showed real senior skating. Americans Haven Denney/ Brandon Frazier were less than half a point behind them with an amazing program to “Chicago”.

On Thursday Men's Short Program and Pairs Free Skating took place.  Joshua Farris of the USA finished first, and both his teammates were also in the top 10. Farris performed to “Clair de Lune” and clearly fulfilled the list of elements: a triple Axel, a triple flip-triple toe, the required triple Lutz, and got level four for his three spins. The winner of the Grand Prix Final, Jason Brown, showed a really strong program, but without the triple Axel it virtually deprived him of any chances of gold, and possibly of a podium spot. Timothy Dolensky surprised the audience skating to his own music, named “Windfall”. Han Yan of China was second and in third place the most experienced skater of this competition; Denis Ten. Denis, who is 18 years old and well-known in the senior circuit, decided to use his last chance to participate at Junior Worlds. It is interesting that Denis and Han Yan both did strong triple Axels and earned equal points for them; 10.36. But Denis had some issues with his spins and was not too happy with his performance, as he said later in the press-conference. I also want to mention Shoma Uno of Japan, one of the smallest skaters in this championship, but one of the most impressive indeed.

At the evening the pairs cleared up the final results. Some of the excitement over who would win disappeared already after the Short Program where Wenjing Sui/ Cong Han secured a five-point lead over their teammates. It was virtually impossible for the two-time Junior World and reigning Four Continents Champions to lose this competition. And as expected, they won their third title and proved once more that Chinese pair skating is still one of the best in the world. They demonstrated a killer collection of the most difficult elements, such as a quadruple twist and a quadruple throw Salchow, although this time they had some problems with throws and jumps. Nevertheless, the gap from first to second place was about 8 points. Xiaoyu Yu/ Yang Jin saved their second place and the silver. But it wasn’t clear until the very last second who would get bronze. Ekaterina Petaikina/ Maxim Kurdyukov of Russia made some serious mistakes and finished only 6th. Haven Denney/ Brandon Frazier performed last to the soundtrack from “Pearl Harbor”. What sets this pair apart is that all of their programs are like captivating performances you just can’t take your eyes off. But in the end they lost by about 3 points to Vasilisa Davankova/ Andrei Deputat of Russia, who teamed up only last year. They did a really great job and became bronze medalists at their first international competition.

The next day began with the ladies skating their Short Program. Julia Lipnitskaya, a 13-year-old from Russia, finished first with a perfect skate. Her teammate and reigning Junior World Champion, Adelina Sotnikova, came third. For Adelina this season has turned out to be difficult. She started to skate as a senior and had issues with elements and also some psychological problems, as she later said at the press conference. And this time Adelina couldn’t perform cleanly and earned only a first level for the change foot combination spin. Gracie Gold, USA, skated in the first warm-up group, but displayed a strong collection of elements that helped her rise to second position. The ladies in 12th up to 4th place collected 48 to 53 points, which meant that anything could happen in the Free Program.

I was a bit late to the Free Dance competition, and arrived at the rink for the second warm-up group, but all the programs I saw that day were little masterpieces! Anna Nagornyuk/ Viktor Kovalenko of Uzbekistan delivered dynamic skating with many interesting moves, Yiyi Zhang/ Nan Wu performed lyrically to “Un Giorno Per Noi” from Romeo and Juliet. Also I loved Ksenia Pecherkina / Aleksander Jakushin dance to “Demain n'existe pas” by Igor Krutoi, “Carmen” by Sofia Sforza/ Francesco Fioretti and “The Pink Panther” of Maria Nosulia/ Evgeni Kholoniuk. There was also a beautiful program to music from the classic movie “Gone with the Wind” performed by Nicole Orford/ Thomas Williams, and I enjoyed Lauri Bonacorsi’s/ Travis Mager’s dance. The last warm-up group, where the teams ended up  distributing the top five spots among themselves, deserves a special mention. Gabriella Papadakis/ Guillaume Cizeron displayed a powerful performance to an Elvis Presley Medley. Alexandra Aldridge/ Daniel Eaton fulfilled a rhythmically demanding dance to Irish folk tunes. And two out of three Russians teams hung on to the positions they had after the Short Dance. Victoria Sinitsina/ Ruslan Zhiganshin delivered a strong performance to “Phantom of Opera”, earned their season’s best and became the new Junior World Champions. Alexandra Stepanova/ Ivan Bukin who won the silver, showed a program to an unusual instrumental version of “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney, needless to say a very successful choice. This team nailed the innovative lifts and fast footwork. Anna Yanovskaya/ Sergey Mozgov were last out in the group and experienced a mishap. Sergey’s boot strap came loose and the referee stopped their skating. A few minutes later they continued, but lost points which gave the last podium spot to Americans Alexandra Aldridge/ Daniel Eaton for their interpretation of “Lord of the Dance.

On Saturday, the last day of the competition, the men’s and ladies’ final results were determined. Note that all three technically skilled Japanese skaters as well as Liam Farris showed senior quality skating. Zhan Bush of Russia put on a powerful performance to “Carmen” and ranked 5th, just as in the Short Program. Denis Ten was first out in the strongest warm-up group. He decided to do a quad but fell in the landing. This attempt certainly deserves respect, but it deprived him of any prize-winning spots. The only man who produced a quadruple toe loop that evening was Han Yan. He also nailed his triple jumps and made an overall good impression with his program “Zigeunerweisen”. He rightfully moved into first place and became the first Chinese man ever to win the competition.

Skating to   Rachmaninov's “Piano Concerto No. 3”, Joshua Farris delivered a clean program including two triple Axels. When asked about the quad, the silver medalist said: “I actually have a quad toe, I tried it at Nationals. I didn't succeed in landing it, but I've been doing it in practice. For this competition I wanted to skate clean and strong and I did that. I definitely train to put the quad in my program.“ Jason Brown finished third with a clean execution of elements, and beamed at the press conference. “I hope I'll get the triple Axel and hopefully from there get the quad, either Salchow or toe.”, - he said regarding the absence of these two jumps.

The competition ended with the ladies’ free skating. The top three remained unchanged: Gracie Gold and Adelina Sotnikova performed good programs, but had trouble with some elements and finished second and third respectively. Julia Lipnitskaya convincingly won the ladies’ competition. This little “iron woman” has demonstrated error-free skating throughout this season, and has won all the competitions she has participated in, except for the Russian Senior Nationals where she got silver. Performing to “ Un Giorno Per Noi”, she hit seven triple jumps and level-four spins, earned a new season’s best and won comfortably, with more than 15 points, over the runner up. Julia’s skating at the Minsk Arena concluded  her excellent season as well as Junior Worlds. It was a suitable ending as she was the last skater and the only one to receive a standing ovation from the audience.

During these championships the most frequent thought in my head was: “These juniors are a real breath of fresh air in figure skating ! ” There were a lot of interesting programs, from music to elements. And I also noted that figure skating is expanding geographically , the skaters  from less established skating countries do not simply skate, but show good results and respectable placements. And that is a very good thing.



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