Junior Grand Prix 2014, Nagoya TV Cup, Japan
November 27, 2014
By Atsuko Kuryu
Photos © Keiko Kasai
The fourth event of the Junior Grand prix series was held September 12 - 14 at Morikoro Park in Nagoya. Lots of people came to see the youngsters perform; in fact, tickets sold out right after being released even though this was a junior competition. That shows how popular figure skating is in Japan right now. Naturally the event was very successful, and after the victory ceremony, the retired Japanese star skaters Akiko Suzuki and Nobunari Oda showed off their exhibition programs for the junior skaters. These performances were just right for the term “textbook performance” because of outstanding technique and fabulous artistry.
Ladies - Short program
The competition started with the Ladies’ discipline. Hopes were high for the anticipated winner Sarafima Sakhanovich from Russia, who was 2nd at the World Junior Championships 2014 and won the Junior Grand prix event in Ljubljana, Slovenia (the second JGP event this season), with an outstanding total of 191.96 points. But in Nagoya misfortune struck and Sarafina fell on her triple flip and couldn’t make the combination. She still got the 2nd highest score of all: 56.03 points. Japanese hopeful Yuka Nagai, who was 2nd at the same JGP as Sarafima won, is a beautiful skater. But she turned her triple Lutz into a single and was only in 5th place after the Short program. Both girls were very disappointed. The best skate of all in ladies was delivered by Elizabet Turzynbaeva. She skates for Kazakhstan but trains with Brian Orser in Toronto. Her jumps were high and consistent and her movements beautiful and smooth. She deserved her high score of 59.25 points. Finland’s Jenni Saarinen skated a fiery and flawless Flamenco-program and earned her season best score to rank 3rd. Some other ladies did pretty well, too. Bradie Tennel, USA, landed an outstanding triple loop-triple toe and used her long arms and legs fully and moved in a very refined way. Yuhana Yokoi, Japan, fell on her opening jump but moved wonderfully, and strongly showed her potential. While Kaori Sakamoto, Japan, stumbled on the landing of her triple flip-triple toe combination, she still displayed beautiful spins, which she had focused a lot on before the competition. Korean Da Bin Choi delivered a very consistent program and was in 7th place.
Ladies - Free skating
Sarafina overwhelmingly won the title with a dynamic performance. She outdid all her competition technically. Her most significant elements were tano jumps; many of her eleven jumps in the program were in this style with one arm raised. Her overall score was 177.69 points. When asked why she included so many difficult tano jumps, she said it was because they are simpler to perform. She does not look at Julia Lipnitskaia or Adelina Sotnikova as her rivals, but her coach said that she was training in the same rink as Julia and there is no difference between them. He thought Sarafina will be the Russian champion in the future. Yuka bounced back in her free program to beautiful violin music by Camille Saint-Saëns, and finished second. Her maturity and elegance was noticeable among the junior skaters. She popped her opening triple Lutz, but there were no other visible mistakes in the rest of her free program. Overnight leader Elizabet fell twice in her Yentl-program and only ranked 5th in the Free skate. She did, however, manage to stay on the podium thanks to the high points from her short program. Her overall score was 159.38 points. The most beautiful performance that night was offered by Da Bin. This petite 14-year-old skated to Chopin and landed all her jumps cleanly (but needs to work on her extensions) and finished with a Biellmann. She was 3rd in the Free skate, but missed the bronze by less than a point.
Men - Short program
The top two favorite were Boyang Jin, China and Shoma Uno, Japan and they easily made top two, although not completely without mistakes. Boyang delivered a wonderful program (Tango Amore by Edvin Marton) except for stumbling while landing his opening triple Axel. He had great ice coverage and good speed, and the audience rewarded him with a standing ovation. Shoma Uno also skated to violin music. A Japanese skater in a Japanese event is surely a favorite, and although he fell on his triple Axel and stumbled during his change foot sit spin, his expression enchanted the audience, who gave him a standing ovation even after his mistakes. He said he had not been nervous before his performance, but just after he started, he felt like he was not his usual self. In spite of all he was satisfied with his jumps, including the triple Axel on which he fell. Dmitri Aliev of Russia delivered a seemingly perfect performance and was 3rd, followed by Kevin Shum, USA, who used his body fully and delivered a charming step sequence. In a surprising 5th place was Japan’s Kento Kajita, who earned his personal best here in his first international event. Julian Zhi Jie Yee, Malaysia, had huge jumps and wonderful expressiveness. He is a man of gestures and a great entertainer. The audience seemed to be excited about his performance and he improved his personal best significantly.
Men - Free skating
Boyang won the Free skate with three quads and claimed the title. He landed a quad Salchow, a quad toe-double toe combination, a quad toe and a triple Axel and six other triples. His technical score was 86.10 which was quite something for a junior skater (and even for a senior skater!). His total was 151.94 points. The runner up, Shoma, put up a good fight with Boyang using his new weapon: the quad toe. He didn’t include a triple Axel in his program, but still his score of 150.21 points came close to Boyang’s. Shoma stood out expression-wise though. His coach Machiko Yamada was pleased with Shoma’s score: “He had a few mistakes in both programs; still he closed in on the Chinese skater, which meant he could make a good rival from now on.” Dmitri landed his opening quad toe and stayed 3rd, in the Free skating as well as overall. But the difference between him and Shoma was over 20 points. Denis Margalik is the 2014 Canadian junior champion, but represents Argentina from this season. He delivered a visibly flawless free skate and finished 4th. But the performance I liked the best that day was by Canadian Nicolas Nadeau. His free program to the music from the motion picture Mary Poppins was so entertaining that you felt like you were watching Dick van Dyke singing and dancing in the movie. Nicolas earned 118.93 points and finished 5th, but the joy he brought the audience actually deserved more.
Other likely competitors for the podium had been Taichiro Yamakuma (Japan), Jimmy Ma (USA), Illya Solomin (Sweden), Irakli Maysuradze (Georgia) and Yaroslav Paniot (Ukraine). Their day is yet to come.
Ice dance - Short dance
There were three favorite ice dance couples in this competition: the American brother/sister team Rachel Parsons / Michael Parsons, Madeline Edwards / Zhao Kai Pang, Canada, and Alla Loboda / Pavel Drozd, Russia. Their personal best scores were 134.73, 139.65 and 134.11 respectively. All of them delivered their Samba/Rhumba programs and swept 1st to 3rd place. Rachel and Michael skated in the first group and presented a flawless performance. Their deep edges and graceful movements impressed the Japanese crowd and earned a standing ovation. They took the lead after the Short dance. Madeline and Zhao Kai mesmerized the audience with their amazing speed and vivacious dancing. They changed their movement from soft to powerful or slow to fast as the music called for. They got warm applause and standing ovations and looked quite happy. Alla and Pavel entertained the crowd with the varied positions they displayed during their performance, and they changed them at wonderful speed. The margin between the top three was only 2.92 points, which built the excitement for the Free dance.
Ice dance - Free Dance
As the point difference between the 3rd and 4th couples was large, the battle for medals was limited to the top three of the Short dance. First out was Madeline and Zhao Kai. They put on a fancy performance using their whole bodies. Their step sequence made the audience happy and excited. The speed they showed in their short dance wasn’t as present now; however, this was more polished. Their score for the Free dance was 79.09, which ranked them 2nd, but overall it was enough for the top of the podium. “Winning this event meant a lot for us because it gave us a chance at the final,” Zhao Kai said after the competition. And Madeline referred to their future: “Our goal is to go to the next Olympics. When it was held in Vancouver, it was just a dream but now it seems to become more real for us.”
The winners of the Free dance was Alla and Pavel, who redeemed themselves from the Short dance. Their balletic movement really fit the famous ballet Giselle, and reminded the audience of the romantic yet sad story. They were the only couple to get over 80 points in the Free skate (81.73), which gave them silver. Overnight leader Rachel and Michael seemed to deliver a decent performance, but didn’t make the anticipated levels in some elements. They slipped down to 3rd with a score of 75.71 points. The most elegant performance in this segment was given by the last couple of all, Eva Khachaturian / Andrei Bagin (Russia), whose final placement was 4th. They train in Moscow for Alexander Zhulin, watch out for them! But the performance which impressed us the most was delivered by Elliana Pogrebinsky / Alex Benoit (USA). Their elegance and musicality were really notable as they took on another famous ballet, Swan Lake. Eliana was stunning in a black and white dress, and luckily she didn’t die in the end, but smiled as they skated well. This team finished 5th.
This was the first time for me to attend a Junior Grand prix competition, and it was a very interesting experience. The skaters came from all around the world, including Africa, South America, South Asia, Oceania as well as Europe, North America, and Japan. There was one skater who didn’t even reach double digits in the TES (Total Elements Score), and some who did well in their short program but collapsed in the free. But that was all right because they are young and have a future. Of course the experience they gained through this Junior Grand prix competition will teach them a lot. It is a place where failure and disappointment can lead you to victory and joy as a skater in the future. And even as a spectator you can find your own favorite, a diamond in the rough, and keep watching him/her and witness his/her growing up as a skater and even as a person. Watching young skaters is inspiring and fun. So please, whenever you have the chance, go and enjoy a junior competition!