Ice Network

Team USA collects four medals at Challenge Cup

Takai, Johnson qualify for world junior championships; Razzano bags silver
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Aya Takai and Brian Johnson, who won silver in junior pairs, sit with coach Jason Dungjen and receive scores that qualify them to compete at next week's world junior championships. -Ann Barr

Nine U.S. athletes competed this weekend at the 2014 Challenge Cup in The Hague, Netherlands. Team USA hauled in four total medals, including gold and silver in the junior pairs event.

The junior pairs competition had huge ramifications for the silver-medal team of Aya Takai and Brian Johnson, as their trip to next week's world junior championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, was on the line. Takai and Johnson were the world junior team alternates and were invited to the event after Chelsea Liu and Devin Perini were forced to withdraw due to a Perini injury.

However, before Takai and Johnson could book their flights to Bulgaria, they first had to record the minimum technical scores as determined by the International Skating Union (ISU). They ended up easily achieving this standard. Their short program score of 43.93 points included 25.87 in technical marks (they need to hit the 20.00 mark). Likewise, they earned 37.25 technical elements points in their free skate, well ahead of the benchmark of 30.00.   

In total, the Detroit-based team netted 117.51 points overall and will head to the world junior championships alongside Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage, and Kaitlin Budd and Nikita Cheban.

The gold medal belongs to Jessica Lee and Robert Hennings, the 2014 U.S. novice bronze medalists. In their international debut, they moved up from third after the short program to win the free skate and become Challenge Cup champions. Their free skate score of 77.31 was the highest by four points, and their program featured a Level 4 side-by-side spin and lift.

Douglas Razzano, the lone U.S. senior competitor at the event, took home silver for his fourth career international medal. Razzano rebounded from a "Clair de Lune" short program that was mired by falls on both his triple Axel and quad toe to finish second in the free skate and second overall. His Turandot free skate included two clean triple Axels -- one in combination -- and three Level 4 spins. He again fell on the attempted quad toe. Of the segment's 156.54 points, 77.26 came on the second mark, just 0.74 behind the PCS (program components score) mark of gold medalist Takahito Mura of Japan. 

Mura's total score of 239.10 was nearly 11 points higher than that of Razzano, who finished with 228.31. Short program winner Chafik Besseghier of France finished in third place.

Like their other junior-level teammates, ladies competitors Elena Taylor and Amy Lin made their international debuts in The Hague. Taylor won the silver medal with a total of 139.69 points, finishing behind Japan's Kaori Sakamoto. Sakamoto's teammate, Mai Mihara, won the free skate but was too far behind after a ninth-place showing in the short program to make the medal stand. Bronze went home with Finland's Emmi Peltonen. With a total score of 126.65 points, Lin finished seventh.

In junior men's, Chase Belmontes was unable to maintain medal position. The leader after the short program, Belmontes struggled in the free skate, suffering two falls and finishing fourth overall. Kevin Shum placed fifth.

Japanese teammates Sei Kawahara and Kazuki Tomono won gold and silver, respectively, while Panagiotis Polizoakis of Germany claimed bronze.