Hawayek, Baker's happy feet take three-point leadU.S. teams occupy three of the top four spots after the short dance
Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker quickstepped out to a lead of nearly three points over favorites Anna Yanovskaia and Sergei Mozgov in the short dance at the 2014 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Performing quicksteps to "Happy Feet" and "Sing, Sing, Sing" and a foxtrot "It Had to Be You," the U.S. junior champions executed the fastest in-sync twizzle sequence of the event and hit all six key points of the two pattern dance sections. Their rotational lift looked light and easy, gaining +2 grades of execution (GOEs) from eight of the nine judges, and their program components scores averaged around 7.5 points.
Their 66.73 score, a new personal best, gave them the edge over Yanovskaia and Mozgov, who bested them in winning the Junior Grand Prix Final in December.
"I think we both can say that we are very happy with our skate today," Hawayek, 17, said. "We really have been working hard from the JGP Final to drill our elements and get our levels. Based on our technical score, we can say that we more than achieved that, getting Level 4's for everything."
"We are both very happy with the performance, and we also both know it's not over until the free dance is done, so on to next one," Baker, 20, said.
The skaters have competed together since the summer of 2012. Baker is the son of Sharon Jones, a four-time British ice dance champion, and former pairs skater Steve Baker. He moved from Washington to skate with Hawayek and train at the Detroit Skating Club (DSC) under a coaching team headed by Pasquale Camerlengo.
With all three American teams in the top four in Bulgaria, Hawayek reflected on the strength of the U.S. in the discipline.
"The U.S. right now is building on an incredibly strong ice dance program," she said. "Obviously, Meryl [Davis] and Charlie [White] are on top of the world right now, and we had two other very strong teams in Sochi.
"There are also many up-and-coming teams continuing to progress. It's North America's time to dominate ice dance."
Yanovskaia and Mozgov also chose well-known tunes, skating their quickstep to Irving Berlin's "Puttin' on the Ritz" and their foxtrot to "Fever." The Russians' twizzle sequence and lift gained Level 4, but the three other elements achieved Level 3. They skated with good speed, and their program components averaged about 7.7, higher than those of Hawayek and Baker.
"We skated clean, and it was a rather good, solid performance," Mozgov said. "We tried our best, and we are happy with what we did."
Yanovskaia and Mozgov, who train in Moscow in Svetlana Alexeeva's school, set a new personal best of 63.80 points.
The other two Russian teams competing in Sofia sit in eighth and 10th place. Defending world junior champions Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin were forced to withdraw because of Bukin's illness.
Two teams from Maryland's Wheaton Ice Skating Academy (WISA) -- Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter, and Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons -- sit third and fourth, respectively. They are trained by Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak, Dmytri Ilin and Ramil Sarkulov.
U.S. junior silver medalists McNamara and Carpenter gained 58.65 points for their charming short dance to the Yiddish foxtrot "'Bublitchki Bagelach" and the quickstep "Chiribim, Chiribom," both by the Barry Sisters. Three of their elements gained Level 4, with their step sequence rating Level 3 and their first quickstep sequence earning Level 2.
"We didn't give ourselves any sort of expectation; we just wanted to go and give our best, and I think we came very close to that," Carpenter said. "We are very happy with the results and to be up here with the small (short dance) medalists."
"It was our last time competing the short dance this season," McNamara said. "We worked all season to make it as good as we could, and we really showed everything we worked for."
The Parsons siblings interpreted selections from the musical Funny Girl with a fresh, understated style, gaining 58.08 points. Their first quickstep section and the lift rated Level 4, while their three other elements gained Level 3.
"Despite two very little mistakes, we skated as well as we could and are happy," Rachel said. "The footwork was our highlight today. It was easy as the ice was ideal -- not too hard and not too soft."
Canadians Madeline Edwards and Zhao Kai Pang, who train in Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe's school in Vancouver, sit fifth with 57.92 points.
Rebeka Kim and Kirill Minov, who compete for Kim's home country of Korea, are sixth with 55.33 points. Minov is Russian, and the skaters train in Moscow with Irina Zhuk and Alexander Svinin.