Yu, Jin complete perfect season with pairs triumphTarasova, Morozov snag silver; Vigalova, Zakroev climb onto podium
China's Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin made a clean sweep of their international season at the 2014 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, winning the world junior crown after taking gold at the Junior Grand Prix Final and both of their JGP events.
The students of Olympic pairs champion Hongbo Zhao, who skate with a style in the tradition of Qing Pang and Jian Tong, interpreted Andrew Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera with soft elegance. With the exception of Yu's fall on a throw triple loop, their elements -- including a Level 3 triple twist, perfectly synchronized back-to-back double Axels and two difficult lifts at the end of the program -- were strong, and they earned 111.19 points for first place in the free skate. They ended with 173.77 points total.
"Today, we missed one element, but overall we are pleased that we performed up to our level," Jin, 19, said. "I want to congratulate our competitors who showed beautiful elements and skated well. This was our last year in juniors. We are moving up to the senior level, and hopefully, we will give good performances there as well."
"We plan to add triple Salchows to our programs next season," Yu, 19, said.
Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, the best of three good Russian teams, were second in the free and won silver with 168.20 points. Performing to a medley of Bach's "Aria" and a techno version of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, they opened with an outstanding Level 4 triple twist, for which eight of the nine judges awarded a +3 grade of execution (GOE). The landing of the triple Salchow and triple toe loop was shaky by one of the partners, but the rest of the program was clean.
"This year, it was easier for us to compete and to perform with our emotions," Tarasova said. "We've skated at the world junior championships before, we knew what to expect, and we prepared very well. Yes, there were mistakes; maybe having the fourth starting number (skating last in the group) affected us."
The pair trains in Nina Mozer's school and are mainly coached by Stanislav Morozov, who is not related to Vladimir.
"We train in the same group as our idols, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, so we can always learn from the Olympic champions," Morozov said.
Like the Chinese, Tarasova and Morozov will compete as seniors next season.
"We cannot skate in juniors next season, as we are aging out," Morozov said. "Our goal is to be a factor in [Russia's] senior team for Europeans and worlds. There is a change of generation after the Olympic Games in Sochi."
Another Russian team, Maria Vigalova and Egor Zakroev, moved up from fourth place after the short program to win bronze with 152.48 points. They skated their free to music from the classical ballet Giselle. Most of their elements were good, but she fell on the throw triple flip and their spin was a bit shaky.
"Today, our free skating did not go so well; a lot of people are used to seeing us skating clean," Zakroev said. "We are happy that we were able to reach the podium, and this third place might help us improve in the future."
Zakroev, who turned 20 in December, said whether the team moves up to seniors next season depends on the ISU Congress in June.
"We will have to wait for their decision on age limits for juniors," he said. "After that, we can make plans for the season."
The third Russian pair, Vasilisa Davankova and Andrei Deputat, dropped from third place after the short program to fourth place overall with 150.67 points. Davankova doubled intended triple toe loops as well as the two intended triple throws. She said afterward that she was sick and had trouble finishing the program.
U.S. junior champions Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage of Colorado Springs, who train in Dalilah Sappenfield's group, performed the fourth-best free program and finished fifth with 144.91 points.
Skating to music from Khachaturian's Spartacus, they opened with a triple twist, and Settlage did not catch Aaron 100-percent correctly. Their triple throw loop and the two lifts in the second half were good, but Aaron's triple Salchow was judged underrotated, and she fell on the triple throw Salchow.
"Today, we gave a good performance overall, except the second throw, naturally," Aaron said. "It was the first time we came to a competition with lots of confidence because we have trained the way we wanted to compete. Our chemistry was better than at the beginning of the season, and we felt no pressure."
"We plan to move up to seniors and hope to get an international senior competition next season," Settlage said.
Kaitlin Budd and Nikita Cheban of Detroit were ninth with 117.36 points. Their triple twist and a throw triple flip were fine, but after performing solid double Axels, both skaters nearly fell on double toe loops.
"Our performance was OK today, but we will grow from this competition," Budd said. "We watched the best group of pairs and saw that their skating is more finished. We have to move up to seniors next season."
Aya Takai and Brian Johnson finished 11th with 111.90 points. Takai singled the Axel and fell on the triple throw Salchow, but most of the other elements were relatively clean.
"It was not our best today, but we thought it was a good experience for next year," Takai said. "We plan to learn another triple throw and a side-by-side triple jump and to gain a bit more confidence."
Bulgarian bits: Junior pairs skating is in a worldwide crisis, with the exception of Russia. Only 15 teams competed in Sofia, fewer than in most previous years, and many countries in Europe and Asia have no junior pairs on the elite level. Russia and the U.S. were the only countries to send three teams. ... At the ISU Congress in June, there will be a vote to determine whether the age limit for junior pairs and ice dance men should be lowered to 19. (Currently, men cannot be older than 21 on the July 1 preceding the JGP season.) If the ISU approves the change, there will be even fewer junior pairs.