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Tsurskaya playing chess while others play checkers

Borisova, Sopot reclaim pairs title for Russia; Team Paradise wins synchro
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Polina Tsurskaya was on fire from the word "go" in her 'Chess' free skate, starting the program with a triple lutz-triple toe-double toe combination and later adding a triple lutz-triple toe. The 14-year-old Russian posted a personal-best score of 128.59 in the segment and took the gold by more than 11 points. -Getty Images

After Team USA won the first two junior events Friday, Russia took its turn and won the other two Saturday at the 2015 Junior Grand Prix Final. Russia also won the first synchronized skating event ever held at the Grand Prix Final.


When Japan's Marin Honda doubled her triple salchow-triple toe combination, the audience was ready for another Russian sweep in junior ladies -- but it was not to be.

Russia's Polina Tsurskaya won the event with 195.28 points, 11 more than her teammate, Maria Sotskova (184.01 points), and almost 17 more than Honda, who earned 178.64 points.

Tsurskaya, 14, is a skater you can trust: As soon as she started her routine, you knew she would not make a mistake. She mastered her whole program, skated to the soundtrack of Chess, from its first to its last note. She went from one jump to the next without one hesitation or undue movement. She set the tone with her opening triple lutz-triple toe-double toe, and landed all of her subsequent five triples.

"I was a little nervous at first, but I did not want to let that show. I'm working a lot on consistency at home," she said. "Altogether, I'm really happy with this victory. I want to express my gratitude to my parents and fans and coaches, who support me every day."

She amassed 128.59 points for her free program.

Sotskova, who won the JGP Final in 2013, was only fourth after the short program -- the same place she finished at last year's Final. Skating to Sergei Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, she delivered a polished program, skated with an increased maturity and presence. She landed her triple lutz-triple toe combo, as well as an interesting triple flip-triple salchow combination and three more triples.

"Before the competition, I was watching the senior men (at practice), and I decided to skate like them. It did not happen quite that way, but they really inspired me," she said, laughing.

Her program earned 121.36 points.

Honda was very much into her music, which was from the Beetlejuice soundtrack, accenting her performance with delicate and appropriate arm movements. She experienced a few mishaps through the program but remained in control throughout. Even her free ponytail took its own place in her choreography.

Nonetheless, she was disappointed with her performance.

"I was satisfied with my short program, not with my free. There are many issues I need to work on," she offered with her usual smile. "Qualifying for this Final, I really wanted to get a medal."

Alisa Fedichkina, 13, dressed in a classy white and gray outfit and skated a delicate program to "Memories" (the French version). She landed her opening double axel and triple flip-triple toe, followed by a triple lutz. But she had problems with her subsequent double axel-triple toe combo, and a few more wobbles in the rest of her program cost her the bronze medal. She ended with 113.04 points for the free and 178.11 points overall, 0.53 behind Honda.


Russia's Ekaterina Borisova and Dmitri Sopot won the pairs title by 9.53 points over Anna Duskova and Martin Bidar, from the Czech Republic, and 9.86 points over their teammates, Amina Atakhanova and Ilia Spiridonov.

Borisova and Sopot certainly had less difficult side-by-side jumps than their main competitors (double axel, on which he put a hand down, and a double toe-double toe combo), but the amplitude of their throw triples (loop and salchow) showed Sopot's strength. Their two lifts were equally powerful and were rated Level 4. They amassed 111.57 points for their free skate and 171.86 points overall.

"I would give our program a 4 out of 5. So we know what to work on, but we're happy with our performance," Borisova said. "We did not really know what to expect this season, as this was our first season in juniors, so we're happy the way the first half of the season went."

Entering the day in third, Duskova and Bidar skated a lively and entertaining routine to "La leyenda del beso" and "Historia de un Amor." They landed side-by-side triple toes (Bidar touched the ice with his hand upon landing) and side-by-side double axel-double toe-double toes. Their throws (salchow and lutz) were also clean, and they garnered 106.55 points for their free skate and 162.33 overall.

"We are so happy, because we have never reached such a level. I can't even say how happy I am," Duskova said. "We did an almost clean program, and our coach was really happy, so we are happy too!"

Atakhanova and Spiridonov had a rough outing, experiencing problems on their side-by-side jumps as well as their final Group 3 lift. Skating to music from Funny Girl and Gigi, their program was a delight to watch, as the errors did not hamper their performance, apart from their final lift.

"Our errors on the jumps and lifts were costly, but at least we know what to work on," Atakhanova stated, half laughing.

They amassed 103.42 points for their free and 162.0 overall, 0.33 points behind the Czechs.

Synchro premieres at the Final

The five best synchronized skating teams in the world were invited to participate in the Final for the first time. Team Paradise of Russia won, in front of Finland's Rockettes and Canada's NEXXICE.

Team Paradise offered a splendid rendering of Georges Bizet's Carmen, which was, of course, warmly applauded by the Spanish audience. The team started with a circular intersection element followed by a pairs spin. Their intersection element was particularly impressive, as the two lines crossed while every skater was rotating. The whole line then molded into a one-line pivot, which remained straight throughout. They skated their routine with due temper, which was most visible in their block elements. They were the only team to not receive a deduction.

They amassed 57.50 points for their elements and 73.59 points for their components, and 131.09 points overall.

"We're the happiest persons on earth tonight," captain Daria Rakhavalskaia said.

Dressed in metallic blue and black outfits, the Rockettes certainly presented the most impressive number, a crisp, sharp and lively rendition of their "Galactic Invasion" routine. Their elements were integrated into their program in a meaningful way. They performed their group lift element while rotating slowly, as intergalactic stars would on their orbits. Their twizzling no hold element was intricate and fast.

They scored 55.83 points for their elements and 73.33 points for their components, giving them 127.66 total points and the silver medal.

"We did not get quite all the technical elements, but the atmosphere was great," captain Anna Vuorela offered. 

NEXXICE won the bronze medal with an impressive performance to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." They started all soft and gracious, and their steps and music progressively building toward a typhoonic block linear element.

They amassed 49.47 points for their elements and 71.87 points for their components, and 120.34 points overall.

"We went out there and did our job quite well. The team was very proud of their skate," captain Samantha Defino said.

The Haydenettes skated first. Dressed in sparkling black with an orange triangle on the chest, the team endured three falls but managed to recompose quickly and complete an otherwise precise program.

"With any figure skater, [a fall] kind of throws off your mentality. But what we practice really well as a team -- because flukes happen; there are 16 of us and the likelihood (of a fall) kind of goes up from there -- is staying in the game and keeping our mentality as though nothing has happened and keeping the presentation normal," captain Tessa Hedges explained.

All teams emphasized their enthusiasm at competing in Barcelona.

"It's great to show the world what synchronized skating is. It's such a great way to gain publicity. … This venue was very special to us," Vuorela said.