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Johnson leads junior men at Liberty

Messing impresses after 20-hour flight from Alaska

Junior man Grant Hochstein and his choreographer, Jodie Balogh-Tasich, a former ice dancer. Hochstein placed fourth in the junior mens qualifying competition.
Junior man Grant Hochstein and his choreographer, Jodie Balogh-Tasich, a former ice dancer. Hochstein placed fourth in the junior mens qualifying competition. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Liz Leamy, special to icenetwork.com
(07/18/2008) - Alexander Johnson (Braemar-City of Lakes FSC) had to rethink his priorities last season, and boy, has he gotten some good results so far.

Last night, the 18-year old Minneapolis, Minn., native claimed top honors in the junior men's qualifying competition at the Liberty Summer Competition with an overall score of 172.09 points. He leads the top 12 men into the final, to be held Saturday night.

"Last year, I needed to make some major decisions about college," Johnson said. "I was in my senior year of high school, and wasn't sure what to do, so I decided to take a year off and focus my energy into skating. I plan to enroll in college part-time in the fall."

The skater clinched first in the short and second in the free with a one-two punch of artistically and technically sound programs. He hit fluid triple-triple combinations in both performances and skated with style and sophistication.

"I came here focused," he explained. "In the past, I tended to be pretty social, so this time, my coach, Joan Orvis, and I decided I needed a different approach. I tried to be more serious and have fun afterward."

In the short, Johnson executed a triple flip-triple toe; triple Lutz; and double Axel. His free skate, set to a classical medley, featured a triple flip-triple toe; triple Lutz-double toe-double loop; triple Salchow-double Axel sequence; and two additional double Axels. He fell on a triple Lutz and struggled on a triple loop, for which he received negative grades of execution (GOEs) as well as a one-point deduction.

Johnson earned the highest program component score of the event for his long program, which was defined by innovative connecting steps and a fine change-edge spiral. His choreographer is Sebastien Britten, the former Canadian men's champion.

Keegan Messing (Anchorage FSC) scored the second-best combined score of the event, a 169.18, with technically sound short and long programs. He reeled off a high triple Lutz and double Axel in the former, but lost points after falling on the second half of a triple flip-triple toe combo, and subsequently placed third.

"I felt good out there. I like jumping and skating in front of a crowd," the 16-year-old said.

A 20-hour flight from Alaska left Messing fatigued, but the teen settled in by the free skate, winning it with 115.74 points. He hit a triple Lutz-double toe; triple Axel; triple flip; triple flip-double loop; triple Lutz; and triple Salchow, all with good height and speed. He also did a soaring Arabian spin for which he was awarded +1 and +2 GOEs. He did fall out of a triple loop.

"Ever since he was young, he was fearless, aggressive and willing to learn," former Austrian champion Ralph Burghart, Messing's coach since he was five, said. "He was also always a good performer."

Armin Mahbanoozadeh (Washington FSC) was third with a total score of 164.95. He was second in the short and fourth in the free skate with two solid yet slightly flawed programs.

"I'm happy with it for so early in the season," Mahbanoozadeh said. "My jumps are going well, not 100% yet, but I fought for them."

Grant Hochstein (St. Clair Shores FSC) was fourth in the short and third in the long with two elegant programs featuring some strong triple jumps.

In the free skate, the 18-year-old Hochstein did an impressive array of six triples, including a solid triple Lutz-double toe combo and triple flip-double toe-double loop. He also did a nice spread eagle into Ina Bauer and some fast combination spins.

"I felt really secure here," Hochstein said. "I've worked really hard and have been skating like this every single day in practice."

Sylvia Yu contributed to this article.