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U.S. earns four medals at JGP Germany

Team USA makes podium in ladies, pairs and ice dancing

Kiri Baga and Angela Wang aren't all that jazzed about their "hut" situation in Japan.
Kiri Baga and Angela Wang aren't all that jazzed about their "hut" situation in Japan. (Lindsey Weber)

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By Becca Staed Bishop, special to icenetwork.com
(10/03/2009) - The surprise ladies victor at this week's JGP event in Dresden, Germany, was reigning U.S. novice champion Kiri Baga. Lack of international experience could not derail the 14-year-old's competitive edge, which gained her an early 5.40-point lead over bronze medalist Polina Agafonova of Russia following the short program. Baga's teammate, Angela Maxwell, finished second overall to collect her second silver this season since her first stop at the JGP Budapest in August.

"I wanted to show what I could do at this event, but I didn't have any previous international experience, so I didn't expect much in terms of placement," Baga said. "I was reassured by my coach that I was going at this solely for experience."

However, Baga reaped much more than experience, beginning with her "Danse Macabre" by C. Saint-Saens short program, in which she landed two triples and two doubles, including a double Axel and a triple Salchow-double toe combination. She earned Level 4 on all four of her spins, highlighted by a spin sequence that brought in a nearly two-point Grade of Execution (GOE). She led with a 56.27 personal-best short program score.

She received a slight deduction of -0.43 on her opening triple flip.

Agafonova sat in second following the short with 50.87 points. She took a big hit of -2.00 on her triple flip for an incorrect edge takeoff, and her program component mark of 19.34 trailed Baga by more than two-and-a-half points. Yet, she opened strong with a clean triple Lutz-double toe and landed her double Axel. Three of her four spins earned Level 4.

With 47.63 points, Maxwell sat uncomfortably in third following the short program. She opened with an excellent double Axel that earned a 1.71 GOE, followed by a clean triple flip and triple toe-double toe. But she ran into trouble on her spins, earning only a Level 2 for her first, a layback spin, then getting a -1.00 GOE on her spin sequence, on which she fell, and a -0.57 GOE on her subsequent flying sit spin, for which she earned Levels 1 and 2, respectively. In addition, another point was deducted for time violation.

In the free skate, Maxwell set out to prove she could do better and finished in a close first to Baga with 88.52 -- more than seven-and-a-half points off her personal best. Yet, it was enough to push her into second place overall with 136.15, more than eight points ahead of Agafonova.

"I just tried to get through my free skate," Maxwell said. "I had higher expectations for myself coming into this competition, but I think I did enough."

Her free skate to Mrvica's "Nostradamus" and the Vampire Knight theme song was demonstrably clean, despite two planned tripled that turned into a single Lutz and double loop.

"I just let the nerves get the best of me," Maxwell said. "I am definitely going to work on calming myself down before my next performance."

Yet, her deductions were less than a point overall. She landed three clean triples -- two in combination -- as well as a double Axel-double Axel sequence and improved her spins, earning two Level 3s and a Level 4 flying sit spin. Baga finished just 0.11 points behind her U.S. teammate in the free skate with 88.41 points. Skating to Bizet and Schederin's "Carmen," she displayed an excellent opening triple toe, a clean triple toe-double toe-double loop combination and three Level 4 spins. However, she fell on a triple flip, which was also downgraded, and received a -1.14 on a double Axel-single Axel that was planned as a double-double.

"I got a little overexcited and landed too far forward on my first Axel," Baga said.

Her program component mark of 45.77 trailed Maxwell's by less than a point, and she finished first overall with a personal best of 144.68, collecting gold in her international debut.

Agafonova finished fourth in the free skate, 4.12 points behind Germany's Sandy Hoffmann. Two of her jumps were downgraded, including her opening triple Lutz, on which she fell, and her triple flip was taken off on the wrong edge. Yet, her early short program lead held up, giving her 127.82 total -- nearly five points ahead of Hoffmann -- and placing her on the podium with her first-ever JGP medal, the bronze.

Hoffmann finished fourth with a competition mark of 123.00, a laudable improvement from her 14th-place finish at the JGP event in Lake Placid, N.Y., in early September.

MEN
It was anyone's game in the men's event as China's Nan Song went from fourth place after the short to first overall with 187.71 points, and early frontrunner Artur Gachinski of Russia, this season's JGP Belarus champion, slipped into second place after the free skate event. Grant Hochstein of the U.S. started strong in second after the short program but fell to fourth after the free skate, and his early advantage could not overcome Russia's Gordei Gorshkov's firm hold on third place.

Song, who won silver earlier this season at JGP Belarus, sat 6.57 points behind the lead but just three-and-a-half points behind third place after a bumpy short program in which he lost 4.26 points combined on his triple Axel and triple flip. He received two Level 1s for a change-foot camel spin and circular step sequence and a Level 2 on his final change-foot combination spin.

Yet, Song rallied with a 130.63-point flawless free skate to E. Morricone's "Once Upon a Time in America" that led the field by more than 10 points. He fired off five doubles and seven triples -- four in combination -- including an opening triple Axel-triple toe that earned 13.34 points overall. Two of his three spins earned Level 4s, and he received only one negative from one judge throughout the entire performance.

Gachinski received more than two-and-a-half points in negative GOEs for his short program but grabbed the lead with 63.67 points after landing a clean triple Axel, displaying a nice Level 4 change-foot combination spin and earning the field's highest program component mark of 28.47.

The Russian gave a much stronger free skate performance, in which his only deductions came after falling on his triple Lutz. He opened strong with a triple Axel-double toe, followed by another triple Axel and a clean triple Lutz-double toe. He landed two more clean triples and three doubles -- two of which were Axels. He displayed one Level 4 spin and once again earned the field's highest program component mark. His 120.22 free skate score gave him a personal best 183.89 overall total.

Gorshkov finished with 174.60, a personal best total score, and his second bronze medal this season in the JGP Series. With 60.51 points, he finished third in the short program, in which he landed three triples and a double Axel and performed a Level 3 change-foot camel spin. His free skate featured six triple jumps -- three in combination -- and six doubles, including two double Axels. Two of his spins earned Level 4, the other a Level 3.

Hochstein, who came in second at the JGP Hungary earlier this season, displayed a strong short program to Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" that was highlighted by a clean triple Lutz-double toe, triple flip and double Axel, as well as two Level 4 spins. However, he lost ground in his "Romeo and Juliet" free skate that started at a much lower base value than his competitors to finish fifth in the segment.

The U.S. pewter medalist simply could not gain enough GOE points to outdo an already tough field. He finished fourth with 169.85 points.

Hochstein's U.S. teammate Richard Dornbush finished fifth in the short program event and fourth in the free skate segment to place fifth overall with 166.83 points.

PAIRS
It was déjà vu in the pairs event, as JGP Belarus winners Wengjing Sui and Cong Han of China again became the clear frontrunners early, finishing nearly 17 points ahead of the field with a personal best 164.84 to earn their second JGP gold of the season. JGP Belarus runners-up Yue Zhang and Lei Wang, 2009 JGP Final silver medalists, again finished second to their country mates with 147.89 points. U.S. team Britney Simpson and Nathan Miller set all-around personal bests and improved upon their fourth-place finish at the JGP Lake Placid, collecting bronze - their first medal on the JGP Series -- with 144.80 points.

Sui and Han gave two flawless performances, beginning with their short program to "Balalaika: Russia's Most Beautiful Songs," highlighted by a Level 3 double Lutz twist lift, a throw triple Salchow, two Level 4 spins and a Level 4 backward outside death spiral. Their 21.88 program component score was the field's highest but only by 0.20, as Simpson and Miller trailed close behind.

The U.S. team gave their season's best short program performance to "Asian Fusion," in which they displayed excellent control on their opening Level 2 double Lutz twist lift, Level 4-Group 4 lift, and straight-line step sequence. Their 53.01 segment mark topped their short program score at the JGP Lake Placid by almost nine points.

"Right when we got back from Lake Placid, we tried to work on getting the component marks back up and getting our levels," said Miller.

Russia's Ekaterina Petaikina and Maxim Kurduykov finished third in the short program with 52.79 points, while Zhang and Wang sat 2.59 points behind in fifth. But the Chinese team came back with their strongest-ever free skate to Leon Delibes' "Coppelia," for which they earned a personal-best 97.69 segment score.

Zhang and Wang finished second in the free skate competition. Their performance was highlighted by an impressive triple Lutz twist lift that earned a 1.10 GOE, followed by clean side-by-side triple toe-double toe jumps, a strong Group 4 Axel lasso lift and a throw triple Salchow that brought in the highest GOE of 1.19. All of their elements earned Level 4. Their silver medal gives them a total of four JGP honors since 2008.

Only Sui and Han could top their teammates. Skating to Chaplin's "City Lights," the duo earned a personal-best free skate score of 107.44. They opened with side-by-side double Axel-double Axels, followed by a throw triple flip that received a 1.40 GOE. Finishing stronger than they began, Sui and Han displayed a Level 4 Group 4 Axel lasso lift and a throw triple Salchow. All three of their spins as well as their backward outside death spiral earned Level 4s and a 2.94 GOE total.

Two-time reigning Swiss champions Anais Morand and Antoine Dorsaz finished nearly a point ahead of Simpson and Miller in the free skate, but it wasn't enough to overcome the U.S. team's early short program lead. The bronze medalists' opening triple Lutz twist lift and closing Level 4 Group 3 lift both snagged 0.50 GOEs. The most impressive element in their routine to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" was a Group 5 lift that received a Level 4 and 1.43 GOE. All of their spins also earned Level 4.

With this finish, the team will advance to the JGP Final in Tokyo, Japan, Dec. 3-6.

"Our goal all season long is to beat our personal best, and I feel like we have improved our programs with each competition," Miller said. "It's the best feeling to win bronze and make it the Final. This is our new best skating moment."

Morand and Dorsaz came in fourth -- their best finish on the JGP Series -- with all-around personal best scores and a 142.45 competition mark.

ICE DANCING
New team Ekaterina Pushkash and Jonathan Guerreiro of Russia established themselves as the event leaders from day one, while silver medalists Lorenza Alessandrini and Simone Vaturi, reigning Italian junior champions, clung to second place throughout the competition. U.S. team Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue's third-place lead in the compulsory and original dance segments bolstered their overall standing, despite a fourth-place free dance finish.

The 2009 U.S. bronze medalists finished with their first JGP bronze, despite changing coaches just two weeks prior to the event, tallying their third JGP medal since 2008.

"With our new coaching change, it was definitely good that we got a medal," Gilles said. "It wasn't too bad of an adjustment because we kept a lot of the same things but tried to improve our technique in the compulsories. We are pleased with our improvement."

Pushkash and Guerreiro collected a 2.23 lead over the Italians in the compulsory dance event. They gave a sufficient original dance performance to remain in front, opening with a Level 3 mid-line, not-touching step sequence that earned a 1.14 GOE. Their curve lift received the routine's only Level 4, and their circular step sequence brought in a .86 GOE. However, their 49.22 original dance score was just 0.26 points more than Alessandrini and Vaturi, giving the Russian team a less than two-and-a-half point lead entering the free dance.

Gilles and Donohue finished the compulsory dance event with 30.21 points and presented a clean Flamenco-inspired original dance that was highlighted by an opening Level 2 circular step sequence that earned the highest GOE of 0.71 points, followed by a Level 4 rotational lift that received a .64 GOE as well as Level 4 sequential twizzles. However, it wasn't enough to overcome the Russian and Italian teams.

Frontrunners Pushkash and Guerreiro widened their lead in the free dance, earning 81.67 points for a 164.01 competition mark -- a more than eight-point advantage. They opened with a beautiful Level 3 circular step sequence, which garnered a 1.71 GOE. Their following three lifts, synchronized twizzles and combination spin all received Level 4s, and their closing Level 3 diagonal step sequence brought in a 1.14 GOE.

Alessandrini and Vaturi earned 75.77 points for their free dance, in which they earned Level 4 for their opening stationary lift that received a 1.00 GOE, synchronized twizzles and serpentine lift. Their circular and diagonal step sequences received a Level 2 and 3, respectively, and both brought in 0.86 GOEs. The Italians received a one-point deduction for an extended lift.

Gilles and Donohue finished fourth in the free dance, 1.45 points behind reigning Russian junior champions Marina Antipova and Artem Kudashev. Skating to selections of Alfred Hitchcock movie soundtracks, the U.S. team received Level 4s on four of six elements, including their opening straight-line lift, synchronized twizzles, and curve and rotational lift sequence. Their Level 3 midline step sequence earned the highest GOE of 0.71.

The team finished fourth at their first JGP stop in Hungary earlier this season and, as a result, will not attend the JGP Final for the second consecutive season after the team withdrew due to injury last year.

"It would be awesome to get first and second again, but, in the end, we are pleased to get a medal," Gilles said. "It's a plus to make the Final, and we are kind of bummed because we didn't get to compete in it last year, but it's for the best right now.

With the coaching change, it will be good for us to use the time we have to settle in and work on improving what they want us to improve."

Gilles and Donohue finished with a 152.60 competition mark -- only 0.04 points ahead of the fourth-place team Antipova and Kudashev.