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Field now set for Junior Grand Prix Final

Baga comes away with ladies gold

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 Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(10/17/2009) - The field is set for the 2009 Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final following the completion of the last event of the 2009 JGP Series, in Istanbul, Turkey. American Kiri Baga (ladies), China's Han Yan (men's) and Russians Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin (ice dancing) won the gold medals in Istanbul, with Baga and Monko and Khaliavin punching their tickets for the JGP Final.

Russia qualified the most skaters for the final, with 12, followed by the United States (10), Japan (four) and China (three).

Ladies

Because of visa problems, Baga did not get to Istanbul until the evening before the short program, causing her to miss official practice. It hardly showed in her performance, as she took a commanding lead of almost nine points in the first phase of the competition. Skating to Camille Saint-Seans' "Danse Macabre," she landed a triple flip and a beautiful triple Salchow-double toe (1.43 Grade of Execution), and received Level 4s on all three of her spins and her spiral sequence. Her segment score of 58.70 was almost two-and-a-half points higher than her previous best, set three weeks ago at JGP Germany.

Baga still exhibited her top-notch spins in her Carmen free skate, but her jumps were a little off, as she fell on her triple flip, singled a Salchow and had a double Axel downgraded. Her lead easily held up, however, and she will be one of three entrants at the JGP Final, Dec. 3-6 in Tokyo, Japan, to have won the gold at both of her 2009 assignments. (Japan's Kanako Murakami and Russia's Polina Shelepen are the others.)

"[The JGP Final] is the biggest competition I'll have ever done," Baga said. "I have no expectations for it. I'm just going to have a positive attitude, do my thing and hopefully have a good experience."

Russia's Sofia Biryukova won the silver in her international debut. She came in second in the short program, in which she landed a clean triple toe-triple toe combination, and third in the free skate, a segment in which she landed four triples but fell on her triple loop. Biryukova's medal was the seventh won by a Russian lady in the 2009 JGP Series, a dramatic improvement from last year when Russia won only one ladies medal in the series.

Winning her second JGP bronze medal this season was American Christina Gao. She also qualifies for the JGP Final, giving the United States four of the eight ladies entrants at that competition. Gao was way back in seventh after the short program, having fallen on her opening combination and her step sequence, but she fought back to win the free skate and claim a spot on the podium. Gao was credited with landing six triple jumps in her "La Fille Mal Gardée" free skate, the most impressive of which were her Salchow, flip and toe (the first part of a triple toe-double toe combo), all of which garnered a 0.86 GOE.

"This is not what I expected for this year. I didn't know I was going to get a JGP at the beginning of the season, so I'm happy I'm in the final," Gao said.

U.S. skater Ellie Kawamura also earned a berth to the JGP Final, courtesy of her bronze medal in Croatia and fourth-place finish in Hungary. Kristine Musademba, the gold medalist in Lake Placid, is the second alternate for the final.

Men

Yan, a 13-year-old making his international debut, was the surprise winner in Istanbul. Though he recently won the Chinese championship, very little is known about him -- but that could soon change. He was third after the short program, a segment in which he popped his Axel but otherwise landed a clean triple Lutz-triple toe combo and triple flip. Yan won the free skate by five points over bronze medalist of Japan, landing seven triples (five clean, three in combination) and earning level threes for all three of his spins and his footwork.

Stanislav Kovalev of Russia took the silver, and, as a result of that and the bronze medal he won in Belarus, qualified for the JGP Final. He won the short program by 0.6 points over American Joshua Farris, landing three clean triples and a double Axel, and receiving level fours on his three spins. Kovalev skated his free skate almost as soundly as his short program, landing six clean triples (two in combination) and missing only one jump, that being his triple loop (-2.0 GOE). He edged Nakamura by a point and a half in the overall standings, 177.69-176.18. Like his ladies counterparts, Kovalev was part of a Russian revival in this season's JGP Series; after earning just three men's medals last season, Russian men captured nine in 2009.

Nakamura will join Kovalev at the JGP Final, on the strength of his bronze in Turkey and his silver in Lake Placid. He fell on his Axel in both the short program and the free skate, and he singled his loop in the latter, but six clean triple jumps -- including an opening triple Axel-double toe combination, the highest point-earning element in the segment (10.5) -- boosted him to a second-place finish in the free skate.

Americans Austin Kanallakan and reigning U.S. novice champion Farris came in fourth and fifth, respectively. Farris was in second after the short program, but problems with his first two jumps -- including a fall on his Axel -- in his "Warsaw Concerto" free skate doomed him. Kanallakan was unable to duplicate his silver-medal-winning performance in Poland, as he popped his Axel in his "Leyenda" short program and had negative GOEs on five of his eight jump elements in his Pink Panther free skate. He will be the first alternate for the JGP Final

Two other Americans received good news Saturday, as Richard Dornbush and Grant Hochstein both qualified for the JGP Final. This will be Dornbush's second straight appearance at the event, where he took the bronze last season.

Ice Dancing

Monko and Khavialin trailed teammates Ekaterina Pushkash and Jonathan Guerreiro after the compulsory dance, but they won the next two segments, including a dominating eight-point victory in the free dance, to take the gold. The GOEs for their six free dance elements ranged from 0.64 to 1.0, with their twizzle sequence receiving +2 across the board. This was their second gold medal in this year's JGP Series (the other was in Belarus) and their fifth career JGP medal (two gold, three bronze).

Pushkash and Guerreiro claimed the silver, to go along with the gold they copped in Germany. They will join Monko and Khavialin in Tokyo, giving Russia four of the eight dance teams in the final. They were less than a point behind their teammates in Istanbul after the original dance, but they fell four times during the opening circular step sequence in their Romeo and Juliet free dance, putting them fifth in the segment and two points ahead of bronze medalists Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello in the overall standings.

Also qualifying for the JGP Final are Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello, who picked up their second bronze medal in the series. The most impressive aspect of their Russian folk original dance and "Hernando's Hideaway" free dance was their footwork; they received GOEs of 0.71, 0.86, 1.0 and 0.57 for their four step sequences in those two programs.

"We were both incredibly excited to hear that we made it to the JGP Final, and we are happy we achieved one of the goals we set for the year," Cannuscio and Lorello said. "Even if we didn't make it to the JGP Final, we still would have been happy with our skate here. We really put out our best in the OD and free dance."