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Baga, Aaron medal for U.S. at JGP Japan

Team USA picks up medals in ladies, men's events

Max Aaron accepts his silver medal on the podium at JGP Japan.
Max Aaron accepts his silver medal on the podium at JGP Japan. (Lindsey Weber)

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By Renee Felton, special to icenetwork.com
(09/26/2010) - Team USA added a pair of silver medals in the ladies and men's events as Kiri Baga and Max Aaron both bring back hardware after the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating event in Japan.

Hometown girl Risa Shoji, in her first international event, took ladies gold while Canadian Andrei Rogozine won his second competition of the season. A pair of Russian teams topped the podium in ice dance.

Ladies
Shoji ran away with the gold medal, winning both segments of the competition. She recorded 149.39 total points with 97.97 of them coming on her "The Cider House Rules" free skate. In the program, she had a few issues with her jumps and received negative grades of execution (GOEs) on four of her jump elements. However, she cleanly performed a double Axel-triple toe combination early in the skate for which she received 8.40 points. She also earned positive GOEs on an array of Level 3 and 4 spins throughout.

The American women fared well as they both opened their seasons in Japan. Baga, who earned a pair of gold medals in two JGP events last fall, comes home with silver while Angela Wang, in her international debut, placed fourth. Both acknowledged issues with the double Axels in their short programs but were happy to sit in second and third following the segment.

Skating to the La Strada soundtrack for her free skate, Baga once again endured problems with the double Axel. She received a 1.00 deduction for falling on the jump. She successfully completed all of the elements in the first half of her program including a triple flip, a triple Lutz-triple toe combination and a Level 4 camel spin. She finished the skate with a triple toe-double toe-double loop sequence and a Level 4 layback spin. The middle section of the program, which was jump-heavy, saw the Bloomington, Minn., native receive negative GOEs on five consecutive jump elements. However, she did receive 7.93 points for her triple toe-double toe-double loop sequence and landed all of her triple jumps, something she had never done in competition.

The silver medal is extra meaningful for Baga considering she has been back on the ice for just six weeks after spending the summer rehabilitating a stress fracture in her left foot.

"I felt really good and relaxed, which allowed me to put on two strong programs," Baga said. "I am especially proud of this outcome considering I was off the ice all summer and to come back like this is special for me."

China's Kexin Zhang edged Wang by less than two points for the bronze medal.

Men's
Rogozine of Canada won the rematch between himself and Americans Aaron and Jason Brown. Rogozine won gold at JGP France while Brown took silver and Aaron bronze. In round two, Rogozine once again topped the podium, Aaron earned silver and Brown fell out of medal contention, finishing in sixth.

The 17-year-old, who has been competing on the JGP circuit since 2007, set career scores in both the short program (65.03) and total score (188.60). He bested Aaron, who also set personal best marks in the short program and total score, by nearly nine points.

Rogozine, second after the short program, earned neutral or positive GOEs on 10 of his 12 elements. He opened his The Rock free skate with a triple Axel-triple toe combination which received 13.60 points followed by a 9.21-point triple Axel.

Aaron, a native of Scottsdale, Ariz., maintained medal position despite placing fifth in the free skate. He was especially proud of the "El Tango de Roxane" short program for which he earned 66.28 points and nailed all three jumping passes including a triple Axel (9.36 points), triple Lutz-triple toe combination (11.00) and triple loop.

"I was extremely pleased with my short program," Aaron said. "I hit all of my jumps and was only shaky on one element [camel spin]. It felt great to set a new personal-best in the segment."

The free skate was not as successful, as Aaron struggled with most of his jump elements. After earning 10.40 points on a triple Lutz-triple toe combination early in the skate, he fell on a triple Lutz and got negative GOEs on five additional passes. However, Aaron is excited that his finishes in the JGP Series could mean a trip to December's Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in Beijing.

"I'm looking forward to the opportunities two medals may afford me as the season goes on," he said. "I will definitely clean up my free and hopefully get my triple jumps more solid and possibly add a quad before my next competition."

Kazakhstan's Abzal Rakimgaliev won the bronze medal, the first of any color for his country in this fall's JGP Series.

Ice Dance
Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin won their second gold of the season after also doing so in France while Ekaterina Pushkash and Jonathan Guerreiro took silver. Only 0.37 points separated the teammates.

In second place after the short dance, Stepanova and Bukin won the free dance by one point. The duo received positive GOEs on all seven elements in The Pink Panther free dance and executed only Level 3s and 4s throughout. The highlight of the program was a Level 4 diagonal step sequence worth 8.86 points.

Pushkash and Guerreiro, who finished fifth last year at the JGP Final, were unable to maintain gold-medal standing after winning the short dance. In their first competition of the season, they too received all positive GOEs on their seven elements. The difference between gold and silver may have come as a result of a Level 2 diagonal step sequence as all of the other components were executed at at least a Level 3.

France's Geraldine Bott and Neil Brown took the bronze medal after finishing fifth in their home country to open the season in late August. They received a 1.00 deduction on their "Be Italian" free dance for an extended lift. Though they accomplished neutral and positive GOEs on their high-level elements, more than six points would ultimately separate them from Pushkash and Guerreiro.

American's Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus finished in fourth place. They were unable to earn another medal after winning silver in France. The three teams that stood atop the podium all earned at least 52 points in their short dances while Cannuscio and McManus were credited with 48.47 points for their "It's a Man's World" dance. Their program components scores were comparable with those of the top three teams, but their executed elements were not at as high levels as their competitors. They skated a clean "Bust Your Windows" free dance but were edged by one point in their free by the bronze medalists.

Teammates Joylyn Yang and Jean-Luc Baker, in their international debut, placed seventh.