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Coaches say U.S. juniors are ready to tip Iceberg

'Jelly and Josh Show' hits Sochi; Brown has newfound confidence in Axel

Angela "Jelly" Wang has prospered under the direction of Christy Krall and Damon Allen.
Angela "Jelly" Wang has prospered under the direction of Christy Krall and Damon Allen. (Renee Felton)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(12/05/2012) - Christy Krall looks forward to the "Jelly and Josh Show," which begins a short-term engagement at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Russia, on Thursday.

"They are ready, they are set and they are hungry," said the Colorado Springs-based coach of her pupils Joshua Farris and Angela Wang, the top U.S. qualifiers for the Junior Grand Prix Final.

"We call Angela, 'Jelly,' and we call the two of them the Jelly and Josh Show because they just love each other," Krall continued. "They are big boosters for one another, and that's been a lot of fun. They're wonderful training mates, not just on-ice partners but very good, steady friends off ice as well. They sort of need each other. I love that they are both competing in Sochi."

The Junior Grand Prix Final is a showcase for the best six skaters in seven junior international competitions held around the world this fall. Wang won a gold medal in Croatia after earlier capturing the bronze in Lake Placid, while Farris was the top overall qualifier for the Final, taking gold at both of his events (Lake Placid and Slovenia).

Krall assigns much of the credit for Farris' results to Damon Allen, another of the skater's coaches at Colorado Springs' World Arena.

"Damon Allen is also his choreographer, and the two of them have really worked on making his programs, I would almost say, fascinating," Krall said. "They are a pleasure to watch. I would say Josh is focusing on the performance, and it's fun for him to get that edge.

"The other edge is he has really been training hard off ice, with the result that he is a really strong man this year. We were looking at clips of him one year ago and he was a boy compared to the man he is today. He is physically fit, he is taller, he is stronger, and as a result of that, he is really putting out some dynamic athletic ability."

Some thought the 17-year-old Farris, the reigning world junior silver medalist who won bronze at this event last year, might compete on the senior Grand Prix this season. Krall thinks her skater, who placed 16th in seniors at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, is on the right track.

"U.S. Figure Skating really felt he needed another year to get his quad toe underneath him," she said. "There was no sense putting him into a really stressful situation, to have to be really successful at that one element, and then maybe not be able to [focus] on other essential parts of his skating, which for Josh is his performance factor. Everyone was on the same page that he needed to mature; when you have a growth spurt going on, that's essential.

"I really appreciate the fact that U.S. Figure Skating was very helpful in helping us decide he should take it one year at a time, and this year was the year to get all of the ducks in order to be able to do what he has to do."

In addition to the triple Axel, which Farris will show in his short to a Bach cello piece, the teen plans a quad toe in his free to a Rachmaninoff concerto.

"The quad is not a 'gimme' jump; it's so fast and so intense and has to be so precise in a moment of adrenaline, sometimes it doesn't come off perfect even though you practice it well," Krall said. "Josh will do a clean short program, give a statement of who he is, and in the long he plans to do a quad toe.

"He is a very big jumper right now, which is a good thing and a bad thing. He has developed great air time, so as a result, [the jumps] are much more difficult to control. They are big jumps, and so he is learning to stabilize himself. It's going quite well, so we will see."

Wang is also working to balance technical prowess with enhanced performance and artistry.

"She [was] always a good athlete, but movement has been her big passion this year," Krall said. "Damon Allen is very involved with that, and Tom Dickson (one of her choreographers) has done a stellar job with her. They do a lot of off-ice work."

The 16-year-old junior at Cheyenne Mountain High will show the most difficult combination of the event.

"She will do a triple Lutz-triple toe-double toe [combination] as the opening jump pass in her long, and she'll do triple Lutz-triple toe as the opening of her short," Krall said. "The triple-triple is solid, and she is very comfortable with it. She has trained it extremely well.

"Angela has a stick-to-it quality, and she really knows what she wants. Both of these skaters are just a joy to work with; I look forward every single day to come in and see Josh and Angela."

For Jason Brown, the defending Junior Grand Prix Champion who won gold and silver at his fall events, the challenge is to conquer the triple Axel, a jump he has yet to land cleanly in international competition. The world junior bronze medalist, who will turn 18 on Dec. 15, attempted the jump at the Junior Grand Prix in Turkey, and his coach, Kori Ade, thinks he has now mastered the maneuver.

"His triple Axel totally clicked on Wednesday (of last week); I think he has done perfectly clean ones since Wednesday, some with the music and costumes, some without," said Ade a few days before leaving for Sochi. "It looks amazing, and I'm proud to say all the hard work has paid off. It's there and it's beautiful."

Ade, who coaches Brown in the Chicago area, doesn't regret putting the jump out earlier this fall, as well as in summer competition.

"We put it in his [free skate] even in an imperfect state so he could [get used to] trying it without hurting the integrity of the rest of the program," she said. "If you don't put it in early enough, there is always that 'wow' factor; even if he lands it, that could change the rest of the elements. So, it was our strategy to put it in, even though we knew it wasn't perfect yet."

Farris and Brown's biggest competition in Sochi will likely come from Russia's Maxim Kovtun, winner of two Junior Grand Prix events this fall. At his event in Croatia, he landed a quad toe and two triple Axels in the free skate.

Wang is joined by two U.S. teammates: Hannah Miller, winner of two silver medals this fall, and Leah Keiser, who has a gold and a fourth-place finish to her credit.

Kirsten Miller-Zisholz, Miller's coach and aunt, isn't introducing any new wrinkles into her skater's programs for the Final.

"We're continuing to work on improving her skating from day to day: More consistency. Better, faster spins. Better presentation," she said. "She is still working on the triple-triples (triple loops in combination with Lutz, flip and loop). They are not quite ready for competition, so we will hold off on that."

Miller works with two ice dancers: Daniil Barantsev, who choreographed both of her programs, and Tanith Belbin, who works with her to polish her presentation.

"Our goal this season is to push her skating into different directions, to continue to grow her as a performer," Miller-Zisholz said. "Hannah has always been very musical, and we're stepping up the level, telling a story and showing joy out there on the ice. She is small, for sure, but she has a big presence on the ice."

Recently, coach and student traveled to Barantsev's rink in Connecticut to refresh her programs.

"Daniil pushes Hannah out of her comfort zone," Miller-Zisholz said. "Tanith has a great eye for the artistic side of the sport; she and Daniil make a good team for Hannah."

Like Wang, the 15-year-old Keiser, who trains under John Nicks and alongside U.S. champion Ashley Wagner in Aliso Viejo, Calif., plans a triple Lutz-triple toe combination in both her short program and free skate.

Nicks was impressed with Keiser's win in Turkey, where she landed six triples in her first-place free skate.

"We were surprised Leah won," Nicks told the Pittsburgh Review Tribune, Keiser's hometown newspaper. "She's still very young. It was only her second international competition.

"She has to play up to the crowd more; audience reaction can play a big part in influencing judges' scores. With maturity, those things will come. She takes instruction very well."

While any of the three U.S. ladies could land on the podium, the overwhelming favorite is Russia's newest junior sensation, 13-year-old Elena Radionova, who dominated her Junior Grand Prix events in Austria and France this fall.

U.S. junior ice dance champions Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton, the reigning world junior bronze medalists, are making a repeat trip to the Junior Grand Prix Final, where they finished fourth last season.

Aldridge and Eaton, who train at the Detroit Skating Club under a team of coaches headed by Anjelika Krylova, are medal favorites in Sochi, but will be challenged for gold by Russia's Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, who won their two Junior Grand Prix events with the fall's highest junior scores.

Gabrielle Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, who also won two golds this fall, will challenge for the podium.