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Team USA leaves The Hague with pair of silvers

Johnson beats Joubert in free, misses gold by 0.12 points

Alex Johnson and coach Tom Dickson were thrilled with the skater's silver-medal finish.
Alex Johnson and coach Tom Dickson were thrilled with the skater's silver-medal finish. (courtesy of Lorrie Parker)

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By Renee Felton, special to icenetwork.com
(02/24/2013) - Team USA netted a pair of silver medals at 2013 Challenge Cup in The Hague, Netherlands, with Alex Johnson winning his first senior international medal and Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea making the pairs podium in their international debut together.

The competition featured a wide range of athletes, including reigning world champion Carolina Kostner of Italy and former world champion Brian Joubert of France, each of whom defended their titles in The Hague.

Johnson, who was seventh at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, won the free skate and finished second overall by the narrowest of margins to Joubert. Johnson's total score was 228.54 points, while Joubert earned 228.66.

"I'm really happy with how I skated. It wasn't as good as nationals, but I was proud of the fight I put out there," Johnson said. "It was a good performance to end my season with, and to be 0.12 points away from Brian Joubert was pretty cool, considering he is a world champion."

En route to 152.01 points for his Beatles free skate, Johnson executed a pair of triple Axels (one in combination) and three Level 3 spins. His program components added up to 80.00 points.

Joubert's short program helped carry him to the title. The program, worth 78.21 points, included a quad toe-double toe combination worth 12.60 points. Joubert's teammate, Chafik Besseghier, took home bronze with 194.29 points.

The French also stood atop the pairs podium, with Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès earning an easy gold medal. They won both segments of competition, recording 189.82 points. Their Pearl Harbor free skate was highlighted by side-by-side triple Salchows and a throw triple flip and throw triple Salchow, the latter two occurring in the second half of the program. Eleven of the 12 elements in their free skate received positives grades of execution (GOE).

Kayne and O'Shea moved up from third after the short program thanks to a strong outing on Sunday. The highlight of their Nutcracker free skate was their Group 5 lift in the second half the program, for which theyr earned 8.32 points.

Kayne and O'Shea, a recent addition to the American pairs circuit, were seventh at the recent U.S. championships.

"We had a great time in The Hague and couldn't be more proud of how we represented our country in our first international competition," they said. "We are excited to establish ourselves as an up-and-coming pairs team for the U.S. and look forward to many more opportunities in the future."

The bronze medal went to Germany's Mari Vartmann and Aaron Van Cleave.

Also representing Team USA were DeeDee Leng and Tim LeDuc, who finished fifth, and Kiri Baga and Taylor Toth, who placed sixth.

Kostner skated to an easy victory to earn her second straight Challenge Cup title with a total score of 199.71 points.

The Italian took a significant lead into Friday's free skate, with the battle really being for the silver and bronze medals. Kostner's Young Frankenstein short program was flawless, with each of her seven elements earning positive GOEs en route to 72.81 points.

Less than six points separated athletes in positions two through five after the short program. Veteran competitor Maé Bérénice Méité, the five-time French medalist, earned 57.12 points, while Finland's Julia Turkkila sat in fifth with 51.46.

Kostner's final margin of victory grew considerably after the free skate, for which she earned 129.06 points. Though not as clean as her short, the program was the best in the competition by 17 points.

Méité, in maintaining her silver-medal standing, was the only other athlete to break the 100-point mark in the free skate. Her clean program, worth 109.43 points, included a double Axel-triple toe combination and two Level 3 spins.

Austria's Kerstin Frank won bronze to improve on her fifth-place showing at this event last year.