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Denney, Frazier zoom past field, Zamboni for gold

Americans come from behind to win junior pairs crown; Purdy, Marinaro grab silver

Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier were the surprise world junior pairs champions.
Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier were the surprise world junior pairs champions. (Getty Images)

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By Klaus-Reinhold Kany, special to icenetwork.com
(02/28/2013) - At the 2013 World Junior Championships in Milan on Friday, an errant Zamboni carved gouges into the ice and nearly drove organizers to drink, but Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier's free skate to music from La Strada was smooth as the high-fashion city's famous silk.

The Florida pair reeled off a high triple twist; side-by-side triple Salchows and double Axel sequences; strong lifts; and two triple throws to grab the world junior pairs crown from the grasp of the favored Russian, Canadian and Chinese pairs.

While they placed second in the free, their 155.83 points captured the title by just over a point.

"I think our performance was pretty good today," Denney, 17, said. "It felt like we fought through all of our elements, and I think that made us appreciate it even more. I had a lot of fun and was relieved when it was over.

"I don't think it has sunk in yet, but I'm really happy and proud of Brandon and myself tonight."

The event's start was delayed 85 minutes after the rink's Zamboni ice-making machine malfunctioned. This brought local organizers and ISU sports director Peter Krick onto the ice to view the situation up close. Krick decided to fill the gullies with water, and the Zamboni was driven out for another go-around, but it only produced new gouges.

After an hour, another Zamboni was located and pressed into service, and it polished the ice to perfection.

Denney and Frazier took the delay in stride.

"It did not really affect us," Denney said. "At home, we're used to training on a pretty flexible schedule with a lot of adversities, so I think we handled it pretty well. But now, I'm tired."

Haven is the younger sister of two-time U.S. pairs champion Caydee Denney, who withdrew from the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships after her partner, John Coughlin, underwent hip surgery.

The teen is undaunted by the prospect of competing against her big sister next season, when she and Frazier move up to the senior ranks.

"I don't really think about competing against my sister next season because she is my sister first," Haven said. "I love her no matter what. I think it's going to be awesome having a friend out there that I know and love."

Denney and Frazier, who placed fourth at their single Junior Grand Prix event in Lake Placid this season, had trained in Dalilah Sappenfield's group in Colorado Springs, Colo., until this fall. They then moved to Florida to train under three-time U.S. pairs champion John Zimmerman and his wife, former Italian champion Silvia Fontana. They placed fifth in seniors at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"I could not be happier for these two skaters," Zimmerman said. "They took a big chance this year. They felt that they wanted a change and came to Silvia and me in October. Mainly -- but not strictly -- they wanted to work on their program components. That is what they really wanted to improve on this year.

"They [already] had their technical elements, and the programs were mainly set," he continued. "They came to us to get the whole package. We are really thrilled with them."

Like Haven, Zimmerman sees a bright future ahead for the team as they move to the senior circuit next season.

"The competition will be really hard next year and throughout the season, and I think they know that and they respect all the competitors," Zimmerman said. "Hopefully, they will come out next season with a different look, keeping their strength and improving on their weaknesses."

Canadians Margaret Purdy and Michael Marinaro won the silver medal with 154.70 points, a little more than a point under the winners. They skated a clean program highlighted by side-by-side triple toe loops.

"We are very happy with our performances that we had," Marinaro said. "We're very proud of the season that we've had. It is a good way to end our junior career, and we're ready to step up into seniors next year."

"It definitely was a first, coming into the rink and hearing that your event hasn't even started when you're thinking you're going on in an hour," Purdy said. "At the same time, it was a great learning experience."

Russians Lina Fedorova and Maxim Miroshkin, who placed only seventh in the short program, skated the best free skate, gaining two points more than Denney and Frazier. They moved up to the bronze medal with 154.57 points overall.

The Russians had the best triple twist of the event, gaining all +3 and +2 grades of execution (GOEs) from the judges. They also showed an element which no other pair in the world has ever performed: an excellent side-by side spin including a change of foot and perfect, long-held Biellmann positions from both skaters, and on both legs.

"Obviously, after the short program we were a little upset because not everything worked out," Fedorova said. "It cost us a lot, but before the free, we didn't think about any results; we just wanted to skate the best we can and execute all our elements."

"I don't think the delay had any effect on the quality of the elements we executed," Miroshkin said. "It was the opposite; it calmed us down."

Xiaoyu Yu and Yang Jin, who led after the short, ended up fourth after some weak presentation and downgraded triple toe loops.

Russians Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were fifth with 148.47 points after Tarasova fell on two elements.

U.S. junior silver medalists Jessica Noelle Calalang and Zack Sidhu showed strong lifts and a throw triple Lutz, but their jump combination and throw triple Salchow were not successful. They finished in ninth position with 133.01 points.

"We did a well-rounded program today," Calalang said. "It definitely was not our best, but we made some progress from yesterday."

U.S. junior champions Britney Simpson and Matthew Blackmer placed 10th after Simpson fell on the triple Salchow and the double Axel, which were both judged under-rotated. Their other elements were solid.

"It was not our best," Blackmer said. "We are going to go home and evaluate some things, talk about what we want for next season and go from there. I will age out of juniors and we will move to seniors."

"Compared to nationals, we now have got everything we need to start for next year," Simpson said. "This is just a stepping stone, and this is all experience."

The competition in general was skated on a relatively strong level. The top seven pairs made only a few mistakes, and the difference between first and seventh place was just eight points.