Junior teams take center stage at US Nationals

Thursday afternoon belonged to the junior pairs and dancers at the 2005 State Farm US Figure Skating Championships in Portland, Oregon. In both events, the winners might have been competitive in the championship division.

In the Junior Pairs free skate, 14-year-old Mariel Miller and 18-year-old Rockne Brubaker claimed the gold medal in a performance that could have rivaled the top championship level teams. Julia Vlassov and Drew Meekins moved up to second to claim the silver medal while Chloe Karz and Joseph Lynch slipped from second place after the short program to win the bronze medal.

Miller and Brubaker, who skated to music from the motion picture Pearl Harbor, opened their program with a nice split triple twist that had a slight crash on the landing. The tandem followed up with two sets of side-by-side double Axels and two triple throw jumps, earning technical scores from 5.1 to 5.3. “It just felt really great out there,” gushed Miller. “I felt very comfortable after being overseas (at international competitions).”

Vlassov and Meekins skated an interesting program to music from the movie Paycheck which included moves that are reminiscent of Vlassov’s eastern European heritage. Valssov’s father and coach , Alexander Meekins, is originally from Russia, and that is evident in the younger Vlassov’s approach to executing choreography. In between landing solid side-by side double Axels, and two throw jumps, Vlassov and Meekins incorporated unusual and appropriate transitions, along with powerful Russian-style stroking.

Katz and Lynch had some difficulty in their programs with the solo jumps and throws, but their presentation was mature and elegant. “We probably could have had a a little bit better of a performance, but we’re very happy and have been working really hard,” stated Lynch.

After splitting with previous partners at almost the same time, Miller and Brubaker teamed up after coach Dalilah Sappenfield thought that the two would be a match. “She (Sappenfield) is pretty good at knowing who should skate with who,” said Brubaker. “I went out for a try out, and I moved out (to Colorado) about a week later.” The duo has only been skating together for about a year and a half, but plan to compete on the championship level next season.

In the free dance, Tina Pratt and Todd Gilles captured their second National title in three years. At this event in 2003, Pratt and Gilles struck gold in the novice division. Last season, the team finished third. Skating to music from Romeo and Juliet, Pratt and Gilles skated with command and emotion, telling the story of young love gone tragic. Their lifts were sure-fitted and their footwork intricate. Gilles lamented, “It’s awesome. It’s what you work for all year, and it feels great (to win).”

Finishing second were Caitlin Mallory and Brent Holdburg, who are currently coached by Olympic Champions Sergei Ponomarenko and Marina Klimova. Skating to Spartacus, Mallory and Holdburg wove a powerful story of conflict in between precise footwork and balletic lifts. The young team was thrilled to have a spot on the podium. “This year has been really successful for us,” Holdburg pointed out. “We have improved tremendously.”

Kimmerly Lauten and Augie Hill finished fourth in the free dance, but third overall with a program to Masquerade Waltz. “Technically it was a bit sloppy for us,” said Hill. That didn’t matter, though as this first year team still clinched the bronze medal. “We’ve come a long way in the last six months,” said a happy Lauten.

Competition continues this evening with the Championship men and ladies competition which sees Johnny Weir and Michelle Kwan seeking to retain their national titles.

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