Rippon leads junior men at US Nationals

Adam Rippon, 17, of the SC of New York Inc., performs to Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

Adam Rippon (The SC of New York Inc.) skated first in the competition, and immediately separated himself from the rest of the pack. Opening with an easy triple flip-triple toe combination, the current Junior Grand Prix Final Champion earned a whopping personal best of 71.33 points for his “Toccata and Fugue” routine.

“I was a little bit nervous,” admitted the 17-year-old, “but I just went out there and did the program that I do in practice.”

Rippon skated like a seamstress, weaving intricate choreography between his required elements with a pleasant presentation style that suits him well.

“I used to be able to do the jumps and the spins,” Rippon explained, “but it never came together. Nikolai (Morozov) has shown me how to put everything together so that it is in my blood now.”

After landing his combination, the teem easily completed a nice double Axel, as well as a triple loop from footwork, which fit the theme of the music well.

“Mentally, I knew that I could do everything,” said the leader. “I knew that I had the pieces, and [Morozov] helped me feel my body so that I could put it all together tonight.”

For the freeskate, Rippon plans to attempt two triple-triple combinations that he hopes will propel him to be named to the World Junior team.

“My goal is to skate two clean programs just like I do in practice,” Rippon declared.

Skating to the music from Phantom of the Opera, Curran Oi (SC of Boston) finished second with his first clean performance of the season.

“I was really happy to skate well today,” gushed a very happy Oi. “It was really important [for me], and it felt really good to go out there and finally skate a good short program.”

The 2008 Eastern Sectional junior champion opened with an easy double Axel, and then powered his way through a triple flip-triple toe combination that helped him earn 68.15 points in this phase of the competition.

“I think that I was just very solid tonight, and I tried my best to perform the program,” said the 17-year-old. “I am very happy with the scores, but they are secondary to a clean performance.”

Oi had a large fan base traveling here from Boston to see him skate, and received advice from the junior ladies bronze medalist, Brittney Rizo.

“Today [Rizo] told me to be mysterious,” laughed Oi.

Finishing in third place is last year’s silver medalist Brandon Mroz (Broadmoor SC), who had difficulty on the second half of his triple lutz-triple toe combination at the start of his program.

“I think that I just let my left side go a little more than I intended,” explained the 2007 Junior Grand Prix Final silver medalist, “but I thought I had [the triple toe]. All of a sudden, I was on my heel and catching my edge.”

Skating to Night on Bald Mountain, the 17-year-old received high levels on his spins, and earned 5.86 points for his solo triple loop to keep him in the hunt for the gold medal.

“I think that everything went good,” shared Mroz. “I felt a little stiff, but as the program went on, I got more into my knees. It was an okay skate. I could have done better.”

The surprise of the night, however, was Andrew Gonzales (All Year FSC) who finished in fourth place. The 17-year-old, who skated to Malaguena, earned the final place at the Pacific Coast Sectionals to earn a spot in this competition.

“I have been training really hard every day to get my performances like that,” said Gonzales. “I was just a little bit nervous in the beginning, but I just relied on myself.”

Gonzales opened with a nice triple toe-triple toe combination, and immediately went into the footwork leading into a clean triple loop. The highlight of his routine, however, was his attack of the strong choreography that drew the appreciative crowd into his performance.

“When the music started, I settled down and was able to get into my performance,” Gonzales later explained. “I hope to stay focused for the freeskate, and remember that I am prepared for this competition.”

In fifth place is Alexander Johnson (Braemar-City of Lakes FSC), who is skating in his own backyard of sorts.

“It was really cool to perform here because there are so many people here,” explained the 2008 Midwestern Sectional junior champion. “When I went out to start my program, I heard them all scream, so that was exciting.”

Johnson did not complete the technical content of the leaders as he only landed a triple flip-double toe combination to go along with his triple loop. However, the 17-year-old performed his routine to Saint-Saens’ Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor with emotion, and earned high scores for his program components as a result. With a total score of 59.12 points, Johnson is within striking distance of the podium.

Skating on his 16th birthday, Alaska’s “Little Warrior” Keegan Messing (Anchorage FSC) earned the last spot in the final warm-up for the freeskate with a performance that had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.

“I was feeling great,” said a very elated Messing. “It was my birthday, so what more can I ask?”

The 2008 Pacific Coast Sectional Junior silver medalist opened with a triple Lutz-double toe, and matched the leaders with a triple loop out of footwork. Messing’s choreography to Lesiem’s Fundamentum, which was strong and performed with great gusto, reached the upper bowl of the Xcel Energy Center.

“I just love putting on performances,” admitted Messing. “I look at the crowd, and I say, ‘Hey! These are the people who are paying to come see me skate.’ Let’s give ‘em a show!’”

Messing is the only skater in this competition who is planning two triple Axels in the freeskate (the first in combination with a triple toe loop), and credits a new training regime for his newfound technical prowess.

“I have been doing a lot of off-ice training to build up my endurance,” shared Messing. “I don’t want to just “poop out” in the middle of the performance.”

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