Golden Skate

Leng wins junior title at US Nationals

DeeDee Leng (DuPage FSC) performs to Borodin's Polovtsian Dances for the long program.

There is something about Junior Ladies that just makes you smile. Even on a night when the entire field skates somewhere below their abilities, these young ladies can light up a room.

None of the ladies had a performance that made them proud, but after the competition was over, the medalists were giddy and were able to leave their mistakes behind.

The leader after the short program, DeeDee Leng (DuPage FSC), struggled from the beginning in her Polovtsian Dances program, falling on her opening triple Lutz, and managing nothing more difficult than a triple Salchow combination. She fell a total of two times in her program, and was also unable to earn high levels on her non-jump elements.

“It was not my best tonight,” admitted the composed new champion. “I still had a lot of fun tonight competing against these great skaters.”

The feisty 15-year-old form Naperville, Ill. did, however, land a total of three triple jumps, but never looked comfortable enough in her program. Though Leng finished third in the freeskate with 78.92 points, she was able to use her cushion from the short program to propel her to the gold medal with a total score of 132.49 points, just edging Ellie Kawamura (All Year FSC) for the win.

“It is pretty exciting to win I have to say,” giggled Leng. “Being under the radar coming in, I just looked at it as if (the title) was anyone’s game. I just wanted to do my best without any expectations.”

After failing to qualify for this competition last season, Leng was taken aback at the possibility of being selected for the team to compete at the Junior World Championships later this season.

“Oh!” said a startled Leng. “I didn’t even know that I could go to Junior Worlds. Wow!”

Kawamura won the freeskate, but like Leng, struggled to skate up to her usual standard. In a pink and turquoise dress, the 16-year-old used playful choreography to music from the 101 Dalmations soundtrack to earn her first medal at the U.S. Championships.

“I had a lot of fun today,” Kawamura shared. “I could have skated much better, but I think that it was a great experience that I want to have the chance to do again.”

Kawamura opened with a flawed attempt at a triple Lutz, and was only credited for one triple jump in her entire program. Like Leng, Kawamura fell twice in her program, but she was able to salvage some points by earning level fours on all of her spins which helped her to score 79.43 points in the freeskate. Kawamura’s total of 131.25 points easily helped her to retain her second place standing after the short program.

“After finishing eighth last year, I wanted to come back and have a better experience,” admitted the silver medalist. “I just was hoping to do the best that I could.”

Finishing in third place was Christina Gao (Northern Kentucky SC), who finished in last place on the novice level at last year’s championships. Like her podium mates, Gao was not without mistake herself, falling three times in her program, but landing five triples in all.

“I think that I am just a lot tougher mentally,” admitted the bronze medalist. “I learned how to compete better and how to move on from a mistake.”

In her “Paquita” program, the 14-year-old was the only skater to land a triple Lutz and a triple flip, and easily outscored her competition on the executed elements portion of the program. Her score of 79.24 points in the freeskate was good enough for second place in this segment, but her total score of 128.69 points kept her in third overall.

“I didn’t have any expectations here other than to do my best and have fun,” said an excited Gao.

The top three all know each other from previous competitions, and were excited to be reunited with each other here in Cleveland.

“I met DeeDee in Spokane (at the 2007 US Championships),” Kawamura said.

Gong added, “And I roomed with her at an international competition in Toronto a few years ago, and we got to know each other very well there.” To which Leng emphatically agreed, “It was awesome!”

The three immediately spoke of plans to stay up all night to celebrate.

“We are going to party,” shouted a very excited Kawamura.

Leng added, “Our goal tonight is to pull an all-nighter, so we’ll see how it goes.”

Finishing in fourth place was Kristiene Gong (SC of New York) who returned to competitive skating this season after an almost three-year hiatus as she lived in China with her parents.

“The last time that I competed was in 2006 on the Juvenile level,” Gong explained. “I moved to China until this summer, and I started skating again when I got back.”

Coach Elaine Zayak continued, “I encouraged her to return to competition, and told her that she should take the test to move up to the junior level. I really felt like she could make it to Nationals.”

The pewter medalist looked shaky throughout her “Phantom of the Opera” program, but stood up on all of her elements – the only one of the medalists to do so. The 15-year-old was credited with three clean triple jumps, and was rewarded for her lyrical interpretation with high program component scores. Though her freeskate total of 76.96 points was only good enough for fifth place, Gong held on to fourth overall with a total of 126.17 points.

“I really wanted to get my double Axel-triple toe combination out there,” said a disappointed Gong. “Getting my whole program done is so new to me, but it was just a great experience to be here. I am happy with what I did, but I just know that I can do better.”

Finishing in fifth place was Kendall Wyckoff (Vermont SC) with 123.88 points, followed by Samantha Cesario (SC of New York) in sixth with 120.90 points.

Pre-event favorite Amanda Dobbs (Peninsula SC) continued to struggle, falling twice, and finishing in a disappointing seventh (116.52 points), while Carolyn-Ann Alba (All Year FSC) made the biggest move finishing in eighth (112.35 points) after a dismal 12th place finish after the short program.

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