Golden Skate

Monko and Khaliavin take Junior ice dance title in Tokyo

In their first Junior Grand Prix Final, Russia’s Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin maintained their overnight lead to win the gold. Teammates Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov (also newcomers), as well, edged out Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani to capture the silver medal.

Monko and Khaliavin performed a commanding dance to This is a  Man’s World which featured difficult lifts and complex footwork. The team from Moscow picked up all level fours and threes for their elements to score a new personal best of 85.51 points. With a total score of 141.21 points, the Russians won the event by nearly two points.

“This is an unforgettable feeling,”  said Khaliavin. “We are competing in our first Final and we won right away. I can’t even describe my emotions. It is just wonderful. It was great for us to compete here in a format of such a large crowd – we didn’t do that before. The audience here is so dedicated to figure skating. It’s like a figure skating cult. I’ve never experienced that before.”

“The Japanese audience is great,” agreed Monko. “They have welcomed all the athletes so well. I liked it a lot.”

“We never expected to win this Final since we competed here for the first time,” added Khaliavin. “Right now in Russia, we have a tough competition in ice dance. There are many good junior and senior couples.”

Teammates  Ilinykh and  Katsalapov produced an emotional performance to Schindler’s List which was highlighted by their speed and effortless looking elements. While they garnered more positive Grades of Execution (GoEs) than Monko and Khaliavin, the team only received a level 2 in their mid-line step sequence. Nevertheless, they posted a new personal best of 85.01 points, and rose from  from third to second overall (139.36 points).

“We made little mistakes, but we did good today,” said Ilinykh. “Since I got the chickenpox and flu, we only had two weeks to prepare for this competition. It was good but we could have been better. I really thank my coach for taking care of us and believing us.”

“The second foot work wasn’t good, but we did very good today,” added Katsalapov. “Since we had two weeks to prepare for this competition, we could have been better. The program is just like a show. It’s great, but I know we could skate better. We’ll work hard to have a better skate at Russian Nationals.”

Schindler’s List is Ilinykh’s favorite program. “Very serious and dramatic. Nikita is “Schindler” and he tries to help me out from the jail. But since I lost my friends and family, I can’t believe him and think he is trying to get me killed. In the last part, I chose rather to die than live in the jail,” she explained.

Shibutani and Shibutani also delivered a solid program to Tango Rhapsody, however, their GoEs were slightly less than the top two teams and their diagonal steps only received a level 2. They placed third in the free dance (83.54 points) and overall (138.75 points) with only 0.61 points separating them from second place.

“Our practices went well,” said Alex. “All the elements went well, and we felt good out there today. There weren’t any bad points in the program today. Everything was good, but there’s always room for improvement. We always think positively. There’s time before our Nationals and Jr. Worlds, so we’ll go home and work hard. We’re definitely better than we were last year.”

“The Japanese fans are terrific,” added Maia. “Our friends and training mates Davis and White had given us a 101 introductory course on what to expect from the Japanese fans, and they said the fans are really great and supportive. We felt very comfortable skating in front of them. Overall, we had a good week here, and we’ll take home the good experience here to keep on improving.”

Canada’s Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill also gave a solid performance which featured difficult footwork and lifts. The team remained in fourth overall (124.75 points).

“We didn’t get our season’s best score,” noted Ralph, “but we got the levels we wanted. We’ve learned to deal with our nerves and motivated ourselves a lot.”

“Last year at our first Final, we were very nervous,” added Hill. “This time, we were more confident and knew what we had to do.”

Russia’s Ekaterina Pushkash and Jonathan Guerreiro placed fifth overall with 119.50 points.

“I liked our performance today,” said Guerreiro, “especially on emotional parts. We wanted to give it all we had. We were not at our best as we’ve been sick for two weeks with the flu, and had only one week to prepare for this competition. So we were a bit nervous about that. We are now going home and will work hard for Nationals and Junior Worlds.”

“We learned that we have to compete with ourselves in the first place,” added Pushkash. “We have to show what we can do in practice.”

USA’s Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello remained in sixth place overall with 111.18 points.

“We did very well,” noted Cannuscio. “I am very pleased with our performances and happy with the levels that we got today. It was definitely one of our best skates of the free dance  this season. We will keep working hard to medal in the internationals.”

Lorello was also pleased with their free dance. “It was a strong performance. We had nothing to lose in this competition, so we just tried to skate our best. I love Tokyo and it was a good experience for us to come with this amazing team. Everything was just awesome. We will work more on our footwork, but of course all the elements in programs need to be polished.”

Italy’s Lorenza Alessandrini and Simone Vaturi finished seventh, followed by Marina Antipova and Artem Kudashev of Russia.

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