Golden Skate

Sotnikova places first in short program; Russia 1-2-3

Russia's Adelina Sotnikova performs to a Selection of Waltzes by Johann Strauss at the 2010-11 Junior Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating.

Much like Junior Short Dance competition earlier that evening, the Ladies event was also dominated by Russian competitors. Adelina Sotnikova of Russia placed first with 57.27 points – almost four points ahead of teammates Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Polina Shelepen.

As the indisputable leader of the qualifying events, Sotnikova was the last one to skate and emotionally she provided an excellent ending to the competition. Technically, however, it was not her best.

The student of Elena Vodorezova underrotated and stumbled out of the triple toe loop in combination with a triple Lutz (Lutz additionally received a penalty for the wrong take off edge). The skater, however, seemed to be only further motivated to do well by her early mistake as she flew through the rest of the program to waltzes by Johann Strauss.

Never falling out of character, Sotnikova managed to incorporate the majority of the musical highlights into her choreography and yet deliver the other elements clean. The only minor issue was the level of the midline step sequence, which used to receive level three, but was only called level two in Beijing.

“I have done all what I planned to do today,” said the 2009 Russian National Champion. “Not as well as I planned to do it, though. I think I can still do better. So for the free program tomorrow I just want to do everything I can.”

The skater won the Senior national championships at the age of 12, but has only been allowed to compete internationally this fall.

“I am grateful that the people noticed me back then and allowed me to compete at Senior Nationals,” said Sotnikova. “Unfortunately I was not old enough for international events back then. Now, finally, I am.”

The skater said she hopes that the Russian contingent will be able to defend their leadership tomorrow, but admits that “the other girls are also very strong and can do very difficult elements, so one should not count them out.”

For Tuktamysheva, who won silver the year Sotnikova won gold at Nationals, things did not go quite as planned. The landing of the opening triple Lutz was not secure enough and the skater was only able to tack a double toe loop at the end of it. Still, her performance to a selection of Oriental tunes was one of the highlights of the event. The style and the character obviously suit the skater well and she freely shares her enjoyment of the program with the audience.

“I am really pleased with my performance,” said the student of Alexei Mishin. “My Lutz was not perfect and I did not want to risk too much. I wanted a clean performance and I felt it was better to do a good triple-double than a bad triple-triple. It was not my maximum, though, I hope to do better in the long.”

Tuktamysheva also received lower levels on the spins, including only level two on the layback, and picked up 53.76 points in total. She agreed with Sotnikova that both of them were, perhaps, ready to compete internationally back in 2009, but added that “It might have been for the best that we were not allowed to. We became better skaters during that time and two years flew by fast enough.”

Shelepen is currently third (53.26) despite executing a clean triple Lutz – triple toe loop combination. The defending silver medalist’s performance to a modern arrangement of Swan Lake was fluent and proficient, but it lacked the expression and the precision displayed by her teammates. She also received rather low levels on her spins, which are usually one of her strong points.

“It is good that everything went as planned,” said the student of Eteri Tutberidze. “I am especially glad that 3-3 combination worked and even got some positives grades of execution. A pity that the levels of my spins were not high enough. They all have been planned to be level four, but I will improve on that tomorrow.”

Shelepen plans to deliver a very ambitious program for her free skate.

“I plan to do two combinations with triple toe loops,” she said. “I believe it is a very difficult program, hopefully it will allow me to pull up to a higher step on the podium.”

Another skater to successfully execute a triple-triple combination was Japan’s Risa Shoji. She opened her program to Libertango with a solid Salchow – toe loop combination, but the technical panel marked her triple loop as underrotated.

“When I jumped I felt pretty good and thought I could jump high enough,” she explained. “I did not think about the rotation so much. It was a good jump, but unfortunately, it was downgraded.”

Shoji’s only earned a level two on her final layback spin, but in terms of presentation, the Junior Grand Prix debutant was among the best. She was sharp, passionate with great attention to detail, and she never let her focus slip during the performance. The student of Naoki Shigematsu, however, said she could do even better.

“The choreography is very difficult I feel that I have not been able to dance enough yet. But I really like it and would like to improve.”

“I try not to think so much about this big event,” Shoji added. “I try to be calm, but still I was nervous.”

China’s Zijun Li, a last minute replacement of USA’s Kira Baga (who was forced to withdraw from the even), pleased the local public with an almost clean performance to Up by Michael Giacchino. Even though the technical panel later downgraded her double Axel, the Chinese displayed strong skating skills, solid spins, and good jumping technique. She lacked the power of the skaters who placed ahead of her, but made a pretty good impression overall.

“She did well, but she could have done better,” said her coach Mingzhu Li. “She could do better for example of the second half of the straightline footwork; she could be more ready. Skating for the first time in the Grand Prix Final in front of the whole nation is high pressure. We did not really aim for a placement and concentrated more on the performance.”

The three American skaters had disappointing outings. Kristiene Gong opened her program to Flamenco Fantasy with a nice triple Lutz – double toe loop combination, but later doubled a planned triple loop and fell out of adouble Axel landing.

Christina Gao attempted a triple toe loop – triple toe loop, but underrotated the second jump as well as the triple loop, and fell on a double Axel.

“I am not particularly happy with my short,” said the student of Brian Orser, “but you have ups and downs and this is down. It was not a good short, but hopefully my long program tomorrow will be better.”

The defendng bronze medalist did not feel it fair to compare the results of various competitions alone.

“Each year is different,” said Gao. “I feel you cannot compare performances from one year to a next based on a medal. There are more competitors and it is getting harder. I feel stronger this year, regardless.”

Rounding up the field is Yasmin Siraj, who delivered a gutsy performance to Czardash, but popped a Lutz into single and later fell on underrotated triple loop.

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