The ISU Junior Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating was held December 8-10 in Sofia, Bulgaria at the Winter Sports Hall. Approximately 48 skaters from 7 different countries competed for prize monies totaling $105,000 US Dollars. This was the tenth Junior Grand Prix Final competition held since it’s inception during the 1996-97 season.
Comprised of eight qualifying events, the Junior Grand Prix series began with the first competition in France, followed by Hungary, Mexico, Romania, Norway, The Netherlands, Chinese Taipei, and the Czech Republic. The top eight skater(s) in each discipline proceeded to the Final.
The US ladies swept the podium as well as fourth place. Caroline Zhang won the gold, while Ashley Wagner and Megan Oster took the silver and bronze, respectively. Teammate Melissa Bulanhagui was fourth.
Zhang opened her program to Olga (from the Ladies in Lavender soundtrack) with a triple Lutz-double toeloop combination, followed by a triple flip, an excellent level four layback spin, and a double Axel. The 13-year-old also produced a good level three flying camel spin, and an excellent level four spiral sequence and level three combination spin, earning 56.28 points for a first place finish after the short.
“It was ok,” said Zhang. “I think the footwork could have been better and the triple Lutz-double toe, but it was ‘ok’ overall. I like to do it [the triple Lutz] as a warm up.” The Californian enjoys competing against her teammates. “I think it’s fun. You know more people. Everybody is so supportive.”
Teammate Oster also produced a good skate despite a shaky triple toeloop-double toeloop combination and triple flip in her routine to Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission soundtrack. Despite the mistakes, the 17-year-old also executed a double Axel, a very good level four combination spin, and a level four spiral sequence, placing second after the short with 48.92 points.
“I really enjoyed my performance today,” said Oster. “I think I did a great job and I’m excited to go out there and skate like I have been training.” Of the shaky landings on her jumps, she said: “I was a little bit nervous. I tried not to think about it and just went on to the next thing.”
Wagner delivered a good routine to The Cotton Club by Duke Ellington which featured a very good level three layback spin, a double Axel, a triple flip, a level four combination spin, and a level four . The 15-year-old earned 48.65 points, placing third in the short by less than half a point.
“It’s really exciting,” said Wagner regarding her first Junior Grand Prix Final appearance. “It’s definitely an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life. It’s so exciting to be in such a place. I feel [my performance] went pretty well. My Lutz wasn’t as strong as it usually could be, but after that I just tried to make the rest of the program really, really strong.”
Wagner continued: “Mrs. Hughes (coach) has taught me to be entertaining in the whole program and not telegraphing everything and showing people what I’m doing next. She wants it to be a surprise. I used to actually really telegraph my jumps and Mrs. Hughes she said, ‘No more of that!'”
Stefania Berton of Italy placed fourth with a new personal best of 45.19 points. The 16-year-old delivered a triple toeloop-double toeloop combination, a double Axel, a level four spiral sequence, and three level three spins.
Bulanhagui was fifth with a new personal best of 44.37 points despite popping a flip, while teammate Juliana Cannarozzo placed sixth (43.31 points).
Japan’s Rumi Suizu and Nana Takeda finished seventh and eighth, respectively, followed by Devora Radeva of Bulgaria who was ninth.
Zhang skated to Meditation from Thais by J. Massenet for her long, landing a triple Lutz-double toeloop-double loop combination, followed by a double Axel, and a solid triple flip-double toeloop combination. The JGP Mexico Champion also delivered a four more triple jumps (one in combination with a double), an excellent level three spiral sequence and combination spin, and an excellent level four layback spin. The young American earned a new personal best of 106.40 points for a first place finish in the long, easily winning the gold with a total of 162.68 points.
“It was pretty good,” said Zhang. “It was a clean program, one of the best ones I’ve done this year.” The JGP Chinese Taipei Champion added: “I get nervous when they announce my name, and I then I don’t get nervous once they start my music.”
Wagner singled a loop (in a triple Lutz-double toeloop combination) and had problems with the second jump in a triple toeloop-triple toeloop sequence. Nevertheless, the JGP Courchevel Champion landed a triple flip-double loop-double loop combination, three more triple jumps, and a double Axel, earning a new personal best of 93.36 points for a second place finish in the long to Summertime. With a total score of 142.01 points, she moved up to second place overall to win the silver.
“There was a lot of pressure that I was putting on myself,” said Wagner. “I was like, ‘You have to go out there and prove that you can skate a clean program.'” She added: “I was [also] thinking a little too much on the [first] Lutz and once I got to the loop, it turned into a fabulous single loop. After that I just had to refocus myself and relax. I [went] on autopilot for all my jumps and that’s what really helped me through.”
Oster landed a triple toeloop in the opening of her routine to Baghdad by Jesse Cook, but then struggled with a triple flip, fell on a triple Lutz, and later underrotated a triple toeloop. Despite the mistakes, the JPG Liberec Champion produced a double Axel-double toeloop combination, a triple Salchow-double toeloop combination, a very good level three layback spin, a good level four spiral sequence, and a triple Salchow. The JGP The Hague silver medalist earned a new personal best of 86.81 points for a third place finish in the long, slipping to third place overall (135.73 points).
“In the beginning of my program, I was really just trying to concentrate on how I practiced at home,” said Oster. “I just tried to take one element at a time. I think that really helped me to come back after the fall on the triple Lutz. I was actually surprised that I fell on it. I wasn’t thinking on the landing as much as I should have.”
Takeda, who stood in eighth after the short, delivered a good program to Raul di Blasio’s Otonal which featured a solid triple toeloop-double Axel sequence and triple toeloop-double toeloop combination, a double Axel-double toeloop-double toeloop combination, two more triple jumps, a double Axel, and a good level three layback spin. The Japanese National Junior silver medalist placed fourth in the long with 86.51 points, and with a total of 125.44 points, moved up to fifth overall.
Bulanhagui fell on a triple flip and underrotated a triple Lutz, but otherwise produced four more triple jumps, a level four spiral sequence, and two level four combination spins to place fifth in the long (78.56 points) and overall (126.87 points).
Berton, who fell on a triple Salchow, still earned a new personal best of 79.19 points for a sixth place finish, but with a total score 124.38 points, slipped from fourth to sixth overall.
Cannarozzo finished in seventh place overall (119.22 points), followed by Suizu and Radeva, respectively.