The ISU 2012-13 Junior Grand Prix and Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating will take place Dec 6-9, 2012 in Sochi, Russia. The event has been selected as the official Test Event for the Olympic Winter Games 2014.
Qualification for the event is based on the results of the point system for the Junior and Senior Grand Prix events which took place between August and November.
The Junior Grand Prix circuit began in August in Courchevel, France, and ended in Chemnitz, Germany in October. The Senior Grand Prix events began with Skate America in Kent/Seattle, Wash., and concluded with the NHK Trophy in Sendai, Japan last month.
A total of 48 skaters/teams (junior and senior combined) from nine ISU members have qualified, and will compete at in Sochi, Russia, December 6-9, 2012.
American Joshua Farris, 17, makes his third consecutive appearance in the Final, and is the top qualifier in the competition. The most experienced skater of the bunch, Farris won the events in Lake Placid, USA, and Bled, Slovenia, to earn his place in Sochi.
“Training has been going great,” Farris said by telephone. “There have been a few bumps in the road, but I’m looking forward to competing in the Olympic rink. I expect it to be a lot of fun. Each competition is just another competition—I treat them all the same. The key for me is to remain calm.”
Farris and coaches Christy Krall and Damon Allen have decided to stay the course and keep his technical content the same as in his qualifying events. Farris plans to show his quadruple toe loop and triple Axel jumps in Sochi, which will be needed if he hopes to win his first Junior Grand Prix Final title.
“We have focused a bit of attention on my footwork because I’ve been getting level three and I want a level four,” said the reigning Junior World silver medalist. “We’ve been focusing on body movement and speed throughout the sequences. If I do what I know how to do, I’m expecting good results.”
Farris’s chief competition could come from the number two qualifier, 17-year-old Maxim Kovtun, of Russia. The fourth place finisher from last year’s competition won the final two events of the series in Zagreb, Croatia, and Chemnitz, Germany. Despite the win in Germany, however, Kovtun struggled with some of his jumps in the freeskate, and will have to overcome that performance should he want to challenge the rock-solid Farris.
Reigning champion Jason Brown, 17, has depended on his superior component scores to keep him in the hunt for medals in the absence of a clean triple Axel. The American won the silver medal in the inaugural event of the season in Courchevel, France, with sloppy performances, and followed it up with a win in Istanbul, Turkey, where he was unsuccessful in landing the triple Axel in both phases of the competition. The 2012 Junior Worlds bronze medalist was the number three qualifier for the competition.
“I am planning the triple Axel in both the short and the long in Sochi,” Brown reported on Friday. “I actually started landing it on Wednesday, so it is officially in my repertoire. I am extremely excited to leave for Russia and pack that jump with me!”
Brown admits that he does not feel extra pressure heading into the event as the reigning champion, but instead sees everybody on an equal playing field.
“I honestly look at this competition as a completely separate event from last year,” he said. “Each time I compete, I am solely focused on doing my best, and I enter the competition trusting my training and preparation. I love representing Team USA, and always hope to grow as a skater through each experience. I am truly ecstatic to have the opportunity to compete in the Olympic venue and create memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.”
China’s Boyang Jin, 15, defeated Brown in Courchevel in his Junior Grand Prix debut, and later took silver behind Farris in Bled, earning a spot in the six-man Final. Jin’s qualification was a shining light for his national team after reigning Junior World champion and teammate Han Yan, 16, unexpectedly failed to qualify for a spot in Sochi.
Jin has the technical goods to compete for the title—he has a quadruple toe loop as well as a triple Axel in his arsenal, but his inexperience may catch up to him on such a grand stage. If he skates up to his potential, Jin should be in the hunt for a medal.
The final two qualifiers, both from Japan, are making a repeat trip to the Final. Ryuju Hino, 17, and Keiji Tanaka, 18, finished in fifth and sixth last year, respectively, and will have to hope for mistakes by the top men to improve their standing this year.
The Russian stronghold at the top of the junior ladies scene is in good hands with 13-year-old Elena Radionova from Moscow. The pint-sized diva won both of her events—in Courchevel and Linz, Austria, by more than 20 points each, and qualified solidly as the top competitor for the competition. Radionova is armed with a solid triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, and the competition is hers to lose. Other qualifiers will have to skate perfectly and hope for mistakes to overtake the clear frontrunner.
A trio of American ladies—Angela Wang, Hannah Miller, and Leah Keiser, hope to challenge Radionova for the title.
Wang, 16, qualified as the second seed, and is the most complete package of the three. She has a good blend of solid technical and polished presentation skills. Like Radionova, Wang has a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, which she landed in her gold medal winning performances in Zagreb. However, sometimes as in her bronze medal finish in Lake Placid, Wang can struggle with the combination. With clean performances, Wang is a lock for the podium.
Miller, also 16, qualified with two silver medals (Linz and Zagreb) on the circuit, and is excited to have the chance to compete alongside the world’s best.
“I am looking forward to finally being there and taking in the excitement of everything,” said the bubbly teenager. “I am excited to show what I have been working on and put out two solid skates.”
The 2012 U.S junior bronze medalist has been working hard in preparation of the event, and reports that she is very pleased with her training leading up to the competition. Miller is typically rock-solid in competition, and leaves very few points on the table.
“Training has been great,” she said. “I feel like I have really excelled and feel very confident going into the final. I have worked very hard and cannot wait for my hard work to pay off in Sochi. To improve my scores, I have really been working on my consistency with everything. I also have worked a lot on my choreography and interpretation of my programs.”
Keiser could play the role of spoiler and win the whole thing. Known more for her technical prowess, the 2010 U.S. novice champion is starting to grow comfortable with her long limbs, and is learning how to make them an asset in terms of component scores.
“Training up to the Final has been great,” the 15-year-old shared. “I have been working on the consistency of my jumps and on how to present the things better in between the elements. (Coach John) Nicks has been working with me a lot on how to present my program—how to perform it to the judges and the audience.”
Keiser also has the triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, but she sometimes struggles with consistency. She earned her trip to Sochi with a win in Istanbul and a fourth place finish in Chemnitz, edging out Korea’s Hae Jin Kim for the final spot in the competition.
“My goal in Sochi is to skate as well as I’ve been training everyday, and earn a medal for the U.S.,” she summed up.
Radionova’s teammate, Anna Pogorilaya, earned a bronze medal in Zagreb, and then won the gold medal in Chemnitz to earn her spot in Sochi. A dark horse in the competition, the 14-year-old has a triple toe loop-triple toe loop in her arsenal, but doesn’t have the scoring power of some of the other ladies.
Satoko Miyahara, 14, qualified in fourth place, after taking the top spot in Lake Placid and winning the bronze medal in Istanbul. The reigning Japanese junior ladies champion competes with the triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, but is inconsistent. In this very tight field, she has no room for error.
Veterans Margaret Purdy, 17, and Michael Marinaro, 20, are the top qualifiers in the pairs division. In their fourth season on the circuit, the Canadian duo is making their first appearance in the Final after winning the events in Lake Placid and Zagreb.
“We’ve been together quite a few years, and we’ve just been consistently pushing ourselves to improve,” Purdy said. “Our goal has been to be a good senior team, not just a good junior team, and I think that is why we have been able to be so successful this season on the junior circuit.”
Purdy and Marinaro reported that training has been going well leading up to the competition in Sochi, and are looking forward to competing in the Olympic venue.
“It will be a great experience for everyone to skate in Sochi,” Purdy said. “We hope to be back there again in 2014.”
Teammates Brittany Jones, 16, and Ian Beharry, 21, will also make the trip to Sochi. The first-year team earned their trip with a win in Linz in their international debut, and followed it up with a third place finish in Chemnitz.
“Ours goals for Sochi are to have clean skates and bring up our component scores, which is what we have been working on since Chemnitz,” Beharry said. “We are also aiming for a podium finish.”
Standing between the Canadians and the podium are teams who come from the powerhouse pairs nations of Russia and China. Of the teams, Russians Lina Fedorova, 15, and Maxim Miroshkin, 18, are poised to be the biggest stumbling block for the Canadians.
Fedorova and Miroshkin finished with the silver medal in Linz and won the gold in Chemnitz, but have yet to match the scoring potential of the Canadians. What they do well is score consistently in the low-140 point range, which will put them in good stead if others make mistakes.
Two other Russian teams—Maria Vigalova, 13, and Egor Zakroev, 19, along with Vasilisa Davankova, 14, and Andrei Deputat, 20, each qualified by winning a silver and a bronze medal on the circuit. In this very even field, either could surprise by taking the title in Sochi.
The final qualifiers, Xiaoyu Yu, 16, and Yang Jin, 18, earned their spot by finishing fourth in Linz and earning a silver medal in Zagreb. The duo has the ability to score enough to win the competition, but like the Chinese teams that came before them, cannot match the level of presentation that the other teams in the field possess.
Though three teams qualified for Sochi with two wins apiece, the clear-cut favorites for the title are Russians Alexandra Stepanova, 17, and Ivan Bukin, 19. The reigning bronze medalists in this event dominated the events in Istanbul and Chemnitz, winning by 11 and 8 points, respectively. The duo has been super consistent thus far, scoring 147 points in both events, more than five points better than any other team in this competition.
Americans Alexandra Aldridge, 18, and Daniel Eaton, 20, are making their second consecutive trip to the Final as well, and look to improve on their fourth place finish from last season.
“We are both excited to be competing in Sochi,” Aldridge said. “Our goals for this competition are to put out two programs that we are happy with and to have a feeling that we gave it everything that we have.”
Aldridge and Eaton won the events in Lake Placid and in Bled, and are hoping that the work that they have put in the weeks leading up to this competition will put them in a place to challenge the favorites.
“We have mostly been working on our connection on the ice with one another,” Eaton explained. “We have also been working on getting our (Grade of Execution scores) higher, specifically with lifts—making the entrances and exits more difficult—and making sure we are doing all the correct edges in our step sequences.”
The French team of Gabriella Papadakis, 17, and Guillaume Cizeron, 18, won the events in Courchevel and Linz. Their score in Austria is the closest to Stepanova and Bukin’s, demonstrating that this team should challenge for a podium spot.
The other qualifiers—all from Russia, should be fighting for fourth place in the competition. Valeria Zenkova, 17, and Valerie Sinitsin, 20, won silver in Courchevel and gold in Zagreb, but have been competitive with the top three teams in terms of score.
Both Evgenia Kosigina, 17, and Nikolai Moroshkin, 19, and the team of Anna Yanovskaya, 16, and Sergey Mozgov, 17, won two silver medals apiece to qualify for Sochi.
The men’s competition might be considered a Japanese mini-national championships if it were not for reigning World Champion Patrick Chan and Spanish quad monster Javier Fernandez. The other four entries come from Japan, and each is a star in his own right.
Momentum seems to be building behind Japan’s wunderkind Yuzuru Hanyu, the 17-year-old reigning Worlds bronze medalist, who will skate his record-breaking short program on his 18th birthday in Sochi. The teenager has demonstrated that he is able to land quadruple jumps within the framework of a well-designed program, and when he is on, he is untouchable.
Hanyu earned his second trip to the Final by winning the silver medal at Skate America in Kent, Wash., and followed it up with an impressive victory in his hometown over teammate Daisuke Takahashi at the NHK Trophy in Sendai. In both competitions, Hanyu broke the record for the highest score in a short program, demonstrating that he is one of the world’s best.
Hanyu’s chief competition in Sochi should come in the form of the Canadian Chan, who despite a rough start to the season at Skate Canada, looked much more like himself in a win at Rostelecom Cup in Moscow two weeks later.
“At the Japan Open, I had such a bad skate, and each competition after that got better,” said the 21-year-old. “Skate Canada was a bit better, and then Cup of Russia was even better than that—especially confidence wise and in terms of technique. The programs felt better and I felt more comfortable skating (them).”
“Especially after Cup of Russia, it felt good to qualify because I wasn’t sure if I would be able to,” Chan added, “so it felt good to know that I did and have that weight off of my shoulders.”
Chan will not have the same margin for error that he has had in previous seasons. The field has caught up to him, and he will have to be rock solid in Sochi should he hope to capture his third consecutive Grand Prix Final title.
“It will be very interesting,” said the five-time Canadian champion. “Just being in Sochi will be a great time, and that’s going to be a great advantage to have. Of course, I want to skate my best because it’s a good men’s field and a strong men’s field, and it will be good to skate well in front of them because this will probably be the last group at the Olympic Games.”
The eldest competitor in Sochi, 26-year-old Takahashi, seems to have lost the spark that propelled him to the world title in 2010 and the silver medal at last year’s World Championships in Nice, France. Silver medals at the Cup of China in Shanghai and at NHK Trophy might have rekindled the consummate performer’s desire to win again. Takahashi has all of the goods necessary to compete with Hanyu and Chan, but he must hit his quadruple jumps and pay attention to the landings of his other jumps should he wish to have a shot at the title.
2011 Worlds silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka is another competitor who cannot be counted out of the medal hunt. Like Chan, Kozuka is a master at the basics of skating, but where he sometimes fails is in his level of confidence. When the 23-year-old makes a mistake, it can rattle the Nagoya native to the point of disaster as evidenced by his dismal 11th place finish at last year’s World Championships.
Spaniard Fernandez opened his season with a surprising win over Chan at Skate Canada, handing the World Champion his first Grand Prix defeat since the 2010 Cup of Russia. However, the 21-year-old struggled in a tough field at the NHK Trophy, finishing in fourth place behind Hanyu, Takahashi, and USA’s Ross Miner. Since then, the reigning bronze medalist in this event has reported that he is ready to compete in Sochi, and thinks that he can challenge for the podium once again.
“Training has been going really well,” he said. “We have only had four days to train (since NHK Trophy), but I am totally ready to go to Russia. I want to do solid programs and try to be on the podium. Achieving both of these goals will make me very happy.”
The surprise qualifier of the competition is hands-down Tatsuki Machida, the 22-year-old unheralded skater from Japan. After a season-opening bronze medal at Skate America, Machida seemed to grow in confidence that resulted in his first Grand Prix victory at the Cup of China a few weeks later. The 2010 Four Continents silver medalist is fresh and exciting, and has all of the tools that he needs to be competitive in this field. His weakness is his lack of experience on a big stage.
The ladies event should be one of the most exciting competitions in Sochi. With American Ashley Wagner taking control of the international scene thus far, Team USA finally has a bona fide medal contender in big events. She, along with two-time World Champion Mao Asada and reigning Worlds silver medalist Akiko Suzuki, will attempt to demonstrate that experience can overcome youth as they try to hold off a challenge from Russian up-and-comer Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and American Christina Gao. The sixth competitor, 24-year-old Finn Kiira Korpi is reportedly having back problems, and is questionable for the event.
Wagner has been the class of the field thus far this season. Since winning her first U.S. title earlier this year in San Jose, the California transplant has medaled in all but one event—the 2012 World Championships in Nice. Wins at the Japan Open, Skate America, and Trophée Bompard this season have made her the hunted, but Wagner is showing no signs of letting up.
“We have been focusing on my spins recently,” said the 21-year-old. “I’ve been leaving some points on the table in terms of spins, which is good news and bad news. The bad news is that I haven’t been getting all of the points that I can, but the good news is that I still have potential to increase my scores.”
The U.S. Champion has a difficult road to Sochi—some 26 hours of travel time to get to the competition from her southern California training base.
“I’m actually pretty lucky,” she said. “Jet lag doesn’t usually affect me, so it shouldn’t be a problem.”
Asada is trying to make a comeback to the top of the skating world, and her two wins—at Cup of China and the a few weeks later at the NHK Trophy, has to have given her some confidence. Though she has yet to attempt her signature triple Axel in competition this season, Asada has been showing signs of the spark that propelled her to many podium finishes in her career.
In Sendai at the NHK Trophy, however, Asada had a disastrous free skate that many thought was over scored. To challenge the likes of Wagner, Asada must put that performance behind her and nail her triple jumps.
Suzuki qualified for her fourth consecutive Grand Prix Final by winning silver medals at Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy, where she missed capturing the top spot of the podium by .05 points. The 27-year-old is a strong jumper, and has a quiet elegance to her skating that the judges and audiences alike seem to appreciate. Suzuki is a consistent performer, and should find herself in the hunt for a third medal at the Final in Sochi.
Gao qualified when 14-year-old Russian Julia Lipnitskaya withdrew from the competition earlier this week due to injury. The Harvard freshman surprised many by winning her first Grand Prix medal—a silver at Skate America, to begin her season. A credible fourth place finish at Trophée Bompard made Gao the first alternate to the competition, and now the sixth entry.
Gao does not have the international credentials like the rest of the field, but the 18-year-old is hungry to take her skating to the next level. After three straight seasons of finishing in fifth place at the U.S. Championships, it seems as if Gao is ready to make that leap.
Tuktamysheva qualified for her second Grand Prix Final in as many seasons by winning the silver medal at Trophée Bompard and finishing in fourth place at Skate Canada. Primarily known as a jumper, the 15-year-old is starting to adjust to her new body. Her signature triple Lutz-triple toe loop jumping pass is looking strong, which could help to neutralize the scoring potential of some of the other competitors.
Korpi, the surprise winner of the Cup of Russia, is scheduled to make her first appearance in the Final. It is unknown whether or not the European silver medalist will compete due to a back injury. Should she withdraw, American Mirai Nagasu would be next in line to compete.
Senior Ice Dance
Three ice dance teams head to Sochi undefeated thus far on the Grand Prix this season. Leading the way are Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who are looking to become the first dance team to capture four Grand Prix Final titles in the history of the series. Training mates and reigning Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir from Canada, are looking for their first. Both teams are evenly matched, and their friendly rivalry should provide the backdrop to a very exciting competition.
“Going into the Final, we’re mostly focused on improving where we are at,” White explained. “It’s definitely going to be a great competition because of (the high level of the other) competitors. We always looked forward to having the bar raised a little bit. We are obviously going in looking for a win. This is the halfway point of the year and it’s going to be a good measuring stick with which way we need to go.”
Davis and White, both 25, book-ended the Grand Prix series this season, capturing gold medals at Skate America to begin the series, and had to wait until the final event—the NHK Trophy, to notch their second victory. They defeated their closest competitors by more than 16 points in Kent, Wash., and by 22 in Sendai. Even with the margin of victory, the four-time U.S. Champions still felt that there was more work to be done.
“One of the major things, especially coming out of NHK since we had already done a lot of work after Skate America, was we were displeased with some of our levels of our technical elements,” White shared. “Our levels on footwork weren’t where we are looking to get them. We want to get all (level) fours in every element in both programs. We feel like we are capable of doing that. One of our primary focuses going into the Final is making sure we’re getting those levels on those sequences and the polka specifically.”
Virtue, 23, and Moir, 25, opened the season with a scare at Skate Canada, eking out a victory in the short dance by .01 points over a fast improving Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte from Italy. The duo skated well in the free dance, and took the title by more than nine points. They also won the Rostelecom Cup of Russia a few weeks later, capturing their seventh career Grand Prix title.
“We’re anxious to get back to Russia since it was such a positive experience in Moscow,” Virtue said. “It was great fun to see how the supportive the fans are there, and no doubt the fans in Sochi will be just as fantastic. Obviously, it will be exciting to test out the Olympic venue to get the lay of the land. This is an excellent opportunity to mentally and physically prepare for that competition.”
The admitted slow start has pushed the two-time World champions to optimize their time since their last competition, and Moir expressed confidence that he and Virtue are ready to compete at their top level in Sochi.
“It’s good to have our Grand Prix events early, which worked out well for us,” Moir admitted. “We had three solid weeks at home to make the necessary changes that we needed to make before the Grand Prix Final. We’ve had a really good solid chunk of training, which was good because we were able to get really strong at the end of November.
“In October, I had a little bit of a neck injury and was a bit under the weather, so to have a strong November was really important,” Moir added. “Having a good chunk of training has really given us some momentum heading into the Final.”
Two-time and reigning European champions Nathalie Pechalat, 29, and Fabian Bourzat, 32, also head to Sochi with two Grand Prix victories under their belts—the second time in their careers that they were able to accomplish that feat. This season, the French champs took the titles at Cup of China and Trophée Bompard. Like the top two teams, Pechalat and Bourzat are looking forward to testing out the facilities in Sochi.
“We are treating this as any other competition in our calendar,” Bourzat said. “Of course we take it seriously, but more than anything, this is a try out for Olympics. We look forward to discovering the new venue.”
The three other qualifiers earned all six of the silver medals available on the Grand Prix series, and will likely be fighting it out for fourth place. Russia’s Ekaterina Bobrova, 22, and Dmitri Soloviev, 23, earned their third trip to the Final, placing second behind Davis and White at Skate America and behind Pechalat and Bourzat in China.
Teammates Elena Ilinykh, 18, and Nikita Katsalapov, 21, will make their Grand Prix Final debut. The 2010 Junior World champions qualified by winning silver medals behind the Canadians in Russia and the Americans in Japan.
Rounding out the competition roster are Cappellini, 25, and Lanotte, 27, who gave Virtue and Moir that scare on home ice at Skate Canada, and won a second silver medal in France behind the European champions. This will be Cappellini and Lanotte’s second trip to the Final.
When World Champions Aljona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany withdrew from Trophée Bompard due to illness, the door was opened for two-time World silver medalists Tatiana Volosozhar, 26, and Maxim Trankov, 28, of Russia to walk away with their first Grand Prix Final title.
The Russian duo has been unchallenged thus far this season—winning Skate America by more than nine points with less than stellar performances, as well as the title in Moscow, by more than 15 points. The writing is on the wall for the other five teams in Sochi—it will be nearly impossible to defeat Volosozhar and Trankov.
The team that has the best chance to do that is 2010 World Champions Qing Pang, 32, and Jian Tong, 33, from China. This will be their eighth trip to the Final after winning the Cup of China and finishing in second behind Volosozhar and Trankov at Skate America. High flying acrobatics and mature presentation might propel Pang and Tong past the Russians, but the duo sometimes has issues with the singles elements and cannot afford to miss opportunities for points. Pang and Tong will have to be perfect to win the title.
Another Russian team—Vera Bazarova, 19, and Yuri Larionov, 26, qualified as the second seeds to the competition, and are making their second trip to the Final. The duo won their first Grand Prix title just weeks ago at the NHK Trophy, and finished behind their teammates in Moscow. With clean performances, Bazarova and Larionov have a shot at the silver medals.
Two-time Worlds bronze medalists Yuko Kavaguti, 31, and Alexander Smirnov, 28, are returning to form that once had them near the top of the pack. A win in France and a silver medal behind Pang and Tong propelled them to their fifth Grand Prix Final appearance. With so many great Russian teams coming up the ranks, the time is now or never for this Tamara Moskvina-trained duo.
Two Canadian teams round out the six entry roster—Meagan Duhamel, 27, and Eric Radford, 27, are making a second trip to the Final, and are hoping to improve on their fifth place showing last season. They earned their way to Sochi by capturing silver medals at Skate Canada and Trophée Bompard.
“We’re really happy with how our season has started,” Duhamel said. “We’ve had two great competitions. We were really happy to see the improvement in our marks—our scores have gone up significantly. We are really happy with our level of consistency, and how well our components have improved. This is definitely what we have been working for, and when we set our goals at the beginning of the season, getting to the Grand Prix Final was definitely one of them. We want to go to Russia and win a medal now.”
“We’re really trying to create a mood on the ice anytime we go out there,” added Radford, “and I think that we are getting closer and closer to doing that. We’re both really happy to be going to Sochi and to get a taste for that Olympic feel.”
Teammates Kirsten Moore-Towers, 20, and Dylan Moscovitch, 28, are also making a second trip to the Final, but their path was a bit more difficult. The 2011 Canadian champions finished in fourth place at the Cup of China in their opening event, and had to rally at the NHK Trophy to clinch the last spot in the competition by winning the silver medal.
“Because our season last year ended in January, we’ve had a lot more time to get a new head start on our programs,” said Moscovitch. “In the Grand Prix events, we are happy with where we are heading. Perhaps they weren’t as perfect as we would like based on how we have been training, but we’re definitely happy to be heading to the Final. It’s still early in the season, and we are encouraged so far as we head into this competition, nationals, and hopefully onwards from there on out to Four Continents and Worlds.”
Similar to most skaters heading to Sochi for the Final, Moore-Towers is anticipating that she will absorb as much experience that she can in the soon-to-be Olympic city.
“It’s exciting that we are competing in the Olympic rink,” Moore-Towers said. “I am really happy that we will be able to get a feel for the city and the atmosphere, which is something that I like to do before the competition. If we weren’t going to finals, we probably wouldn’t get that chance.”