More Messes and Surprise Winners at the Riga Cup

Japanese skater comes from behind to win men, other three events won by the unexpected Russians.

This Junior Grand Prix series, so far, hasn’t been the best. Things improved a little at the Riga Cup in Latvia, but not enough. It didn’t help matters that this was the first event to include a pairs competition, and that had more than its fair share of messes.

It was chaotic enough that when the dust cleared, all four winners were at least mildly surprising. Not that the results didn’t involve Russian dominance, but the Russians who won weren’t the Russians everyone thought would win.

Men

After the men’s short, it looked like it was going to be another ugly one. Even the surprise leader, Ivan Pavlov of the Ukraine, had fallen on his triple axel. He did the rest of his new short extremely well, though, much better than those who came in just behind him. Only two men landed the triple axel in that segment. JGP debutante Makar Ignatov combined that with his developing artistry to get second, even when he did nothing too well, and a spin so badly he got no credit for it. The other man to land it, Mitsuki Sumoto, was only slightly smoother, but he lost most of the value of his combination.

He ended up in fourth, though within two points of Ignatov. In between them, Ignatov’s fellow Russian Roman Savosin was a little bit less rough, but underrotated his axel. Not far behind them came an American and a Czech skater who aren’t trying the triple axel yet. Tomoki Hiwatashi, the only man in the top six debuting two new programs here, managed that much only by artistry and the program’s high quality and content; he had multiple errors. Matyas Belohradsky debuted a new short, which, along with his free held over from last year, continues to make him a miniature version of his coach Tomas Verner. He was a bit awkward at points, but skated clean.

However, in the free skate, two of the men finally rose to the occasion. Sumoto might have tried no quadruple jumps, and had a turnout on one triple axel, but he landed the one in combination, and the rest of his free skate was very well done. At this event, that was more than enough for gold. Hiwatashi skated a not dissimilar, if much technically easier, program, having a little trouble at the end when he got tired but being quite beautiful before that; his program was another good one. It ultimately got him up to bronze. Ignatov won silver over him with a clean quad and triple axel, although trying to do a triple axel-loop-triple salchow resulted in two of his three underrotated jumps, and, as in the short, even some of his cleaner jumps were rough.

Things did not go so well for either Pavlov or Savosin in the free. Savosin managed to rotate a pair of shaky opening quads, but he underrotated a third, doubled both his axels, and fell on two more underrotated jumps, crashing down to fourth. He’d been hoping to be the first lock for the Finale; now he probably won’t make it in. Pavlov went to pieces even more, singling and doubling all over the place, including on his one quad attempt. Sixth in the segment, he held off Belohardsky for fifth. The first half of the Czech skater’s free was good, but then he too got tired, making two bad errors near the end.

Ladies

The ladies were weaker, this time around, than they were the first two weeks. So was the Russian one who won gold. Daria Panenkova was good, Rippon jumping her way through two programs, including a flawless short where she did all jumps, including a triple flip-triple toe, after the halfway mark. But she lacked either the crazy technical content of Alexandra Trusova or the passion of Anastasia Tarankova, even if her long especially had feeling to it. To make matters worse, while her long, which also backloaded all jumps, did include a clean triple lutz-triple toe, doubling two jumps cost her any more difficult combinations, plus she fell on her loop, and finished late enough to get penalized.

She wasn’t even supposed to win this competition anyway. Japanese skater Rika Kihira was supposed to be her superior both technically and artistically. But she didn’t manage that in her short, where she had a double and a fall of her own, and found herself in sixth. She won the free skate with a program where she fell on her opening triple axel attempt, but went on to nail everything else, getting her triple toes easily pinned onto her double axel and triple lutz, and doing a three-jump with the lutz as well. She also firmly got the highest presentation scores there, though in the short she’d lost even that to the other Russian. But she was too far behind; Panenkova still had five points, and Kihira had to settle for silver.

Alisa Fedichkina also helped her countrywoman win. She skated an elegant and solid second-place short program, with a triple flip-triple toe. But after being excellent in half of a long program, she struggled first with that triple-triple, then with a couple more jumps. It left her unable to stay in the top three, and she had to hold onto fourth ahead of second Japanese skater Yuhana Yokoi, who was third in the free skate. Yokoi mostly jumped strong, landing her own triple flip-triple toe, which hadn’t been clean in her fifth-place short, where she’d also doubled a lutz. She also pulled off double axel-triple toe-double toe. But the lutz struck again; she lost her third combination when she fell on her second one.

Ultimately, by less than a point, bronze went to American JGP debutante Emma Ma, on the strength of her third placed short; she was fourth in the free. Although she tried no triple-triples, her short was clean and her long was very good, though the latter had a couple of underrotations. And throughout both programs, she showed that despite her relatively low technical content, she has everything else. Her clean jumps were strong, as was her skating, and she performed with real feeling. She showed a good deal of emotion after her programs too, the free skate especially.

Pairs

After the short program, the Junior World medalists and one of the other Russian teams were within a point of each other at the top, with two more teams a bit behind. They hadn’t been able to get big scores, though, since this year junior pairs are required to do lutzes as their side by side jumps in the short, and none of them tried to do triples of that hard jump. Aleksandra Boikova & Dmitrii Kozlovskii squeaked out the lead on the sheer beauty of their skating, though she went down on their throw jump.

.13 behind them were Apollinariia Paniflova & Dmitry Rylov. They were competing internationally for the first time, as well as being the only team in the top five who hadn’t shown their short program somewhere over the summer. Both programs tended towards character ones with showy costumes, where one of her hair ribbons falling out even before they began skating the short. They got that off the ice, but then the other one fell out too after they got underway, costing them a point. They skated clean, and expressed the character well at first, but that fell off when they got tired.

Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya & Harley Windsor had trouble holding onto their jumps and a bad moment in their steps when their skates collided, leaving them in third. Behind them, Americans Laiken Lockley & Keenan Prochnow and Canadians Evelyn Walsh & Trent Michaud technically managed everything. But they were both penalized for doing the lutzes on the wrong edge of the skate blade, and that was Walsh & Michaud’s only bobble.

But in the long program, the medalists made enough mistakes to be fourth and fifth in the segment. Boikova & Kozlovskii debuted one of the more artistic programs of the night. But they went down trying side by side loops, and then again to lose their combination. Their throws weren’t clean either. Alexandrovaskaya & Windsor, debuting the most elegant Mask program ever, came in just behind them. They too failed to pull off either of their side by sides. They did pull off a throw lutz, but then struggled to do their closing spin.

It was a only couple of points’ difference between the two teams, but it was a fatal difference for the Australians. While the Russians ultimately held on to silver by two tenths of a point, Alexandrovskaya & Windsor fell off the podium all together, barely holding the Americans off for fourth. Lockley & Prochnow went for one hard element, side by side salchows, which they underrotated. Fighting through the rest of their jumps got them third in the segment, though the way the numbers crunched they nonetheless ended up dropping a place!

Panfilova & Rylov were more subdued and a bit awkward in their darker free program. They even finished behind the music, though at least her hair ribbon stayed in place this time. They did have a throw flip, but the rest of the elements were easier, and then they had a single in a double-double combination. Still, landing everything else was enough here for second in the free, and ultimately they held on to win a surprising gold. Walsh & Michaud also went for easier elements, modest artistry, and there was still a bobble or two. But they more or less did everything clean, which in this competition was enough to win the segment, and they got up to win an even more surprising bronze.

Dance

From the start, two Russian teams towered over the rest of the dance field. Favorites Anastasia Shpilevaya & Gregory Smirnov and Sofia Shevchenko & Igor Efremenko both put out energetic and entertaining short dances, though they probably both would’ve liked higher levels of difficulty on their elements. The former took the lead, but by now much more than a point. It was based almost entirely off their technical tariffs; despite some low levels, Shpilevaya & Smirnov got one higher than the rest of the field.

But while Shpilevaya & Smirnov’s free dance was a warm and romantic one, they failed to get the levels on their twizzles there, and they held a lift too long. That opened the door just enough, and Shevchenko & Efremenko took advantage, things going more smoothly for them in one of the dramatically strongest free dances we’ve seen so far this year:

One again they both got hit with lower tariffs than they would’ve liked; bronze medalists Caroline & Gordon Green got higher. But they were high was enough; Shevchenko & Efremenko got ahead by about a point to win gold, and Shpilevaya & Smirnov had no trouble holding on to the silver either.

That might have been because things didn’t go as well for the Greens, either, as they would’ve liked. Skating against the Russians showed the Americans still have some way to go in technique and ability. And twizzles; none of the ones they did through the competition were completely smooth. They didn’t get the highest free dance tariff either; that went to Ukrainians Maria Golubtsova & Kirill Belobrov, who came in sixth. But they still had most of the other advantages a team could have over the rest of the field, and won bronze comfortably.

View full results here.

A Roster and a Break

Even as Russia starts shuffling its skaters on and off the rosters in the upcoming events, the roster for the Baltic Cup in Poland came out this week. There, Salzburg winner Camden Pulkinen is current down for his second even, as is Tomoki Hiwatashi and Brisbane bronze medalist Egor Rukhin, though they all might be changed. Stanislava Konstantinova is now in that ladies’ field, as is Eunsoo Lim. Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya & Harley Windsor will have to fight back at their second event, with Junior World bronze medalists Yumeng Gao & Zhong Xie in that field. Caroline & Gordon Green may also be back, as are last week’s sensations Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva & Nikita Nazarov. But also on the dance roster are Anastasia Skoptcova & Kirill Aleshin.

Next week, however, the Junior Grand Prix takes a break. The series will resume the week after with the Minsk Arena Cup in Belarus. Konsantinova is in that field too, alongside Brisbane winner Alexandra Trusova. It will also be Skoptcova & Aleshin’s first event, as well as Christine Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko’s second. That makes the first locks for the Finale very likely.

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