Rinkside Reports from 1999 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final

This page contains my reports from the 1999 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final.

Overview and Random Notes

I made kind of a last-minute decision to drive to Detroit to see this competition -- it was too late to get a good plane fare when I started thinking about going, and then I put off making a definite decision until I saw that the weather was going to be OK. As it turned out I lucked out with good weather in both directions and got home just a couple hours before Connecticut got socked with a storm that deposited 6 inches of new snow!

I drove out a day early and was able to spend a little time at the St. Clair Shores rink on the Thursday before the competition started. I skated for a while myself on the morning adult session, had lunch with a friend, then came back and was lucky enough to have Ryan Jahnke show me a new exhibition program that Tom Dickson had been choreographing for him earlier in the week. It's to a vocal arrangement of the adagio from "Concierto de Aranjuez" sung by Jose Carreras.

The Junior Grand Prix Final was being held at the large rink at the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills, which is not really so large, with bleachers only on one long side of the rink and a smaller section on the end. I was told they could fit 800-900 people in there if it was packed to the rafters, and it pretty much was. They were lucky, I guess, that the competition was held at the same time that a very large number of the club's regular skaters, and probably most of their parents, were out of town at Precision Nationals. It seems to me like a college or smaller civic arena with seating for a couple thousand people would have been a more appropriate venue for this competition. Also, it didn't seem to be very well publicized and they probably could have gotten a bigger turnout if they'd tried.

For some reason, the practices at this event were closed to the public, but I had Sportsline arrange for a press pass for me so I could get in. The DSC people were very helpful with the press arrangements. During the Zamboni breaks in the practices in the competition arena I was able to wander through the other two rinks in the complex and see many of the local skaters practicing, including Yuka Sato & Jason Dungjen, Naomi Lang & Peter Tchernyshev, Angela Nikodinov, Erin Pearl, and Stacey Pensgen. Todd Eldredge and the Hartsells were hanging out in the lobby at various times but I never caught them on the ice. As a bit of a surprise, I also spotted Jonathan Nichols skating with a new partner whose name I can't recall now (she wasn't anyone I recognized). Perhaps because I had a credential hanging around my neck, I didn't find the DSC to be as spectator-unfriendly as I'd heard it to be, but I was assured that it's totally impossible for visitors to skate there. I guess I made the right choice by arranging to skate at St. Clair Shores instead.

The positive side of having the competition right at the club in such a small rink is that it had much of the flavor of a club event -- the atmosphere was intimate, the skaters were very accessible to the public, and so on. I also really enjoyed having the opportunity to see what juniors from other countries are doing, and I thought just seeing Ilia Klimkin would have made the trip worthwhile.

Compulsory Dance

The competition started with the compulsory dance -- just one, the Quickstep. Silverstein & Pekarek won this easily; compulsories have not been their strength in the past, so this was a good sign. Romaniuta & Barantsev also skated a very strong dance here. Both Italian teams ran into trouble. The Quickstep isn't one of the dances I'm most familiar with, but I thought Faiella & Milo's end pattern looked odd, while Ottaviani & Scali were just very sloppy through the whole dance. First and last were pretty clear, but ordinals were quite mixed-up for all the other couples.

I suppose the most notable feature of this competition was the transparent dress worn by Julia Golovina. It was made of sheer black net with white polka dots on the skirt and a big black velvet bow strategically placed on her chest. On top of that, her briefs were very brief indeed. Yeccch.

Men's Short Program

Alexei Valilevsky: the first of the guys wearing a dark vest over a loose white shirt. I wrote "Keystone Kops piano" for his music. Triple axel/double toe OK, landed triple loop on the toe and did some extra turns out of it. Spin combination and change sit spin both travelled.

Vincent Restencourt: another dorky-looking French guy with bad posture, in red pants with a multicolored psychadelic-print shirt. Triple axel/steps/triple toe, triple loop OK, double axel was very wild on the landing, I think short a rotation on his flying camel. The French judge gave him a 5.5 for presentation (huh?). Interesting that even with the deductions some of the other judges went down on the second mark.

Stefan Lindemann: brown vest over cream shirt, dark green pants, Irish music. Triple axel/triple toe was clean but not done with much speed. Triple loop had a double three out of it, and a very cautious entry -- probably deserved a deduction for not doing it right out of the connecting steps. Had a slip on the entry to his spin combination but overall seems to be a good spinner.

Matt Savoie: plain navy outfit and his jazzy short program. Triple axel/double toe, and then popped the loop. Sigh. The juniors *have* to do a loop as the jump out of footwork this year, and it's Matt's bad luck that it's his weakest jump. Flying camel was very nice though, as he twists into a neat layover position.

Lukas Rakowski: another vest and loose shirt guy, skating to some Slavic-sounding classical music I couldn't quite place. He seemed to have a good handle on his music and choreography. Triple lutz/triple toe, hand down on the triple loop, wild landing on the double axel. Pretty good spins.

Ilia Klimkin: was wearing a dark gold metallic bodysuit with asymetrical black insets around the torso. The music was some weird collection of odd noises and surfing music that reminded me of John Baldwin; but he carried it off well, with many very odd movements and positions that fit the music. Triple axel/double three/triple toe, good footwork into the triple loop. It's rare to see a man do a spiral step sequence in the short, but that's what Ilia did, interspersed with a spread eagle and a cantilever. Weird positions in the spin combination, too, but it's nice to see a Russian boy who's a good spinner for a change. This program was the clear winner.

Ryan Bradley: yet another black vest over a cream-colored shirt. Not a good skate for Ryan; he fell on both his lutz and loop, the double axel was not particularly well done, and his flying camel didn't "fly" at all. I like this kid a lot, though; he's got a totally endearing smile, and I think he did very well for himself just to qualify for this event, given that he just moved up from novice in the past year. He was trying triple axels in warmup, BTW.

Yosuke Takeuchi: Brian Boitano's blue military outfit with a red sash, Todd Eldredge's music, and choreography and presentation that reminded me an awful lot of Takeshi Honda. (Have they perhaps had the same coach?) Popped his triple axel attempt, stepped out of the triple loop, and then fell on the double axel. In spite of the jump troubles, he seems like a strong skater overall.

Ladies' Short Program

Chisato Shina: from practices I thought she was one of the weaker skaters in this event, but she skated a fairly clean program with a triple flip/double toe combination. The only major error was a very hesitant entry into the triple loop and a hand down on the landing, but the double axel was not very high and I thought her spin combination was comparatively weak. She was wearing a painfully bright orange-pink dress.

Tamara Dorofejev: looks like a much stronger skater than Shina, but had a disastrous skate with falls on all three jump elements. Music was "Two Guitars", skated in a brown dress with a fake-flesh fabric midriff and lots of sequins and sparkles, lots of fluttery hand movements in the choreography.

Anna Jurkiewicz: very petite and young-looking compared to the other girls here. She skated to "A Chorus Line" in a pink dress with rather excessively cutesy choreography. Fell on a flutz attempt, the rest of the program looked clean to me. Her layback position was ugly but at least she spins very fast.

Daria Timoshenko: skated to what I think is "The Saint" -- the same piece Derrick Delmore was using for his long program this year, anyway. Triple lutz/double toe looked OK, but her triple loop had a step-out and probably also a deduction for not being done directly out of the footwork. Spirals were done in a figure-8 pattern over the entire ice, which is unusual enough that I noticed it. Spins were pretty good.

Gwenaelle Jullien: she's a very muscular-looking girl but turns out to be amazingly flexible, with some spectacular spiral positions. She fell on a triple flutz and only did a double loop out of footwork. She skated to some latin music in a pastel rainbow-colored outfit, but I didn't get much sense that she was doing much to interpret the music.

Sarah Hughes: the Chopin program in the peach dress. A clean program except for the problems with doing triple flutz/toe axel as her combination. She was doing it that way all the time in practices and I'm sure the judges dinged her for it. OTOH, I think she had the best double axel and layback spin of the field.

Irina Nikolaeva: an easy choice for the winner. Her spiral sequence featured a change-edge spiral and some other positions with spectacular extension; her triple lutz/double toe was nicely done; good footwork into the triple loop; and a good layback. Her style of presentation reminds me of Maria Butyrskaya. Incidentally, Irina was one of the group of skaters that her coach Zhanna Gromova had brought to Simsbury to train in the summer of 1997, so this was not the first time I had seen her skate.

Viktoria Volchkova: huge triple lutz/double toe and clean triple loop, but she popped the axel into a single. Her layback was of very poor quality as well, not only with a weak free leg position, but very little lean of the back as well.

Original Dance

My notes on the original dance are pretty sketchy....

Kobaladze & Voiko skated to "Padam Padam"; pleasant, but unremarkable.

Ottaviani & Scali's dance had far too much skating in open holds (hand-in-hand, or side-by-side). It's hard to make it look like a waltz if you're not skating in a waltz hold.

I didn't know what to make of Golovina & Egorov's dance, and the judges were pretty sharply divided over their merits as well.

Romaniuta & Barantsev skated to a French accordion waltz in orange and black outfits. They didn't have a huge amount of speed over the ice, but the dance was really full of intricate changes of hold and a lot of complicated partnering.

Faiella & Milo skated faster, but they weren't doing as much. They used the same waltz from "La Traviata" that K&O are using.

Saving the best for last, Silverstein & Pekarak simply blew away the rest of the field with their waltz. It's a very well-constructed dance with changes of tempo and speed, so that it works on different levels. On top of that, they're incredibly smooth dancers with very quiet edging and soft knees. The judges went for them in a big way, with marks as high as a 5.6, and unanamous first-place ordinals.

Pairs Short Program

One comment that applies to a few of the pairs here: after I noticed that some of the girls were not picking on the entrance to the double twist lift, I asked one of the judges about it, and was told that this is indeed a flaw and that deductions were taken. OTOH, while some of the pairs were also doing a big "bounce" on the entrance, this is considered to be perfectly acceptable.

Maxiuta & Zhovnirsky: skated their "Lord of the Dance" program in the burgundy & gold outfits. The double loops were a little out of unison and it seemed that she missed the pick on the twist lift, but there were no major errors until.... they finished their final pair spin 5 seconds behind their music. I'm not sure where they got behind. Some of the judges dinged them pretty badly.

Bogaspasaeva & Ponomarenko: she seems to be a very weak jumper, and here she landed her double loop on her butt. Their spiral sequence featured a lot of pretzel positions on her part and in their pair spin she gets by far the best split position in the "Natalia spin" that I've ever seen. Poor entry into the death spiral, though.

Handy & Binnebose: generally a pretty good performance, with only two minor flaws that I spotted: she didn't really pick on the entrance to the double twist, and they got a little out of unison on the exit of the side-by-side spins.

Brozovich & Nimenko: a clean program all around, as far as I could tell, although it looked like some of the judges took off for something. The most notable feature was that their side-by-side spins had some really unusual positions. Music was Chopin.

Nikolaeva & Sokolov: poor unison on the double loops, also a weak descent into the death spiral. Red peasant outfits and Russian folk dance music.

Obertas & Palamarchuk: wearing orange outfits with black piping. She didn't even *try* to pick on the double twist -- he just heaved her up into the air. The unison on the double loops could have been better, otherwise everything was nicely done, and they're certainly the fastest skaters of the field. The panel was split 4-3 between them and H&B.

Free Dance

Kobaladze & Voiko: a tango in green outfits. Her dress had a lot of fringe on it, too. I thought it was a pleasant dance but noted that they had some fairly awkward transitions out of their lifts, etc.

Ottaviani & Scali: a middle-eastern dance in burgundy. One of their lifts was of the ugly crotch-in-the-face variety, and at another point they stole one of Anissina & Peizerat's lifts from last year, where she lifted him in a split position. As in their OD, they did too much skating in open holds.

Golovina & Egorov: a tango in burgundy. I thought they had much better expression than K&V's tango, but to me the dance did not seem to be as fast or complex.

Romaniuta & Barantsev: an energetic latin dance in bright purple and fuschia outfits. There was one section where they seemed to do too much posing and dancing around in place but the dance as a whole was effective and they had good transitions.

Silverstein & Pekarek: the pseudo-Bach music in burgundy. Once again, there was absolutely no question that this was the best dance of the field; it was flowing, fast, and complex, and they have such soft knees.

Faiella & Milo: a tango in black. This dance made me wonder if perhaps she has been taking acting lessons from Anna Semenovich as she kept directing such excessively fierce looks at the judges during the dance that I was more inclined to laugh than to take it seriously. I'm afraid I was so distracted by the over-the-top expression that I didn't get much of an impression of the technical side of the dance.

Men's Free Skate

Yosuke Takeuchi: wore Todd Eldredge's blue vest from 1996, and skated to Scheherezade. Jumps were: triple loop, triple axel, triple lutz/double toe, triple flip, triple axel/double toe, triple salchow, triple lutz, and a triple toe. Very smooth and fluid footwork. His major technical deficiency seems to be a really droopy position in his camel, both on the forward and back spins.

Lukas Rakowski: skated to horrible synthesized music in royal blue. Jumps were: double axel, triple lutz/double toe, triple flip, toe, loop, salchow, double lutz, and another double axel. Good spins and decent footwork, but I thought the program was pretty sucky, especially compared to his short.

Matt Savoie: "Last of the Mohicans" in black, again. He fell on what was supposed to be the triple axel/triple toe out of the spread eagle entrance, but went on to land triple flip/triple toe, triple lutz from footwork, triple salchow, triple loop, triple axel, and a combination with a triple lutz or flip and double toe, where he almost skated into the boards on the landing. So he did land seven triples including the salchow and loop he'd missed at Nationals, but overall he seemed to look tentative and the jumps were not of particularly high quality. I think he would have placed higher if he'd done better in the short so that he could have skated in the second group, though.

Ryan Bradley: the George M. Cohan medley in a blue outfit. Jumps were: double axel, triple lutz/2.5 toe (landed forward), triple flip, triple salchow/single toe, triple loop, triple lutz, walleys, double flip, and a double axel that was crooked and that he fell out of. So overall the performance wasn't up to what he'd done with the same program at Nationals.

Ilia Klimkin: skated to Cirque du Soleil music in the flame-colored suit with the sheer illusion band across the chest and down his hip. Yes, it really is *sheer* illusion. I was wondering if nobody had ever told him he ought to wear a flesh-colored dance belt underneath instead of a white one! He seems to have toned down the makeup, at least. He started with what I think was a triple salchow that he overrotated the landing on, and then seemed slightly confused afterwards; I wondered if this was supposed to be a quad attempt, or a combination. Then the camel spins in both directions, into a triple salchow. Step out on a quad toe attempt, then only a double flip. Flying camel into a weird upright back spin, and then another weird spin where it seemed he lost his balance and had to restart. Doubled a toe loop (maybe intended to be another quad attempt?), cantilever, triple loop, and then an awkwardly-landed triple flip/double toe combination. Finished up more strongly with a triple axel, triple lutz, and another cool combination spin. He had such weird jump entrances that it was hard to identify them, and I never saw him doing much of a runthrough of his choreography in practices, either.

Stefan Lindemann: wore black and skated a boring program to weird music. Triple axel, fell on a triple flip, triple lutz, popped a loop, triple flip/double toe combination, triple salchow, triple toe/triple toe, and fell on a triple loop. If I were a judge, I'd definitely have put him below Savoie.

Vincent Restencourt: skated to "Todd music" in blue. Fell on a quad toe attempt, then did a long setup into a triple axel/triple toe. Did a flying camel, then another long setup into another triple axel, a death drop into more crossovers into a lutz that he popped. At this point it seemed like he started to improvise: he skated back to the other end of the rink and tried another triple lutz, this time with the hand down, then doubled a flip. Back to what I assume was part of his original choreography, as he did a spin combination and a straight step sequence, then threw in a triple flip, loop, and salchow at the end. He only did the one wimpy step sequence, and his in-between skating was slow and seemed to consist entirely of crossovers and two-foot skating. I'm sure it was the triple axel/triple toe that won this event for him.

Alexei Valilevsky: brown and red peasant outfit and matching Russian folk music. Triple axel/double toe, very fast, footwork into triple lutz. So far so good, but then he fell on a second triple axel and popped a loop. The middle of the program was OK with a nice spin combination, good edge work, a triple flip, and a straight step sequence. Then he fell on another triple flip, did a triple lutz/toe axel with a hop out, triple salchow was OK, triple toe had a turn out, and finished a bit after his music with a spin. I thought his third-place marks were a gift, because of all the mistakes; I'd have put him behind Takeuchi, and maybe Savoie as well. I did enjoy watching Valilevsky's footwork and field moves in the practices and I think he had the best edge quality of any of the men in this group, at least.

Pairs Free Skate

Nikolaeva & Sokolov: Her dress had a flesh-colored top (thankfully, opaque) with a few orange and brown ribbon stripes and an orange and brown skirt, while he was wearing a black mesh shirt. They skated to "Todd music" and a piece I recognized as being from "The Secret Garden". They opened with side-by-side triple toes, which I think he doubled, weak double axels, and a throw triple loop that she fell on. Only a double twist lift, then a cool lift where she started out on the ice in a back bend position and he picked her up from there. Forward inside death spiral, then a pair spin and a throw double toe, a kind of sideways 1-arm lift, side-by-side spins with positions that didn't quite match, a flip-up lift, and a pivot move where she was in a cantilever position.

Maksiuta & Zhovnirsky: The Spanish guitar piece in the black and white outfits. Clean triple toes, then double axels with a step-out by her into double toes. Triple twist, then a throw triple salchow and throw double axel. A hip lift into a sideways star position, good side-by-side spins, another lift, a pair spin combination that kind of trailed off after the change of foot, spirals, and a forward inside death spiral. Again they ended slightly behind their music, but not as badly as in the short program. This was a pretty decent performance for them.

Bogaspasaeva & Ponomarenko: black and white outfits that reminded me of K&D's long program costumes from the Olympics last year, and classical music that sounded familiar but that I couldn't place. Triple twist was ok, but she fell on the triple toe and wasn't even close to landing the double axel. Scary throw triple salchow, lasso lift with a brief 1-arm, throw triple toe loop, an upside-down lift, flying camels with poor unison, back outside death spiral, and the super Natalia pair spin again. They do OK on the pairs elements but it looks like she's really weak on the solo jumps.

Brozevich & Nimenko: "Aladdin" in bright blue/green outfits. I think everybody has seen too much of Tatiana Malinina skating to this music. Triple toe loops with steps into double toe loops, then only a double twist -- they'd done a really fine triple in warmup. A one-arm lift, then they both dropped out of double salchows on two feet. Throw double loop, spirals, throw triple salchow with a fall, sideways star lift. Silly wiggling and posing in front of the judges that drew titters from the audience, side-by-side spins that were slow but had good unison, forward inside death spiral, straight footwork, and then a pair spin to finish. Overall it was very slow and lackluster performance.

Obertas & Palamarchuk: blue and black outfits. She fell on the opening triple toe loop, landed a throw double axel, then singled a double axel. Triple twist, a kind of a chair lift, forward inside death spiral, pair spin, spirals, backward inside death spiral, a split lift with a 1-arm set-down, throw triple salchow, good flying camels. Double loops, but he fell. A split lift with a straddle grip and then a pair spin at the end. Hmmmm, I dunno.... they were fast but they seem to be mismatched because she is still so small, and she's still struggling to do the jumps.

Handy & Binnebose: the Tchaikovsky medley in the plain dark-colored outfits. Crashy triple twist, throw triple salchow, triple toes, 1-arm star lift, single axels, throw triple toe with a hand down, 1-arm split lift with a flip-out, double flips into double toes except that she popped the flip, spirals, a pair spin, and a forward inside death spiral. So they had a bit more technical content than O&P, but they were very slow and cautious throughout. Whether or not Laura's stress fracture is bothering her in terms of pain, it seems to have affected their training and confidence.

Ladies' Free Skate

Tamara Dorofejev: wore a green bare-midriff outfit with lime green inserts, and skated to Charlie Chaplin music. Jumps were double axel, double lutz, triple flip, triple loop/double toe, fall on a triple flutz, triple toe, and then two attempts at a triple salchow with a fall on each one.

Anna Jurkiewicz: black and white vertical stripes, "Cabaret" with more cutsey choreography. Double flutz, triple toe/double toe, layback, three turns into a triple loop, triple flip, death drop, spirals, spread eagle into a double axel with a fall, triple salchow with hands down, change sitspin, triple toe, double axel. All of her spins are really, really fast.

Gwenaelle Jullien: skated to a really bad edit of Scheherezade and a piece from "The Piano", in an elaborate sequinned dress. She started with an underrotated and two-footed triple flutz in combination with a double toe with a step out, then triple toe, flying camel, triple salchow with a fall, and some spirals. Then she did a lot of crossovers into a two-footed triple loop, a layback spin, a triple salchow that was somewhat overrotated, what I think was a double axel/double toe/double toe series, some straight-line steps, and fell on a triple toe. Once again I didn't get any sense that she was skating to her music.

Chisato Shina: "Rhapsody in Blue", in a bright neon turquoise dress. She really does seem to like those bright colors! Double flip, very slow entrance into a triple flutz that she fell on, triple flip, double toe, flying camel, ok layback spin, spirals, fell on a triple loop, triple salchow, spin combination, serpentine footwork, triple toe/double toe with no speed or flow, double axel, and a scratch spin. The main problem with her skating was that she was so sloooow and hesitant on her jump entrances; she has nice carriage and good edge quality, and seemed to have a clue about how to skate to her music.

Victoria Volchkova: skated to "Gone With The Wind" in a plain black dress. Triple loop, triple lutz/double toe, flying camel, then a triple flip/steps/triple toe loop. Another spin, then triple salchow, spread eagles, double axel with a step out, and a spin combination. Aside from the fault with the double axel, I think the main weakness was that her program seemed kind of flat and all on one level, with no changes of pacing in it.

Sarah Hughes: "Swan Lake" in a new black dress with rhinestones on the bodice. Double axel, another triple flutz/toe axel (sigh), triple loop, a spin combination, spirals, a weird mistake on a flip where she slipped off the entrance edge before she could even get up in the air, triple flutz, another spin, triple toe, triple salchow with a step-out, and another spin. She has pretty good speed and her presentation isn't bad, but it seems that the judges are penalizing her for that flutz and the other mistakes she made.

Daria Timoshenko: the best description I could come up for her music was "new age guitar", and she wore a black dress. Triple flip, triple lutz/double toe with not much flow, triple salchow, triple loop, triple lutz, triple toe, double axel that was very tilted, biellmann spin, spin combination with a fall out of the back biellmann position, and another biellmann spin. I thought her choreography was fairly interesting but the program is really unbalanced with all the jumps first and spins last. Also, she lands all her jumps on a stiff knee like Maria Butyrskaya, and it's not pretty.

Irina Nikolaeva: Suffice it to say that she had a disastrous skate with four falls and a pop, and her only clean triple was a loop. Her short program was of such good quality and she looked so strong in practices that I had high hopes for her, but I guess she must have had an attack of nerves. Too bad, but I suppose it is all part of the learning experience for these skaters.

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