by Anne Calder

The Junior Grand Prix Final was held in conjunction with the senior event in Vancouver, Canada from December 6-9. Three teams represented Russia plus one each from Canada, Georgia and the USA.

Russian couples claimed the top three spots in both the rhythm and free dances. Sofia Shevchenko & Igor Eremenko (gold), Arina Ushakova & Maxim Nekrasov (silver) and Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva & Nikita Nazarov (bronze).

The event took place in mid-afternoon, but the arena was filled with enthusiastic and supporting fans – especially compared to the sparse numbers who the dancers are used to seeing at JGP events.

Nikita Nazarov noted the advantages. “When there is a big crowd it is much easier to skate because the crowd energizes you and gives you confidence. Surprisingly the crowd was very supportive.”

The rhythm dance skating order was set by draw– not by rankings. At the event, the dancers were introduced at center ice prior to beginning their five-minute warm-ups – singles and pairs warm-up for six minutes.

Rhythm Dance

Shevchenko & Eremenko led with a season best 67.73 score. The twizzles and lift earned level 4; the circular step sequence and first pattern were level 3. Senior dancers Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin were in the audience to lend support.

“We are the two ice dance couples from our training group who made it here,” Shevchenko explained. ”Even during the warm-up before going on the ice their presence and cheering helped with the nerves. Sasha (Stepanova) was cheering loudly. I could recognize her voice.”

Ushakova & Nekrasov were just .24 points behind in second place. The Russians hit six of eight key points, which included all four in the first pattern. Their lift and twizzles were level 4.The 67.49 score was almost two points below their season best, which seemed to surprise the couple.

“It was not our best score, and honestly I had hoped for more,” Ushakova said.  “We felt good in the program; we didn’t notice any errors, but I haven’t seen the protocol yet, so can’t really say more.”

Khudaiberdieva & Nazarov also hit all four key points in their first pattern and two for the second. The twizzles and rotational lift earned level 4. The segment scored a season best 66.29. The first-time Finalists were somewhat nervous and in awe before their dance.

“I was shaking a bit an hour before the performance, but when I stepped on the ice and saw the big crowd that came to see our dances, it gave me confidence and a push,” Khudaiberdieva said. “I became calmer, and so we were able to skate with joy.”

Marjorie Lajoie & Zachary Lagha of Canada were fourth with a season best 66.25 score. Their step sequence also earned the highest GOE, but since it was level 2, Khudaiberdieva & Nazarov with a higher base value for their level 3, outscored them. The two-time Canadian Junior Champions were thrilled to be skating before a home country audience.

“Everyone was cheering for us, waving Canadian flags and clapping hands. Seeing that was amazing,” Lajoie said.

In fifth (63.73) and sixth (57.51) respectively, Avonley Nguyen & Vadym Kolesnik of the United States and Georgia’s Maria Kazakova & Georgy Reviya had Final experiences that could have affected their performances.

Kolesnik, who is Ukrainian, had visa issues, and the team didn’t arrive until the day before the competition. During the warm-up Reviya cut his right hand, and his bloody arm prevented him from holding his partner properly.

Free Dance

The overnight standings remained the same in spite of the shuffle in the free dance placements. The closest Junior Grand Prix Final finished with only 0.01 separating first from second and 0.03 between third and fourth.

Ushakova & Nekrasov’s second JGP Final scores were percentage points away from winning gold. The Russians were .24 behind the leaders after the rhythm dance; they won the free dance by .23 and then lost the competition by .01. It was not what the teenagers had planned.

“It’s definitely not the result we were hoping for, but life is life, and today there is only one winner; tomorrow there is another,” Ushakova said. “It is what it is, and we will work on our mistakes.”

The couple performed to the Black Cat, White Cat soundtrack, which is not about felines, but Gypsy characters who thrive on chaos. The plot explains facial and body animations, especially by Ushakova throughout the dance. The twizzles, spin and lifts earned level 4. Their chorographic movements scored high GOEs. The segment scored 103.16; the silver medal total was 170.65.

Shevchenko & Eremenko were second in the free dance to “Intro” by Onuka; “Witchdoctor” by Camo & Krooked and “Lijo” by Alina Orlova, but won gold. While the abstract music and theme were unique, the technical performance produced the highest base value and component scores. The lifts, twizzles and spin were level 4; the one-foot and diagonal step sequences were level 3.

The JGP Austria Cup champions won the footwork battle with rivals, Ushakova & Nekrasov, but scored lower with the twizzles, lifts, and choreographed movements. The segment earned 102.93; the total was 170.66. Both were season best scores.

The team was still a bit dazed after the competition, but Shevchenko offered her thoughts. “It is an unforgettable moment in our career. It is the first medal on this level of competition. We are happy and a bit shocked at the score.”

“It was so close with 0.01 points difference,” Eremenko added.  “It was worth the fight. We worked really hard for this competition.

In another tight scoring match, Lajoie & Lagha were only 0.04 points behind Khudaiberdieva & Nazarov after the rhythm dance.

Dancing to the powerful Warsaw Concerto, the team’s lifts, twizzles, and spin earned level 4. The segment score was 98.26; the total was 164.51 for fourth place.

Khudaiberdieva & Nazarov watched nervously as the Canadians danced.

“I was really worried, but once I stepped on the ice, I was feeling very confident,” Nazarov said.

The Russians danced to “Human” (Acoustic) by Rag’n’Bone Man; “Human” by Rag’n’Bone Man; and “Nemesis” by Benjamin Clementine for a season best 98.26. Afterwards, they waited anxiously for the scores.

“0.03 is a very small difference, so when we first saw the placement for the free skate, we were upset a little bit thinking that we would not make it to the top three,” Khudaiberdieva said. “It turned out to be different that we made it, and we will get a medal.”

Lajoie & Lagha beat the Russians in the free dance by 0.01 in spite of a point deduction for an extended lift, but after the two dances were totaled, the Canadians lost the bronze by 0.03. The lift error cost them a spot on the podium.

“It was our second time at the Junior Grand Prix Final, but to be in Canada, it was awesome,” Lajoie said.
“After the Final, we’ll try to focus more on the technique,” Lagha added.

Nguyen & Kolesnik performed a lyrical dance to “Demons” by Imagine Dragons, cover by Jasmine Thompson and Boyce Ave and “Experience” by Ludovico Einaudi and scored 94.74. The lifts and spin earned level 4, but Nguyen had a bobble on her twizzle and scored level 2. The total was 158.47, which was seven points below their season best.

“It felt really good competing in our first Grand Prix Final,” Nguyen said. “We could have done better, but it felt rally good connection and emotion wise.”

Kazakova & Reviya are the first Georgia team to qualify for the JGP Final. They danced to the powerful Carmina Burana by Carl Orff performed by Edvin Marton and “Vocalise” (Main Theme from “The Ninth Gates”). The Russian natives earned level 4 for their lifts, spin, and Reviya’s twizzle. The segment scored 91.25; the total was 148.76. Both were considerably lower than their season best obtained at the JGP Armenian Cup.

“We are going to work on our mistakes because not everything turned out to be the way we wanted it to be,” Kazakova said. “We will work so we can show different results at the Junior World Championships.

Heard in the Mixed Zone:

  • Georgy Reviya spoke about his cut from the RD warm-up. “It is nothing bad or scary, just a little cut. It is a little better today.”
  • Maria Kazakova spoke about her favorite skaters. “Despite their retirement, my favorite pair still remains Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Sofia Shevchenko added, “I really love the skating of Tessa and Scott.
  • Nikita Nazarov likes the skating of Scott Moir, Nikita Katsalapov, and Charlie White.