This marks the third season in a row I've followed the JGP. I never used to watch the junior skaters but I have to admit there's more action, excitement and competition on the junior level than there is at the senior level! Plus it's wonderful to see these girls evolve from junior babies to senior ladies.
The first competition of the series, JGP Courchevel, is in the books. Here are the final standings:
Elena Radionova (RUS): 61.15 (SP) + 116.64 (LP) = 177.79 (1st)
You know, I like this girl! Sure she’s the typical bouncy Bambi-legged junior jumping bean but there’s definitely a little umph! to her and I like it. She skates with a lot of energy, charisma and spunk which always makes for a good experience. Elena needs a ton of work on things like presentation, refinement, line, etc. but overall, I really enjoyed watching her. She made me smile which is a pretty big deal considering most junior skaters make me want to cringe and criticize. Like the rest of the Russians she’s got the jumping firepower down pat and that includes the technique. I like her version of the Pearl (still can’t touch Zhang’s though) and her Biellmann is lovely. Her SP was cringeworthy in terms of packaging (music, outfit, choreography, whole 9-yards) but she sure performed the hell outta of it. Her LP was more to my tastes in terms of music and choreography. Nice transitions between her movements and several nice moments in the choreography is well. No falls, no URs, not even an edge call...I'm impressed.
Elena spanked the rest of the field by 25+ points a la Julia Lipnitskaya last season, so we’ll have to see if this high scoring trend continues. I’m interested to see how she will progress this season. Yet another kick-ass skater for Mother Russia...
Rika Hongo (JPN): 53.62 (SP) + 96.22 (LP) = 149.38 (2nd)
It's possible that at some point down the line Rika could be a really captivating skater. She's got good speed and nice flow over the ice, her jumps are good, and she has a tall and long appearance on the ice that could be really beautiful with the right music and choreography. As of now though, she's pretty run-of-the-mill. Other than her appearance not much else stood out to me in this competition. She was solid in both programs with only one fall in the LP, so all in all it was a great outing for her. Still, I'd love to see her develop more of a personality on the ice...plus those spins definitely need some work. It's early in the season so maybe she's still settling into her program and will learn to sell it as the season goes on. Regardless of her boring skating, she performed well and walked away with a silver medal.
Uliana Titushkina (RUS): 53.62 (SP) + 90.30 (LP) = 143.92 (3rd)
It's a bit unnerving to see the sheer number of impressive skaters Russia is kicking out on a yearly basis. Is there a factory over there? Sheesh! I was really surprised by Uliana. She has a lovely appearance on the ice, solid and difficult jumps, plus I've never seen a Biellmann on an outside edge. She had a solid SP and was in second place heading into the long. Uliana struggled a bit in her LP but did enough to edge Vanessa Lam for a bronze medal. Like Elena, Uliana is slightly ahead of the curve when it comes to performing. Both of these girls do a better job of listening to the music and connecting with the audience when they skate. I enjoyed watching her. I think Uliana has an excellent base and will be a gorgeous skater once she polishes up a bit.
As for the rest...
Vanessa Lam (USA) had a rough time of it here but still managed to just miss the podium and come in 4th. She performed so well earlier in the summer, I'm really hoping she hasn't peaked already. I think her programs are very nice and I can see the growth in her from a performance standpoint. The one downside to her skating is her itsy bitsy jumps...they aren't getting any bigger.
Ashley Cain (USA, 5th) started off well in the SP, finishing well within striking distance of the podium. I love her style and she's a lovely skater to watch. Her main problem has been her jumps and they caused her hell in the LP. Her edge jumps were working fine but all of her toe jumps gave her fits, in particular a 3t towards the end of the program. She got completely lost on the takeoff, fell hard, and had to take several minutes to get herself together before finishing. Kudos to her for continuing but that definitely wasn't the way she wanted to start her JGP season.
Some other notes:
Hwi Choi (KOR) and Nadjma Mahamoud (FRA) need some help ASAP in terms of costumes and music...yikes! Yura Matsuda (JPN) went for a 3l-3l. She stood up on it but the first jump was UR and the second received a downgrade. Ziquan Zhao (CHN) is absolutely gorgeous to watch! China is slowly but surely creeping back up in the standings. Attention Julia Lipnitskaya! This is how you make a vertical Biellmann look pretty!
The great folks over at the ISU are covering this season's JGP just like last year. You can view all of the videos on their awesome YouTube channel. Overall, this was a decent opening to the season. This week is JGP Lake Placid. We'll see the debut of the USA's Kiri Baga, Angela Wang and Courtney Hicks, plus Japan's Satoko Miyahara and Korea's So-Youn Park. This field has some heavy hitters so I'm expecting a pretty good competition.
I'll post a review after the competition is over. Ta for now!