Three Repeat Winners and One Shock at JGP Tallinn Cup


Three discipline see repeat Russian winners; pairs gold won by a team from Australia!

For its penultimate event, the Junior Grand Prix stopped this week in Tallinn, in Estonia. The Tallinn Cup has been a common stop in recent years, and this is its sixth iteration. Both of the series’ final two events have all four disciplines competing. Two Russians became the first singles skaters to win a second gold on the circuit this year, another Russian winner repeated in the dance, and a big surprise in both team and flag topped the pairs podium.

TALLINN, ESTONIA – OCTOBER 01: (L-R) Roman Sadovsky of Canada, Alexander Samarin of Russia and Vincent Zhou of the United States pose for a photo during the Junior Men Medal Ceremony on day three of the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating on October 01, 2016 in Tallinn, Estonia. (Photo by Joosep Martinson – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)


Alexander Samarin wasn’t the skater seen before the series as most likely to repeat. It didn’t look likely after his short program either. There he underrotated his triple axel jump and was lucky not to fall on it, and arguably didn’t fully get into the program until after the jumps. He ended up five points behind American Vincent Zhou, who skated a clean program. If Zhou’s triple axel wasn’t the best of the competition, his ability to perform was. Samarin was tailed closely by Canadian Roman Sadovsky in third, and Japanese skater Koshiro Shimada in fourth. Sadovsky had rotated but fallen on his triple axel. Shimada hadn’t tried one, and skated clean.

Samarin, however, knocked it out of the park in his free. He nailed everything, including a quadruple toe loop and two triple axels, one in combination with a triple toe. He threw himself into the skate so hard that when he was done he collapsed to the ice. Zhou showed up with a new free, having replaced the one he’d skated in Yokohama. For a program he’d had for so little time with, he connected surprisingly well with its music. Unfortunately, he did not connect at all with his jumps. For his second of the program he didn’t even get into the air before falling. He rotated two triple axels, but fell on the first and underrotated the triple toe he combined with the second. He also underrotated a quad salchow attempt, popped a loop, and fell to third.

Rising to take silver was Sadovsky. He successfully landed a quad salchow, only to underrotate and fall on his first triple axel, although he managed to land a second one in combination, and the rest of his program was close to clean. He was also good enough at expressing his music that poor Shimada, though not without some connection to his, suffered by comparison, as they were both skating to the Romeo + Juliet score. Shimada also went for the quad salchow, fell and saw it full downgraded to a triple, landed everything else, still did only double axels, and finished fourth.

TALLINN, ESTONIA – SEPTEMBER 30: (L-R) Mako Yamashita of Japan, Polina Tsurskaya and Elizaveta Nugumanova of Russia and pose for a photo during the Junior Ladies Medal Ceremony on day two of the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating on September 30, 2016 in Tallinn, Estonia. (Photo by Joosep Martinson – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)


In the ladies, no one below them were in the same league as the top three. Nor were the other two of them in the same league as Polina Tsurskaya. Her short program actually wasn’t quite as knockout as it had been in Russia, but it was close enough. Holding the lead after the short, this time she sealed the deal with a close to clean free program that allowed her to beautifully express her sad music without the distraction of her multiple mistakes from Russia. It also included a stunningly high triple lutz-triple toe-double toe, as well as her more normal triple lutz-double toe.

Between the other two medalists things were a bit more competitive. After the short program Japanese skater Mako Yamashita led Russia Elizaveta Nugumanova by only .24 of a point. This was mostly because Nugumanova had underrotated both jumps of her triple lutz-triple toe, while Yamashita had landed hers and everything else. Nugumanova kept it close by artistry not far off Tsurskaya’s. She also benefitted by sometimes mind-bendingly bendy spins, even getting the highest score possible for her layback.

Yamashita skated a generally beautiful free, but there it was her turn to underrotate the triple lutz-triple toe. She hit everything else, including a double axel-triple toe-double toe combination, but she no longer had a technical advantage over Nugumanova. Nugumanova did not try the triple lutz-triple toe. Instead she pulled off her rarer triple loop-triple loop, as well as her own double axel-triple toe-double toe, where, for good measure, she did the last with both arms up. She did underrotate the solo lutz, but she also maxed out her layback spin again. Ultimately, superior technique and presentation both won her the silver, leaving Yamashita with the bronze.

TALLINN, ESTONIA – SEPTEMBER 30: (L-R) Alina Ustimkina and Nikita Volodin of Russia, Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya and Harley Widsor of Australia and Ekaterina Borisova and Dmitry Sopot of Russia pose for a photo during the Junior Ladies Medal Ceremony on day two of the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating on September 30, 2016 in Tallinn, Estonia. (Photo by Joosep Martinson – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)


After the short program, it didn’t look like anything unusual would happen in this pairs competition. One Russian pair, Amina Atakhanova & Ilia Spiridonov, had a sizeable lead. They’d skated a clean program with a throw triple lutz and speed and smoothness enough to look worthy of their second ever JGP gold. In second, another Russian pair, Alina Ustimkina & Nikita Volodin, had struggled a bit more. He hadn’t landed their double axels clean, and their non-jump elements had had an iffy moment or two, which might have been why they had three teams tailing them. A little more surprising was the third place team. Eight-month-old Australian team Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya & Harley Windsor, 8th at the Czech Skate in Ostrava, had come in third by skating clean.

However, the team right behind them were Ekaterina Borisova & Dmitri Sopot, the reigning JGP Finale champions. They could be expected to come back from such a position to manage the Russian sweep. After all, they had made their skating look more natural than anyone else there, even with a hand down on the throw triple toe and generally slow and hesitant elements. They had stayed just ahead of Americans Chelsea Liu & Brian Johnson, who had skated a very similar short technically. Everyone had benefitted by Ukrianians Renata Oganesian & Mark Bardei, a past pair of event winners, skating an even weaker short and getting left behind in sixth.

Alexandrovskaya & Windsor’s free skate was clean, although there were some iffy moments. They didn’t attempt any of the bigger ticket items, but they did do a three-jump combination, albeit a relatively easy triple toe-double toe-double toe. Borisova & Sopot attempted none of the bigger ticket items either. Then she singled their double axels, doubled the triple toe in their combination, and botched their side by side spins. Ustimkina & Volodin did better, skating a relatively clean free. But even they botched their side by side combination. It was supposed to be a three-jump one, but mistakes from both skaters resulted in them only getting credit for a bad triple toe-single toe combination. Weak non-jump elements didn’t help, although their clean jump elements were better. They stayed ahead of Borisova & Sopot, but not ahead of the Australians.

Finally, Atakhanova & Spiridinov had an utter disaster of a free. Not only did they botched all four of their jump elements, but she fell on three of them. They also struggled with two of their lifts. Seventh in the segment, they fell below both the other two Russian pairs, and barely held on to fourth ahead of Liu & Johnson. They were lucky the Americans’ attempt as side by side salchows ended with her singling and him falling, and even that their other jump elements were less than pristine. They were also lucky Oganesian & Bardei had an even worse free, and barely held on to sixth.

This left Borisova & Sopot with bronze, Ustimkina & Volodin with silver, and Alexandrovskaya & Windsor with a very unexpected gold. It’s the first ever JGP gold for Australia, and only their second ever medal of any color.

TALLINN, ESTONIA – OCTOBER 01: (L-R) Anastasia Skoptcova and Kirill Aleshin of Russia, Alla Loboda and Pavel Drozd of Russia, Chloe Lewis and Logan Bye of the United States pose for a photo during the Junior Ice Dance Medal Ceremony on day three of the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating on October 01, 2016 in Tallinn, Estonia. (Photo by Joosep Martinson – ISU/ISU via Getty Images)

Ice Dance

Alla Loboda & Pavel Drozd became the second ice dance team to take two golds, and did not have too hard a time of it. They skated two sharp, commanding programs without any real difficulties, and gave an especially good performance in their free dance. They might have been challenged by Anastasia Skoptcova & Kirill Aleshin, who especially lit the rink up with their short dance. But Skoptcova & Aleshin ended up with lower technical tariffs than their countrymen in both programs, and weren’t quite as electric in the free, so they settled for silver.

Bronze initially looked like a closer competition. After the short dance, there were even less than two and a half points between third and seventh. Nonetheless, the French team in third, Julia Wagret & Mathieu Couyras, had a significant near point and a half lead over Americans Chloe Lewis & Logan Bye. This was mainly due to Lewis & Bye’s weak levels, and also her wavering on their twizzles. Wagrat & Couyras’s energetic costume-changing performance helped as well. In the free dance, however, it was Lewis & Bye who took the advantage in the technical tariff, when the French struggled to get good levels on their steps. Combined with their superior skating and more confidence in their performance, and they distanced the French for their first ever JGP medal. Wagrat & Couyras took fourth.

Full results are available here.

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Series Standings

All three Russian winners here locked themselves in for the JGP Finale. By ensuring there would be no more than six ladies’ gold medalists on the circuit, Polina Tsurskaya also mathematically secured her berth for their countrywoman Alina Zagitova. In some years, with silver and bronze, Vincent Zhou, Elizaveta Nugumanova, and Anastascia Skoptcova & Kirill Aleshin might have found themselves on the bubble. In this one, however, none of them are likely to stay in the top six.

The final pairs event is a crowded roster, with two of the winning teams and two of the second place teams all competing. All four have much leeway with which to make the Finale. Amina Stakhanova & Ilia Spiridonov and Ekaterina Borisova & Dmitri Sopot have managed to lock themselves into the Finale with silver and fourth and two bronzes respectively, simply because no other teams so far have done better. Ekaterina Alexandrovskaya & Harley Windsor and Chelsea Liu & Brian Johnson are currently third and fourth in the standings, but it would take a miracle for even the Australians to not be passed by those four teams.

Full stands of both skaters and countries are available here. The Junior Grand Prix series concludes next week in Germany.