2015 men’s Junior Grand Prix series- Bratislava & Riga

I’ll try to do one of these posts every two weeks.

I’d been seeing posts on Twitter from USA Figure Skating talking about this competition series, highlighting the American skaters and how they will be streaming the competitions on YouTube.
Eventually, I gave into curiosity. I’d been watching so much figure skating since the Sochi Olympics and I covered the 2014-2015 competitions on this blog before… I figure “why not?”
I may or may not be addicted to watching the sport, but what can I say? I enjoy it.

The junior level- I didn’t really expect too much. I knew that I wanted to watch the men compete because in a couple years, they will be the next crop of skaters for the major competitions.

So yeah, I was watching figure skating at the end of August… the junior season has started and I said that I would start watching as soon as the next season began. I still have a couple months until Skate America for the senior skaters. All the videos I have saved on YouTube will go unplayed until the week of October 17.

I won’t go into too much detail because there are so many skaters to cover. I did start tweeting about my favorites, so that’s what I’ll go by.

Bratislava, Slovakia

The first skater that caught my attention was Koshiro Himada from Japan… for kind of a selfish reason, I will admit. But I think I have gotten over my tendency to compare skaters to Evgeni Plushenko when they use the same music he’d skated some iconic programs to.
Whether Koshiro picked the music because, like so many Japanese people, he is a Plushy fan… or the choreographer happened to like the music, I don’t know. It wasn’t a perfect skate, but I saw glimpses of brilliance in him.
His free skate was to music by Charlie Chaplin. He’s probably one of the few people where I tweeted about both of his programs. I really enjoyed this one because he skated it well and he “has a future as bright as his smile”

Vincent Zhou is from the U.S. and was part of a phenomenon I felt with both of these competitions… Edvin Marton’s music is out of this world, it is that amazing. But of course I didn’t think that there were other violinists I could fall in love with.
Vincent skated his short program to “Crystallize” by Lindsey Stirling. I’d seen her name come up a couple times because her album has sold really well… maybe I should consider checking her out. Him skating to her music was a brilliant combination.
Someone else [at this point I cannot remember who] skated to “Lady Grinning Soul” which was rearranged into an instrumental by Lucia Micarelli. Another beautiful piece.

Looking at the results, I remember that Roman Sadvosky from Canada had a really good short program and I didn’t enjoy his free skate quite as much. Although maybe that was me wanting Vincent to win. Both of them had their hiccups in the free skate.

Denis Margalik who came in third was from Argentina… I’d never heard of a skater from then before… but then in Riga, there was someone from Malaysia who trained in Kula Lampur… the sport has gotten so popular that it’s starting to come out in non-traditional countries. I remember being really impressed with him and may have even wondered how he didn’t finish 1st or 2nd.

It was interesting to see the age range between the skaters. The taller ones were 17-19 and some were trying quads. Not many did well at them, but since I didn’t expect many of them to be trying them, I am impressed.

Riga, Latvia

I started to get more of a grasp during this competition of what to expect. Age and height doesn’t necessarily make a difference in your ability. You can be really young and short and do amazing and having height isn’t always an advantage.

What I did gather, though, was that not many of the skaters were seasoned. Very few skated clean programs. In the free skate, what determined the winners came down to presentation, but also the level of difficulty with the jumps.
Occasionally, you will find a bigger competition where nobody skates a completely clean program. I mean, in Sochi, Denis Ten came in 3rd and was the only one to do a clean free skate. Yuzuru Hanyu and Patrick Chan both had their mistakes.

One thing I was happy to see were the Russian skaters.
Petr Gumennik is only 13, but he was giving me Yulia Lipnitskaya flashbacks. He was exceptional. And except for a slip during a step sequence, he was the only clean free skate I remember seeing.

Then there was Dmitri Aliev, who came away with the gold medal.

Because these YouTube streams run for 4 hours, I wound up spreading Riga over several days. I started on Friday and Saturday with the short program, but the free skate, I watched on Saturday, Sunday and just finished today.
This was also true of Bratislava, but I didn’t remember what everyone did. I had my standouts and favorites, but everyone else faded into the background.

I have no memory of Dmitri’s short program. But his free skate left such an impression on me because it reminded me why Russia is known for producing some amazing skaters. Nobody who’d been able to rival the legacy left behind by Alexei Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko… but who knows? Between Petr and Dmitri, we may have a chance to see more stars in the men’s program from this country.
I admire how composed Dmitri was. He needs to work on performance and using the music, but he has a lot of the essential details down very well.

There were a couple of skaters from China that I really liked.
Yunda Lu, I saw a lot of promise in. But he’s another that needs to work on performance.

There was a strong competitor from Canada as well. He was in 2nd at the short program. In the free skate, he didn’t do as well, but committed to the Mary Poppins medley really well. I had a lot of moments with him where I enjoyed him. It’s just a matter of finding consistency. Every good skater can have a bad day. And it seemed to be the case that all the skaters- they can do well one day and suffer the next and vice-versa.
Nicolas Nadeau, I will have to see how he does later in this series and when he becomes a senior competitor.

One thing I still have yet to learn is what separates the junior from senior ranks. There were junior skaters as old as 19. Yulia Lipniskaya was relatively new to the senior circuit come Olympic season and she was only 15. Tara Lipinksi won the Gold Medal when she was 15.
Is it a matter of age? Or skillset? USA figure skating and ISU Reporter still haven’t gotten back to my tweet question.

Sondre Oddvoll Boe from Norway was another skater I liked in the short program. I think he had the strongest showing of anyone that I’d seen so far. In my tweet, I said he’ll be exciting to see beyond the junior level.
His free skate wasn’t as successful.

Kazuki Tomono was another Japanese skater I saw potential in even though he didn’t have the cleanest program.
He may have been the one that, in his short program, reminded me of Daisuke Takahashi. When he gets old, I can almost see that “rock star” quality in him. [But then, I do need to see more of Daisuke than his Vancouver programs- I had stars in my eyes during his short program but I’d like to see more to see].
Sena Miyake, the other Japanese skater, I also liked a lot. It’s almost like Japan has had a tidal wave of skating talent since Yuzuru Hanyu came to Sochi… but then again, I might have seen his potential sooner had I not skipped out on this sport after the Vancouver Olympics.

Why I stopped watching up until December 2013/January 2014, I really don’t know. I certainly had the time on my hands to do so. But I’m watching the sport practically religiously now, so the how’s and why’s aren’t really important anymore.

South Korea had some strong skaters- one, Se Jon Byun, I liked his free skate because it was one of the better ones with less mistakes. But he had great presence with the music- the Lord of the Rings soundtrack.

One interesting thing to see was skaters from other Eastern European countries. I haven’t seen many of them around. Ukraine has some good skaters, but they’re also works in progress. Most of the junior skaters are. Because this competition took place in Latvia, they had two local skaters. One from Riga and another who wound up getting second overall.

Deniss Vasiljevs started out shaky, missed his first jump, but he improved remarkably. He also gave an enjoyable performance that projected him to first place.
But since he had to follow Dmitri in the free skate, that probably worked against him. He composed himself over time, but I didn’t find him as strong as he was the other day.

Aleksandr Selevko is from Tallinn, Estonia. I recognized the name from the 2010 European Championships- one of my favorite showings from Plushenko 😀
And adding to that relation, his free skate was to “Je Suis Malade.” Nobody can give that music the same impact the way Plushenko has… about as iconic as his Tribute to Nijinsky program.
The funny thing was that the music almost worked in Aleksandr’s favor because he wasn’t consistent in his jump, but he gave a lot of great emotion in his choreography. I applaud him for that because my favorite skaters are my favorites because they bring their music to life.

One skater I really gravitated to was Alexei Krasnozhon… and my thought process went like this:
1) he’s American! 2) Alexei? That’s a Russian name 3) he’s originally from St. Petersburg?
I never thought I’d see a Russian skater compete for US. Already my mind was reeling.
Then he skated to a song by Michael Jackson that I didn’t recognize. It was a well-conceived, very well executed program. The Russian skating style was definitely there.

Then when the commentator interviewed, my skull blew completely open… he said he used to train in the same group as Evgeni Plushenko… WOW…
My only big question, which remains unanswered, why did he come here in 2013 to start training?
And there are so many possible answers for that.
Listening to him, it sounds like he has a lot of international friends. He’s close with Dmitri who won Gold and he went on to win Bronze.
My thoughts on why he left: maybe he was after a different coaching style… in Russia, as I understand, training is done in large groups and it’s hard to get the individual attention needed to improve.

But to end my little spiel on him, his free skate had a shaky start, but he fought for every jump after the first couple that he missed. It’s interesting listening to him speak. His English still needs a little work, but he still speaks it well.

To be fair, maybe the skater who finished in 4th deserved to win bronze more. But it comes down to the fact that Alexei came in 3rd in the short program and Kevin Aymoz came in 4th… and in both programs, they had a point difference of 4 points.
I think what made the difference was that Alexei had a quad attempt in his free skate and Kevin had none.

Kevin Aymoz had such a beautiful free skate- to another violin composition that I’m in love with.
Nathan Lanier had come up a couple times in “So you think you can dance” this year. The commentator said the piece was called “Resolve,” but when I tried to find it on YouTube, he had misspoken. The piece was called “Torn.”
He didn’t skate perfectly in the free skate, but he got so much right. Especially his connection to the music.
France may have its next Brian Joubert… and that’s enough to be excited about.

The way the grand prix works… there are 7 competitions. The skaters are assigned a number value depending on where they finish, can combine points from only two grand prixes, and the top 6 skaters will go to the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona in December.
It’s exciting meeting new skaters every week, but most likely next week in Colorado I’ll see a mix of new skaters and ones I’d seen at Bratislava and Riga.

One thing’s for sure: there’s a lot of talent out there and I’m glad to be back watching what’s become one of my favorite sports.

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