Mroz Leaps from 11th to Second; Murakami Finishes Third at JGP Mexico

by Alexandra Stevenson, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
Brandon Mroz
Photo by Laurie Johnson

2006 JGP Mexico Results and Photos

(9/15/06) - In the first event completed in Mexico City's Junior Grand Prix event, Canada's Kevin Reynolds soared through a quad Salchow to hold onto first place and win the men's gold medal. But the talk was of Brandon Mroz, 15, who beat out Reynolds in the free skate and zoomed up from 11th to earn silver.

Daisuke Murakami, who was only a sliver behind Reynolds going into the free skate, dropped to third in the field of 14 competitors.

Earlier in the day, Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates built their lead from 2.95 points after the compulsory dance to a massive 11.80 points over Eloise Brouiller and Benoit Richaud of France. And, despite a painful knee injury, Piper Gilles & Timothy McKernan are third.

Men's Free Skate
In a surprise coincidence, all three medalists' next Junior Grand Prix event will be in the Taipei Arena, Oct. 12-15, which should prove a great rematch for the talented trio.

Reynolds, who was seventh at the World Junior Championship earlier this year to Murakami's 11th, wowed the assembled fans with his opening jump, a quad Salchow.

Although he received a minus 2 grade of execution because he had to turn forward after the landing to keep from falling, he still earned 7.50 points because the rotation was complete.

“It was the first time I've landed it in competition on one foot,” the 16-year-old said. “I have done it on two feet.”

Reynolds, who drew to skate last, performed to "Harlem Nocturne," a lively jazz medley with a contrasting slow section. His coach, Joanne McLeod, said that Reynolds was worried about the altitude and changed items around “some successfully, some not so.”

Earlier in the day, Japan's Yukihiro Yoshida collapsed from the altitude and was taken to the hospital and given oxygen. He was determined to compete and did so, deliberately not doing the warm-up to save his strength. He finished eighth.

Mroz, who has trained in Colorado Springs for the past two years, gave a far truer showing of his capabilities, and he climbed from his surprise 11th place finish on Thursday to second overall, a true life "Comeback Kid" story.

His short program disaster resulted in him having to skate first in the free skate, which made some of the subsequent skaters look completely outclassed.

It seemed a different person was inhabiting Mroz's skin. He began with two huge point-scoring jump combinations - a triple Lutz-triple toe and a triple flip-double toe-double loop which got positive GOEs and collectively earned 19.46 points.

Then he sailed through four other triples, one in combination with a double toe, in an ambitious four minutes set to a jazzy rendition of “Malaguena.” The only criticism that could be made was that the first of his two double Axels was landed a bit scratchily and received a negative 0.47 GOE.

“On a scale of one to 10, I'd rate this an eight and yesterday a two,” Mroz said.

His coach, Tom Zakrajsek, said, “Thank heavens for the new system. You could tell he was nervous again today, but he did a far better job of holding his mind together. I know his components today could have been better, but he showed a lot of character. It's very difficult to come back from a poor performance.

“The altitude wasn't the problem, because there is only 60 feet difference between here and Colorado Springs,” Zakrajsek added.

Mroz won the free skate by 8.37 points with Reynolds second. However, overall Reynolds won by a substantial 7.53 points.

Murakami was just behind Reynolds after the short program despite skating with a painful foot. His free program, skated to a Japanese movie soundtrack, included five beautifully high triples that soared through the air, covering great distances and landed securely.

He put a hand down on his triple Lutz and his final triple toe was weaker; however, his main fault was that he didn't do a combination. Had he thrown in a double toe with one of the other jumps, he would have gained the silver because he finished a mere 0.16 marks behind Mroz overall. He finished fourth in the free skate.

“I'm disappointed,” admitted Murakami, who was fourth at the 2006 State Farm U.S. championships as a junor.

The two talented Americans were born about three weeks apart but come from very different backgrounds.

Murakami was born in Japan and came to the United States after his parents won lottery tickets for green cards which permitted them to become U.S. residents.

Mroz was making his international JGP debut after taking the runner-up spot at the 2006 U.S. Championships as a novice before his hometown crowd in St. Louis last January.

Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates
Photo by Laurie Johnson
Original Dance
With such a lead, barring a complete fiasco of falls, Samuelson and Bates seem assured of the gold in Saturday's free dance. Samuelson, 16, and Bates, 17, staccato-ed their flicked legs and adopted “snooty nose-in-the-air poses” essential to create a tango feeling in the original dance.

They were clearly the best with superior edges and a mature feeling for their music, “Quehas de Bandonemon.” But they said they won't rest on their laurels.

“We forget about placements,” Bates said. “We want to do the best we can.”

For the second day running they beat their ISU personal best. This time they were 8.41 over their own record for an original dance, set last March at the World Junior Championships.

“I would say most of our success has come from our coaches,” Bates said. “They made us watch many DVDs. It was hard getting all six elements in two minutes and forty seconds.

“The original has as many elements as the free (six),” he continued. “We were very pleased to get a level 4 on the non-touching midline step sequence. That's very hard to get.”

Coach Iouri Tchesnitchenko pointed out that competing at the Lake Placid Dance Championships helped get this season started.

“We changed a few minor things since then,” he said. “Between now and their next JGP in Taiwan, they must work hard on getting all level 4s.”

Four of their six elements were level 4, but the straight line lift and diagonal step sequence were level 3.

“I think I got too close to him in the steps,” Samuelson said. “We'll definitely work on that.”

Still in second are France's Brouiller and Richaud, but Gilles and McKernan were only 0.13 marks behind them in the tango technical marks.

Gilles had a nasty fall in practice earlier in the day when McKernan got his skate stuck in a rut and she went down on her knee.

She had two subsequent injections for the pain and it was obvious on their twizzles in the warm-up she was in pain. However, observers who had not witnessed the warm-up would never have thought there was a problem.

Their coach, Patti Gottwein, said, “She fought to stay in. It is a stressful event because the original is new for them. It's a difficult, different skill for them to manage the element placement.”

This is the fourth Junior Grand Prix event to be held in Mexico, although the national association was formed only in 1986. The competition is taking place in a less-than-a-year-old Ice Center at ICentral located in a mall-like complex containing amusements, a bowling alley and many food outlets.

At one point, just for a few moments, the moving lights from the huge carousel were reflected in a small part of the wet ice, surely a first for an international competition.

“I've been to all four Mexican JGPs,” said Bob Horen, the U.S. Figure Skating representative to the ISU Congress in June who was voted on to the ISU Dance Committee there. He is the technical controller for ice dancing this weekend. “They've all been wonderful. The people are friendly and they go out of their way to provide the skaters with experiences no other event has.”

Horen said that even when an extremely heavy downpour caused a reverse flow in the drains and flooding in a different location in 2003, “We still got the event started on schedule 45 minutes later. Everyone was so helpful and willing.”

Coach Gambill said, “The Opening Ceremony at Xochitla was the best I've ever been to. There were folk dancers and mariachis and heaps of food, and the speeches were short.”

An excursion is planned for Sunday to the Teotihuancan Pyramids.

Technical controller and judge Charlie Cyr agreed that the Opening Ceremony and the officials' dinner were wonderful. “The dinner was in a museum in an old church. It was a fascinating, enjoyable experience in an extremely unusual setting.”

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