Assured Murakami takes Junior GP title

by Jack Gallagher

Kanako Murakami captured the ladies singles title at the Junior Grand Prix Final on Sunday with an inspired performance in the free skate.

Trailing Russia’s Polina Shelepen by just .02 after the short program, the 15-year-old Murakami overtook her rival by landing six triple jumps and exhibiting excellent presentation skills during her routine to “Swan Lake” and won by just over one point (160.53-159.29).

Shelepen, who was very impressive in the short program, appeared pensive and uneasy immediately preceding and during her time on the ice. She also hit six triple jumps but lacked the flair and passion Murakami exhibited on this day.

Murakami, another in the long line of skaters who hail from Nagoya, looked confident and relaxed, and prevailed despite a one-point deduction for falling during her step sequence at Tokyo’s Yoyogi Gymnasium.

“I’m happy to win the gold medal, but I could not perform as well as I would have liked,” a beaming Murakami said afterward. “When I changed from my flying camel to my sit spin my toe got stuck and I was thinking about that when I fell.”

Murakami, who came into this event as the top-ranked junior during the Grand Prix season, cited the extra effort she has been putting into practice.

“I’ve been working on transitions between jumps,” she said. “I’ve incorporated new steps between my jumps.”

Shelepen, a 14-year-old from Moscow, was not disappointed despite finishing second.

“I didn’t do everything I wanted to, but I’m glad to get the medal,” she said. “I fought hard in the second half of my skate with my combinations.”

American Christina Gao, who is one of world champion Kim Yu Na’s training partners in Toronto, was third with a total of 151.47.

Gao said Kim, who won the senior Grand Prix Final crown on Saturday night, has had a profound influence on her during their time together working under coach Brian Orser.

“Yu Na is an inspiration to me every day in training. I really admire the consistency she has with her jumps,” she said. “I learn something from her all the time.”

Gao, 15, said she aspires to achieve Kim’s ability to have an impact on spectators.

“She is really able to connect with the audience in a special way.”

Ice shavings: The Japan nationals will be held at Osaka’s Namihaya Dome from Dec. 25-27 . . . Yukina Ota, the 2003 world junior champion whose senior career was plagued by injuries, attended the GP Final. Ota retired from competitive skating last year and now is a pro skater on the show circuit and a coach . . . The International Skating Union has not determined the site for the 2010 Grand Prix Final yet.