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Skating notes: Junior ladies' performances draw big cheers

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Skating notes: Junior ladies' performances draw big cheers

Mariah Bell, 16, gets a hug from coach Cindy Sullivan of Denver.

It's not often that a juniors event at Nationals draws the kind of cheering that was heard Monday night on the CenturyLink Center ice. But it all was well-deserved, because the top three ladies really put on a show in the short program.

Leading the way was 14-year-old Polina Edmunds, whose performance included a triple lutz-triple toe jump combination that any senior lady would love to have. But two others are still in the picture: 16-year-old Mariah Bell, whose lyrical, confident performance put her into second place; and 13-year-old Karen Chen, who lit up the ice with her virtuoso spins. The top three are fewer than four points apart, so Wednesday's free-skate finals could be a thriller.

Monday's action also included finals in the novice events (often an early look at future senior champions). Winning the men's event was Tomoki Hiwatashi, who on Monday had celebrated his 13th birthday by placing first in the short program. He was just second in the free skate, but it was good enough for the overall title. In the ladies event, 14-year-old Tyler Pierce got the gold by winning both the short program and free skate.

Can't believe it's free

>> For a sneak peek at the women who likely will represent the U.S. at the 2014 Olympics, drop into the Convention Center rink (no ticket needed) from 1:25 to 4:20 p.m. Tuesday and check out all the senior ladies as they practice their competition programs. Scheduled in the first group are some of the top contenders, including defending champion Ashley Wagner, 2010 Olympian Mirai Nagasu and 2012 Skate America silver medalist Christina Gao. In the next group is fast-rising Gracie Gold, who is making her debut in seniors after breezing to the junior title last year. The senior pairs also will be practicing there, from 4:40 to 6:55 p.m.

>> It gets even better on Wednesday, with the opening of the Fanfest area adjacent to the Convention Center rink. The activities — again all free — include an iPad game area, an autograph stage with top skaters from the past, a small rink for skating demonstrations and a sign-creation area. While all that is going on, there will be 12 more hours of practice sessions to watch -- and all of it will feature the top seniors. The pairs are up first at 8:40 a.m., followed by the men at 12:25 p.m., the ice dancers at 3:35 p.m. and the ladies at 5:50 p.m. (starting at about 8:20 p.m. for the Wagner/Gao/Nagasu group).

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Don't miss it: Tuesday's top competition at the main CenturyLink Arena rink (ticket required) will be the junior men's finals at 7:30 p.m. Only six points separate the top three: big jumper Shotaro Omori, super-spinner Vincent Zhou and all-around dynamo Nathan Chen (the defending champion). Earlier in the day will be short programs by the junior pairs (2 p.m.) and junior ice dancers (5:30 p.m.).

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