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Russian ice dancers take the lead at junior world championships

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Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin are nearing a perfect ice dance season.

MILAN (AP) -- Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin's perfect season is almost complete after the Russians won the short dance Wednesday at the junior world figure skating championships.

Stepanova and Bukin have been unbeatable since finishing second at last year's junior worlds. They've won every competition they've entered this season, including the junior Grand Prix final - held in Sochi, site of next year's Winter Olympics - and are in good position to add a world title to their collection after taking a sizeable lead in the short dance. With 64.65 points, they're more than three points ahead of France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guilleaume Cizeron (61.56). U.S. junior champions Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton (56.89) are third heading into Friday's free dance.

"It is always a great feeling when you are winning and reach your goals," Stepanova said. "This makes us really happy."

In pairs, China's Yu Xiaoyu and Jin Yang won the short program with what Jin called their "best performance of the season." Last year's silver medalists received the maximum level four for a high double twist as well as for their footwork, lift and side-by-side spins.

Yu and Jin's score of 54.95 points was a personal best, beating their mark at last year's world championships. It also was 4.61 points higher than they'd scored in what's been a rocky season this year.

"We made a lot of progress, and I want to thank our coaches for the work they did with us," Jin said. "We are very pleased with the outcome."

Margaret Purdy and Michael Marinaro of Canada are almost two points behind (53.09 points) with Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier in third (52.61). The free skate is Thursday.

"It wasn't so much that we skated a clean program, it was how well we felt getting into the program and feeding off each other," Frazier said. "It's been a very long season and it was nice to go out there and put out some of the hard work we had to put in just to perform like that."

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