By Klaus-Reinhold Kany
(28 November 2017) The ladies free program at Skate America 2017 in Lake Placid had a very high level although none of the competitors reached the Grand Prix Final. The reason: The best skaters from Skate America were not as good as in their first Grand Prix, and it generally requires two medal result to make the efinal..
Satoko Miyahara from Japan celebrated a successful comeback after her stress fracture in her hip about one year ago. The 19-year-old athlete won the gold medal with 214.03 points after being fifth at her first Grand Prix in Japan. Her jumps are not very high and impressive, therefore most of her GOEs for the jumps were not higher than +1; but she rotates extremely quickly and her spins and steps are outstanding.
Sating to Puccini’s Opera "Madame Butterfly,“ she began with a small but clean triple loop, followed by a combination of triple Lutz and triple toe-loop, then a triple flip and three more triple jumps. Her best element was the step sequence which had an excellent flow and was very intricate. Five of the nine judges rewarded it with GOEs of +3, four with GOEs of +2. For her layback spin at the end of her program, she got eight times GOEs of +3. Her components had an average of 8.9.
Later she commented: "I am very happy and satisfied with today’s performance and to get my best scores. After the injury, this is the first big step. The most important event, the Japanese nationals, are coming next month. I’ll keep working hard to be able to do my best.”
Miyahara’s teammate Kaori Sakamoto, who had been third at the World Junior Championships eight months ago, won the silver medal, earning 210.59 points. Like Miyahara, Sakamoto performed a clean long program with seven triple jumps. They were higher and had geater GOEs of +2. But her components were lower (around 8.4) because she does not skate as smoothly and elegantly.
Interpreting the soundtrack of "Amelie," her best element was a combination of triple flip and triple toe-loop. She explained: “After I was not satisfied with the Russian Grand Prix, I practiced so hard for a few weeks and this second try (here) gives me confidence for the future.“
The bronze medal for Bradie Tennell, earning 204.10 points in her first ever senior Grand Prix, was a big, and for U.S. Figure Skating, pleasant surprise. Since the silver medal for Ashley Wagner at Worlds 2016 in Boston, no U.S. skater had gained more than 200 points.
The 19-year-old skater from Buffalo Grove, Illinois, had suffered from several injuries in the past seasons, among them a stress fracture, and could not train as much as needed for a high level performance. She had been 11th and 7th at the World Junior Championships 2016 and 2017. But this summer, she won the Philadelphia Internationals in Aston, Pennsylvania in very good shape and gave an excellent performance at the Lombardia Trophy in Bergamo, Italy in September.
In Lake Placid, she performed two clean programs and seven triple jumps in her free program to several Cinderella versions. She trains with Denise Myers and her new choreographer is the famous young Frenchman Benoit Richaud. His students very often get much higher components after having worked with him for only a week or so. Her components had an average of 8.0, much higher than in previous years. "The past few seasons have been kind of frustrating because I haven’t been able to train consistently,” she said. “I feel like this year I’ve been able to get back into the flow of things and I feel like that is shown in how I’m skating. I would like to work on my overall skating and my step sequence (heading into nationals).” U.S. Nationals will decide if she gets one of the three U.S. ladies spots to the Olympic Games.
Polina Tsurskaya from the Russian school of Eteri Tutberidze moved up from the eighth position in the short program to an overall fourth place with 195.56 points. She also performed a clean free program with seven triple jumps, among them an excellent combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop. Her components were around 8.0.
Serafima Sakhanovich came as a late alternate for her compatriot Anna Pogorilaya who suffers from back problems and had a disastrous free program at Canada. She finished fifth with 189.75 points. Since this summer she is coached by the 2006 Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko when he is in Moscow at his new school with the name "Plushenko‘s Angels.“
Plushenko came directly from his tour "Kings on ice“ which had been in Slovakia the day before, with Tomas Verner and Ivan Righini as two other stars. She also performed seven triple jumps. Executing a single Axel instead of a double Axel was her only mistake. She had been second at the World Junior Championships in 2015, then had some puberty problems, but won two medals at B level events in October and November. She was very happy with her points, joked around a lot and said that she was only an alternate and did not expect to finish on fifth position.
Gabrielle Daleman from Canada was not in the excellent shape as during the World Championships where she had won a surprising bronze medal. Four triple jumps were clean, among them an outstanding and high combination of triple toe-loop and triple toe-loop at the beginning. But in the second half she made several mistakes and finished sixth, earning 189.14 points.
Alena Leonova from Russia celebrated her 27th birthday during Skate America. She had six good triple jumps, but her components were a bit lower with an average of 7.4.
The reigning U.S. champion. Karen Chen of Riverside, California, was far from her shape at Worlds where she had been fourth. Three triple jumps in the free program were really clean, but two others under-rotated and the loop was landed with a step-out. Her spins and steps, however were excellent. She ended up eighth with 182.80 points.
Nicole Rajicova from Slovakia trains in Hackensack, New Jersey and finished ninth, earning 167.61 points. Xiangning Li from China finished tenth with 164.32 points.
Ashley Wagner had spoken about an ankle problem some days before the competition, but she did not say that it was really serious. Skating to the "Moulin Rouge“ soundtrack, she began her free program with a double Axel, followed by a combination of triple flip and only double toe loop instead of the planned triple toe-loop. After the next element, a combination of double Axel and double toe loop she shook her foot, went to the referee and withdrew.
“I was diagnosed with an [right] ankle infection a little over a week ago and I’d been fighting through it for about a week before that,” Wagner said. “I had just gone on antibiotics and I did everything that I could to do like a quick fix, but it’s not a quick fix kind of a situation.”
The South Korean competitor Dabin Choi had withdrawn a few days before Skate America and and was not replaced, therefore only 11 ladies began and 10 finished the competition.