By Lynn Rutherford
All photos copyright 2005 by George S. Rossano
First place is no shock, as reigning World bronze medallists Dan Zhang & Hao Zhang of China, who are coached by Bin Yao in Beijing, skated a solid short to J. Bonham’s "Kashmir." Choreographed by Lea Ann Miller, Renee Roca & Gorsha Sur, this commanding program put the athletic duo in first place with 59.90 points.
The young Chinese, who are 20 and 21 respectively, opened with the finest lift of the event, a one-arm star that the powerful Hao brought up with ease, then rotated twice before changing hands, with two more rotations before flipping his partner out for a light and fast exit. The couple’s huge throw triple loop impressed the crowd, although Hao’s terrible habit of pitching forward and kicking his leg back continues to irritate purists. Their double twist was high and fast, but they faltered on the unison of their side-by-side combination spins and had a sloppy exit on their closing pair combination spin, resulting in slightly negative GOE’s for those two elements.
"We have performed this well tonight, however there were a few slight mistakes we made. Overall it was a good job. We will try to improve in the future and do an even better job," said Hao Zhang through an interpreter.
Skating to "Esperanza," U.S. bronze medallists Marcy Hinzmann & Aarron Parchem, who train in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan under Johnny Johns and Mitch Moyer, had the performance of their skating lives. The couple hit all of their elements – including a Level 3 double twist, throw triple loop and side-by-side triple toe loops – with ease, and their sophisticated choreography, courtesy of Parchem’s wife, former Polish competitor Zuzanna Szwed, helped them gain program component scores ranging from 5.95-6.25. Their personal best 55.00 total score put them an astonishing second.
"We’re elated. We’ve been skating well all week in practice. It’s great to put it all together out there in competition; we’ve never done that before," said the 23 year-old Hinzmann, who was off the ice for four months after undergoing surgery for a torn left ACL (knee) following the 2005 U.S. Nationals in January.
"I’m just now settling in to this scene; Aaron has been around a lot longer. Taking that time off helped us chill out, so when we got back on the ice, we were fresh and motivated," she added.
"It’s great skating in front of a home country crowd. The people of New Jersey really pulled us through and made it so much more fun to be out there," said her 28 year-old partner.
2004 U.S. champions Rena Inoue & John Baldwin, Jr., who now train at Michelle Kwan’s rink in Paramount, California under Peter Oppegard, performed an elegant program to Albinoni’s "Adagio in G minor," taking third place with 54.84 points. Their only major error -- Baldwin’s fall on a triple Lutz – cost them second place, but the couple said they were well satisfied.
"I was glad I at least rotated the triple and didn’t do a double or pop. I just dropped my right side tonight; it happens. We’ll do it in the long program for sure. You want to keep trying the harder elements in the short because it’s a cumulative system (of points). It’s not like you’re done with the short and just have your placement," said Baldwin.
"We have nothing to lose. We’re not afraid of taking risks or anything like that. We have to try as hard as possible," added Inoue, a Japanese native who became an America citizen on September 28.
Russian bronze medallists Julia Obertas & Sergei Slavnov of Russia, who placed fourth at the 2005 Worlds in Moscow, had a difficult start to their first Grand Prix of the season. First, Air France misplaced Slavnov’s skates, causing him to miss several practices before the blades arrived late last night. Then, the talented young couple, who were teamed in spring 2003 by coach Tamara Moskvina, had a lackluster performance of their "Concerto for Coloratura" short program, with poor unison on their side-by-side triple toe loops and Obertas’ fall on their signature move, the throw triple flip. They enter the free program in fourth place with 54.04 points.
"We will continue to work on everything, the choreography, elegant lines and performance quality," said a clearly disappointed Moskvina.
Rebecca Handke & Daniel Wende of Germany, who finished seventh at the recent Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, are in fifth place with 48.70 points. Skating to music from the "Amelie" soundtrack, Handke put a hand down and turned out of her triple toe loop, but hung on to the landing of a throw triple loop and had a nicely stretched position on the forward inside death spiral (FIDS). The highlight of the program was a lovely, Level 3 pair combination spin with a solid center and difficult positions from both partners.
"We were a little bit nervous because this is our first senior Grand Prix. We made some small mistakes but we feel good about it; our knees were shaking when we started, though," said Wende.
Skating to Raul di Blasio’s "Hasta Que te Conoci" by Raul di Blasio, Jessica Dube & Bryce Davison of Canada, who won the silver medal at 2005 World juniors, showed good speed and fine musicality, although Dube fell on her triple Salchow and had to fight for the landing of the throw triple loop. The highlights of the program were a fine lift with a difficult flip out exit and Latin-infused footwork sequences. They enter the free program in sixth place with 47.90 points.
Teamed in 2003, the couple is coached by Annie Barabe and Sophie Richard in Drummondville, QC, with choreography by David Wilson.
"It felt pretty good to get out there and show people how we are creating ourselves as a senior pair team. We’re really working on our speed, the overall quality of our skating, and our lifts," said Davison.
Canadian bronze medallists Elizabeth Putnam & Sean Wirtz had a disappointing seventh-place finish in the short (47.20 points), despite skating a speedy and sophisticated program to music from Cirque du Soleil. Putnam awkwardly doubled an intended triple Salchow, causing the couple to receive just .76 for their side-by-side jump element, but the real trouble was in their program component scores: their PCS total was just 20.56, the second lowest of the night.
"It was a good program; the jump was the only real trouble. It didn’t affect our overall performance, though. We really felt our skating through our knees," said Wirtz.
"I was just too fast on the jump and popped it. The rest of the elements are coming along well," added Putnam.
The couple recently parted ways with two-time Olympic champion Artur Dimitriev to train with five-time U.S. dance champion Peter Tchernyshev, who also coaches out of The Ice Rink in Hackensack, New Jersey. Teamed by Paul Wirtz in 2002, Putnam & Wirtz moved to Hacksensack just over a year ago.
French national champions Marylin Pla & Yannick Bonheur, who are coached by former European pairs’ silver medallist Stephane Bernadis, are in eighth place with 47.20 points. Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig, who replaced U.S. champions Katie Orscher & Garrett Lucash in the line-up after Orscher injured her foot in June and had to suspend training this summer, sit ninth with 45.28 points. (Orscher & Lucash plan on skating at their next Grand Prix assignment, the Cup of China in Beijing, on Nov. 3-6.) Julia Beloglazova & Andrei Bekh of Ukraine, who were second at their 2005 nationals and ninth at 2005 Europeans, round out the field in tenth place with 36.84 points.
Dan Zhang & Hao Zhang
Spectators hit the jackpot with the 2005 Skate America free skate at Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall last night, when several teams turned in performances that ranked among the finest in their careers.
Reigning World bronze medallists Dan Zhang & Hao Zhang of China grabbed their second consecutive Skate America title with a strong performance to commanding music from "The Offspring of Dragons," choreographed by Lea Ann Miller, Renee Roca and Gorsha Sur.
While the young Chinese planned to open their program with a throw quadruple Salchow – they landed one at the Chinese Games six weeks ago – the narrow size of the Boardwalk Hall rink caused them to "downgrade" to their usual soaring throw triple. Their double Axel, triple toe loop sequence was not done in unison, but it was followed by a huge triple twist that drew gasps from the crowd. Most notably, their pair combination spin and back outside death spiral, which she modifies to a "catch foot" position, have both improved since last season, as has their expression.
Dan Zhang had an uncharacteristic turnout on the landing of the throw triple loop, and the couple’s Achilles’ heel – their side-by-side combination spins – lacked unison. Their free skate earned 119.24 points (65.08 TES + 54.16 PCS), boosting their total score to 179.14.
"We want to improve our performance (quality) and spins. I think in general, our other skills, like the twist and throws, are pretty good," said Hao Zhang through an interpreter.
American silver medallists John Baldwin Jr. & Rena Inoue came within an inch of skating history, nearly landing a throw triple Axel in their free program to music by Shostakovich. Although Inoue tumbled on the landing, the move earned the couple 6.30 points; since it was planned in the second half of the program, it had a base value of 8.3 points.
"We did a nice (throw triple Axel) in the warm-up and we’ve been doing nice ones all week, but doing it under pressure is a different story. Rena nails the landing nine out of ten times in practice and I definitely think we’ll do it at our next competition," said Baldwin. (The couple is set to compete at France’s Trophy Eric Bompard Nov. 17 - 20.)
Inoue & Baldwin opened with double Lutzes (Inoue hit a triple; Baldwin a double, so the move was downgraded) and a triple twist with a slight "cheat" and small collision on the landing. After a solid double Axel, double Axel sequence, Inoue hung on to the landing of the throw triple loop. The couple’s lifts have improved markedly after a summer’s training with new coach Peter Oppegard, and they now include a hand-to-hip lift with a one-arm pick up and flip-out exit (Level 3) in their programs.
Their three finest elements – a nicely extended spiral sequence; crisp combination spin (in the camel, sit spin/sit spin, catch foot and upright positions); and Axel lasso lift with a "Meno & Sand"-style drop out – were saved for last, and the program drew a standing ovation from the crowd. Inoue & Baldwin placed second in the free skate with 109.60 points (58.04 TES + 52.56 PCS) and second overall with a total score of 164.44.
"The accomplishment of this program was the conditioning. I’ve skated for thirty years and I’ve never been through a program like that with that kind of feeling all the way to the end. The audience was really behind us and helped us out a lot," said Baldwin.
Russian bronze medallists Julia Obertas & Sergei Slavnov, who placed sixth at the 2005 Worlds in Moscow, were fourth in the free program (106.36 TSS = 57.20 TES + 50.16 PCS) with a disappointing (for them) performance of Verdi’s "La Triaviata." After opening with solid side-by-side double Axels, they had a slight collision on the landing of their triple twist, resulting in a GOE of –0.70. Obertas fell on the next element, a triple toe loop, resulting in a one-point deduction from the final score. They recovered with a fine throw triple flip, but Obertas put her hands down on the landing of their second throw, a triple loop.
All in all, it was a competition the talented young Russians would prefer to forget, and they finished behind the Americans (!) with 164.44 total points.
"There is no time for being sad; I am just happy that everything is over," said a somewhat sullen Obertas.
"Our mood is not very good. Of course, we could have skated better," agreed Slavnov, who missed several practices this week when Air France misplaced the luggage that held his skates.
Canadian bronze medallists Liz Putnam & Sean Wirtz recovered from a seventh-place finish in the short program – where many thought their Program Component Scores were unjustifiably low – to skate a stunning free to Tchaikovski’s "Piano Concerto No. 1."
The couple – who train at The Ice House in Hackensack, New Jersey under five-time U.S. dance champion Peter Tchernyshev, who also choreographed their programs -- opened with a well-done double twist that gained a Level 3 from the caller (Putnam’s hands were over her head), followed by a lasso lift with a lunge entry and flip-out exit. They sensibly downgraded their triple Lutzes to doubles, completing them in sequence with double Axels for 6.20 points.
After landing solid side-by-side triple Salchows, the rest of the program was clear sailing. Both their throw triple loop and throw triple Salchow gained a 10% bonus for being executed in the second half of the program. Their straight-line step sequence, though musical, was graded only a Level 1, and will likely be re-choreographed to gain more points. Their 107.22 points (58.82 TES + 48.40 PCS) put them third in the free program, and they placed fourth overall with 154.42 points.
"It felt great. It’s good to start the season and to put that performance out there. It sets the year up for us and we can build from this," said Wirtz.
"After the short, we could either say, ‘Why didn’t we get better marks?’ or we could come out and show (the judges) what we are made of. And I think that’s just what we did," added Putnam.
U.S. bronze medallists Marcy Hinzmann & Aaron Parchem had a career-best performance to music from the "Once Upon a Time in Mexico" soundtrack, hitting two fine triple throws (the loop and the Salchow) and executing strong lifts that showed off Hinzmann’s nicely stretched positions in the air. However, to compete for one of the two U.S. Olympic pair spots, the couple will need to add triple toe loops (they were downgraded to doubles here) and increase the difficulty of their spins, steps and spiral sequences, three of which were graded only Level 1 here.
In this excellent night of skating, they were only sixth in the free program (99.30 TSS = 48.74 TES + 50.56 PCS), and ended up in fifth place overall (154.30 total points) due to their fine short program.
"This is a fabulous start for us. Element-wise I was pretty happy. I would like to get a little more speed and work on some more difficult lifts, and just kind of sell the program a bit more. I think we are on the right track," said Hinzmann.
"Points, points, points – they need more element points. This is something good to build on and now we can go back and go to work," said the couple’s coach, Johnny Johns.
Canadians Jessica Dube & Bryce Davison had an impressive outing to Gershwin’s "Concerto No. 7," opening with a double twist that gained a Level 3 and moving right into a strong double Axel, double toe loop sequence. Their Axel lasso lift featured Davison doing two full rotations with a one-arm position, and both their side-by-side triple Salchows and throw triple loop looked solid. The only noticeable weakness in the program was a weak final lift with poor rotation that dropped the move from an intended Level 3 to Level 1.
"We put our fight out there. There was a lot of energy in the building and we really used it. As soon as Jessica landed her triple Salchow, I knew we would skate clean," said Davison.
"They had a good warm-up and that built their confidence. I’m very pleased; three weeks ago, they did not look like that at all. They certainly didn’t skate their program this well at the (Skate Canada) camp in Turin," said the couple’s coach, Annie Barabe.
Dube & Davison placed fifth in the free skate with 104.30 points (54.14 TES + 50.16 PCS) and were sixth overall with a total score of 152.20.
Germans Rebecca Handke & Daniel Wende were seventh in the free and seventh overall, with 133.84 points. Performing to music from the "Shakespeare in Love" soundtrack, the couple had trouble on their individual jumps -- Wende fell on a triple toe loop, and both botched their double Axels – but both skate with good posture and carriage, and Handke attains a lovely arch in her back during death spirals.
French champions Marylin Pla & Yannick Bonheur were eighth in the free and eighth overall with 130.48 points. The couple doubled intended triple toe loops and Pla stepped out of the landing of the throw triple loop, but showed strong lifts.
"They won the Vienna competition (Karl Schaefer Memorial) so they have a ticket to the Olympics," said the couple’s coach, former European pair silver medallist Stephane Bernadis, who trains Pla & Bonheur in Bearcy.
"This was the best program they could do at this moment. He is very strong, and the lifts are their best elements. They made some silly mistakes that cost them points on the spins and steps," added Bernadis, who said he hopes to build a strong pairs’ program in France.
Americans Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig had an error-laden performance to Prokofiev’s "Romeo & Juliet," including Evora’s fall on a throw triple loop, Ladwig’s fall on a triple toe and stumble on the entrance to a backward outside death spiral, and both skaters’ doubling of intended triple Salchows.
The couple recovered somewhat by landing a throw triple Salchow and executing two difficult lasso lifts in the final half of the program, but overall it seems as if the routine – which is chockfull of intricate transitions and difficult entrances to key elements -- is simply too ambitious. They finished ninth in the free and ninth overall with 128.02 points.
"It’s not that we can’t skate this program; we did it better than this in our last three (summer) competitions. I don’t know what went wrong here, but the second half (of the program) was a lot better than the first half," said Ladwig.
"I really fought for the landing of the throw triple Salchow, and we never gave up. Now it’s on to Skate Canada," added Evora.
The couple’s coach, Kerry Leitch, said financial problems at his home rink, The Igloo in Ellentown, Florida, have not impacted the skaters’ training.
"There have been a lot of hassles at the rink, what with the bankruptcy and change of ownership, but it has nothing to do with us. It did affect the summer school, because people did not want to pay money upfront to a rink that was (possibly) closing, but none of my (elite) teams lost any training time. Now, with the new ownership, things will be even better than before and I expect the summer business to grow," said Leitch.
Ukrainians Julia Beloglazova & Andrei Bekh rounded out the field in tenth place with 109.82 total points.
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