By Lynn Rutherford
From Lake Placidís first practices, two things were clear: ISU Communication 1391 has been well read, and the North American skating community Ė perhaps inspired by Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentreís award-winning 2005-2006 free dance Ė has made medleys from Sinatra manquť Michael Buble at least as ubiquitous as "Carmen."
While many ice dance rule changes (or, in ISU parlance, "clarifications") were featured in 1391, the most important revolves around the ever-popular Biellmann position, used innumerable times last season by couples to increase the level of difficulty assigned to their elements. Now, each lift with a repeated pose or position will be demoted to a Level 1. In addition, the "doughnut/ring" or Biellmann position may not be repeated in a spin.
"Iím tired of all the changes, but of course I canít do anything about that. I only wish they would come out earlier, like maybe right after Worlds," declared Nikolai Morozov.
"Well, of course it is harder to have to come up with different difficult positions, but the rule makes sense. You canít repeat the (Biellmann, aka "skate to the head") more than once. It makes the programs less boring. A lot of teams abused the position last season and this rule encourages the girls Ė and the boys -- to do something different," said Igor Shpilband.
"I was trying not to repeat positions last season and now I canít. If I do, the element drops down to a Level 1. So Iím creating a lot of different combination lifts."
The energetic coach added that he and coaching partner Marina Zoueva are currently training 14 couples at the Arctic Edge in Canton, MI. The most famous, Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin & Benjamin Agosto, will not compete at Octoberís Skate America, opting instead for Cup of China and Cup of Russia in November.
"Of course we wanted to do Skate America, but Tanith and Ben are still on (the COI) tour and we have only had a few weeks this summer to do the programs. The OD is done, but there is still some work to do on the free," said Shpilband.
Junior Group A Free Dance
2006 U.S. junior silver medalists Emily Samuelson & Evan Christian Bates triumphed in Group Aís free dance event with the hot Latin American medley of a fast-paced opening samba, a rumba and another samba. While the couple had a few small miscues on their more intricate footwork and transitions Ė she hesitated a bit during their first sequence, while he stumbled slightly on the transition to their serpentine footwork Ė their lifts and spin were smooth, and the overall effect excellent.
Samuelson & Bates, who were 10th at the 2006 World Juniors, earned 66.32 points, more than 7.5 more than their nearest rivals (TES 32.33 + PCS 33.99). Like the Hubbells, winners of Group B, the couple is coached by the talented team of Iouri Tchesnitchenko and Iaroslava Netchaever in Ann Arbor, MI.
"It was a bit shaky but itís early (in the season) so thatís to be expected. We had fun," said the 16 year-old Samuelson, who wore a stunning hot pink dress with silver sequin trim.
Performing to baroque Bulgarian music, Piper Gilles & Timothy McKernan were surprise second-place finishers with 58.69 points (28.66 TES + 30.03 PCS). Hailing from Colorado Springs, where they train under Patti Gottwein (who also coaches Piperís older brother Todd and his partner Trina Pratt), the couple used Tom Dicksonís intricate choreography and inventive lifts to win over the judges.
"We definitely didnít expect to place so high. Itís only our first year in junior. We thought maybe we would be in the top six," said the 14 year-old Gilles. (In addition to sibling Todd, Piper has a twin sister, Alexe, who competes in freestyle.)
"We are hoping to get a JGP assignment from U.S. Skating, because so many of last seasonís junior teams have cleared out. They will probably skate as novices in the 2007 U.S. Championships. They were only seventh in novice last season," said Gottwein. (Later in the week, the team was notified they had a JGP.)
Pilar Bosley & John Corona, who placed seventh at 2006 U.S. Juniors, finished third with 58.54 points (28.80 TES + 29.74 PCS). Coached by Christine Fowler-Binder and Robbie Kaine in Ardmore, PA, the coupleís free dance to a Stray Cats medley ("Thing Called Love" and "Rock this Town") was choreographed by Pasquale Camerlengo. The entertaining program flowed well from move to move, although it lacked difficulty.
"Itís a big step for them to take, being on the international team. She graduated from high school this spring, which is good because this season will be much more challenging (than last)," said Kaine.
"We used some lower level (elements) here, and they will be higher at the Courchevel JGP (on Aug. 24 Ė Aug. 28). We wanted to put a smooth, clean program out there and then kick in up a notch. Thatís the plan."
Shannon Wingle & Ryan Devereaux, the 2006 U.S. novice fifth-place finishers who train under Shpilband and Zoueva in Canton, were fourth in their senior debut with 56.66 points overall. Performing to music from Era, the couple had strong lifts, with Wingle hitting elegant positions. A highlight move, with Wingle draped in a spread eagle position over a hydro-blading Devereaux, drew applause. On the debit side, they need to build speed on their spin, and their rotational lift, though effective, looked a bit wild.
Fifth place went to Canadians Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier (55.48 points overall), the sixth-place finishers at 2006 Canadian juniors who are coached by former British dance competitors Carol Long Lane and Jon Lane in Scarboro, Ontario. Performing to an up-tempo jazz medley, the couple showed refreshingly unique positions and footwork (including a series of "shoot the duck"-type transitions and entries), as well as a unique "spinning lift." Poirierís strong, deep edges are especially impressive, and their death spiral maneuver into their rotational lift drew admiring gasps.
Although the youngsters (both are 14) lack some polish, their placement appears a bit low (26.75 TES + 29.73 PCS). They did sustain a one-point deduction for a too-long lift.
"We were just a little nervous. Itís the first competition of the season. You make a mistake but you have to keep on going," said Poirer.
"The judges gave us positive feedback; they were very enthusiastic, even about the spinning lift, which took some creativity to work into the rules. Itís just that Vanessa and Paul made some minor technical mistakes and they really add up. They took second place on most of the Program Component Scores (PCS), but those mistakes lowered their levels," explained Carol Long Lane.
"They are naturally good free skaters, which really helps with the spins and footwork under the new system. Heís incredible; he can do triple Salchows. They are both competing in novice freestyle at NACs in Vancouver next week," added Jon Lane. Crone & Poirier have received two JGP assignments from Skate Canada.
Brianne Oswald & Buck Withrow, a new partnership formed by Shpilband this spring after Withrow moved from Boston to Canton, took sixth place with 52.92 points. Skating to "Dragonfly," the handsome blonde couple had solid lifts, but Oswald fell out of the twizzles at the end of their mid-line step sequence. (Off ice, Withrow achieved the status of Eagle Scout, an honor given to just 4% of all Scouts.)
Seventh-place finishers (52.66 points) Anna Stanislavska & Michael Whitehead, a new partnership who train in Kitchener-Waterloo under Paul MacIntosh, interpreted George Gershwinís "Summertime" in elegant black costumes. The couple had a difficult entry to their curve lift and a strong closing rotational lift, but Stanislavska had trouble executing twizzles and hit several awkward positions while transitioning into moves.
Performing to Janis Joplinís version of "Summertime," Jessica Perino & William Avila placed eighth with 51.82 points. The couple had an attractive curve lift, and Avila showed exceptional flexibility in the spin, stretching to a "fan" position.
Blake Rosenthal & Calvin Taylor, who placed eighth at 2006 U.S. juniors, were ninth here (50.84 points) with a promising but flawed performance to Kodoís "Dragon." The couple, who train in Wilmington, DE under Andrew Newberry, opened well with a straight-line to rotational lift combination and a difficult twizzle sequence, but the program fell off in its final third. The problems culminated when both stumbled during a "pull-through" transition move.
For a team already nominated for a JGP (Rosenthal & Taylor will compete at the JGP Budapest Aug. 31 Ė Sept. 3), the free dance was disappointing. One problem could be lack of practice time: Rosenthal also competes in free style. She won the 2006 U.S. novice silver medal and placed fifth at the 2006 Triglav Trophy as a junior. In mid-July, she competed at the Liberty Open, winning the junior ladies short program final and placing third in the free skate final.
"Blake splits her time equally (between the two disciplines). She works as hard as she can on both. This was just the first time out until Hungary," said Newberry.
Junior Free Dance Group B
Talented blonde siblings Madison & Keiffer Hubbell, reigning U.S. novice silver medalists, were clear winners of Group B (33.51 TES + 34.36 PC = 67.87 points). Performing to Josh Grobanís rendition of an Italian aria, their opening footwork sequence had good speed and unison, as well as some complicated holds. Their lifts were equally impressive, especially a lovely curve lift with Madison in the (now limited) Biellmann position.
"It was pretty good, not our best, but itís our first competition as a junior. Every year it gets a little bit harder but I feel we are well prepared mentally and physically," said the pretty 15 year-old Madison, who stands nearly 5í8".
"It will be good to get the judgeís feedback so we know where we have to increase our element levels (difficulty) for the Courchevel JGP in a few weeks," added her 17 year-old brother, who is just a shade over 6".
2006 Canadian junior bronze medalists Andrea Chong & Spencer Barnes were second with 61.40 points (30.24 TES + 31.16 PCS). The couple, who train in Scarboro under the Lanes and Juris Razgulajevs, skated to a modern waltz opening with an elegant one-arm rotational lift followed by difficult twizzle sequences. The rest of their lifts featured attractive, unique positions, but the couple missed a few handholds in their step sequences and needs more speed on their spin.
"It was a clean, well-organized program, good for this time of year," said Carol Lane, who is preparing Chong & Barnes for JGP Courcheval, their first of two JGP assignments.
The veteran coach shared her views on Skate Canadaís new management.
"Weíve had more information (on competitions) since Benoit Lavoie was appointed president (on May 27th) than weíve had in the last five years. Last season, (Skate Canada) sent the 14th place novice team to a JGP and left my teams at home. Very few pairs went out (to JGP). You would find out a week before (a competition) you were going. Now, things have changed and I have no complaints," she said.
Brooke Huber & Karl Edelmann, who placed 11th at the 2006 U.S. junior nationals, were an impressive third with 57.81 points (29.83 TES + 27.98 PCS). The tall, well-matched couple, who train in Ann Arbor under Tchesnitchenko, performed a lively Latin American medley with attractive positions in the spin and lifts that made good use of Huberís exceptional flexibility. While the couple lost energy at the end of the program and struggling on the closing rotational spin, they made a good showing.
The 12th place finishers at 2006 Canadian juniors, Lisa Johnson & Joseph Scott, were fourth (26.01 TES + 25.39 PCS = 51.40). The couple performed their refreshing Irish folk dance program with enthusiasm, and showed strong lifts including a solid serpentine lift with three changes of position.
Skating to a blues medley, Amanda Loyd & Ashley Deavers were fifth with 49.93 points. The highlight of their program was a fast reverse rotational lift with Loyd in a catch-foot position.
Lindsey Cohen & Evan Roberts, who train at the University of Delaware under 1980 Olympic champs Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov, placed sixth (49.92 points) with their free dance to "Winter." Somewhat incongruously clad in bright orange, yellow and blue costumes, the couple showed difficult lifts and footwork but lacked the refined positions and polish of the top competitors. Undoubtedly, this will improve with time.
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