by Doris Spicer Pulaski
(21 January 2013) Christina Zaitsev & Ernie Utah Stevens, of the Indian World Skating Acadamy FSC, presented a thrilling free skate to "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" by J. S. Bach to win the US Nationals 2013 Novice Pairs competition, with a final score of 123.30. Their coaches told them in the Puffs Kiss and Cry area, "I'm proud of you guys, " almost even before the scores were announced. Sergei and Elena Zaitsev are also Christina Zaitsev's parents, as well as the team's coaches and choreographers, so they had even more reason to be proud.
Zaitsev & Stevens had just skated an almost perfect program, only receiving negative grades of execution for their double flip jump and their double flip - double toe combination, both of which received edge calls. The judges particularly rewarded their opening Axel entry lasso lift, where Stevens held Zaitsev aloft with one arm for almost half the length of the rink before setting her down softly, still supporting her with just one arm. They also received good grades of execution for their level 3 double twist, their choreographic spiral sequence, where the partners both performed catch-foot spirals with nicely matching lines, exiting the element with a lovely transitional dance lift, where Zaitsev slid gracefully down Stevens' back. The pair finished their routine with a unique variation of a level 4 combination pair spin, where Stevens' support allows Zaitsev to rotate in a sideways -leaning sit spin with her leg extended to the side.
Zaitsev & Stevens had to settle for the pewter medal last year at the 2012 US Novice Pairs Championships; this year, they finally were able to stand at the top of the podium, finishing with a total score of 122.30.. The 2012 Midwestern Sectionals Novice silver medalists won the free skate with a score of 88.09, almost ten points higher than the second place finishers on the night, Kaitlin Budd & Nikita Cheban, the Midwestern Sectionals Novice gold medalists.
Budd & Cheban skated immediately after Zaitsev & Stevens, and held a narrow lead following a fine performance in the short program. They planned a program to “Ice Symphony” by Edvin Marton with more technically difficult elements than the eventual winners performed: a side by side double Axel and a throw triple Salchow.
The students of Sergey Petrovskiy and Rashid Kadyrkaev skated a strong routine, but they made several errors: Budd fell on the double Axel attempt, and they did not do a planned choreographic spiral sequence, probably because the dalay in recovering from the fall left them behind the music throughout the program. Budd & Cheban also did a back outside death spiral, and were unable to earn more than a level 1 for it, because Budd had difficulty maintaining a position with her head lower than Cheban's knee while holding the back outside edge. Budd & Cheban, the winners of last night's short program earned second place in the free skate with a score of 78.28, and won the silver medal with a total score of 114.71.
Elise Middleton & Robert Hennings from Los Angeles FSC finished third in the free skate and third overall to claim the bronze medal. The thirteen-year old and sixteen-year old from California, who are coached by Peter Oppegard and Karen Kwan-Oppegard, skated to their coaches' interesting choreography to elections from Beethoven as performed in the soundtrack of the film, "Immortal Beloved." For most of the routine, they showed excellent speed and a lovely connection both to each other and to the music. Unfortunately, both Middleton & Hennings suffered frightening falls from a fully extended star lift at the very end of the program, losing two points for the falls and all but 0.70 points for the lift. Fortunately neither skater was injured. The fifth place finishers at the 2012 US Novice Pairs Championship scored 76.1, for third place in the free skate, and 109.85 points overall.
Aya Takai & Brian Johnson of the Detroit SC finished fourth in the free skate, with a score of 70.39, and an overall score of 102.71, a remarkable result for a new pair where one of the partners, Aya Takai, was competing seriously as an ice dancer last season. Their speed across the ice was visibly less than that of the top three teams. Takai & Johnson skated an enjoyable performance to "Hungarian Blue" by Christian Kolonovits, as choreographed by Massimo Scali and Olga Volozhinzkaya. Takai & Johnson only earned credit for a single Axel and were given an edge call on their double flip - double toe combination. The pair also struggled, but did not succeed, in attaining unison in their side by side spins.
Sophia Dai & Jeffrey Fishman, Arctic FSC, skated to “The Entertainer” by Marvin Hamlisch, and were very entertaining in a routine choreographed by Marina Zoueva. They finished fifth with a total score of 100.62. A lift that got out of hand and almost resulted in Fishman dropping Dai marred their program as well as losing them points. Grace Knoop & Noah Chinault of the Southwest Florida FSC finished sixth with a total score of 90.43.
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