By Alexandra Stevenson
All photos copyright 2005 by George S. Rossano
Although one anonymous judge presented Sokolova with a -1 for her first move, the triple Lutz to double toe and a completely out of place -2 for her second element, a beautiful triple loop, the other eight judges gave the base value or +1. Presumably the computer has now filed away that errant officialís score in the "possible assessment" file.
Sokolova, who speaks excellent English, performed in bright pink to Nessun Dorma from Pucciniís opera Turandot. She was asked what she felt about the new system. "If you are the best, you will be first. But you should do really good steps and spins. I think we are all more tired now from the extra work. It is difficult with the spirals. It is harder to do the spirals with the flexibility when you are older." She gained a Level 4 for her last element, a change foot combination spin.
She was runner-up for the world title in 2003 just months after suffering a non-skating related bad concussion which made her think about quitting the sport. However, up to now, she has not been able recapture that form and was only but only seventh in March when worlds were in her hometown.
Onda is a 22 year old, who is from Nagoya but in April started training in Toronto, rocketed back last season by winning a silver medal at the Four Continents event after placing only seventh in her national championships. She had finished no lower than fourth in her four previous nationals.
She performed to the Madame Bovary Waltz by Rosaza, music which her coach, former Canada champion, Josee Chouinard, who also did her choreography, has conceived a very elaborate scenario. Onda is a waitress who keeps smiling through her travails of dropped plates, rushed service and demanding customers.
She also received a Level 4 but for a different spin, the flying sit spin. Last season Onda was coached by Audrey Weisinger in the United States. The reason for the split, Onda was quoted as saying, was that she wanted to be trained by someone who had recently been a top competitor and that she found US instructors "not strict enough".
Lying in third place is Alissa Czisny, who was a last minute replacement in the recent Campbellís Invitational for Michelle Kwan, and in Atlantic City for the injured Sasha Cohen. Czisny was also third after the short last year in this event in which she was also a substitute. However, she said she feels differently. "Iím not sure why but Iím determined to do better in the long program." Last year she dropped to fourth overall.
The extremely graceful 18 year old from Bowling Green, OH, whose strength is her balletic flexibility, interpreted Prelude & Quadukka-I-Mayyas by Jesse Cook. "I was pretty happy with my performance tonight. It was better than my last competition." That was in the free skating only competition in St. Paul a couple of weeks previously in which she was unable to repeat the excellent showing she had in practice.
Off ice she was wearing an Olympic jacket. "My mom got it for me in Lake Placid. She knew that was my goal this year and she thought it would be a good reminder." Not surprisingly since she is so flexible she likes the new system. "You get more points for your spins and spirals instead of just a check mark. Itís hard to understand what we need to have each of the levels. I feel like itís more of a counting game now."
She is a strong supporter of the new hinged boot which she feels help her with her jumps. "There are several pair skaters who use them to. I wouldnít go back to my old boots."
Czisnyís twin, Amber, is looking for a dance partner and has passed two of the international dances. Julianne Berlin said, "We are trying to get her a partner. It is a little difficult because she is 5í7".
Beatrisa "Bebe" Liang performed last of the 10 women from seven countries to Firdance by D. Foster. She completed a triple Lutz to double toe but then had a bad fall on her triple flip and lies fourth, only six one hundreds of a point ahead of the 16 year old Mira Leung, who was third in the last Canadian national senior championships, and was eighth in the last world championships.
Leung skated to music entitled Freedom in a bright yellow dress. Her combination was the most difficult in the competition, a triple Lutz to double loop, but she received a -1 GOE. (Judges, being human, rarely agree. Two judges thought there was nothing wrong with the move at all and gave a 0. Another gave -3 which is generally reserved for a fall and a third gave a -2. The rest punched in -1. She was eighth in the last world junior championships.
Lying sixth is the four-time Hungarian champion, Julia Sebestyen, who has had an up and down career. The 24 year oldís very high triple flip was downgraded to a double. "I donít know why," she said afterwards with a sigh. She also fell on the triple Lutz which was meant to be her combination. She peaked in 2004 when she won the European championship in her countryís capital city of Budapest and was 6th at worlds.
Sebestyen, who trained on an open air rink in her hometown of Tiszaujvaros until she was 11, is trained by Andras Szaraz and Eszter Jurek. She interpreted Esperanza by Maxime Rodriguez choreographed by Nikolai Morozov. If she is to better her eighth place in the Salt Lake Olympics, she will have to skate better than here.
The 16 year old Emily Hughes, performing to George Gershwinís Allegro, executed her triple flip but fell twice. The first was on her combination meant to be triple toe to double toe. The first jump was downgraded to a double and she received no credit for the second jump on which she fell. She also fell on her double Axel. Her "Emily", a move she invented which is back Charlotte into a layback, however, is unique and deserves high praise. She lies eighth behind Germanyís Constanze Paulinus.
Three time British champion, Jenna McCorkell, was entered but withdrew due to injury after skating badly in the Vienna Olympic Qualification Event last week.
Sokolova, who won a silver in Detroit in 1998 and three bronze medals (1997, 1999 and 2000) in this event, became the second Russian to win the ladies gold when she reached the top of the podium on Saturday. Maria Butyrskaya won in 1998.
She is the sixth non-American to take the title in the 24 times it has been held. "I competed in Skate America in my first ever international (in Springfield, MA in 1996). I usually skate pretty good in the United States. Iím absolutely happy that I did all six triples," Sokolova said. "I will add a triple/triple combination. That was progress in the past but with the new system weíre all so afraid to do the really difficult elements because you can lose so many points if you donít get the revolutions and fall."
Sokolova skated in a dramatic black cat suit with silver streaks which extended down one leg. One arm was covered with black, the other had only a wrist band. She sported one black glove and black boot covers. One side was bared. It was startlingly effective for her routine to music depicting a very modern version of Romeo & Juliet.
Last season, she had skated to a traditional musical version of Shakespeareís tragedy. "Juliet is absolutely me," said Sokolova. "Juliet is pursuing her love. I am pursuing my love Ė skating." So, is she a tragic figure? After all Romeo & Juliet both end up dead. "No, it is not a tragedy. They are together are in the end." In heaven, presumably, where she might be if she wins Olympic gold.
She was sent to the Olympics in 1998 "when I was a young girl who doesnít understand anything." But she didnít make the 2002 team. "Eight years is a long time to wait."
Sokolova, who skated ninth, won by a margin of 3.72 points. She had heard the roar of the audience for Czisny, who performed seventh. The American presented a thrilling if not perfect routine to win the free skating by 1.40 points ahead of Sokolova and advance to second overall 8.32 points ahead of Onda who dropped a place but won the bronze.
Sokolova began with a three jump combination, triple Lutz to double toe to double loop, which was rewarded with 0.60 added to the base level of 8.8. She followed with a flip but her next triple, the Salchow, had a slight minus of 0.60 off the base level of 4.5. Her second triple Lutz got -1.60 taken off but her triple loop, which got a ten percent bonus for being later in the program, gained +0.20 over the base level. Her triple toe loop to double toe loop had a slight minus GOE but her final jump, double Axel, was executed well enough to gain a slight positive GOE. Three of her four spins were Level 3 but the final change foot combination was only Level 2. She is not as flexible as some of her rivals and her spiral sequence was only Level 2. Her straight line step sequence was also Level 2.
Czisny only got the call that she would be sent to Skate America on Monday. "I had just gotten home from school and my mom got a call from my coach and shouted for me to come to the phone real fast. Last year I was at Regionals when we got the call to go to Skate America. Weíre ready to go anywhere!"
She skated to wonderful music from Minkusí La Bayadere which her twin, Amber, used for her short program three years ago. Though she has never seen the ballet live, her ballet teacher played her a tape of the classic. Her costume, a two piece in purple, reflects her character, a temple maiden in India.
Czisny began with a triple Lutz to double toe which had a significant minus 1.40 off the base value of 7.3. She followed that not so great start with a marvelous Level 4 flying sit spin, a good triple flip to double toe and a triple loop. All but one of the ten judges gave her second spin, a Level 3 change foot combination, a GOE of +2. That was followed with a satisfactory double Axel to double toe. Then she fell on her second triple flip.
"I learned a lot from Campbellís where I didnít skate well. I learned to get up, put it behind me and go onto the next thing," said Czisny. So she sprang up quickly rebounding with a Level 3 flying camel spin and a double Axel. Her second triple Lutz was not landed perfectly but she held onto the landing with great determination gaining 5.40 points. That consisted of a 10% increase on the normal triple Lutz base value of 6.0 because the jump was executed in the second half of the program but with a deduction of -1.20 because the GOE wasnít good.
Then came her straight line step sequence which was only a Level 1. Her coaches, Julianne Berlin & Theresa McKendry, both said they realize this must be beefed up although, at this late stage of the four minute routine, it is hard to insert the speed into difficult turns. What followed was the highlight of her program, the spiral sequence. She begins with an "Alissa".
On a left forward inside edge with her right leg in a full split high kick, her right hand is holding her right blade. She then transfers her blade above and behind her head to the other hand which has a few bandaids applied to strategic points so the blade will not dig into her and drops the right arm. A quite unique move!
Other spiral positions follow all done with exquisite flexibility. "She senses that the new system rewards her strong points and that gives her confidence," said McKendry. "Also she has learned how to approach competition. She used to get on to practice at competition and the warm-up and just race around frantically. Weíve got past that stage."
Asked how come she is such a good spinner, Czisny explained, "My sister and I used to spend time making up spins. It was fun."
Following the exhibition on Sunday Czisny must rush home. She has a full academic scholarship to Bowling Green University, where she is studying French, Russian and the History of the Development of World Civilization. She has a French test on Monday. Then she will catch a plane for Newfoundland where she will compete in Skate Canada.
She is a huge supporter of the new hinged skates. "I had bursa sacs on my feet and doctors kept draining them but they never went away. I went into these boots and theyíve never returned. I think I spin better in them and they have these slots for the blades. So in an emergency you can just substitute another blade."
Onda performed to music from the Fellini music, La Strada, written by N. Rota, in a short sleeved dress with pink trim and a black skirt. She began with a solid triple Lutz to double toe, a triple loop and a triple flip to double toe. Her second triple flip was very high but her triple Salchow was given a -1 GOE. However she singled her planned second triple Lutz. She also presented a double Axel sequenced to triple toe loop. It was technically a good performance but Onda didnít smile throughout the routine although she said she was enjoying her skating much more this season.
Liang held onto fourth place although she was fifth in the free. "I felt pretty good going into it. I was pretty confident. When I missed the jump, I was just making sure I kept my focus throughout the rest of the program." Skating to Hope by Apocalyptica and a Tango, she began with an excellent butterfly into a flying sit spin which gained Level 3 and a double Axel. But she fell on her attempt at a triple flip that was downgraded to a double. She stepped out of her triple Lutz before getting airborne again for the double toe. Everything else was okay until she fell on her final jump, a triple toeloop.
"Iíve not really had problems with that jump before. I think I just need to work on getting the routine consistent and getting a feel engrained in my mind. Hopefully Iíll be able to work on that when I get home."
Hughes was fourth in the long pulling up from eighth after the short to fifth overall.
Skating to Glazunovís Seasons, in a sleeveless blue dress with criss-cross strings on her back, she began with a very nice double Axel followed by a triple Lutz to double toe to double loop which gained a slight minus (-0.40) GOE but she stepped out of her triple flip and later fell on her triple Lutz attempt which was not high enough to get the complete three revolutions.
She gained base value plus ten percent because it was late in the program for her triple toe to double toe as was also the case for her triple Salchow to double toe. However her final triple toe got a -1.20 GOE. Although her layback spin was only a Level 1, the audience was delighted with the entrance, from a back Charlotte.
"It was better than yesterday but Ö.," she said of her performance. She and her coach, Bonnie Retzkin had invented the "Emily" move because, "At the world juniors (where she won the bronze in her first ever international) we learned that the new system rewards new moves. We were playing around with various spins from the Charlotte. We tried sit spins but going into the layback seemed neater."
Her whole family, including four of her five siblings, was in Atlantic City to cheer her on. The missing member was Sarah. The Olympic champion had to get ready for the charity show, "Sarah Hughes and Friends" which will take place in Long Island next week.
2005 Skate America Ladies Medalists
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