by Karen Frank
(18 January 2016) In 2013, the Juvenile and Intermediate Events, previously called “Junior Nationals,” and prior to that, “Junior Olympics” were merged into the US National Championships. Once lasting almost a week, this competition now takes place over the first weekend of Nationals, with the Juvenile and Intermediate events serving as an appetizer for the later novice, junior, and senior menu items. For 2016, the former “Junior Nationals,” events all took place in the Bloomington Ice Garden, a suburban ice rink some twenty miles from the Xcel Center, which hosts the rest of Nationals.
Aside from geography, however, the Bloomington Ice Garden, which has had experience hosting qualifying competitions in the past, has great facilities for this occasion. With three ice surfaces providing ample room for practice and competitive events, the rink still feels like a cozy environment. With enough seating for parents, friends, and other spectators, but small enough to look full when everyone is cheering, the “B.I.G.” provided a way for the Juvenile and Intermediate Competitors to perform in front of a larger crowd.
Another new feature for the lower levels this year is a judging rule for singles skaters at the Juvenile through Novice. Juvenile skaters will receive a 1.0 bonus point for performing a double axel in their program, while Intermediates will receive 1.0 for a double axel and each different triple performed. This culminated in several high-flying events, with the majority of the skaters receiving at least one bonus point.
With a powerful program to Camille Saint-Saëns Danse Macabre, Stephanie Ciarochi from the Dallas FSC won the Gold Medal. Ciarochi landed two solid double axels (one in combination) in addition to two double Lutzes (one part of a three jump combination) and a double flip. Aside from some problems in her first spin, which lost speed, and therefore received minus ones and twos, her elements gained mostly positive grades of execution. With her high jumps, Ciarochi has set herself up well for a move up to the Intermediate level.
Ciarochi’s training mate, Hanna Harrell, finished closely behind for the silver medal. Though she fell on her second double axel, Harrell made up ground with her fast and beautifully positioned spins. With personality to spare, Harrell zipped around to the Russian Folk song Two Guitars, with a smile that got the audience clapping along.
The bronze medal was captured by Reagan Scott of the Hershey FSC. Scott went after (and received) the double axel bonus point, from a daring field move entry. Though she fell on the jump, Scott recovered to perform to a fiddle version of Cotton Eyed Joe, high energy and enthusiasm.
A wild two event led to Alyssa Rich (Dallas FSC) and Angelina Huang (St. Peters FSA) recovering from 11th and 10th place short programs to win bronze and pewter medals. Consistency helped Sophia Chouinard (Panthers FSC) whose third place short and free programs were rewarded with a silver medal. The leader after the short program, Alysa Liu (St. Moritz ISC) hung on to win the gold medal.
Skating third in the draw, Huang’s gentle program to the Forest Gump soundtrack featured a triple Salchow half-loop double flip combination jump and a double Lutz-double loop combination that traveled so far she nearly hit the boards. Soon after her skate, Rich also leaped into contention with a smile on her face that grew bigger as she landed ten clean jumps and performed two level four spins in her program to Imagine. Her winning free skate propelled her to the bronze medal. First in the short program, and fourth in the free, Liu showed personality and spunk in her Puttin’ On the Ritz short program and Addams Family free skate. The consistent Chouinard, who skated a powerful Malaguena short program, followed that up with a smooth and clean free skate to music from the Nutcracker Ballet. Though she didn’t attempt any triples, Chouinard upped her points with great run-out on her jump landings.
The double axel isn’t what separates the boys from… the boys any longer. The top skaters all successfully landed two double axels in their programs, but all also skated with conviction and style. The winner, Ilia Malinin, (Washington FSC, and son of former Uzbekistani competitor Tatyana Malinina) had the strongest spins in the pack. Skating to the JFK soundtrack, the highlight of his program was a straight line footwork passage to a military cadence which showed off his sense of rhythm and beautiful posture.
While not as powerful a skater as Malinin, the silver medalist, Samuel Mindra, from the Portland ISC, charmed the audience in his routine to Dark Eyes. So tiny he sometimes disappeared beneath the boards his coach was excitedly pounding, Samuel was clearly having fun with his Russian folk dance choreography.
Doing double duty in Juvenile Boys and Dance, the Dallas FSC’s Maxim Zharkov, utilized his dance training with a fierce tango attitude that he kept through the whole program. Though he seemed to lose a little energy by the final spin (long day!), his performance expression never waned.
Unlike the Intermediate Ladies Event, the Intermediate Men featured far less movement in the standings. The top four after the short program remained the top four at the end of the event (with only a switch between third and fourth place). Joseph Kang (University of Delaware FSC) won both the short and free program. In his Henry V, short, Kang maxed the jump bonus with a double axel, a triple toe, and a triple Salchow, all with great distance and speed. He continued his technical domination in the free, adding a successful triple loop to his arsenal in his Spiderman free skate. From the Central Illinois FSC, Alex Wellman, also had difficult content, landing a clean triple Lutz in both programs. Wellman set a lovely mood in his Schindler’s List short program, and followed that up with a well presented free skate to Michael Buble’s Feeling Good. The bronze medalist, also from the University of Delaware FSC, Jordan Evans, whose skating skills are characterized by great posture and deep edges, pulled up from a fourth place short with a tango themed program that gained the bonus points from a triple toe, a triple salchow and a triple flip.
The cliché goes, “slow and steady wins the race,” but the Chicago based team of Isabelle Martins & Ryan Bedard’s philosophy might be “smooth and steady wins the race.” Though they had the lowest base value elements in the top five, their grade of execution bumped them into first place. Zooming around to Yellow’s The Race, Martins and Bedard were rock solid in their skating, performing almost every element (except the combination spin) extremely well.
They were closely followed by two Skating Club of Boston teams, Julia Curran & Franz-Peter Jerosch; and Cate Fleming & Jedidiah Isbell, who received silver and bronze, respectively (with 0.07 making the difference in placements). Though both teams have different coaches, there’s something about the Skating Club of Boston that makes their skaters posture and style recognizable when they step onto the ice. Curran and Jerosch, with their expansive ice coverage and quality “pairness,” looked confident in their program to Man of La Mancha. Meanwhile, Fleming and Isbell, their energy as bright as the neon in their costume, skated to a swing tune, and finished off their routine with a well-executed pair spin.
On the other hand, the theme for intermediate pairs might have been “speed.” The brother and sister pair team of Jasmine & Joshua Fendi, Jasmine Fendi (Los Angeles FSC) whose strong ice coverage and commitment to their choreography gave them a lead in their fierce and fast tango short that they kept after their long to West Side Story. They were followed by Eliana Secunda & Blake Eisenach, from the Rocky Mountain FSC, who also chose fast paced music in both programs (The Race in the short and James Bond soundtrack music in the long). Secunda and Eisenach’s skating features strong ice coverage in the lifts and steady speed over the ice. Hometown team Berit Cummings, (Lake Minnetonka [MN] FSC) & Jabe Roberts, (Atlanta FSC) continued the pace, keeping up with the increasingly fast tempo of Zorba the Greek, in their short, and the comparatively sedate Broadway tunes from The Music Man in their free. No placement changes marked the leader board in the top four, from short to free programs.
Juvenile Ice Dance
For a while now, the center of ice dance has been in the state of Michigan. With three major training centers in the “Wolverine State,” the road to the Senior National Title has gone through Michigan (with a brief detour in New Jersey) for the past twenty years. Will that continue to be the case? Strong developmental centers are popping up throughout the country, particularly in Wheaton Maryland, but also in Louisville Kentucky, Simsbury, CT, and Aliso Viejo, CA.The coaching team at the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy (Washington FSC), Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak, and Dmytri Ilin were the 2015 Developmental Coaches of the Year, and have coached a string of champions at the Juvenile, Intermediate, Novice, and Junior Levels.
In 2016, the Wheaton coaches brought two teams to the Juvenile Championships Maria Soldatova & Faddey Soldatov, and Claire Cain & Andrei Davydov, and left with the silver and bronze medals to add to their growing cache. The Wheaton teams are noted for their exquisite unity in their pattern dances, their ability to perform from face to feet, and their flow over the ice. Joining these teams on the podium were Christine Fowler-Binder’s youngsters, Layla Karnes & Jeffrey Chen, who won all three phases of the competition. The expressive Karnes and Chen have been together less than a year, but their deep edgework and speed are reminiscent of teams that have partnerships of longer status.
In the Free Dance, Karnes & Chen brought felinity to the ice, capturing the movement and expression of cats as they skated to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical of the same name. Mimicking choreography from the Broadway show, the team pranced and slunk over the ice. Meanwhile, the tiny Soldatovs, at eight and nine years of age, charmed in a tango program, displaying strong lifts and spins on their way to the silver medal. For the bronze medal, Cain and Davydov also skated a more traditional program, bringing verve and energy to their Russian Gypsy folk dance medley.
The Wheaton club continued to roll in the Intermediate dance. Last year’s Juvenile Champions, Elizabeth Tkachenko & Alexei Kiliakov, Washington FSC repeated at this level, with a strong showing in the pattern dances, and displayed their strong skills in a performance to Russian Folk music in the free skate. Meanwhile, former US Competitor Matthew Gates’ program at Charter Oak FSC produced the team of Avonley Nguyen & Maxwell Gart, who jumped from fourth in the pattern dances to the second place overall, charming the audience with their winning high energy free dance to a combination of blues tunes, including Soul Man, Minnie the Moocher, and Jailhouse Rock.
From the Philadephia SC, Isabella Amoia & Cory Fraiman were elegant, fast and flowy in their pattern dances, and used their height and long limbs to great advantage in their free dance to Banks of the Seine and C’est La Vie by Philip Hockstrate, The New Lobby Boy by Alexandre Desplat. Another Wheaton team, Jordan Lin & Morgan Sletten, displayed the precision that marks the dancers from this club in their pattern dances, and moved up from fifth to take the pewter medal with a rhythmic ragtime Jazz medley of Johnson Rag, Ain’t She Sweet and Milenberg Joys.
American Ice Dance teams have done well on the world stage over the past decade, and from the showings at the U.S. Championships this past weekend, it looks like the success may continue into the future.