by Karen Frank
(19 January 2016) As one generation retires from skating, the next rises -- to be coached by the previous generation. Thus was the case in Novice Figure Skating, where several recent U.S. National Champions are now coaching this year’s competitors, and doing so successfully.
Two-time U.S. Silver Medalist Amanda Evora brought the eventual winners Elli Kopmar & Jonah Barrett to St. Paul. Former world medalists Jenni Meno & Todd Sand coached both Isabella Gamez & Griffin Schwab and Sapphire Jaeckel & Matthew Scoralle, who won the silver and bronze medals, respectively. 1988 Olympic Bronze Medalist Peter Oppegard continued his successful coaching career with Pewter Medalists Emma Coppess & Robert Hennings. And while former U.S. Champion Rockne Brubaker’s team Laiken Lockley & Keenan Prochnow finished off the Novice podium, he and wife Stefania Bertin’s program is still off to a strong start. Earlier this week, their team Isabelle Martins & Ryan Bedard won the Juvenile Pair title.
Finishing nearly ten points ahead of their closest competitors, last year’s Intermediate champs Kopmar & Barrett skate with significant speed and power. The Southwest Florida FSC teams have always been known for their creative lifts, and this year’s gold medalists exemplify that tradition. All of their lifts, in the short and long programs were deemed level four or level five, with multiple changes in position and complicated dismounts. Their free skate music, from John Williams’ ET the Extra Terrestrial, was well suited to their power and flow, and one could almost imagine them skimming across the sky to this music. Unfortunately, it will be another year before this team can compete on the Junior Grand Prix, as twelve year old Kopmar won’t be age eligible this Fall.
Solidly in second in both phases of the competition, Gamez & Schwab, are also no slouches when it comes to lifts. They swept across the ice securely and confidently, demonstrating good speed and ice coverage. Equally secure are their throw jumps, which go both up and out, and are landed with ease. In both their short and free programs, they chose music with a Latin flair, Malagueña, and West Side Story, presenting both programs with verve.
Their bronze medal winning training mates Jaeckel & Scoralle had longer journey to the podium, as their The Sound of Music short program, though fun and charming, finished in sixth with problems on the side by side double flips. They regrouped with a free skate to Kung Fu Panda, beginning that program with a beautiful double twist lift. The flexible Jaeckel gets into an “I” lift position with apparent ease, and displays a deep back bend in the death spiral. Their spunky presentation made them favorites with the audience, who patiently stayed up late to attend the after nine p.m. event.
The back outside death spiral tended to be the ominous element in the short program, and six teams had that element zeroed out. Among the death spiral victims were Coppess & Hennings, who were forced to climb out of seventh place. Fortunately for them, their Oppegard choreographed Silent Film Piano Adventure free program allowed them to show off personality and a sense of fun, as they mimed their way through a salute to the silent film era. Though they had synchronization and landing issues on their side by side jump elements, they sold the choreography, delivering a thoroughly enjoyable program that was judged the third best of the evening.
Beyond the gold and silver medalists, the novice event was plagued by inconsistency. As Jaeckel & Scoralle and Coppess & Hennings were able to come from behind to medal, this inevitably meant that teams who had been at the top of the standings slipped to mid-field. Laiken & Prochnow, who have one of the more jaw-dropping double twists in the field, were unable to hold onto the third place gained by their Stayin’ Alive short program. Though their free skate, to Bohemian Rhapsody, got off to a high flying start with a huge double twist, they had problems with the throws, including a painful looking fall on the throw double Salchow. Fourth place after the short, the elegant Colorado based team of Nica Digerness & Danny Neudecker, also lost ground in the free program with a fall on the side by side jumps and a couple of shaky looking lifts. They ended up in seventh overall.
Taking advantage of the movement, Ashlee Raymond & Misha Mitrofanov, performed the fifth best free program and moved into sixth place with a program to Maksim Mrvica’s Hana’s Eyes. Their skating features strong throw jumps and nice unison in between their elements.
Although the previous generation of U.S. Pair champions has rarely won World Championship medals, there’s certainly precedent for stating that any kind of past international experience can translate into future medals for the next generation. One only needs to look at the example of Yao Bin of China, whose first 1980 World Championship experience was legendarily so bad, that the audience laughed at him and his partner.
Fast forward to the twenty-first century, when Yao Bin learned from that experience and built China’s pair program to dominance. Perhaps the building blocks for a similar transformation to the U.S. pairs program are already in place.