2010 Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships

Season Kicks Off With Ground-Breaking Innovations
Coaches Divided on the Merits of the Changes
Competitors Delighted Until Low Marks Click In

By Samantha*

(*) During the hour-long, much-needed seminar, which got this well-established, popular event off to an intensely intellectual start, this correspondent had an eye-opening epiphany. In keeping with skating officialdomís policy to overhaul the sport, making it more appealing to television, including renaming the Compulsories, so called since most of them were invented in the 1930s in Britain, to "Pattern Dances", this correspondent will now be known as Samantha. Following the logic of the ISU, this change of name, she believes, will make her popular with the masses, give her a younger profile and melt away her excess fat.

Bob Horen, ISU Ice Dance Committee Member, knowing that this seasonís massive changes have been regarded as overwhelming to some members of the ice dance world, did his best to condense the recent meeting of judges (for 3 days) and callers (for 5 days) in Frankfurt and to lighten up the proceedings into an opening hour-long seminar. There was a surprising amount of laughter in the packed Hall of Fame room in the bowels around the Herb Brooks rink where tomorrowís stars sat on the floor up front to glean every nuance and todayís overwrought coaches glumly knotted their brows.

Horen apologized that there was only one video, which was of Jane Summersett and Todd Gilles, who split up shortly after this was made. Horen explained, "They showed very smooth transitions from waltz to tango to waltz. Undoubtedly, this task will prove a unified challenge for choreographers." Angelika Krylova, twice world champion and Olympic silver medalist who coaches at the Detroit SC, thoroughly agreed with that point, saying, "Definitely, this makes the choreographerís job much more difficult."

Horen said, "There will be plenty (more videos) after this competition and the Junior Grand Prix events. But all the changes are explained in the bulletins." He warned that some skaters would be surprised by their marks. "Some competitors will get low marks if they donít follow the rules. The Technical Panel will give Levels for the Pattern Dance (which has not been done before). There are four key points in each sequence, two for the man and two for the Lady. In the Viennese, the manís closed Choctaw must be exactly as the rulebooks state. The cross rolls sometimes are really cross steps. The Juniors will take the brunt of the new enforcements and dancers may find themselves with a Level 0. In the Golden Waltz, dancers have been known to jump the three turns." Another example was the Ladyís Shoot-the-Duck position, "which must be in a sitting position."

In the Junior Group A Short Dance, two couples received Level 0 and no marks for both sequences of the Viennese Waltz. Two other couples received no marks for their first sequence and another two gained no marks for the second sequence. That came as a deserved but unexpected setback for six of the 13 couples in this group. In Group B, two of the eight couples got no marks for both sequences, and one other got nothing for one sequence. The situation was such that after each event, before the individual coupleís critique, a mass debriefing was held to further clarify what was required.

Gennadi Karponosov said in his charming accent, in which he pronounces Choctaw as Chicta, "It is simple. The rules are in the rule book. Itís nothing new. You just have to read the rule book. If itís a closed Choctaw, it must BE closed. The free leg must be behind the skating leg during the Choctaw, like fifth position (in ballet). In an Open Choctaw the free leg is in front. But if you turn earlier, it looks like a spreadeagle. The Ice Dance Committee is really concerned about technique (now there is no compulsory section) and I absolutely support this situation.

"If they say to include brackets in the step sequences, then there are four brackets for you to choose from and, maybe, you just do what is the easiest for you and your partner. But with the compulsories, the edges are specified and it is absolutely important to study and practice them and do what is specified. That is why they are so hard." Karponosov, who won his 1980 Olympic gold in the same arena in which this event is always held, has taught in the US for many years with wife and partner Natalia Linichuk. Their base is now Aston, PA, where they guided last seasonís Olympians, including the bronze medalists and Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto.

A well-known senior ice dance judge, who can not be named, admitted that, looking back, he enjoyed marking compulsories but in no way did he examine individual steps "to this microscopic level" (with the callers even having access to slo-mo video). And, of course, in the pre-IJS days, officials were merely comparing and slotting competitors into overall rankings and there were no "base values" of individual elements.

How glorious it would have been to have these technical points enforced many years ago. How many results would have been entirely changed?? Robbie Kaine believes that this system would have helped his pupils, Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentre, who are now enjoying their summer in Sun Valley before their contract with the European Holiday on Ice rehearses in Amsterdam.

Horan revealed that the judges now have a "music" button on their marking modules. "If the majority of the panel, including the referee, push this button in the Free Dance, the couple will get a music deduction. Last season, we had eight couples using Requiem for a Dream. It wasnít the coupleís fault that others choose the same music, but continued playing of this piece was absolutely horrible for the audience. Instead of being up-lifted, the judges were groaning. You can imagine a fan bringing her husband to a skating event for the first time. He probably wouldnít come back a second time. That isnít the direction in which we want to go.

"The judges also can push a button for a costume deduction in both short and long. For the ladies, fifty percent of the upper body must be covered. This is not ballroom Cha Cha competition." And the men canít be covered with extra material so the judges canít see what their arms and legs are doing.

Horen continued, "We deliberately choose one sequence of the Golden Waltz (to be incorporated into the Senior Short Dance) and two sequences of the Viennese (for the Juniors) because these were done last season for the Golden and two seasons ago for the Viennese. That meant most of the competitors would be familiar with them and wouldnít have the extra task of learning it from scratch. The Pattern Dance is nothing more than a step sequence. One sequence of the Viennese takes only 20 seconds so this shouldnít be a burden. We are looking for creativity. Imagine the Golden being done to a country and western piece!" The sequences must be done consecutively but they can be executed anywhere in the routine. In the Golden Waltz, the second sequence (which is actually the second half of the old compulsory) can be done before the first but the steps must be placed on the ice surface at the position where the rulebook indicates they should be."

Using their own music has definitely been the best selling point for the skaters. All the competitors said that having that freedom was "great". Everyone seemed to agree that the ISU music choices had got "old" very quickly. One couple pointed out that when their rinkmates were running through their Short, they could also do their Pattern Dance to that part of their rivalsí music. Even though it was a different tune, it was the same beat and that made it "more fun".

Senior level competitor Kristen Nardozzi, who skates with Robert Cuthbertson, and is trained by Pierre Panayi and Nick Traxler in Texas, had a particularly entertaining Free, dressed in a psychedelic outfit with her partner in bell bottom trousers. They skated to a modern version of the Beatlesí Imagine in the Free but had a less successful outing in the Short Dance. She said, "We like compulsories. But, at the same time, we appreciate only having two programs to work on. But it took a long time to find the music that we could fit the Golden into. We didnít find that much music out there. We found it particularly difficult to make the transition into the starting steps for the Golden. You have to be very careful to start on the correct beat."

Panayi has still to be won over. He said, "Honestly, I donít think this hybrid will work. The Original was a success. People liked it. Those routines are spectator friendly. We donít want to lose any more fans. I think, on the international level, once you get past the top couples, you are going to see some strange routines that arenít particularly entertaining. Although Iím a supporter of compulsory dance Ė sorry I should have said Pattern Dance Ė I think it would be better, since they have to have only two sections, to have just the Original and Free for the seniors and just the compulsory and the free for the juniors."

A number of skaters also pointed out that not having compulsories as a separate section, meant they could put more time into practicing their routines, which made for better efficiency. Sharon Jones Baker, coach of Joylyn Yang and her son Jean-Luc Baker, confided they felt there was another advantage. "Last year (when the couple were Novices), we had to travel with more costumes, which was a pain when you are flying across the country. Costumes are very important and they are very bulky to pack if you donít want to squash them." Yang, 14, and Baker, 16, were bronze medalists at the US Novice Championships.

Here in Lake Placid, Yang and Baker were third in the Junior Free Dance Group A behind Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams and Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton, in a field of 11 couples. They were also third in the Short Dance Group B behind Gabrielle Friedenburg & Ben Nykiel and Anastasia Olson & Jordan Cowan. Since the base values for the two sequences of the Viennese Waltz differ, with Sequence 1 worth 3.5 and Sequence 2 the higher 4.0, Yang and Baker chose to schedule the second portion first when the skaters are "fresher" in a strategy move in order to maximize the marks.

In the Seniors, the winners of both sections were Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein, but their Free Dance victory was only by a sliver. The 5í2" Chock turned 18 at the beginning of July while 5í8" Zuerlein will be 22 in late October. With Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto and Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentreís retirement from competition, they now rank third in the country so anything less than victory would have been a blow, although this is only their second season at senior level. They were the 2009 World and US Junior champions.

Their coach, Igor Shpilband, recently shattered an elbow while water-skiing and had to endure an operation. That put a great strain on Marina Zueva at the Canton rink and she could not accompany them to this event. Oleg Epstein, who coaches in Chicago, stepped in to put them on the ice.

They were not originally planning to do the Short Dance but were persuaded to compete. They began their routine, set to Edith Piafís Milord and Padam, Padam with Level 3 Non-touching midline steps which earned +1.57 GoE. Their twizzles were Level 3 but were awarded only the base value. They gained Level 3 and +0.29 for their first sequence and Level 2 with only base value for the second sequence of the Golden Waltz. Their final element, the rotational lift, was Level 4, +0.64. They teamed up in 2006, making their debut in the Lake Placid Championships and going on to win gold in their first Junior Grand Prix, just as did Belbin and Agosto.

Chock and Zuerleinís Short Dance marks, 52.31, were 3.33 above the second placed Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmidtt, who placed eighth at nationals in Spokane. Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmidtt skated to The Trouble with Love by Kelly Clarkson. Tarrah Harvey & Keith Gagnon, from British Columbia, who rank sixth in Canada at Senior level, were third with 46.98, skating to Dance Macabre.

In the Free, Chock & Zuerlein, skating to Nothing Else Matters by Metallica, won by only 0.18. (Her dress was not ready, so she borrowed one of Meryl Davis.) They gained three Level 4s as compared to their two main rivals who both were awarded four Level 4s. Nevertheless, Chock & Zuerlein still earned the top technical marks while the Canadians, who were second in the Free, beat them on the components. Harvey wore a delightful 50ís small pink hat complete with netting and he was in suspenders. They had the advantage of skating in the Minto competition the previous week. "We got full feedback there and that definitely helped us skate better here," Harvey admitted.

Kriengkrairut & Giulietti-Schmitt, who finished third skating to I Belong to You by Muse, which is an update of My Heart Opens to your Voice, from the opera Samson and Delilah (previously used by Meryl Davis & Charlie White), would have won the Free had both not fallen on a non-element move and been saddled with a two point deduction.

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