News From Liberty Open

By Liz Leamy

Canadian Chan Scores Gold in Senior Men’s Free Skate

American Messing right on his heels

Patrick Chan, the two-time Canadian silver medalist, racked up the highest numbers in the senior men’s free skate at the Liberty Open this past weekend, a 149.91, and easily wound up at the top of the 18-member list of talented contenders.

Chan, whose presence made this the main event at this year’s ‘nationals in July’ non-qualifying Liberty, came up nearly eight points ahead of the second-place finisher, American Keegan Messing of Anchorage, Alaska who qualified for the 2010 Junior Worlds, with a slightly flawed, yet still top-of-the-line performance that demonstrated why he is a two-time World silver medalist.

Patrick Chan with fans.

The amicable 19-year-old, who currently trains in Colorado Springs with Christy Krall and also Toronto with Lori Nichol, earned ‘best of show’ marks for his dynamic rendition to "Phantom of the Opera," the same program he used to score silver at the 2010 World Championships in Turin, Italy last March.

Right from the moment he stepped onto the ice, Chan owned the audience and charged through each of his elements with the energy, confidence and finesse of a seasoned elite world skater. Although he fell hard on his quad and a triple Axel, he still rocked out some triple jumps with incredible ease, speed and technical acumen.

Chan’s edges, stroking and connecting steps were superior as usual and for them, he rightfully earned a 77.24 program component score, putting him more than 10 points ahead of the rest of the pack.

"He just flows and represents what skating is," said Uschi Kessler, an owner and proprietor of the Aston Ice Works, where the competition was held, and also former coach of Brian Orser, the two-time Canadian Olympic silver medalist in 1984 and 1988 and Elvis Stojko of Canada, who was second at the 1998 Olympics. "He sets the example for all the other skaters."

Patrick Can.

Chan’s technical mistakes put him behind Messing in the total element score, however. He was awarded a 74.67, while Messing earned a 76.81. Chan did a whopping triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe, triple Lutz and triple flip-double toe-double loop. He doubled a planned triple Salchow and turned out on the landing of a triple loop.

"It’s the first program for me this season and I didn’t feel too bad," said Chan. "It’s so great to compete with the athletes here, it keeps me grounded."

Chan also said most of his training time has been geared toward strengthening his spins and jumps.

"My spins could be better and I’m also working on strengthen my jumps," said Chan, who added in practice, he usually warms up at the beginning with edges, turns and stroking but primarily concentrates on the other things. "Sometimes I have trouble getting speed for eight rotations and all my spins are supposed to be level four, plus the triple Axel-triple toe and quad are new additions for me this season."

Keegan Messing with his mother.

Messing, the 18-year old esteemed triple jumper, claimed second with a 141.75, a score he considered good, but one he wants to improve upon.  "This is my second year as a senior [competitor] and I feel a lot more confident," said Messing. "I like throwing it all out there."

Skating for the second consecutive season to the "Incredible Hulk" film score, he drew audible gasps from the crowd with his enormous opening triple Axel, which he entered and exited at top speed and covered the entire rink width.

"When you land it, there’s no better feeling," said Messing, adding that his dream, ever since he was four years old, is to someday land a quad Axel.

Throughout his program, Messing skated with more maturity, fluid edges and sophistication, adding a more elegant flair to his fifth-gear level of jumping. He earned a straight set of unanimous plus-two grade of execution marks for his opening triple Axel from the five-member judging panel, while being awarded mostly plus-one GOEs for his triple flip-double toe-double loop and two triple Lutzes, one done in combination with a triple toe. He turned out on the landing of his triple Axel-double toe and triple loop, which caused him to get some minus one and two GOEs, however.

"I have always liked the triple Axel right from the start. It’s a challenge and sometimes it comes and sometimes it goes, I’m just glad it came today," said Messing.  Meanwhile, he was awarded plus one and plus-two GOEs for a floating level-four death drop and a combination spin.

For Messing, it’s all about pushing the envelope in whatever way possible, and this is how he has been handling his training.

"Shaun White, the two-time U.S. Olympic snowboarding champion, is one of my idols and he lives by the idea of ‘go big or go home,’ and that is the same type of thinking I like to have," said Messing.

Ross Minor with Peter Johansson

Ross Miner, the 2009 U.S. Junior Grand Prix bronze medalist and 2009 U.S. junior titlist from the Skating Club of Boston, wowed the crowd with a high-charged performance to the "Casablanca" film score and wound up with the bronze with a 127.77.

Miner, who had withdrawn from the 2010 U.S. Championships due to an ankle sprain sustained while practicing a triple Axel last January, looked better than ever and kicked out his jumps from top speed and fantastic confidence and strength, making it appear as though he hadn’t missed any time off the ice at all.

"I realized I had a very good season up to January, so it I saw it is all how I would view it and I chose to see this as really an opportunity to only get stronger and better for this season," said Miner.

His musical choice also served as a motivational point of reference. "I skated to ‘Casablanca’ my first year as a novice and didn’t make nationals, so I decided to do the program justice this year," said Miner.

Justice certainly seemed to be served, at least based upon the high quality of Miner’s performance at Liberty last weekend. He kicked out a terrific triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe, triple Lutz, triple flip, triple loop and double Axel, for which he earned plus-one and plus-two GOEs from the judges.

Miner was also right on the heels of Messing with his program component scores, and earned a 64.40 as opposed to the former, who received a 65.64.

"I wanted to skate like a senior man out there and have really been focused on program components," said Miner, who is trained by Mark Mitchell and Peter Johannson and has worked extensively with Peter Breen, a former star U.S. ice dance contender, on stroking this past year.

"I have worked on my skating outside of just my programs," said Miner, who said he hopes this will help enhance his overall performance quality.

This fall, Miner is scheduled to compete at two back-to-back Grand Prix Championship events in China and Japan, something he said he is very excited over.

"Ever since I’ve been little, I’ve watched the Grand Prix events on television and now I think to myself, ‘wow-I might actually be finding myself on television, which is pretty cool."

Stephen Carriere, who also represents the Skating Club of Boston, placed fourth with a 126.84. His program to ‘West Side Story’ was dynamic, intricate and promising, and he skated with much of the same confidence that helped him garner the 2008 U.S. Championship bronze medal. He reeled off a triple Lutz, triple toe, triple Salchow and triple loop-double toe-double Axel sequence among other elements.

Carriere, who has been attending Villanova University in the suburbs just outside of Philadelphia, had relocated to Wilmington, Delaware two years ago. There, he has been training with Priscilla Hill, Karl Kurtz and Sharon Tashjian.

According to Tashjian, Carriere is a sterling student who seems to have settled in well to the area.

"He’s a bright, wonderful skater who is extremely focused and dedicated in everything he does," Tashjian said. "He is in a good place and really wants to just do well with his skating this year."

Zawadzki Goes Home with Gold in Liberty Senior Ladies Group A Free Skate

Agnes Zawadzki

Agnes Zawadzki, the 2010 U.S. junior champion from the Broadmoor Skating Club, dominated the senior ladies free skate group a event at the Liberty Open today earning a total score of 102.97, winding up more than 18 points ahead of the rest of the six-member field.

Zawadzki, who trains in Colorado Springs with Tom Zakrajsek and Becky Calvin, proved why she is the reigning U.S. national champion with a program to Hungarian and gypsy folk melodies that featured gigantic triples and fast and powerful skating.

"I felt good out there and really strong, especially the end of the program," said Zawadzki, who said that training at high altitude has strengthened her for competitions. "I feel good when I go from high to low altitude, but when I go back from low to high it’s kind of hard."

In her program, Zawadzki did a double Axel-triple toe, triple flip, triple Lutz-double toe, triple Salchow and triple toe-double toe-double loop. Despite a fall on her triple Lutz, Zawadzki’s spins, footwork and components made for a memorable program.

Zawadzki, who loves jumping, said she has focused this year on improving all her other elements and was happy to be awarded high marks on those things.

Still, the high-energy 15-year old is extremely determined to continue upping her jumping ante and even hopes someday to do a triple Axel.

"I’ve started working on it on the harness," said Zawadzki, right before heading off to her critique.

Yasmin Siraj, the current U.S. junior silver medalist who represents the Skating Club of Boston, ws second with an 84.11. The tiny Siraj reeled off a triple flip, triple loop, triple toe and double Axel and some excellent, well-formed spins.

Anastasiya Kononenko of the North Jersey Skating Club was third with her playful take on the ‘Pink Panther" theme that was awarded a 66.78. She performed a double loop and double Salchow and a layback, combination and change-foot spin that all earned plus-one grade of execution marks.

Cesario Takes Top Spot in Senior Ladies Group B Event

Samantha Cesario with Mary Lynn Gelderman and Kyoko Ina.

Samantha Cesario, the Gardena Springs Trophy winner from the Skating Club of New York, racked up the highest score in the Liberty senior ladies b free skate, a 99.62, to take home the gold medal.

Her entertaining and action-packed rendition to "Man of La Mancha" featured a triple lutz (that had an edge call), triple flip-double toe, triple loop, triple toe, triple flip, triple salchow-double toe-double loop and two double Axels in sequence. She also did a lovely, well-centered layback and fast-moving footwork.

"I love competing and want to earn good scores," said Cesario, who is 16 years old and trains in Monsey, New York with Peter Burrows, Mary Lynn Gelderman, both national and Olympic coaches and Kyoko Ina, the former U.S. pair champion.

According to her coaches, Cesario gets tremendous incentive from competition. "Sam likes to win and loves to succeed," said Gelderman. "If she gets a downgrade that only pushes her to get better."

Joelle Forte of the Skating Club of New York was second with her elegant performance to music from Cirque de Soleil’s "O" and earned an 80.35. Although she singled an opening triple loop, she reeled off a nice triple lutz, double toe, triple toe, triple salchow-double toe and triple salchow.

For Forte, this was one of the first events she has participated at in over a year following a hiatus from U.S. qualifying events last season. (Forte had decided to opt out of the U.S. Figure Skating qualifying competitive realm last season in hopes of attempting to represent Azerbaijan at the 2010 Winter Olympics, something that never came to fruition due to paperwork issues.)

"I am really looking forward to competing this year and feel very positive about my training and programs," said Forte, who placed second in the senior ladies short program b event yesterday.

Elaine Zayak, the 1982 U.S. World titlist who trains Forte with Dmitri Gromov in Long Island, New York and Hackensack, New Jersey, feels positive about her student’s progress and development so far.

"I am optimistic about the work and progress Joelle has made," said Zayak, adding that Forte had crashed into a board during a practice earlier in the week, which had slightly injured her hip. "She was a little unsure about skating today, but we decided it would be good for her to get out there since we were here already."

Karina Johnson of the Danish Skating Union ws third with a 68.32. She did some gigantic doubles, including a double Axel, double Lutz, and double toe.

Simpson and Miller First in Senior Pairs Free Skate

Britney Simpson and Nathan Miller, the 2010 U.S. junior pair silver medalists came out on top in the senior pair free skate at the Liberty Open last night with a lovely interpretation to Moonlight Sonata that earned a 94.36.

Their performance, which was characterized by high, well-extended lifts with clean footwork, was an exercise in speed, flow and overall good skating skills, and earned the night’s highest program component scores, a 48.31, more than two points ahead of the rest of the field.

"We’ve got a lot of compliments and feedback on our lifts at Junior Worlds, we have the same carry lift and star lift, but added a step overhead this year," said Miller, who train with Delilah Sappenfield in Colorado Springs.

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir..

Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, the 2009 U.S. junior world bronze medalists, seem primed for a good season based on their silver-medal performance in the senior pairs free skate last night to the Avatar film score.

Their program was dramatic and engaging, and although not without some flaws, outstanding as a whole. The Skating Club of Boston-based duo opened up with a gasp-inducing split triple twist and did some fantastic lifts, including a star variation in which Castelli was held up on one side with her hand on a hip.

They missed their triple salchows and triple toes, but did a huge throw double Axel with a step out on the landing.

This represents the commencement of a potential comeback for this team, who placed 10th at the 2010 U.S. Championships in their first foray as seniors. Last year, the team faced some challenges when Castelli had suffered an injury on her right thigh when a skater had run into her during a practice session earlier that year.

Things look much more optimistic for the team now, however.  "It was hard to come over the injury, but I feel really good now and this year should be good," said the 19-year old Castelli, who lives in Rhode Island. "We just want to do a good job."

Shnapir said the team has also increased the intensity of their training. "This is the hardest we’ve ever worked," said Shnapir. "We want to keep pushing ourselves so we can be our best."

Felicia Zhang and Taylor Toth, the 2010 U.S. junior pair champions, came out third with a 92.12. This team skated the best technical performance of the night and earned a 50.60 total element score. They reeled off a group-five level-three lift and a soaring throw triple loop and triple salchow, among other elements. Their program component score was a 41.52.

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