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U.S. International Classic Returns to Salt Lake City

by Alexandra Stevenson

Dance still doesn't get full respect, but Max's sizzling Latin undulations turn up the temperature in the second year of the U.S. International Classic.

The second annual three-day U.S International Classic begins Thursday, September 12, in Salt Lake City where tickets are available for purchase only at the at the SLC Sports complex, because of the very limited capacity. Twice and reigning world ice dance champions, Meryl Davis & Charlie White, head the list of entries. But the local paper, the Salt Lake Tribune, made it clear that ice dance still does not have the respect, awarded singles’ events.

The Tribune focused on the withdrawal of the reigning Olympic champion, Evan Lysacek, rather than the opportunity to see the U.S’s greatest American dancers ever. That is a terrible shame since after this season, Davis & White are likely to turn professional and get on with their careers. Even if they are able to better their Olympic silver medals in February, it is unlikely that locals will again have the chance to see the five-times U.S. champions compete live.

Certainly it is a shame that Lysacek has been side-lined by a torn abdominal muscle. The 28-year-old, who hopes to defend his Olympic title in February in Sochi, has not competed since his great, if close, win in Vancouver in 2010. He hopes he will be healed in time to compete in the Grand Prix event in Detroit 18-20 October and in nationals in Boston January 5-12.

His coach, Frank Carroll, believes in his pupil. But the odds of his hopes coming to fruition are, frankly, not good.

Lysacek still believes he can win one of the two Men's singles’ places on the U.S. Olympic team. He explains, “One of my greatest weapons against the competition this year is experience. I’ve been up and down; on the greatest highs and the lowest lows. I have every gold, silver and bronze medal to prove that. All those experiences come in handy because the ability to adapt is really crucial to success in the Olympics. I believe those experiences will come in handy because the ability to adapt is really crucial to success in the Olympics.”

Sexy Max's Rhumba Heats up Practice

In Lysacek’s absence, current U.S. champion, Max Aaron, is expected to take gold in Salt Lake. Certainly his Short Program, judged by his showing in Wednesday evening’s practice session, is sensational. Not only did he successfully execute his quad Salchow to double toe loop combination of jumps, the rest of his program was rivetingly liquid! He moved his body to Perez Prado’s pulsating “Rhumba D’Amour” with all the intensity shown by Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean, who used this music to win the 1984 Olympic gold. It was Dean who suggested that Aaron should use this music six months ago.

Dean is picky about choosing who he will work with but Aaron soon him over, in good part because Aaron has a lot of ballroom training and has competed in Pro-Am contests. Dean can be extremely demanding and it is not unknown for the skater to make the choreography easier. (An example was a British Ladies Champion, who, Dean admitted, changed 90% of his choreography.

“We had a blast,” Aaron said about his their joint cooperation. “It was very different to what I had done before, and very hard to do.” His coach, Tom Zakrajek, agreed. “This was far more complex than he’d ever done before and emotionally very involving.” The most difficult part, Aaron admitted, was, “Doing the S-pattern going into the quad.”

For the practice, Aaron was dressed casually in a grey sweater, with black gloves and trousers, but his undulating body resulted in exposure, particularly in the flying camel spin, of several inches of a very muscular midrift. Wow! Wow! And more WOW.

Stephen Carriere is competing for only the second time since 2010, and returning to the international scene for the first time since 2011. After his practice, he revealed he won’t be doing his quad in the Short. “I’m working with a psychologist. I want to skate without fear.”

Grant Hochstein, who is trained by Peter Oppegard, is the replacement for Evan Lysacek, who let him know immediately the decision was made about withdrawing. “It was last Wednesday,” Hochstein revealed, “and I kept it a secret for a whole week. I didn’t even tell my mother!”

Joshua Farris, who was a Junior last season, is competing in his first senior international, using Liber Tango for his Short.

Gracie Gold, who was the runner-up both in this event and in the U.S. championships last season, made her debut in the World championship in March placing very high, sixth. Her teammate, the reigning U.S. national bronze medalist, Agnes Zawadzki, who took gold in this event last year, is hoping to repeat that victory.

Samantha Cesario, who was unlucky to finish fourth in Milan in the World Junior Championship earlier this year, is also representing the U.S.

In pairs, the U.S. is represented by the national champions, Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir, and Caydee Denney & John Coughlin, who were the U.S. champions, the season before. Coughlin is returning to competition for the first time since he underwent arthroscopic hip surgery last December. Also competing for the U.S. are Tarah Kayne & Daniel O’Shea. This is only their second international. Earlier this year, they won silver in the Graz competition in Austria.

Leading contenders in the pairs are the Canadians, Kristin Moore-Towers, 21, & Dylan Moscovitch, 28, who were fourth in the last world championships in their own country earlier this year. They won the inaugural International Classic last year.

Second last year were Paige Lawrence, 23, and Rudi Swiegers, 25, who are from Saskatchewan, although he was born in South Africa. She is skating with a wrapped landing foot. “What pair girl doesn’t have an injured landing foot with all the throws?” Lawrence asked. “But it’s getting better.” They will do their Short Program to James Bond music.

In additional to Davis & White, the U.S. will be represented in the ice dance by Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, who were fifth in the most recent U.S. championship, and won bronze in the inaugural International Challenge last season. Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus were also in this event last year. Alissandra Aronow & Collin Brubaker, who train alongside Davis & White, are making their international debut here replacing the Shibutanis.

Absent from the competitors arriving on Wednesday were Maia & Alex Shibutani. Alex, 22, said he “tweaked” his neck in practice and, after “consulting doctors”, decided to withdraw to allow healing and prevent further aggravating the area. He explained, “We are disappointed that we will not be able to compete in Salt Lake City, especially after a terrific spring and summer of training, but we are focused on being 100% for the rest of the season.”

The second ranked Canadian ice dancers, Kaitlyn Weaver, 24, & Andrew Poje, 26, who were fifth in the world despite her foot injury which restricted their training before their nationals, are in medal contention.

Although he has lived in California since 2010, Misha Ge, who represents Uzbekistan, had to return home to get the correct travel documents, which did not come through in time. His name was still announced in Wednesday’s practice. Presumably, he hasn’t been able to contact the authorities to withdraw.

European champions, Nathalie Pechalet & Fabian Bourzat, who now train at the Novi rink in Michigan, could not come because of conflicts with the event being too close to the French Masters event.

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