Indy Challenge:
Senior and Junior Free Programs

By Lynn Rutherford

As teams took the ice for the senior and junior pair free programs at the Indy Challenge, held at Indianapolis’ World Skating Academy August 12 – 14, the talk among coaches continued to center on the changes wrought by recent additions to the new ISU judging system ("NJS").

"When I have a lesson these days, it feels almost like a business meeting. I’m sitting there with the kids, pulling (ISU) bulletins out of a briefcase and going over the latest changes," joked former Canadian champion Doug Ladre, who coaches several up-and-coming teams at the Alltel Ice Den in Scottsdale.

"Before you could just skate right in to the elements; now you really have to concentrate on difficult entries to the throws and lifts. They’ve even added levels to the twist! It’s a lot more complicated than when I skated," agreed former U.S. silver medallist Wayne Seybold.

Several coaches noted that there was no instant video replay at the event, and the officials – including Technical Controller Charles Cyr, Technical Specialist Randy Gardner and Assistant Technical Specialist Ken Shelley – had some animated (and lengthy) discussions while reviewing the elements of the competitors. Fortunately, the 2006 U.S. Nationals in St. Louis, where the NJS will be used for the first time, will use video replay.

Senior Free Programs

Having won the short program, reigning U.S. junior champions Mariel Miller & Rockne Brubaker repeated their success in the free program, taking first place with 97.86 points (48.35 TES + 49.51 CPS). Skating with style and assurance to music from "The Adams Family," the team opened with a forward inside death spiral (FIDS), followed by a triple twist with a split position (Level 2), excellent side-by-side triple Salchows, and a throw triple Salchow that Miller landed slightly forward. Their first lift, with a lasso entry, only had one-and-a-half turns, but they followed up with a fine BIDS and solid throw triple toe loop.

The second half of their program had a double Axel, double toe loop sequence as well as an attractive straight-line footwork sequence. They aborted their final lift, an intended toe lasso, and received no credit for the element.

"We weren’t focused on their placement here; we were focused on bettering their stamina and improving the program, although they did have that problem on the last lift," said Miller & Brubaker’s coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, who coaches the couple in Colorado Springs.

"We need to take some risks out there, which is why the triple Salchows are in the program. Our goal is to make the Junior Grand Prix Final and to win Junior Worlds, and for that you need the hard stuff."

For choreography, Sappenfield turned to 1984 Olympic gold medallist Christopher Dean.

"Chris choreographed this long program, but we’ve tweaked it a bit. Once we added all of the elements, other things had to come out. But the big picture is still Chris,’" she said.

Performing a complex and interesting program to Prokofiev's "Romeo & Juliet," Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig were second with 97.67 points (50.76 TES + 47.91 CPS). After a stunning opening of a triple twist directly into a throw triple loop, both skaters fell on triple toe loops before recovering to land double flips. They had a difficult lift with both a change in Ladwig’s hand position and multiple changes in Evora’s position, followed by a BODS and lovely pair spin, as well as side-by-side combination spins with four changes of position.

The couple did an impressive rotational lift directly into a throw triple Salchow, followed by straight-line footwork and an Axel lift, closing with a right FIDS changing directly into a left FIDS.

"We’re always working on getting our levels as high as possible, but also want to keep our Grades of Execution (GOE’s) high," said Ladwig. "In the short program, we were fortunate enough to get a Level 4 on our lift. To get a Level 4 lift, you need four different features, or bullets. We’ve worked hard to accomplish them all."

Coming in third, Brooke Castile & Ben Okolski, who placed seventh at the 2005 U.S. Nationals, had 96.64 points (48.22 TES + 48.42 CPS). This couple opened their program with a triple twist and a fine throw triple loop, followed by the only Level 4 lift of the event, a rotational lift with three changes of position and a one-handed hold, with Okolski doing crossovers and then balancing on one foot. They followed up with a lovely Level 3 BIDS, with Castile changing position. The second half of their program was not as strong, as Castile two-footed the landing of their throw triple Salchow and both skaters doubled their side-by-side Salchows and botched intended double Axels. Nevertheless, their strong basic skating skills and fine choreography merited third place.

Tiffany Vise & Derek Trent placed fourth with 95.43 points (50.22 TES + 45.21 CPS). This couple opened strongly with a double twist into side-by-side triple toe loops (Trent two-footed his landing), directly into a single Axel, double toe loop sequence, followed by lunges into a lasso lift with several changes of position. The second half of the program featured a one-handed star lift with a nice drop out to a cantilever position, with Vise balanced upside down on Trent’s legs, as well as a throw triple Salchow and a lovely pair spin that gained a Level 4 from the callers.

"That’s the third time we’ve competed with this program and we’re very happy with it," said Trent. "We’re always trying to incorporate higher level elements and transition moves, and we front-loaded the program to get the most difficult stuff out of the way.

"On the lunge into an Axel Lasso lift, it would be nice to get a Level 4, but we’ll probably get a Level 3." (They did get Level 3.)

The new team of Tiffany Scott & Rusty Fein came in fifth with 86.60 points (40.70 TES + 47.90 CPS). Skating to Verdi’s "Force of Destiny" choreographed by Shanti Rushpaul, the couple opened with a double twist, followed by a lovely BODS and a one-handed star lift. They followed with a triple toe loop, double toe loop combination, but Fein put his hand down on the triple and singled the double. Later in the program, Scott fell on a double Axel before landing a throw double Salchow. Despite the errors, the program was well performed, chock full of interesting transitions and footwork.

"It was pretty good for our first time out with the program. We’ve been working on the transitions and choreography a lot, because we wanted to look like a polished pair team," said Scott, who won the 2003 U.S. title with former partner Philip Dulebohn.

"We’ve concentrated a lot on the performance and the transitions; now we have to gain more experience and really work on the elements," agreed Fein, a former singles skater who began skating pairs when he teamed with Scott this spring.

Skating to "Firebird," 2004 U.S. junior champions Shantal Rae Jordan & Jeremy Barrett were sixth with 86.10 points (43.67 TES + 43.43 PCS). They opened with a good tap overhead to a one-arm star position, but had trouble on their next two elements: Jordan put a hand down on the landing of the throw triple Lutz, and they doubled their side-by-side triple Salchows. They followed up with a triple twist and single Axel, double toe loop sequence, then completed a throw triple flip in the second half of the program, thus gaining an extra .5 "bonus" (both the throw flip and throw Lutz have a base value of 5.0). Their rotational lift had Jordan in a handstand carry with a flip out exit, earning a Level 3 from the callers.

"There were a couple of little silly mistakes but overall it was not bad. The judges are being very picky about the footwork sequences, so we have to go back and work on them a bit," said Barrett.

Chloe Katz & Joseph Lynch, who placed seventh with 83.19 points (43.59 TES + 40.60 CPS), skated a fast-paced program to "Firebird" that featured an excellent throw triple Salchow, but they had trouble on their double Axel, double flip sequence and their lifts were simpler than those of the top teams.

Katie Beriau & Joseph Gazzola took eighth place with 82.89 points (43.96 TES + 40.93 CPS). The couple, who train in Simsbury, CT under former World champion Vadim Naumov, skated to Rachmaninof Piano Concerto #2. They had elegant choreography, but Beriau fell on the throw triple Salchow and throw double loop. Performing to a Spanish guitar rendition of "Moonlight Sonata," MeeRan Trombley & Nathan Hess rounded out the field in ninth place with 65.70 points (35.99 TES + 31.71 CPS).

Junior Free Programs

The story of this event was the emergence of Bridget Namiotka & John Coughlin, who train under a team headed by Ron Luddington at the University of Delaware. After taking third place in the short program, the couple -- who have been partnered for just five months -- won the free skate with 95.46 points.

Skating to music from "The Prince of Egypt," they opened their program with a lovely tap overhead "carry" lift, with Coughlin doing crossovers for nearly a third of the length of the rink. (This feat drew applause and gasps from the knowledgeable crowd.) They had solid side-by-side double Axels, followed by side-by-side spin combinations with good unison. A lift with three changes of position; a throw triple Salchow; a triple twist with good height; double flips done in sequence with double toe loops; and a throw double loop completed the memorable program.

"We’re really happy with it, for this early in the season. It’s only our second competition together. Where we go next depends on the judges. If they are happy with us we may be lucky enough to get a Junior Grand Prix assignment. We should know within about a week," said Coughlin.

"We can do a throw triple loop, but it’s not consistent yet, so we stuck with a double. I had a few stitches in my chin about a week and a half ago, from a fall on a throw loop. We decided to play it safe here and then do (the triple) at our next competition," said Namiotka, who skates with a radiant smile and projects a nice, soft quality on the ice.

Both described their opening lift, which they expected to receive a level 3 or 4, as "risky."

"We did it in a harness at first," said Namiotka. "It will get a high level, but for other things, it may be better to go simpler and do the element well."

"It’s getting so you have to count every three turn you do out there. You’re choreographing your programs with a calculator," added Coughlin.

Julia Vlassov & Drew Meekins, who won the short program yesterday, had to settle for second place with 92.80 points. The duo performed to music from the soundtrack of "Paycheck," choreographed by Vlassov’s mother, Lara Amelina.

They opened with double Axels, but Vlassov popped hers into a single. Recovering quickly, she landed a solid throw triple loop, followed by a double twist. The couple showed several strong lifts, although Vlassov’s positions are not as elegant as they could be, as well as a fine FIDS with a change of arm positions. Their only other flaw was Vlassov’s slightly two-footed landing of a throw triple Salchow.

"It could have been better but we have definitely improved since Skate Detroit (in July). Now we need to clean things up for next time," said Vlassov. About the missed double Axel, she said, "I guess I just stepped forward and didn’t feel right. In practice it was okay but unfortunately I messed it up in competition."

The reigning U.S. junior silver medallists have set high goals for the coming season.

"We want to improve on our National result and win an international JGP as well," said Meekins.

Third place went to Lilly Pixley & John Salway, who are coached in Fort Wayne, IN by former U.S. silver medallists Natalie & Wayne Seybold, with 80.56 points. They had a solid program featuring a good double Axel, double toe loop sequence and a well-done Axel lasso lift, one of very few in the competition.

"The (Axel lasso) lift was not that hard to learn, but once she is up in the air, there’s a lot of swing so it’s difficult to control. You have to be precise," said Salway.

The couple has skated three seasons together, but has only been coached by the Seybolds since May.

"We concentrate on the GOE’s as well as the levels of the elements. You can bump your elements down a level and still do well," said Natalie Seybold, who has battled benign brain tumors in the past but revealed that her most recent MRA (magnetic resonance angiograph) was "clean and clear."

"We emphasis strong and clean programs; that’s what makes for excellent stating. As they get more confident, they will gain ability, and we can make the programs more complex," added Wayne Seybold, who in addition coaching Pixley & Salway serves as the mayor of Marion, IN.

Molly Aaron & Taylor Toth were fourth with 79.46 points. Skating with good speed and attack to music from Russian movie soundtracks, the duo opened with footwork into a double Lutz, double toe loop sequence, followed by a double twist, throw double loop, good side-by-side spins, and a throw double Salchow. They slid off balance had to abort their star lift but recovered with fine side-by-side double Axels and a final lift.

"It was a likely screwy on the star lift, but they came through with good double Axels," said their coach, Doug Ladret. "They got an extra 10% credit for the Axels, because they were in the latter half of the program. They also did their final lift, which I like to see."

Coming in at fifth with 78.58 points were Aaryn Smith & Will Chitwood, who are coached by Dalilah Sapenfield in Colorado Springs. Skating to "Phantom of the Opera," the couple had good lifts, spins and a lovely FIDS with a "drag" entry, but Smith put a hand down on the throw triple loop, fell on a double Axel, tumbled on the landing of a throw triple Salchow, and popped her double Lutz into a single.

"We expected more. They have the capability to do a lot better," said Sappenfield. "She had an accident on a lift and has only been back on the ice for three or four weeks. We’ve only been able to run the program for the last two weeks. She’s upset, because she feels she let her partner down, but we had to get all of the kinks out of the program here. It will be better next time out."

Kendra Moyle & Andy Seitz placed sixth with 77.72 points. Skating a well-choreographed program to tango music, the couple opened with a nice double twist with Moyle’s arms above her head, but both fell (in unison) on side-by-side triple Salchows. They recovered with a strong throw triple loop and a tap overhead to a one-arm position, with a one-arm set down. Their side-by-side spins were excellent, as was their FIDS. The ending of the program was a bit weak, as Moyle fell on the throw triple Salchow and their pair spin was a bit slow, causing them to finish behind their music.

Kaela Pflumm & Christopher Pottenger took seventh place with 76.50 points. Skating to "Samson & Delilah," the couple – who have only skated together for a month and a half – had an excellent throw triple loop, side-by-side single Axels, and good positions on their lifts, although Pflumm fell on a throw triple Salchow.

Chelsea Meador & Alex Meritt were eighth with 74.48 points. The couple had strong speed, footwork and lifts, but had trouble on both the side-by-side jumps and the throws. Skating to music from Charlie Chaplin movies, Lisa Moore & Justin Gaumond were ninth with 74 points. While this pair had difficulties, including Moore’s falls on a throw double Salchow and double Lutz, both skaters (particularly Gaumond) showed good skating skills and were fine on the lifts and death spirals.

In tenth with 73.90 points were Bianca Butler & Joseph Jacobson, who are coached by three-time U.S. champions Jenni Meno & Todd Sand at the Aliso Viejo Ice Palace in California. Skating to "Warsaw Concerto," choreographed by former U.S. dance champion Renee Roca, the duo opened with a triple twist, but she came out early and they collided on the landing. While Butler fell on the throw triple loop and throw double Salchow, both skaters – and Jacobson in particular -- shone in their side-by-side spins and a pair spiral sequence.

"This is the first pair team we started coaching; they came to us last year. They have beautiful lines and a lot of potential," said Meno, who sat in the stands for much of the competition with her (and Sand’s) eight month-old son, Jack.

"We definitely take the NJS into account in everything we do; it’s a new era," said Sand, who is qualified as a technical specialist. "But we also try to get our students to focus on quality, rather than just the difficulty (of the element). That’s the way we were always taught."

Katie Boxwell & Danny Curzon rounded out the field in tenth place with 68.54 points. Boxwell fell on the throw triple Salchow and put her second foot down on the landing of the throw double loop; on the plus side, the couple had difficult side-by-side spins with four changes of position and fast rotations.

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