2010 Skate America Preview

By Alexandra Stevenson

Itís Portland, so when will Tonya Harding surface? The banished skater, who appears on the panel for the television show, Worlds Dumbest Criminals, was implicated in the 1994 Nancy Kerrigan knee-bashing. She has a history of appearing when skaters come to her hometown. She now lives north of the Washington State border. Meanwhile the subject of the bashing says strangers still approach her and laughingly ask her about her whacked knee.

Kerrigan, 41, who is raising three children in Massachusetts (13, 8 and 2), says, "I really donít know whatís so funny about being attacked. I just smile and say, ĎThe kneeís fine. Itís everything else that hurts.í" She and Paul Wylie, who is honorary chairman of the next US nationals, were recently promoting the event, which is in Greensboro January 22-30. Wylie, 46, who won the 1992 Olympic silver medal, has lived in Charlotte, North Carolina for the past five years.

Wylie told the Charlotte Observer, "Itís huge to have nationals here for the first time. This competition is the crown jewel of figure skating in this country. The US Olympians not only for the 2014 team but also 2018 will no doubt be competing. Itís surprising, really, that our state got this. Itís almost like we donít know what to make of it, but we better make something of it pretty quickly because itís coming in January." Both he and Kerrigan will be appearing in Golden Age of Skating, a Christmas special.

ARRIVING IN WINDY AND WET PORTLAND

Meanwhile, the secret of how Skate Americaís top stars, Olympic and world silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, manage to get on so well with their main adversaries, the side-lined Canadian Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, was revealed in Skate Canada. Both ice dance couples train on the same ice in Canton, Michigan, at the same time, with the same coaches.

In Kingston, Ontario, Moir and his partner, who had surgery on the backs of her lower legs at the beginning of October, a follow-up to her previous shin surgery which took them out for the beginning part of the 2008-9 season, were asked about the new procedure of giving Levels for the Golden Waltz, a pretty revolutionary idea, which has been incorporated into the newly christened Short Dance. Top couples, including Davis and White, have been shocked to get only the basic Level 1, when last season their Golden Waltz earned massive kudos.

Moir said they were aware of this situation, and they were anxious that they would not fall victim to it when they return to competition, a date which is still not set. He is back on the ice training alone without his partner in Canton (but not using a sand bag as a substitute which he did during her previous time-out). "Charlie and I speak all the time," said Moir, "but never about skating specifics. We have very clear boundaries. So I havenít asked him about what was wrong. Itís up to our coach to deal with this. Charlie and I are both in the sport to win. We will do whatever we can to ensure that. That does not rule out supporting each other. But we are both very careful not to step over a certain line. We give each other space. That doesnít prevent us being very competitive off ice (with video games and other sports).

The compressed schedule, which starts Friday at 7pm with the Pairs Short Program and concludes after Sundayís Exhibition of champions at 7:30pm, will showcase a some aging veterans fighting off pesky, wide-eyed unknowns, who have nothing to lose. Fifty-eight skaters from Austria, Belgium, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Kazakhstan, South Korea, Russia, Sweden, and the US have been invited. The International Skating Union has a complicated method of dividing their top performers, who are expected to compete in two of the six contests held around the world. The top six in the Series in each of the four disciplines qualify for the Final in Beijing in December, which has considerable prix money.

The host country is entitled to three competitors in each discipline. In addition, Skate America is fortunate to have the world champions in the pairs and mens divisions. Stars are always emerging from the Junior ranks but this is particularly apparent in the post-Olympic season. The new system can be very cruel to established performers. This was readily apparent when 2008 and 2010 world champion Mao Asada finished eighth in both Short and Long programs in the first Grand Prix in her home country October 22-24.

The Rose Garden, which opened in 1995, did a great job hosting US Nationals in 2005. Compared to Kingstonís intimate 4,000 plus seating K-Rock Arena for Skate Canada, the 18,000 seater Rose Garden in Portland seems somewhat over-qualified for the task of hosting Skate America. Unlike the Canadian site, which had the smaller hockey dimensions, the ice will be full Olympic size. Because this beautiful city has tourist sites close by, the standard and amount of hotels is more than adequate.

LADIES

Seven of the twelve entrants from the Ladies division of the Nagoya Grand Prix, including all three medalists but not the unfortunate Asada, will also compete in Portland. US champion Rachael Flatt, naturally, is determined to improve her silver medal status. She did win the Free in Japan, but was only third in the Short Program. With 3.58 more points, she would have beaten Italyís inconsistent Carolina Kostner, who earned the gold.

The bronze medalist in the NHK event, Kanako Murakami, may be this seasonís top discovery. The youngster, who turned 16 on Sunday (November 7), is the reigning Japanese and world junior champion. She lay second after the Short Program, and though she was fifth in the Free, she walked off with the bronze in her first Senior international. Whether the pressure of doing so well will affect her performance in Portland, we will wait to see.

Kostner, 23, who has won the European championship for three of the last four years, was a disappointing 16th in the Olympics, although she bounced back and took 6th place in the world championships a few weeks later. In Japan, after her gold medal winning performance, she said, "This was an excellent start to my season. I told my coach (she is now back with Michael Huth) it felt weird not doing the (triple) flip or the (triple) Lutz in my program. It just shows you that figure skating is not all about the jumps."

Flatt, 18, remembers clearly the last time she competed in Portland. "I was 12 and won the ladies novice title. It was my first big, national event. I was little star-struck. Michelle Kwan was the big star." At that stage she never thought she would be seventh in the 2010 Olympics and ninth in the following Worlds. This is her third Skate America. In 2008 she finished fourth and last season she won silver.

Flatt also said she could have skated better in the Japanese Grand Prix. "I was doing better in training. I got an arrow on my second triple Lutz and on my triple flip in the 3-jump combination (with a double toe loop and double loop)." The arrow in each case meant a slight under-rotation. "At least it was a better start than last season when I was fourth in Cup of China. It would have been nice to do my triple Lutz to triple loop combination in Japan but I needed to get more experience with my new programs first. Iíve also been working on my components and speed and Iím hoping to show that at Skate America."

Already she is being asked about the next Olympics. "It's really hard to look four years ahead, but all of the work I'm doing right now will lead up that event. I'm just focusing on each day as it comes and doing the best I can to improve, to get better results and better performances. Iíve changed my technique entirely on the flip. The entrance is totally different, and that has helped increase the height of my jump which helps prevent the under-rotation. Weíre also trying different positions so I get all the levels I can in the spins, and I've been working on flexibility a lot for better laybacks. Thatís been a little bit of a weakness for me. Iíve never had the time to work on the strength and flexibility needed."

She took deferred admission after being accepted at Stanford University (California). "Itís nice this year not having to stretch myself incredibly thin." She hopes to pursue a degree in science and will move her training site to California next season.

The field also comprises Americans Caroline Zhang, 17 and Alexe Gilles, 18. Zhang won the World Junior title in 2007 but was runner-up for the next two years. Then, after finishing third in the 2009 US Senior Nationals, she was only 11th last season. Now trained by Tammi Gambill, she is fighting her way back. She was 7th in Japan and back in 2007 won bronze in Skate America.

Gilles, who was 8th in the US championship, had a disappointing Skate Canada, finishing 11th. The 2008 US Junior champion, who is from Colorado Springs, said, "I am kind of upset. I think itís a confidence thing. I hope to do better in Portland." This is her second Skate America. In 2009 she finished 10th.

Also in the field are:

Amelie Lacoste from Quebec, who turns 22 on December 17, won a surprise bronze in Skate Canada, her first medal in the Grand Prix at senior or junior level;

Elena Gedevanishvili, 20, who represents the country of her birth, Georgia, but moved to New Jersey after placing 10th in the 2006 Olympics, was sixth in this seasonís Japanese Grand Prix.

Min-Jeong Kwak, 16, from South Korea, was 13th in the Olympics but only 22nd at the subsequent Worlds. Last week, in the Cup of China, she finished 9th.

Jenna McCorkell, the seven-time British champion, was 11th in the Japanese Grand Prix;

Both the Helgesson sisters, Viktoria, 22, the four-time Swedish champion, and Joshi, 17, are entered. Viktoria was tenth in the last world championship and ninth in the 2010 NHK Grand Prix;.and

Mae Berenice Meite, the twice silver medalist at the French championships.

MEN

Undoubtedly the person to beat will be the first ever Japanese mens world champion and Olympic bronze medalist, Daisuke Takahashi, who won the Nagoya Grand Prix event with enjoyable and difficult routines by a margin of 16.60 over American Jeremy Abbott. After that victory, the seemingly modest Takahashi said, "I enjoyed skating as the audience pumped me up. But I could perform just about 30 per cent of what I meant to do. I had jump mistakes, unsteady spins and steps that wore me out towards the end. But I got more points than I expected. I guess my program has been rated well." He did a quad and two triple Axels in his free, but received an edge call on a triple flip, singled a Salchow and got an arrow on the second jump of a triple Lutz to double loop combo.

Takahashiís main rivals are expected to be his teammate Nobunari Oda, who led after the Short Program in Skate Canada and finished second overall, and the USís Adam Rippon.

Oda, who is 23, and his wife had their first child, a son, Shintaro, on October 1. Soon after, Oda had to travel to Canada for that Grand Prix and has not been back since. Last season he had a very up-and-down experience. He lost his national title but then finished seventh in the Olympics. When he got to Worlds a few weeks later, he had a meltdown in the Short Program, ending up 28th and not qualifying for the Free. "I was really upset after Worlds," Oda explained somewhat unnecessarily. He subsequently left his coach, Nikolai Morosov, and is now partially trained in Japan, and travels back and forth to Barrie, Ontario for instruction from Lee Barkell.

Rippon, who turns 21 on the day before Skate America, has a move which is his alone (see below). He also trains in Canada. After winning the world junior title in 2008, he went to Toronto to get routines choreographed by David Wilson at the Toronto Cricket, Curling and Skating Club. There, he was seen by Brian Orser, who became interested in training him. "He asked to see what I could do. At first, I was afraid to show him my íTano Lutz (with arm over head) because I knew he and Boitano were rivals and I didnít know how heíd feel about it." (Orser is most famous for the battle of the Brians at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, when he and Brian Boitano both gave incredibly moving performances, with Boitano taking gold and Orser getting his second straight Olympic silver.)

When Rippon did show off his íTano, they discovered he was raising the left arm into the air while Boitano flings up his right. "So I was already doing a variation on it. Then David said, ĎIf you can do it with your left arm, why not both arms? So I tried that. I tell you the first few were really scary." But now the Rippon Lutz is a highlight of his routines. He also does a three-jump variation with both arms above his head in all three jumps, a completely unique variation, new this season, which he will demonstrate in Portland. However, he does not yet have a quad.

Rippon credits Orser with his current success. He successfully defended his world junior title earning a far greater score. He explained, "I see Brian as more than a coach. I see him as a mentor. There have been times when my motivation dropped. Heís been through all this himself. Brian, David and Tracy Wilson play a huge role in keeping me grounded and focussed." Rippon, the 2010 Four Continents champions, was seventh at senior level in the US in 2009 and fifth earlier this year. He was sent as a substitute to the world senior championship where he finished sixth, quite a remarkable debut.

Also entered are:

Armin Mahbanoozadeh, 19, who is coached by Priscilla Hill, was 8th in the US nationals. In September, he finished 4th in the Nebelhorn Trophy. In the 2010 World Juniors, he was 9th. He also competed in the Grand Prix last year, finishing 9th in Skate Canada and 11th in Cup of China; and

Stephen Carriere, 21, had a very successful career as a junior, winning the Junior Grand Prix Final and world junior title. In 2008 he came third in the US senior championship and earned a berth on the world team. Despite injuring himself in Gothenburg on the first day of practice at Worlds, he finished tenth. That fall he earned silver in Cup of China. But then he suffered a setback. He was only 9th in the 2009 US championships and withdrew following the Short Program in 2010. At the recent Champs Camp, in Colorado Springs, he was on crutches. His cousin, Caroline Hallisey, is a three-time Olympic (1998; 2002 & 2006) short track speed skater.

Daisuke Murakami, 19, Japan, speaks perfect English, a product of his moving to California when he was seven. He initially represented the US but decided to represent the country of his birth. However, he was only 19th in the last Japanese championship.

Denis Ten, 17, Kazakhstan, is now being trained by Frank Carroll at Lake Arrowhead. This is his second season on the senior Grand Prix circuit and he had a hesitant start in NHK where he finished last.

Shawn Sawyer, 25, Canada, is known for his extreme flexibility shown in his unique split spiral. He says this will probably be his last season.

Adrian Schultheiss, a 22-year-old from Gothenburg, ranked second in Sweden, was 15th in the Olympics and 9th in Worlds last year. This season, he finished tenth in the NHK Grand Prix in Nagoya in the NHK

Nan Song, 20, from Qiqihar in the north of China, is trained by Wei Li in his countryís capital, Beijing. He was second in last seasonís Junior Grand Prix Final, the World Junior Championship, and in his own Senior nationals. He is also entered for the last Grand Prix, which is in Paris.

Kevin van der Perren, 28, is the many-time Belgian champion, who is competing for one last season; and

Victor Pfeifer, 23, has won the Austrian title four times in the last six years,

PAIRS

It didnít take long for 2008 & 2009 world champions, Aliona Savchenko, 26, & Robin Szolkowy, 31, from Germany, to decide to continue their competitive career. They were extremely disappointed with their Olympic bronze and subsequent loss of their world title to the Chinese Qing Pang & Jian Tong, who had previously held the title in 2006. "Nothing seemed to go right last season," said their coach, Ingo Steuer, who teamed them up in 2003. "So this year weíve taken a different approach. I have always recommended that they do the Nebelhorn Trophy at the start of a season to try out new moves and see what they judges think. But this time, weíre starting our competitive season later, so they will be fresher at the end."

If they donít win, it will be a major loss of form. Their next event is the last Grand Prix in Paris.

World Junior Champions Wenjing Sui, 15, and Cong Han, 18, China, finished second, just 1.04 points behind the off-form world champions, Pang & Tong, in the Cup of China, and are likely to come closest to challenging the Germans.

Another possible challenger is the relatively new pair of Kirsten Moore-Towers, 18, and Dylan Moscovitch, 26, of the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club. They were a last-minute replacement for the Canadian champions, Jessica Dube and Byrce Davison, who had to pull out of Skate Canada, after he suffered a knee injury in practice a few days before the event.

Moore-Towers and Moscovitch won the Free Skate in Skate Canada and were second overall. She explained, "We actually competed in Skate Canada last year (after teaming up only a few months before) and finished sixth. A lot of Canadians do know us but probably not many Americans. I think our skate in Kingston may have opened some peopleís eyes. I think weíll definitely be more on the radar and more people will know who we are when we get to Portland."

Also entered are:

The national champions, Caydee Denney, 17, and Jeremy Bartlett, 26, who were 13th in the Olympics and 7th in the subsequent World championship up two places from their finish in that event in 2009. They have recently changed coaches and are now being taught by John Zimmerman and Silvia Fontana. They finished fifth in the recent Japanese Grand Prix;

Marissa Castelli, 20, and Simon Shapir, 23, the 2009 World Junior bronze medalists, who share the same birthday, August 20, were tenth in their US Senior debut, and finished fourth in Skate Canada; and

Felicia Zhang, 17, & Taylor Toth, 22, the US Junior champions, who finished ninth in the world junior championships earlier this year, are trained by Jeff DiGregorio at Newark, Delaware. This is their senior Grand Prix debut. They were seventh in the Nebelhorn Trophy in September.

Ksenia Stolbova, 18, & Fedor Klimov, 20, the Russian Junior champions from St. Petersburg, who were third in the World Junior championships earlier this year; and

Stacey Kemp, 22, & David King, 24, the five-time British champions, who were 8th in Skate Canada.

DANCE

The overwhelming favorites are Meryl Davis and Charlie White, both 23, the two-time US champions. The programs they revealed when winning the first of the six Grand Prix events in Nagoya, Japan, were dazzling. Yet the duo has revealed they have been working hard and will unveil "improvements" in Portland.

White said, "Make no mistake, we love the new format and love not having the compulsory (dance). Yes, there were some levels that we could have done better on in Japan, but overall we are very pleased. We knew that we weren't going to be able to skate our very best in our first competition, so we went out there and tried as hard as we could and we look forward to improving both performances. Overall, we're pleased. Davis added, "At this stage in the year, we're really thinking hard about everything we're doing. At Skate American everything is going to be a lot more natural for us."

White did admit, "To a certain degree, the Golden Waltz, because it is so difficult, kind of takes away some of the flair a lot of teams could add to the short dance. We just missed a few edges, a little slip here and there. We were performing to the audience [and] not hitting edges as we are used to doing."

Coach Marina Zoueva was cautious. "Meryl and Charlie, getting Level 1 (on the more difficult second half of the Golden) in Japan, was a little weird," the coach said. "There is a huge difference between Level 1 and Level 4. For sure, they did something not right, but Level 1? Charlie's Choctaw was a little too flat, but there are Level 2 and Level 3."

Davis said, "NHK was really a successful competition for us. We had kind of a different offseason than before. The Olympic season was a long one and then we did Stars on Ice. So weíve had less time to get ready. Our programs are taking shape, and weíre on our way to accomplishing our goals. First and foremost, is improving our skating skills and performance level."

White added, "We want to improve dramatically. We're looking at the top of the podium. We've always had sort of the same outlook, to focus on ourselves. We know where we need to improve. It could only hurt us to think we're favorites. If anyone can come back, itís Tessa and Scott. Certainly we miss having them at the rink, and having them going through the same things we are. That doesnít make us want to beat them any less!"

For their Free, Davis and White do a Tango number. White said, "This is definitely a departure for us, something very different. We have gotten quite a bit of feedback, mostly positive. At Skate America, you're going to see a slightly different program than at NHK. Weíve sort of changed the program around. As we said, we didnít have the kind of time we usually have and we didnít want to dumb the program down, so we really jam-packed the free dance, especially with intricate Tango footwork. It was almost too full. It was hard for us to take a breath and hard for audience to take a breath as well."

Also entered are:

Maia, 16, and Alex Shibutani, 19, the US Junior champions, train alongside Davis and White in Canton. They won bronze in their first Senior Grand Prix in Japan three weeks ago.

Lynn Kriengkrairut, 22, and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, 25, train in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They have been eighth in the US Senior championships for the past two seasons.

Canadaís Vanessa Crone, 20 and Paul Poirier, seventh in world after being 12th in their debut the year before, and a disappointing 14th in the Olympics, are buoyed up from their win at Skate Canada, in which they presented a Free to Beatles music choreographed by the great ice dancer, Christopher Dean. Poirier, who turned 19 on the Saturday before Skate America, said, "We were both really proud of how we did this program. It took a very long time to come together. Chris made it very difficult but it was a challenge we were willing to accept. Now that itís been debuted, I think it will continue to grow."

Also representing Canada are Kaitlyn Weaver, 21, and Andrew Poje, 23. Weaver was born in Houston and raised in Connecticut, but when she was 17, she moved to Waterloo, Ontaria, to skate with Poje. Shortly after that the new team won bronze in the both the world junior and the Canadian senior championships. They earned silver nationally the following year and subsequently two more bronzes. She received her Canadian citizenship in June 2009. They now train in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

Ekaterina Razanova, 19, and Ilia Tkachenko, who will turn 24 on the day after Christmas, of Russia, teamed up in the spring of 2009. Both won bronze in the world junior championships with previous partners, Riazzanova with Jonathan Guerreiro in 2009 and Tkachenko with Anastasia Gorshkova in 2005. They rank fourth nationally and competed in the Russian Grand Prix last season, finishing sixth. In the recent Nebelhorn Trophy, they won bronze.

Cathy, 23, and Chris Reed, 21, were both born in Kalamazoo, but because of their Japanese ancestry, they are the once silver medalist and three-time Japanese champions. They previously competed in Skate America in 2007 finishing ninth. They have competed in the Japanese Grand Prix for the past four years, this time finishing 7th. She said, "We skated well this time but we werenít at our best. There are lots of things that need improving and we will just have to try hard at Skate America." He said, "Our objective this season is to be more consistent with our elements and getting the levels better."

Penny Coomes, 21 and Nick Buckland, 23, earned silver in the British championships in their debut at Senior level and earned a trip to the Olympics where they finished 20th. They have yet to compete in the Worlds. In their first Grand Prix, in Japan, they finished 8th.

Stefanie Frohberg, 19, and Tim Giesen, 22, are the German Junior champions from Berlin, who were 11th in the last world junior championships.

OUT Anna Cappellini and Luca LaNotte, who were 11th in the Olympics and 12th in the 2010 Worlds, made a radical change after placing fifth in the first of the six Grand Prix events. They decided to leave Lyon, their training site in France, and return to Milan in their home country of Italy, to rework their programs. They have not been replaced

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