by Klaus-Reinhold Kany
The Skate America Grand Prix in 2014 in Hoffman Estates near Chicago began with the short dance of the eight ice dance couples. Since the first publication of the Grand Prix entry list on June 27, there have been several changes in the field. The most prominent one, Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev from Russia who were fifth at the Olympics in Sochi, cannot compete because he had meniscus surgery in September. Instead, their countrymen Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin, Junior World Champions in 2013, were sunstituted. Julia Zlobina & Alexei Sitnikov from Azerbaidshan withdrew as well and were replaced by the Slovak dance team of Federica Testa (who is Italian) & Lukas Csolley. Cathy & Chris Reed from Japan did not compete because their preparation could not be as intense due to his knee surgery in spring time. Instead of them the Canadian team of Elisabeth Paradis & Francois-Xavier Ouellette, eighth at Canadian Nationals in 2014, was substituted about two weeks ago.
None of these three new teams are in a top position. However, Madison Chock & Evan Bates of Novi near Detroit, students of Igor Shpilband from the beginning of their career together, took the lead in the short dance with 68.96 points. Skating to a Paso Doble from the classical ballet of Don Quichote by Leon Minkus, they performed five very good elements. They had the highest base value of all couples, with three with a level 4 and two (partial paso doble sequence and non-touch midline step sequence) with level 3. Four of the nine judges gave a +3 for their straight line lift. Their presentation was also better than in previous years. “Tonight it was really fun”, Bates said. “The crowd tonight was awesome. Our performance was good, it was definitely better than the last at Nebelhorn Trophy, which is how we evaluate ourselves, so we were happy with it.” And Chock added: “The Paso Doble is a very strong and mostly serious dance. We have a different look obviously, we don’t look like the typical Paso Doble matadors. We wanted to bring that strong presence as well.”
Bates also said: “Obviously the long-term goal is a 2018 Olympics and this year is really important for us. What we really saw and learned from Meryl and Charlie was a firsthand experience of what it's like to be the elite team in the world. We had the opportunity to train alongside them and compete against them. Our experience in Sochi with them was, more than anything, inspiring.”
Their countrymen and siblings Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani, pupils of Marina Zoueva, are in second position, winning 64.14.points. They interpreted the Flamenco “Asturias”, a well-known Spanish piece of music, and the Paso doble “The Last corrida”. Their twizzle sequence at the beginning was a bit wobbly, although it got a level 4. The two Paso Doble parts had a level 2, which means that they met only 2 of the 6 key points. Maia Shibutani later commented: “This performance was a bit disappointing for us. We feel that we have really improved since our Senior B (in Bratislava). We had a slight mistake in the twizzles. That is a costly mistake. Normally we have no stress with the twizzles. Otherwise we have really improved since our last competition in Bratislava and skated strong. Alex added: “Meryl (Davis) and Charlie (White) are still on the ice sometimes and we get a lot of advice from them. We can imagine that we get choreography from them in the future. But at the moment we are happy with the choreography we have.”
Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin from Russia are in third position with 56.37 points. They would almost have withdrawn because at the beginning of their last practice session at noon on competition day, Bukin fell and accidentally pushed his partner against the wall. She got a contusion at her knee, but an examination in the hospital proved that nothing was seriously injured. Therefore she got a bandage at her knee and they could compete. Skating to the paso doble “Espana cani”, their first element was the twizzle sequence with an unusual first part because both dancers twizzled in a deep position, like in a sit spin. The sequence looked perfect and seven judges rewarded it with a +2, one even with a +3. They said they could not understand that they got only a level 1 because at the Finlandia Trophy two weeks before the technical panel gave them a level 4 for the same sequence. Afterwards she said that she felt good and had no pain in her knee. There was not much time before the competition to get nervous. Bukin: “I think it was not bad today.”
Federica Testa & Lukas Csolley, who were 23rd at Worlds half a year ago, sit on fourth place with 55.63 points. The curve lift of the students of Roberto Pelizzola was executed in hydroblade position and they had very good levels, but their skating skills were a bit weaker.
The third US team Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus from Newark/Delaware is on fifth position with 55.14 points. The students of Karen Ludington and Alexander Kirsanov also got very good levels and interpreted the Paso Doble “Hora Zero” by Rodrigo y Gabriela and the Flamenco “Ameksa” by the Taalbi Brothers. McManus said: “It feels really good. We've been trying to get the Worlds qualifying score in the short dance for the past three seasons now, and we finally got that today. That's a really big step for us. We couldn't be happier.”
No couple fell or got any other deduction for an extended lift, a time or any other deduction.