by Klaus-Reinhold Kany
Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov from Russia won the pairs competition at Skate America with 209.16 points, more than 25 ahead of the rest of the field. They skated to the heavy music of the Manfred Symphony by Peter Tchaikovsky, perhaps a bit too bombastic, but it was the program they had planned for the Olympic Games, where they were unable to compete due to his injury, and wanted to present it to the public this season..
Their first element was a good sequence of two triple toe loops. After a solid double Axel the students of Tamara Moskvina performed a quad throw Salchow, not in high speed but clean. All other elements were excellent, including the three lifts and the triple throw loop near the end.
Kavaguti said: "I just want to repeat what I said yesterday that we are so happy to skate here in the competition. And we are satisfied with how we skated today. My motivation is that I love skating. I think I haven't completed what I want. Not yet. That's why I keep skating. My partner has had injury more than one time, so we missed a lot of competitions. Maybe that's why." Smirnov, who is married to Ekaterina Garus, became a father last week, added: “The story in our long program is that I love her, but I lose my mind because of the unfulfilled love."
Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier of Coral Springs, Florida, Junior World Champions in 2013, won the silver medal with 183.84 points, which was a great surprise. The Fifth of this year’s U.S. Nationals gained 183.84 points, 17 more than their personal best ever up to now. With this second place they even have a chance to qualify for the Grand prix Final which will take place in December in Barcelona, Spain.
The couple has trained with John Zimmerman for years, but since a few months also works regularly with Ingo Steuer, the long-time coach of the five times world champions Savchenko & Szolkowy. He moved from Germany to Florida a few weeks ago, after his new pair Savchenko & Massot could not pay him and decided to split from him. Denney, who is the younger sister of Colorado Springs pair skater Caydee Denney, and Frazier showed an almost clean long program with two excellent triple throws (both of them even got a GOE of +3, a very good triple twist (with also two +3) and strong lifts, two of them at the very end of their program. Denney’s individual jumps were a bit shaky but still correct. Their music was the soundtrack of “Lion King”.
Denney commented: “I had a lot of fun out there. It was how we practice and how we trained so I was really proud of that. The program still has a lot more room to grow and get better because it is still early.” Frazier added: “We came here to put out two really solid performances and that’s exactly what we did. I would say these programs took a lot of work in the off-season and it feels like it’s been a long, long off-season. It’s good to come out here and see all that hard work pay off.” Steuer added: “Yes, there is still a lot of room for improvement. I like to work with them very much because they are willing to learn quickly.”
Frazier also spoke about the Grand Prix Final: “For Spain, it's not really a thought Haven and I have right now. For our second Grand Prix in Russia, we're going to keep training the way we have been, keep the progress going, keep working on what we need to work on, and keep these programs going. Whatever happens with the results happens."
Chang Peng & Hao Zhang from China, eighth at the Olympic Games in Sochi and fifth at the last senior World Championships in Japan, dropped from the second place after the short program to the third one, gaining182.43 points. They started with an excellent quad twist, but then Peng fell on the triple toe loop and the double axel, both of which were under-rotated. The other elements, especially the lifts and throws, were excellent.
Zhang said: “First of all, I want to say that we are very excited that we were able to come to Skate America because I have been coming here with my old partners, it was my first Grand Prix way back, and now I'm here with my new partner, so it's very exciting to be here. As for our program, I think we performed well. We performed a nice program, really focusing on the performance aspect this time. We also want to congratulate our competitors. We did a quad twist, so we're happy with that, but we want to congratulate our Russian friends for a beautiful quad throw.”
Alexa Scimeca & Chri Knierim of Colorado Springs, who are engaged to each other, placed fourth with 168.62 points. Their triple twist at the beginning was huge, but then Knierim fell on the triple Salchow and Denney on the triple throw loop. Most other elements were good again. Scimeca commented: “I’m not really sure what went wrong. I don’t think we’ve ever been more prepared for a competition and to skate with errors was very discouraging. It kind of leaves us with what are we supposed to do because we were very prepared and we were in the right mindset going into it. It’s just frustrating.” Knierim added: “We’ll keep doing what we’re doing. It’s obviously not a great competition for us. It’s the way it goes sometimes.”
Madeline Aaron & and Max Settlage from Scottsdale Arizona ended up on fifth place, winning 160.04 points. Most of their elements were good, they skated in a very dynamic style, and Aaron only stepped out of the double axel. Settlage said: “I think we had a very good first Grand Prix experience. I thought we came in and did what we wanted to do. We skated like how we’ve been training.”
Vanessa Grenier & Maxime Deschamps of Montreal in Canada finished sixth with 143.59 points.