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2016 Skate America Ladies

by Klaus Reinhold Kany

Mariah Bell and Ashley Wagner



The first competition at Skate America 2016 in Hoffman Estates near Chicago was the ladies event. Up to now there were no draws at the Grand Prix. In the short program and short dance the athletes skated in reverse order of the present world ranking list. In the long program they skated in the reverse order of the short program or dance result.

At the last ISU congress, it was even decided that there does not have a be a draw for senior Bs and smaller competitions any more. It is up to the organizers if they want to hold a draw. But the delegates also decided about a whole package of other rule changes, including to introduce subgroups for the best two groups in ISU championships. But instead of speaking of "ISU championships", the technical committee wrote "ISU events" by mistake, and no delegate stood up and say, this is not what we want. Therefore, the ISU has to do free draws now at every ISU event, including Grand Prixs. Many officials, skaters, and coaches criticized it, but the ISU council has no power to change a congress decision. Only the next congress can change this rule.

World silver medalist Ashley Wagner confirmed her role as the favorite and won the competition with 196.44 points and without serious mistakes. In the short program, she was already in the lead after performing an almost clean program to the disco evergreen "Sweet Dreams“ by Annie Lennox. She really looked like a dancing queen and therefore her components had an average of 8.7. She began with a combination of triple flip and triple toe loop, but the toe loop was under-rotated. The other elements, including a triple loop, were excellent and got mainly GOEs of +2. All three spins and the dynamic step sequence with four (out of nine) GOEs of +3 had a level 3.

She commented: “Tonight was a great event for me. My training from this season really pulled through. I spent a lot of time working on my combinations, my jump quality as a whole and my spins. Overall, I think this was a great start. I capitalized on the momentum in Boston going into the summer. It inspired me to train even harder than I had been because it showed me that my training got me onto that podium, it motivated me and made it a realistic goal to get on to that podium. That program is totally about just like this strong, tough – the word I want to use I’m not allowed to use … you guys know what I mean – (is) this tough woman. I think that that’s a show program and I get to skate it in competition and I love every second of it, so that’s kind of what gets me through it.”

In the free program, she skated to "Exogenesis Symphony Part 3“ by the British pop group Muse, which many skaters have used, among them Jeremy Abbott. This more soft than powerful music was a challenge for her because her strength normally is a powerful and dynamic interpretation. But she mastered it well and her components had an average level of 8.8, with several 9.25 as highest ones.

After an excellent double Axel she performed her standard combination with a triple flip and another under rotated triple toe loop. After a second double Axel the first triple loop was very good, but her second a bit shaky and she could add only a single toe loop. The second flip was under rotated, the triple Lutz got an edge call, but all these were minor mistakes.

She said: I think for the most part I would say that the loop-half loop Salchow combination was kind of a ghost today. I landed that loop; it didn’t feel perfect and I knew that at this point in the season I’d rather do a nice loop than a really sketchy loop-half loop Salchow. I just knew that was what was going to happen, so I decided to make the smarter choice there. The loop combination -- I never do a loop toe, so that was a first-time thing for me, and I think that’s why it was a little dicey. But beyond that, I think I came into today with a new set of nerves that I don’t usually have to handle and I handled them as gracefully as I could.”

She also spoke about the pressure heading into this event: “I think that the weight of this competition shook out. I’m so proud of that short program. That is the athlete I really want to be this season. The long program… it would be amazing to have perfect programs every single time, but sometimes you need programs like that where they’re not bad but they’re not great and it kind of keeps you in check on where you are and what you need to work on. The amount of nerves that I felt going into this competition I would not have been able to handle last year. The way that it was built up to be the ultimate showdown between Gracie [Gold] and I, that was something coming in to this I felt the pressure of, but I dealt with it and I didn’t succumb to that. I pushed through and that’s how I got to the top of this podium.”

The silver medal for Mariah Bell, who earned 191.59 points and won the free program, was a surprise. The 20-year-old skater from the school of Rafael Arutunian in Lakewood/California had been only 11th at the last U.S. Nationals and did not have much international success until this September, when she was second in Salt Lake City and third at the Ondrej Nepela Memorial. She was nominated for Skate America only one week ago when Angela Wang withdrew. In the short program to music from the musical Chicago Bell had been sixth after landing a combination of a triple Lutz and an (under-rotated) triple toe loop, a triple flip and an outstanding layback spin. She won the free program, skating to the soundtrack of "East of Eden“. She began with a good combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop, followed by a triple loop and three other clean triple jumps. Her spins were very good again. In the free program, she was the only lady to get a standing ovation. Until this summer she had trained with Kori Ade in Monument, Colorado and then moved to Rafael Arutunian.

After the free program, she commented: “I’m very, very proud of my performance today. My goal this season has been to improve on my personal best. I haven’t really been thinking about results or placements, but being on the podium is very exciting, but I’m mostly excited about improving on my personal best for the season so far and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. Ashley (Wagner) has an incredible work ethic. She comes into the rink every day very motivated so to be able to train with her has been really, really awesome. I’m really excited that I have the opportunity to train with Ashley and Adam (Rippon) and the other elite skaters Rafael has.”

“Starting earlier this season, I had a good showing at my first senior B then I had another senior B where I also medaled. I was able to take my confidence from those events to push me forward. Changing training environments has been something that’s really motivated me also. Just since the start of the season, I have a new confidence to really build and grow on. I was thinking about the first two elements, the Lutz-toe and the loop, and once I got past that I was thinking about taking it one thing at a time. Before I knew it I was going into my last flip and I started to feel a little stressed at that one moment. The crowd was really excited, I was really excited and I felt it was an awesome performance and I’m really, really proud of it.”

Mai Mihara from Japan won the bronze medal with 189.28 points. In the short program she was second, skating to the Rondo Capriccioso by Camille Saint-Saens. After an excellent combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop the three spins were very good as well, but she stepped out a bit of the triple flip. In the free program, she interpreted "Cinderella“ by Patrick Doyle. Five of her triple jumps were clean, but the second triple toe loop in combination with the triple Lutz was downgraded. All of her spins had a level 4.

After the free program, she said: “My free program, I definitely feel a lot of regret. I found a lot of homework toward my next competition which is Cup of China. I feel honored to be here and be given the opportunity to compete in such a big competition. The reason I decided to move up this year from Juniors is because both my coach and the people of my federation recommended I should be prepared so that I would be able to compete at the senior level. I am surprised with the result here. It was unexpected. I’d like to take this confidence level into my next competition to the Cup of China.”

Gabrielle Daleman from Canada finished on fourth position, winning 186.63 points. In her short program to two music pieces from the opera "Herodiade“ by Jules Massenet, six elements were excellent, including the three level 4 spins, but her triple toe loop after the triple Lutz was downgraded. She began her free program with an outstanding triple toe loop - triple toe loop combination. Then she fell on the triple Lutz but the rest of the program was good again.

Gracie Gold finished on an disappointing fifth place (184.22 points) after being third in the short program. There she began with an excellent combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop, followed by five very good other elements and a fall on the triple flip. She skated to the Assassin’s Tango from the musical Mr. and Mrs. Smith and her components had average level of 8.2.

After the short program she commented: "I had a pretty good skate tonight. It was unfortunate to fall on triple flip. There are only three jumping passes in the short program but the quality of the rest of my elements was great enough to keep me on the podium in the short program. I’m looking forward to a solid skate tomorrow. I’ve been training my long program and hopefully my training pulls through tomorrow.”

In the new long program to the music Daphnis and Chloe by Maurie Ravel, it became more obvious that she is not yet in very good shape this season. After a clean opening double Axel, she doubled the toe loop after the triple Lutz, because like so often in her career she came too close to the border. Then she fell on the triple loop and later on the triple Salchow as well and her flip was only double and had an edge call.

Former World champion Mao Asada is only sixth with 176.78 points after making several mistakes in spite of an elegant style. She did not try any triple Axel. Serafima Sakhanovich from Russia ended up seventh, earning 163.84 points. Many of her jumps were at least shaky. Julia Lipnitskaia withdrew on Monday before the event because of an injury which aggravated after the Ondrej Nepela Memorial, too late to nominate an alternate.