By Klaus-Reinhold Kany
(28 November 2017) The Free Dance at Skate America 2017 in Lake Placid had a very good level.There were few serious mistakes and no falls in the segment at all. World Bronze medalists Maia Shibutani & Axel Shibutani ran away with an easy victory, winning 194.25 points.
Dancing to different music pieces by Coldplay, they called their dance "Paradise.“ All nine elements were excellent, therefore all nine judges gave only GOEs of +2 or +3 for them, they had not a single +1 or lower GOE. Highlights were the speedy twizzle sequence in perfect harmony and the rotational lift, but the steps were also very intricate. Five elements had a level 4, the two step sequences a level 3 and two choreographic elements do not get a level. Their components had an average of 9.5, with one 10.0 as the highest one from the Canadian judge, Jodi Abbott, for performance. No component was lower than 9.0.
Alex Shibutani explained that the brother-and-sister team had competed in the same Olympic rink 13 years ago: “This is the first big arena we ever skated in our lives and so it was a special weekend. We made a lot of big changes after Russia to the Free Dance in particular, in the second half of the program, and I think it really paid off as far as the overall feel of the program that we have skating it. Even though there is only one week until we go to the Grand Prix Final, it is about continuing to build the momentum that we’ve developed personally over the past months.”
Maia Shibutani added. “Alex and I are very proud of how we skated this weekend. This was the longest time that we ever had in a Grand Prix season between our two Grand Prix and we feel very strongly about how well we’ve used our time following the Cup of Russia. These two performances were really heading into the direction that we are looking for. This was the competition we wanted to have before the Grand Prix Final.”
Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte from Italy won the silver medal with 181.63 points. They danced in good speed to the soundtrack of the Italian film "La vita è bella“ (Life is beautiful) about the Holocaust, but picked the more happy parts of the film and not the sad ones. Most of their elements were very good, especially the stationary lift, the curve lift and the combination spin. But the exit of the rotational lift was a bit shaky when her blade became stuck in the legs of his pants. The majority of the GOEs were +2 and their components were around 9.2. Like the Shibutanis, they reached the Grand Prix Final.
Cappellini commented: “We had the impression that we need to be perfect today and it always adds pressure to the whole process. We were nervous. We missed the exit of the lift and we knew we already lost some points. We’re definitely looking forward to improving our technical score and we’re trying to do that, especially for the second part of the season where all the major championships take place.“ She also spoke about the Final: “Eight years ago we qualified for our first Grand Prix Final here at Skate America. So, it’s come full circle. We were hoping to go back to the Grand Prix Final as we missed it last year.”
Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov from Russia won the bronze medal with 176.53 points. Unlike in their two previous competitions, they had no falls nor any other serious mistakes this time. In their free program to a medley by Sergei Rakhmaninov, many elements were very good with the lifts as highlights and they had even more technical points than the Italians. But their components were a bit lower, around 8.9. Their steps were a bit less intricate because Sinitsina is not as strong a skater as Katsalapov who had won an Olympic Bronze medal in 2014 with his previous partner Elena Ilinykh.
"We are very happy with how we skated here at Skate America, we skated clean,” Katsalapov said. "Now we know what we need to work on. Our next competition is our national championship and we’ll try to fix everything that wasn’t perfect yet. It was a great pleasure to compete in this historical place and we felt really energized.”
Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier from Canada moved up from fifth to fourth place, earning 166.54 points, but this was lower than they had hoped. They danced to a medley of Perry Mason themes in the style of James Bond films. The combination spin and two lifts were highlights of their program and their components had an average of 8.5.
Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker (USA) finished on fifth position winning 163.53 points after being only seventh in the short dance. Their free dance was a very softly and smoothly interpreted version of Franz Liszt’s "Liebestraum" (Dream of love). Their components were around 8.1.
Tiffani Zagorski (who changed her spelling from the former version of Tiffany Zahorsky when she got Russian citizenship) & Jonathan Guerreiro from Russia dropped from fourth to sixth place with 160.28 points. In their free dance to a Muse medley, some levels were not as high as expected. He stumbled for example a bit on the twizzle sequence.
Kana Muramoto & Chris Reed from Japan proved especially with their elegant free dance that they merit a spot at the Olympic Games, which they had won at the Olympic qualification competition in Germany in September. Their program to two Japanese themes was faultless and they finished seventh with 155.24 points.
The Chinese couple of Shiyue Wang & Xinyu Liu finished eighth, earning 149.36 points. Americans Rachel & Michael Parsons from the Wheaton Academy of Alexei Kiliakov ended up ninth with 145.54 points. They interpreted Peruvian folk music and in the second part use the same music which Isabelle & Paul Duchesnay had used in 1990 when they protested against the systematic disappearance of enemies of the Pinochet regime in Chili with their program. The Parsons said they liked the Duchesnay programs very much, but their presentation is not as strong.
Isabella Tobias & Ilia Tkachenko who skate for Israel and had gained an Olympic spot at the World Championships 2017, withdrew a week before Skate America. The official reason were hip problems of Tobias. But coach Marina Zueva said these health problems were not the main reason for the withdrawal. Instead, the couple learned a few weeks before that in spite of hiring a lawyer, Tkachenko will definitely not get Israeli citizenship before the 2018 Olympic Games because he is not Jewish. Therefore the couple was very frustrated and might even finish their career, but this is not certain yet. U.S. Figure Skating tried to invite another couple from near-by Montreal at the last minute, but neither the Danish nor any Canadian couple was willing to come. Also from the Detroit schools nobody on the alternate list wanted to come to Lake Placid. Therefore only nine couples competed.