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2018 Skate America Pairs

by Klaus-Reinhold Kany



(22 October 2018)  Skate America 2018 kicked off with the pair competition, which was not a very high level, but this is normal in a post-Olympic season.

The scheduled referee was Steve Winkler, from USA. But he had had health problems the week before and told the ISU two hours before the free program that he did not feel well again and asked to be replaced. Therefore the ISU phoned Massimo Orlandini from Italy because he was in Everett as referee of the ladies competition. He had to interrupt his lunch, hurried to the rink and acted as referee in the pairs free program and some hours later for the ladies.

Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov from Russia, silver medalists at the World Championships in March 2018, took a clear lead in the Short Program with a distance of almost nine points to the rest of the field, though it was not perfect, and had only 71.24 points.

Tarasova under-rotated  the side-by-side triple toe loop and touched down with her hand and she two-footed the throw triple loop. The triple twist was excellent and got GOEs of +4 from seven of the nine judges. The other elements were at least good. They had changed their short program in September after the first one was criticized by the officials during the Russian version of Champs Camp.

In Everett they skated to a mix of “I feel good” by James Brown with a lot of energy and and reached components with an average of 8.6. Morozov commented: “It was difficult today, but we felt good. We like our program and will keep working hard on it.”

They also won the free program (to music of The Winter by Balmorhea) and gained 204.85 overall points. The highlight of this program was the huge triple twist right at the beginning, but then Tarasova missed the triple Salchow which was called only as a downgraded double. The combination of triple, double and double toe loop was good, but she stepped out of the triple throw Lutz. The lifts, spin and death spiral were excellent and the components around 8.7. In order to get used to the time difference of 11 hours and the smaller rink than their rink in Russia, they had trained for one week in Euless, Texas, together with Americans Cain & LeDuc.

The second Russian team of Alisa Efimova & Alexander Korovin, winner of the Nebelhorn Trophy in September, came second with 178.98 points. In the short program to the music “Human” by Rag’n Bone Man, Efimova stepped out of the triple Salchow and their spin was not correct. The other five elements got many GOEs of +2 and +3.

The students of Oleg Vasiliev began their free program to the soundtrack of “La Strada” by Nino Rota with a high triple twist. He stepped out of the double Axel and she landed it on two feet. Then she fell on the triple Salchow which was supposed to be the first jump of a combination. The throws, lift and other elements were clean, however. Their components had an average of 7.5. Efimova later said: “It was our first competition on another continent. It was interesting and we were nervous and we found many details that we need to improve.”

After winning the U.S Classics in Salt Lake City and the Ondrej Nepela Trophy in Slovakia, the Texas pair of Ashley Cain & Timothy LeDuc took the bronze medal with 175.06 points and gave a strong impression. Some observers thought they would even merit the silver medal. Thanks to the choreography of Pasquale Camerlengo, they are stronger than last season especially on the artistic side.

Their short program to the Lindy Hop music of “Bella Belle” by “The Electric Swing Circus” was dynamic and exciting and had components of around 7.5. But LeDuc fell on the under-rotated  side-by-side triple loop, which no other pair in the world has in their program at the moment. Cain also stepped out of the triple throw Lutz.

With the second best free program to the soundtrack of W.E. by Abel Korzeniowski, the students of Ahleys Cain’s parents Darlene and Peter Cain could move up from fourth place. Their triple twist was high, but he did not catch her correctly in the air. Both their triple loop and their triple Salchow were a bit under-rotated, the three lifts were relatively clean, the triple throw Lutz excellent and the triple throw Salchow deeply landed. Their components had an average of 7.7. They hope that this is their breakthrough season and brings them their first U.S. title and the only U.S. spot at Worlds 2019 in Japan.

Le Duc explained: “To have silly errors on things we know we can do well was disappointing yesterday. But it awakened a fighting spirit in us and forced us to reset and refocus today to remember the athletes that we are and remember the work that we put in. We fought for everything today and there were still some mistakes and some scary moments, but I’m really proud of Ashley and the effort that we put in today. We couldn’t be happier to have our first medal at a Grand Prix.”

Cain commented: “The long program had mistakes today and wasn’t perfect and wasn’t our best score, but what we conquered was so much more than that. We went out there strong together.“

The reigning U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim & Chris Knierim finished fourth and earned 171.56 points. They came from Germany, where they have trained since early September, without Olympic Champion Aliona Savchenko who had coached them since June. Instead, their French choreographer Benoit Richaud was there. But having no official U.S. licence as a coach he was not allowed to accompany them in the kiss-and-cry corner.

After the competition the pair confirmed that they have split from Savchenko. "We’ve taken so much from Aliona… we’re very grateful for the work that she’s done with us,” they said. NBC commentator Johnny Weir phoned Savchenko and heard from her that she will not work with them any more. Nobody wanted to give reasons for the split, however. But one thing is sure: They need another coach.

In the short program to "Castle“ by Halsy, their triple twist was excellent as usual. But then Scimeca landed the triple Salchow forward and stepped out of it and she fell during the step sequence. The triple throw Lutz was deeply landed, the spin a bit wobbly, but the lift and death spiral good.

Chris Knierim said: “It’s just taking longer to get together than we’d like, but with all the changes we made this season, it’s not going to come together right away. We are just going to keep working and keep striving for more at every competition basically. Not looking at the protocol sheet, there were things that felt better than Nebelhorn, but there were things that were worse and things that need to improve and get better so it’s a growing process.“ Scimeca-Knierim added: "We train more; more sessions a day. We honestly just work harder.”

In the free program to "Wicked Game“ by James Vincent McMorrow, they revealed a good and more romantic style, but were a bit slow. The twist was very good, both performed a triple Salchow, but he only with a single toe-loop. Scimeca fell on the triple toe-loop which he doubled. Many good elements followed, but near the end, she missed the triple throw loop.

The German pair of Minerva Fabienne Hase & Nolan Seegert, number 3 in their country last season, was the only team with a clean short program. It included a triple twist and a side by side triple toe-loop, and sat on third position. Skating to "Say Something“ by Christina Aguilera, the team from Berlin got a personal best of 60.04 points and the first huge applause from a big crowd in their career and were very happy.

In the free program Hase doubled the Salchow and fell on the triple throw loop and their style was not as elegant as the style of the two American teams. Therefore they dropped to fifth place with 162,10 points. They had been nominated as alternates for the Chinese pair of Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang who are assumed to have split.

Nica Digerness & Danny Neudecker from Colorado Springs who just moved from the Junior level, finished on sixth position with 151.21 points. In the short program, Digerness fell on the triple toe-loop which was under-rotated , the rest of the program was more or less OK.

In the long program Digerness under-rotated  the two triple jumps and missed the Salchow, but the other elements were relatively clean. She said: "I felt like everything went really well. I was happy with everything and there were a couple stumbles, but other than that all of the in-betweens felt really good.” Neudecker added: "It’s my hometown so I felt relaxed, but I think we are really happy with the performance.”

Annika Hocke & Ruben Blommaert from Germany, who had been 13th at Worlds 2018, ended up 7th with 144.53 points. Blommaert had suffered under a leg injury since August when Hocke cut into his leg with her blade in practice and they had only a few weeks of full practice afterwards. In the short program, they made only small mistakes, but in the free program there were several serious mistakes.

Evelyn Walsh & Trennt Michaud from Brentford, Ontario, had been invited as alternates for the Chinese team of Xiangning Li & Zhong Xie who are injured. The Canadians finished eighth and last with 129.06 points. In the short program, Walsh fell on the under-rotated  triple toe loop and on the throw triple loop in the short program, the triple twist was a bit skaky and the side by side spin was out of sync, whereas the other elements were clean. In the free program, the students of Alison Purkiss missed four elements and made mistakes on three more elements.