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2020 Skate America Ladies

by Klaus-Reinhold Kany




Like in 2019, Skate America 2020 was held in the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. The general level of the ladies competition was relatively high.  Around half of the 12 ladies performed very convincing programs. They confirmed that they were in good shape in spite of the Covid-19 problems. Mariah Bell won with overall 212.73 points. Her short program to "Glitter in the Air“ by U.S. singer Pink was choreographed in early July by Molly Oberstar, a former U.S. single skaters who works in Minnesota. Oberstar said: “It is a love song, and anyone who has felt love in their life is able to think about their experience and put themselves into that place, that emotion.“

Bell trains with Rafael Arutunian and Adam Rippon mainly in the new Five Point Arena in Irvine, California, a bit more than one hour of driving time southeast of Los Angeles. Bell trained along side her French boyfriend and skater Romain Ponsart for almost two years, but since the fall of 2018, he is no longer allowed to come to the U.S., at first due to visa problems and now due to Covid-19. But she is sure that Romain will be back as soon as Covid-19 is over.

Bell’s short program performance was excellent and got 76.48 points, 3.19 points more than Bradie Tennell‘s. The double Axel was excellent, the combination of triple flip and triple toe loop, good and had mainly GOEs of +1 and +2. The triple Lutz was very good. The three spins had a level 4 and an average of GOEs of +4, the step sequence as well.

Her friendly personality helps her to smile a lot and spread a winning sparkle. Her components had an average of 8.9, with two 9.5 as highest ones. She skated the short program in her long program costume after she did not feel comfortable in her new short program costume. "I love that we’re sticking with strong female artists. I’m going through the list: I’ve done Celine, and Britney, and now I’m doing Pink.“

For her free program she used a medley of the Swedish music group Abba (“Dancing Queen,“ “The Winner Takes it All,“ “Mamma Mia“ and “Thank You for the Music“). She opened with a good combination of double Axel and triple toe loop, followed by a triple loop, triple Salchow and triple flip, all of them in good quality. Later she performed two very good triple - double combinations. Her only mistake came near the end when her second triple Lutz was downgraded and she fell after almost holding it. Her three spins and two step sequences were excellent as usual, but she had no triple-triple combination. Therefore she was ranked only fourth in the free program. Her components were around 8.7.

She said: “It wasn’t my best skate today. I felt a little bit stiff but I'm excited to be able to get my long program out kind of in a competition setting. I am walking away from this performance a little bit disappointed but at the end of the day I can be proud. I think Abba is something that is definitely a little out of my comfort zone but I do feel pretty natural doing it. This is a little faster, a little more upbeat. I wanted to have a collection of songs people really know. So I brought the Beatles to (my choreographer, Shae-Lynn Bourne) and she said, ‘That is great. What do you think about Abba? ’And I said, ‘I don’t think so.“ But when this music was played more often, Bell changed her mind. “The connection got stronger and stronger, and I really fell in love with it.“

Bradie Tennell switched coaches in late summer. She left Denise Myers in the Chicago area and now trains under Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs. With his help, she hopes to learn the triple Axel and maybe a quad, because without them you cannot win a top position at world champions and Olympic Games any more. In her own country, Alyssa Liu masters these jumps. Liu is too young to compete at international senior events this season, but will be old enough in the Olympic season.

Tennell also needs to become competitive with the Russian teenagers who master these elements. Tennell is already 22 years old, and it remains to be seen if she still can learn these jumps. Her new coach gave his former student Mirai Nagasu as an example of a lady who learned the triple Axel in her 20s.

In her short program to “Moderation“ by Florence and the Machine, six elements were excellent, two spins even stellar, but the triple toe loop after the triple Lutz of her combination was under-rotated. Her components were around 8.8. She said: “We are all so grateful to be here and that we have this opportunity. I also had a really great time performing today. It’s been so long since we’ve been able to go out there and skate our programs for people, even if they are not here.”

In her free program to “Sarajevo“ by Max Richter and to “Dawn of Faith“ by Eternal Eclipse, three triple jumps were not clean, but the other elements excellent again. She commented: “I had a couple of minor injuries that prevented me from jumping fully up until last Wednesday. But I'm really happy with how today's skate went.“ Both programs were choreographed by French Benoit Richaud who had to coach her via video call.

16-year-old Audrey Shin of Northport, Long Island, trained with Rafael Arutunian previously, but has moved to Tammy Gambill in Colorado Springs. She had planned to compete at Junior Grand Prix, but when the whole series was cancelled, she decided to move on to seniors. She was a big surprise because at her senior debut, she won the bronze medal with 206.15 points. She had been 7th at the Youth Olympic Games in January 2020, but had a lot of boot problems before. But she showed promising progress in the summer.

Shin started her short program to “The Giving“ by Michael Smith with a combination of triple Lutz (a bit under-rotated) and triple toe loop. All other elements, including a triple loop, were outstanding. Her lyrical free program to  the soundtrack of “Modigliani“ began with a good combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop, followed by three more very good triples and an under-rotated toe loop. Her steps and spins were excellent. “I am glad that I landed everything and I put out a good performance today. Last year was a difficult year for me because I had an ankle surgery in May.“

Karen Chen of Colorado Springs, fourth at U.S. Nationals eight months ago, was near a medal and finished fourth with 204.90 points. She opened her short program to “Rise“ by Katy Perry with a combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop, but both jumps were under-rotated. The six other elements were excellent, including a triple loop.  Her free program to the “Butterfly Lover Concerto“ was very sensitive and well interpreted. Her components had an average of 8.9 which were the highest components of the whole competition. Four triples were excellent, but two under-rotated and she singled the loop.

Amber Glenn of Euless, Texas, placed fifth, earning 190.09 points. The student of Peter Cain had also been fifth at U.S. Nationals earlier this year and landed triple Axels in practice in July for the first time. But on September 8, she passed out during a cryotherapy, fell through the door, hit her face on a shoe cubby, broke an orbital bone and sustained a concussion. She did not want to call the ambulance because this was too expensive, but others called and she was transported into a hospital. Therefore she could not train for some time and did not include the triple Axel in her programs at Skate America and seemed not to have completely recovered. In her short, set to Madilyn Bailey’s "Scars“, the triple toe loop after the triple flip was a bit under-rotated, everything else was very good, including a triple loop. In her long to “Rain, in your Black Eyes“, she performed four clean triples, but doubled and singled two more.

Shan Lin competes for China, but was born in Texas and lives and trains now in Boston under Aleksei Letov and Olga Ganicheva. She had not competed internationally for two seasons, but finished on sixth position with 182.11 points. In her short program, the combination of triple flip and double toe loop was so-so and she almost fell on the under-rotated triple Lutz. In her free program, four triple jumps were clean, but two other under-rotated and she fell on the triple flip.

Paige Rydberg trains now in Colorado Springs, but has not competed internationally since September 2017. She was 14th at U.S. Nationals in January 2020 and placed seventh in Las Vegas with 178.13 points. Her short program included a combination of two triple toe loops and a triple flip and was faultless. But in her free only three of the six triple jumps were clean.

Starr Andrews (19) of Lakewood, California, had certainly expected more than an eighth place with 171.70 points. Her coaches are Derrick Delmore, Angela Nikodinov and Ivan Dinev. She competed in two Grand Prix events last year, in France and Japan, where she finished fifth and eighth, and was sixth at U.S. Nationals 2020. In her short, the combination of two triple toe loops was good, but she popped the loop. Three triples were clean in her free, but three others under-rotated, but she did not fall.

Sierra Venetta comes from Northern California, but now trains in Colorado Springs with Kristy Krall and Damon Allen. The Challenge Cup in The Hague in the Netherlands where she won a silver medal in February 2020 was her only international competition up to now. In Las Vegas she came ninth winning 170.72 points. Her combination in the short program was clean, but too easy with triple and double toe loop. Only two triple jumps in the free were clean, but three others under-rotated and she fell on the triple toe loop near the end.

Pooja Kalyan trains in Colorado Springs with Tom Zakrajsek and Becky Calvin and finished tenth with 158.95 points. She was 8th at the Philadelphia Summer International in 2019.  In her short, the triple toe loop after the triple Lutz was under-rotated and she missed the triple flip. In the free, the two flips were the only good triple jumps. Finley Hawk of the Chicago area is 11th, earning 154,25 points. The 19-year-old skater trains with Jeremy Allen and Denise Myers. She has never done any international competition before. Her clean short program included a good combination of triple Lutz and double toe loop and a good triple flip. In the free, she fell on the opening triple Lutz and a flip and could add later only one clean triple jump. She did not interpret much of the music.

Gracie Gold, fourth at the Olympics in 2014 and fourth at Worlds 2015 and 2016, wanted to prove that she is back and has no more distracting issues. She trains now with Pasha Filchenkov and Alex Zahradnicek in Aston, Pennsylvania. But she ended up last and 12th with only 127.82 points. She opened her short program to “Survivor“ by 2WEI with a double Lutz (zero points), followed by a good double Axel and a double flip (zero points again). Spins and steps were good, but the levels were mixed. Her components were around 7.2. In the free program to “War in My Mind“ by Beth Hart, her first element was a very good combination of triple Lutz and double toe loop. But later, two more triples were not fully rotated, she singled two jumps and fell twice. This time her components dropped to 6.4.