By Lynn Rutherford
All photos Copyright 2006 by George S. Rossano
Nam & Leftheris
The withdrawal of World champions Qing Pang & Jian Tong, due to Pang’s bout with pyelitis, an inflammation of the kidneys, left a somewhat wan field of eight pairs to take the ice Thursday evening at Hartford’s Civic Arena.
Performing to Spanish-themed music, two-time U.S. champions Rena Inoue & John Baldwin led the field with 59.28 points (33.44 TES + 25.84 TPS) despite an uncharacteristic error from Inoue on the landing of the double Axel as well as her slight touch down on the couple’s trademark throw triple Axel. The remainder of the program was technically solid -- especially the Level 4 press lift with a one-arm carry and set down – but the relatively low program component scores indicate judges are not impressed with the couple’s choreography and expression.
"About two-and-a-half weeks ago, I sprained my (right) foot, so I haven’t been able to jump a lot. I’m disappointed for the double Axel, but at the same time I know I did the best I could do at that moment," said Inoue.
Skating to "Tango Jealousy," U.S. pewter medalists Naomi Nari Nam & Themistocles Leftheris impressed with solid side-by-side triple toe loops; a press lift with a difficult entrance from a change edge (outside to inside) spiral and a one-arm dismount; and, for the first time in competition, a throw triple loop. They placed second with 57.32 points (33.08 TES + 24.24 PCS), less than a point behind training mates Inoue & Baldwin, who are also coached by Peter Oppegard in Artesia, CA.
"This is our first Grand Prix event and we’re so excited to be in this position today. We’ve worked hard all year and it’s paying off," said Nam, a former U.S. ladies silver medalist who teamed with Leftheris in the spring of 2005.
"We just added the (throw) triple loop to our program so to land it here felt great," added her partner.
In their second season together, Canadians Anabelle Langlois & Cody Hay performed a solid routine to music from "Mr. Monotony," opening with side-by-side triple toes and a well-done double Lutz twist lift and ending with their two finest elements: a Level 4 back outside death spiral and pair combination spin.
The couple attempted the unusual throw triple Lutz (valued at 5.5 points), but Langlois two-footed and turned out of the landing, resulting in a negative grade of execution of .70.
"We started (the throw triple Lutz) just fooling around on the ice one day, and it felt quite easy for us, maybe because it’s the only pair move we learned together as a team. It’s my favorite throw now," said Langlois.
Polish veterans Dorota & Mariusz Siudek, who placed ninth at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, replaced Pang & Tong. The couple had a disastrous program, with Mariusz falling on a triple toe loop and Dorota stumbling, then falling, during the pair combination spin. (They received no credit for the element.) Nevertheless, they placed fourth with 50.34 points.
"This is our last season, and we had never fallen on a spin before, so I guess it was our last chance to do so," said the good-humored Mariusz with a laugh.
2005 World Junior champions Maria Mukhortova & Maxim Trankov of Russia placed fifth with 49.02 points, and their countrymen, Elena Efaieva & Alexei Menshikov, were sixth with 48.68 points.
Siudek & Siudek
Americans Win Skate America Pairs’ Title
Two-time U.S. champions Rena Inoue & John Baldwin Jr. won their first Grand Prix event despite a flawed free skate with two falls.
It was that kind of night for the field of eight pairs, who took to the ice at Hartford’s Civic Center while the crowd of 4,900 was still reeling from an exciting ladies’ final.
Still, a win is a win, said Baldwin.
"It feels great to have a Skate America title and it feels even better to get through our first competition of the season. When I fell on the triple toe, our first element, I thought, ‘Great—now I’ve got another four minutes!’ But our goal was to get Level 4’s on almost all our elements and we did that so that was a good accomplishment."
Skating rather tentatively to a Puccini medley, the couple amassed an impressive eight Level 4 elements; only their straight-line step sequence was rated Level 3. This difficulty buffeted them from the effects of Baldwin’s fall, as well as Inoue’s crash on the landing of their trademark triple Axel, which still earned 6.25 points.
Their free program score of 110.60 (59.26 TES + 53.36 PCS) was the second-highest of the night, and when added to their free skate gave them the win with 169.90 points.
Both Inoue and Baldwin are battling injuries. She sprained her ankle in practice two-and-a-half weeks ago, and he is feeling the effects of a lingering groin problem.
"This was a challenge for us. The whole fall season will be a challenge, I’m sure. But we’re going to (continue) to go out there, give it 100% each time and do what we can do," said Baldwin.
Competing at Skate America for the first time in their 16-year career, Dorota & Mariusz Siudek of Poland captured the silver medal with a solid performance to Chopin selections.
The veteran couple, who have announced that this is their final competitive season, opened with triple toe loops. Mariusz doubled his, reducing the value to just 0.68. From then on, they made no major mistakes, although Dorota had to fight for the landing of the throw triple Salchow.
As always, the couple’s spectacular lifts drew ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from the crowd, particularly their trademark Axel lasso lift, where Mariusz pulls Dorota through his legs and up into a one-arm position with one-arm set down. They won the free skate with 111.13 points (57.21 TES + 53.92 PCS) and earned 161.47 points overall.
"Right now, I am mad about our fall (on the combination spin) in the short program because that could have made a difference in this result. But we are very happy to do this competition; two weeks ago, we didn’t even know that we would do it," said Mariusz. (The Poles were substitutes for World Champions Qing Pang & Jian Tong, who withdrew from Skate America due to Pang’s severe kidney infection.)
Competing in their first Grand Prix event, Naomi Nari Nam & Themistocles Leftheris of the U.S. took the bronze medal with a clean, but technically less difficult, program to exotic Khachaturian selections. The couple, paired together by coach Peter Oppegard in the spring of 2005, opened with a stunning triple toe loop- triple toe loop sequence, followed by double flips they hope will be triples in future competitions.
Nam, a former U.S. ladies’ silver medalist who switched to pairs due to hip injuries, landed the throw triple Salchow but fell on the throw triple loop, an element the couple has only recently added to their programs. In the final third of the routine, both skaters fought valiantly to keep pace with the frenetic circular step sequence, set to the impossibly fast "Sabre Dance," but lagged well behind the beat.
"This just feels amazing. We worked hard all year and now that hard work is paying off. We hope to continue to improve through U.S. Nationals and, hopefully, on to Worlds," said Nam.
Skate America is the couple’s only Grand Prix assignment, although they both expressed interest in a second event.
"We hope (for a second Grand Prix), but there are technicalities and rules we are not aware of. We haven’t heard anything on another possible assignment," said Nam.
An ISU representative confirmed that there are lists of substitute skaters for the Grand Prix series, who can replace competitors forced to withdraw. Host organizations review the lists and invite skaters who meet the minimum requirement of a free program personal best 75 points to their events.
Despite earning a personal best 97.77 points, Canadians Anabelle Langlois & Cody Hay had a disappointing free skate to music from the soundtrack of "The Notebook," choreographed by David Wilson. Langlois fell out of the landing of both triple throws, and the pace of their program slowed to a crawl at times. They placed fourth overall with 153.63 points.
"We tried to keep focused but it was hard because pretty much every element is still high risk for us. I’ve been having a hard time with the throws this week but I should be better soon," said Langlois, who placed a high of fifth place at Worlds with former partner Patrice Archetto in 2003.
Russian bronze medalists and 2005 World junior champions Maria Mukhortova & Maxim Trankov placed fifth in the free skate and fifth overall with 141.31 total points. Skated to Rachmaninov’s mournful "Elegy," the young couple opened with a strong triple toe loop-double toe sequence, fine double twist and solid side-by-side double Axels, but their speed dropped off considerably after the halfway mark when Mukhortova had sloppy landings on back-to-back triple throws.
Americans Tiffany Vise & Derek Trent opened their program with a triple twist, but since it was judged a Level 1 with a grade of execution of -0.70, they earned only 3.80 points – fewer points than most of the evening’s double twists. They two-footed the landings on their side-by-side triple toes, but Vise nailed the landing of the throw triple loop.
In the second half of their program, the couple tried a quadruple Salchow, but Vise fell before completing the rotations.
"We’ve only been trying the quad for about a month and this is just the second time we’ve ever put it in a run-through. I’m proud of Tiffany for trying it here. She hit it a few times in practice this week and we had nothing to lose. We hope to land it at ’07 U.S. Nationals," said Trent.
The couple’s coach, Doug Ladret, lamented the change in the scoring system that has devalued the triple twist.
"We did the triple twist, and I thought it was pretty good, but they just didn’t get the credit. The way they judge twists is setting back the sport. When I competed (with Christine Hough), if you didn’t do a triple twist, you were dropped to the bottom. The ISU was supposed to fix this problem by giving the triple more credit this season but I don’t think the fix has been effective," he said.
Skate America Pairs
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