Skate America returned to Detroit, having been held here once before in 1995. The last time we were her the event was held in Cobo Arena, the site of Tanyagate during Detroit Nationals in 1994. This time we are at the larger, but aging, Joe Louis Arena, home of the Detroit Red Wings. The event is fairly low key despite this being the first major international competition of an Olympic season. Attendance for the first two nights of Short Programs and Compulsory Dance were poorly attended, and no local advertising is in evidence in the city. Better attendance is expected for the four final rounds on Saturday. As part of the USFSA's TV package with ABC, Skate America is now basically operated as a made for TV event.
"The" event of the competition is the Ladies event, which gives us the first meeting of the international season between Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski. Here we get our first look at their program strategies for the coming Winter Olympics, in Nagano, Japan. Lipinski has been working on her presentation, but is still counting on technical prowess to keep her World Title and earn Olympic gold. Kwan is adding triple - triple combinations to counter, but will not be giving up an inch in exploiting her more mature and sophisticated style.
In the Men's event there is no one here to strain Todd Eldredge, but there is still enough curiosity to see how some of the lesser lights are doing to make the event interesting. On the US side their is interest in how Michael Chack and Scott Davis are doing, and among the international skaters there is the erratic 1994 World bronze medallist Viacheslav Zagorodniuk, and the current World Junior Champion, Evgeny Plushenko.
The Pairs event is a little slim with only 8 teams, and only three of these of top international quality. Marina Eltsova and Andrey Bushkov the easy favorites, but they will have to contend with Evgenia Shishkova and Vadim Naumov, the 1994 World Champions, and Kyoko Ina and Jason Dungjen, who placed fourth at the 1997 World Championships. The remaining teams are of lesser, and in same cases junior, quality. Jeni Meno and Todd Sand were scheduled to be here but apparently are not ready to compete, and Stephanie Stiegler and John Zimmerman were replaced by Hartsell and Hartsell due to the severe shoulder dislocation Stiegler suffered during the summer.
The Dance event is fairly weak. The top ranked couple her is Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow, who placed sixth at the 1997 World Championships. There next closest competitors are Barbara Fusar-Poli and Mauritzio Margaglio who were tenth in Lausanne. Perhaps the most interesting part of the Dance event will be the OD. This year the dance is The Jive, and vocal music will be allowed. All of the couples here are using Rock-and-Roll tunes in their original form.
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