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Skate America Gala

By Gerri Walbert

Ashley Wagner performs at 2012 Skate America Gala

Photos © George S. Rossano

The Skate America Gala was held after the Dance and Ladies Final on Sunday and showcased a wide variety of music, styles and personal favorite choices of the skaters. U.S. ice dancers Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Guiletti-Schmitt, 4th place finishers here in Kent, WA opened this showcase event performing smoothly to the romantic ballad I Need Your Love. They were followed by the blond-haired Russian, Konstantin Menshov, the 4th place finisher in the menís division, showing off his personality in Shape of My Heart

Dressed in black, American pairs team Maria Castelli & Simon Shnapir, who were 5th overall in the competition, skated to Michael Bubleís Birds in the Sky, delivering high-style adagio lifts including a death-defying headbanger. Italyís Valentina Marchei, 4th in Ladies Singles, wearing hot pink was the ďMaterial GirlĒ personified beginning and ending with Diamonds Are a Girlís Best Friend and I Wanna Be Loved By You, made famous by Debbie Reynolds in the 1950s musical Two Weeks in Love

French pairs, Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres, placed 4th overall in Pairs and gave an elegant presentation to In My Dreams, but it was American Jeremy Abbott, who received the crowdís highest praise as he performed to Wanders by The Doors. Although he finished only as high as 5th in the menís competition due to a slight compression in his back, his edge work and artistic delivery was superb.

One of the highlights of the Ladies competition was that of Christina Gao, the Harvard University student, who won the silver medal here in her first appearance at Skate America. She performed to a modern interpretation of Ave Maria. U.S. Pairs champions Caydee Denney & John Coughlin took the bronze medal in Kent and performed to a bluesy Summertime, highlighting their wonderful lifts and throws.

Japanís newest star, Yuzuru Hanyu, 17, made history in the menís Short Program with his score of 95.07, but dropped to 2nd overall, yielding to his teammate Takahiko Kozuka, who won the gold. Hanyu also preferred a Doors tune, opening with a quad and an array of triple jumps to Hello I Love You. He even took off his sequin shirt to the surprise of the many Japanese fans in the audience and showed off his fancy footwork and hydroblading.

Canadian ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje, the bronze medalists in Kent, opened the second half of the gala, skating to music by English indie rock band, Florence and the Machine, and were followed by the third member of Team Japan that dominated the menís competition, Tatsuki Machida, the menís bronze medalist, who performed another fine routine.

Despite suffering from numerous knee, back and shoulder injuries, Chinaís current top pairs team Qing Pang & Jian Tong, the eventís silver medalists, delivered an elegant interpretation to music from the Romeo and Juliet ballet.

One of Russiaís hottest new stars in the Ladies event, 15 year-old Adelina Sotnikova, the bronze medalist, performed exuberantly to Cherís vocal version of Burlesque, from the movie of the same name. She was followed by her Russian teammates ice dancers Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev, who won the silver medal. They performed an upbeat routine to Feeling Good.

The gold medalists were next beginning with Russiaís Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov, who won both the Short and Freeskate portions of the Pairs competition. They performed to Wake Me Up Inside by American rock band Evanescence.

A supremely confident Ashley Wagner, the Ďalmost girlí no longer, let the world know that American Ladies were back and looking to be at the top of the podium internationally once again. She won both sections of the competition and delivered a sparkling routine to Tightrope at the gala and was an audience favorite throughout the competition.

It was Takahiko Kozukaís 4th appearance at Skate America, he won gold previously in 2008, but was third last year and 8th in 2007. Coming off an 11th placement at the 2012 Worlds, Kozuka showed he was back on track by winning gold in Kent. He skated to the moody Simon Garfunkel tune, Hello Darkness/Sounds of Silence.

The final and honored spot was awarded to the eventís signature stars 4-time U.S ice dance champions, 2011 World champions, 2010 Olympic silver medalists, and now 3-time Skate America champions Meryl Davis & Charlie White. Dressed in a new yellow costume, Meryl, and her partner of 15 years, Charlie, performed an emotional rendering of the angsty Adele song, Someone Like You. It was an exhibition routine they used last season but was greatly appreciated by the audience in Kent, most of whom had never seen it performed live.

The Kent audience was simply great, thoroughly appreciating all the skatersí efforts throughout the entire event. Itís no wonder that U.S. Figure Skating continues to look at the great Northwest to hold its events.