Skate America 2009: Day 1

By Suzanne Herrmann
Photos ┬ę Suzanne Herrmann

“I love this town!” Scott Hamilton could not have said it better himself when he visited Lake Placid back in 1980. Not much has changed in that regard. Lake Placid is the perfect winter sports capital to kick off the 30th Anniversary of Skate America in the place it all began… Lake Placid!

The first night of competition included the Compulsory Dance, the Pairs’ Short and the Men’s short.

The Compulsory Dance is always a treat. While many choose not to attend because of the monotony, it is a sure-fire way to gauge the levels of each team. It is a great way to introduce the teams to the public and a great “warm-up” for the competition. The dancers might argue against CDs as the “warm-up”; they are hard! The draw for Skate America was the Golden Waltz which is still running through my head.

Sitting in first are Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto with 39.28 points. They looked amazing on the ice and skate with an ease that is lost amongst most of the field. The proximity between them is un-matched and their skating is sure-footed and smooth. The crowd is especially supportive of its American skaters, clapping as the skaters pass to support them on their patterns around the rink. However, it is not hard to win this crowd over if you are not American!

Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski are sitting in second with 36.94 points. It is hard to not notice that Jana and Sergei at times do not seem to be well-matched—for instance, Jana is very flexible and Sergei tends to not skate quite as cleanly. On the other hand, the team is amongst the quietest on the ice. It is amazing to hear the difference between the earlier skaters and the ones that come later. Overall the dance was well done and well-enjoyed by the crowd.

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte are a joy to watch. Their smiles invite the crowd to take a lap around the ice with them. Though they appeared a little slow on the ice, there is a wonderful ease about their skating and they have very nice turns! Anna and Luca are currently sitting in third with 32.04, just .11 ahead of Alexandra and Roman Zaretsky.

The entire field of dancers was a pleasure to watch but one of the highlight skating skills of the night was the amazing silence while the Zaretskys skated. They skate with fantastically deep edges and hardly make a sound as they carry themselves across the ice.

The pairs event is always exciting for the crowd as the skaters are thrown to crazy heights into the air. This night was no exception.

Sitting in first place with 74.36, nearly double the lowest mark of the night, is Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao. The crowd was lively and appreciative, and holds a high level of respect for this team. Skating first, they brought the audience to their feet for the first of two standing ovations. Their program was phenomenal. Unison is unmatched. The speed and carriage they have across the ice shows their maturity. They have it all. The most brilliant moves were the enormous triple twist and giant throw! No doubt, sitting 13 points ahead of the field, they are favorites for gold.

In second place with 61.70 points are Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov. Their costumes and even a little bit of their beginning choreography is strangely reminiscent of Sinead and John Kerr’s alien Free Dance from just a couple seasons ago. The back of Tatiana’s costume is a lot more striking in person. Overall, they had a great program but it seemed that even though the beat helped them along, in some ways it held them back.

Meghan Duhamel and Craig Buntin sit in third place with 59.64 points, just ahead of Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker. Meghan is a lesson in determination! Though she touched down with her hand, she managed to land a doubled throw that just did not take off well. While the throw did not go quite as planned, they did nail great side-by-side triples. Overall, the program was well skated!

The last event of the night belonged to the men. Even the sweepers were all boys! It was great to see so many little skaters out there gathering the goodies for the skaters! No doubt the result of the men was going to be hard to predict and though most believed Evan would land in first, second and third places were more of a gamble.

Skating away with almost a seven point lead with 79.17 was Evan Lysacek. He took command of the ice and of the audience with his focus and unusual black costume which was a stark contrast to the ice. The costume accentuates his lines which are all the more impressive. His double axel was rumored to have been downgraded, but his other jumps, including a triple-triple combination earned him a standing ovation from the crowd. As he turned to bow, his jaw dropped in surprise!

Surprise of the night, Florent Amodio, had a dazzling performance and snatched the audience into the palm of his hand. He skated an amazing program that included four triples. He currently sits second, with 72.65.

In third place is Brandon Mroz. Though he added turns to the endings of his jumps, he successfully completed his jumps, including a quad-triple. Brandon has an ease about his skating that is enjoyable to watch; now only if he would smile!

Though no skater completely faltered in any program, which is always good, there were certain programs, such as Tomas’s that just did not have the “it” factor tonight. Doubled jumps may not take away points, but in a field like this, mistakes certainly keep a skater from the top.

Other news includes the gala. Normally, information would not be available for this part of the event. However, due to a certain group number in the show that I am participating in, I will share just a little bit while not spoiling anything! Just about 100 skaters are involved in a group number. Scott Brown is our main choreographer and we are just finding out what this number is all about! Today’s practice consisted of organizing the skaters into groups (that were arranged ahead of time by level) and setting the basics for the number. What a challenge! Already I can tell that it will look good. More to come on that.

The fun news for the day included:

  • Passing by Peter Carruthers as he was doing an interview in front of the Olympic Center.

  • Tomas Verner en route to warm up as I walked into the arena.

  • Ben Agosto sat down a couple rows ahead of me and cheered for all his teammates in pairs.

  • Chatting with a few of the guys (Shawn, Andrei, Yasuharu, Kevin) as I was leaving the Olympic Center and they were waiting for the shuttles.


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