I'll go in chronological order of the events and start with the Men's Short Program. After two days of shaky practices, the men delivered a solid event overall. Doug Razzano doubled one of his jumps but otherwise performed superbly in his Grand Prix debut. He had wonderful connection to his music, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2, one of my all-time favorite pieces. Ricky Dornbush had rough practices on Thursday and Friday but came out firing on Friday night. His high-energy Beethoven short program works well with his showmanship.
Takahiko Kozuka struggled with the quad in practice and his struggles continued into the competition. His fall on the quad put him in second place behind Michal Brezina, who I enjoyed seeing in person for the first time. The spring in his jumps are impressive. I'd like to see him show a little more personality in his programs. I remember his charming "Singin' In the Rain" exhibition a years ago and how that made him stand out to me among the junior skaters.
The Short Dance was next, and the number of mishaps brought back memories of the error-laden Latin OD at the 2006 Olympics. Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam experienced a "Charlie White Cup of Russia OD From Hell" program with three deductions. Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello were skating well until Lorello went down in the middle of the twizzles, and Fabian Bourzat tripped out of nowhere.
Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue skated first and came out looking strong but received a much lower score than I was expecting. I couldn't call a Level One from a Level Four pattern of the rhumba if my life depended on it, though, so I can't comment on the accuracy of the technical judging. In addition to the young American team, I also really enjoyed Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas, especially the rhumba section of their program.
The stars of the night were Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and since I'd never seen them do a Latin program, I'd waited anxiously to see if they could pull it off. And they did with flying colors! Meryl brought the sass, down to her spunky ponytail. The music cuts flowed together nicely and I still have the Spanish version of J-Lo's "On the Floor" stuck in my head.
Saturday's events kicked off with the Men's Free Skate, which was a disastrous splat fest. Doug Razzano was the highlight of the competition with a beautifully skated, clean program. I'm not a fan of singles skaters using tango music, but his tango program is one of the best of the bunch. Ricky Dornbush started off his program with a quad and the crowd went wild, but then a series of little mistakes took some of the steam out of the performance. The rest of the event was a blur of doubled jumps, falls, and generally sloppy skating.
After the disappointing Men's competition, I hoped we wouldn't see more disasters in the Free Dance. The dancers answered the call and left behind the trips and slips from the prior night. Hubbell and Donohue again skated with great connection and maturity. I wasn't quite sure what to make of their free dance when I saw it on YouTube last month, but watching it in person, I could feel the emotion in the performance. Madison and Zach have gelled well and don't look like a new team to me.
Paul and Islam have a wonderful elegant quality to their skating and I love their softness, but I couldn't get into their music. It felt a little drab and old for them. I'd like to see a better vehicle for their freshness.
Tobias and Stagniunas got the crowd clapping with their medley of 50's tunes, and their clean and engaging performance earned them the bronze medal. Isabella has a lot of charisma, and Deividas feeds off of it and shows off his partner excellently. "Only You" is one of my favorite golden oldies, so I was excited to see it used in dance!
Davis and White ended the event with a bang, thrilling the audience with a joyful and technically brilliant program to Die Fledermaus. There are many wonderful moments in the program, but my favorite is the rotational lift in which Meryl seems to fly onto Charlie's shoulder and then establishes such a regal position. The lift just comes out of nowhere and happens so fast, and it is beautifully timed with the sweeping waltz.
After the excitement of the free dance, I was ready to see some great skating in the Pairs Short Program, and all three American teams came through with inspired efforts. Caydee Denney and John Coughlin seem like a seasoned pair after only a few months together. Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker look more physically matched this year (Rockne's haircut helps!), and I loved their speed and attack. Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin also look improved and appear to be skating with good confidence.
The favorites Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy couldn't complete the throw triple axel, and they shockingly ended up in fifth place after the short. The second group of pairs was a bit of a disappointment overall after the great skates in the first group.
I skipped the Ladies Short Program, so I'll pick up the action on Sunday with the Pairs Free Skate. Vise and Baldwin had another great skate, probably the best program I've seen them perform, and Denney and Coughlin brought the audience to its feet with their close-to-perfect performance. Savchenko and Szolkowy rebounded from Saturday and gave an inspired performance of what I think will become another signature program for them. They always take chances on new music and choreography, and I appreciate the unique quality of their skating.
I spent most of the Ladies Free Skate reading the skating message boards on my Blackberry, but I did enjoy Alissa Czisny's program. I love "Valse Triste" and Alissa is a skater who can do the music justice. Hopefully, her jumps will get a little stronger as the season goes along and by Nationals the program will be a masterpiece!
The Exhibition is always a nice way to end the event, and this year's provided some memorable moments. My favorite performances of the night were given by Denis Ten, Takahiko Kozuka, Savchenko and Szolkowy, and Davis and White. Denis was flying across the ice and skated so lyrically to the music of Cinema Paradiso. Takahiko could just skate around the rink without jumping and it would be incredible to watch his mastery over the blade. Aliona and Robin have "it" and owned the ice as they performed yet more unique moves to a quiet but powerful piece of music. And Meryl and Charlie closed the show to Adele's "Someone Like You," displaying that simmering-under-the-surface emotion they exhibit so well. Their darker and melancholy programs (e.g. Eleanor Rigby, Billie Jean) are some of my favorites.
The level of the skating in this competition was a little up and down, but the highs made up for the lows! I thought Ontario was an excellent host city even though the attendance was dismal. The weather and the convenience of the hotel, the arena, and the airport made up for the sparse crowd. A couple of notes to the USFSA, though, if I may:
1. I know you want the seats filled on the side of the arena that will be seen on TV, but I would like to be able to sit on the judges' side if I so choose. The ice dancers face most of their lifts and dance moves to the judges' side, so we only got to see the backside of those elements.
2. Please let us sit wherever we'd like for practice sessions. Since I was mandated to sit across from the judges during the event, I wanted to sit on the opposite side of the arena during practice for a different vantage point and to take better photographs. However, we weren't allowed over there. I've only been to one other event that restricted seating at practice and that was Worlds '09 in L.A.
Well, that's a wrap from Skate America! I hope you enjoyed the reports and photos and will continue to follow my blog. I'll be attending my first Grand Prix Final this year and am looking forward to providing thoughts and photos from Quebec City! The next few months should prove to be exciting as I'm also working toward the publication of my first novel, due to be released in early 2012. I think it's a story many skating fans will enjoy, and I'll be posting more details as we get closer to the release date!
I'll leave you with a couple of videos I took at the USFSA's Friends of Figure Skating breakfast. The three American dance teams - Davis/White, Hubbell/Donohue, and Cannuscio/Lorello - and Doug Razzano attended the event and spoke briefly to the FOFS members: