At the conclusion of the 2011 Skate America event on Sunday, it's safe to say that the only thing we can count on is things not necessarily going according to plan.
One of the best examples would be the pairs event where defending and three-time world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany ended up in fifth after the short program. That said they did include a solid attempt at a throw triple Axel which was very impressive and they rallied back in the free to win the long program and take the title.
The pairs were interesting on a bunch of different levels, not the least of which was the tighter-than-tight competition heading into the free. Second through fifth place were separated by a margin of only .17 points.
The Chinese team of Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, in their first competition in a year while Hao's injured hand healed, showed the reasons why they have four world medals and the 2006 Olympic silver by leading after the short program.
Zhang and Zhang were very solid in the short but failed to deliver at the same level in the free and dropped to second overall.
The Canadian champions, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, created a huge buzz with their second-place free program and the pair continued to turn heads by moving from fourth to third overall and capturing a bronze (just 1.23 points away from second).
As I had thought, the competition could have gone either way for Skate America's top two women: last season's Grand Prix Final champion, American Alissa Czisny, and reigning world bronze medallist from Italy, Carolina Kostner.
Czisny led after the short program with Kostner winning the free but falling short of the top spot by .13 in the overall score and settling for the silver.
The rest of the women in the field were so inconsistent in their performances between the short and the free, allowing Sweden's Viktoria Helgesson to take the bronze despite a fifth place finish in both the short and the free.
Brezina breaks through
The men's event saw the Czech Republic's Michal Brezina break through and take the title, his first in a Grand Prix, having established enough of a lead after the short program to stay ahead of eventual silver medallist Kevin Van Der Perren of Belgium.
I have to say it was a treat to see Van Der Perren enjoy his first really solid competition in a long time, where he placed fourth in the short and won the free to take second overall.
Japan's Takahiko Kozuka, the reigning world silver medallist, made some mistakes in both the short and free programs. Finishing just 0.39 points behind Van Der Perren, Kozuka settled for bronze despite finishing second in both segments of the competition.
As an aside, the European champion, Florent Amodio of France was a non-starter finishing ninth out of 10 entries. It remains to be seen if this was a case of early season jitters for Amodio or something more serious.
No surprises in ice dance
American and world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White danced their way to the top of the podium with a sizable 21.78 point margin ahead of French champions and Skate America silver medalists, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat.
What was outstanding about the Americans was their choice of the classical music Die Fledermaus as the backdrop for their free dance, perfectly utilizing what I call their 'formal' rather than 'familiar' way of relating to each other on the ice in performance.
This program is a natural for these skaters and, I believe, a stroke of genius on the part of their coaches Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpillband. By building a program based on the perceived emotional distance on the ice between the skaters, or what could also be called a dignified sense of propriety, turns what many see as Davis and White's weakness into strength.
Earning their first Grand Prix bronze was another Zoueva and Shpillband team, Lithuania's Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas, who portrayed the quintessential 1950s American teens in a rock n' roll free dance.
We could say one down and five to go for this season's ISU Grand Prix events! The next stop on the calendar is next weekend in Mississauga, Ont., at the Skate Canada International.
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