Skate America, the first of the six event Grand Prix series, wrapped up in Kent, Wash., with more than its fair share of intriguing stories.
The good news is that a new world record score of 95.07 was set in the men's short program by Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu. The bad news is that he wasn't able to follow it up in the free, falling on both quad attempts.
I wouldn't worry too much. Hanyu's improvements in the short time he has been with coach Brian Orser and choreographers Jeffrey Buttle for the short program and David Wilson for the free are amazing. His silver medal in Kent proves that his world bronze medal wasn't a fluke.
I have been waiting for a while now for Japan's Takahiko Kozuka to take charge after a disappointing 11th place finish at Worlds in 2012. He started out by landing his first-ever quad in his short program and followed it up with a superb free program to win the event.
Rounding out the podium for a Japanese sweep was Tatsuki Machida whose expressive Firebird
program moved him up from fourth to take the bronze.
I was really pulling for Jeremy Abbott, the elegant American whose delightful collaboration with choreographer and So You Think You Can Dance
star Benji Schwimmer placed him in 3rd after the short program. It was not to be. He scored eighth in a field of 10 in his free program and finished fifth overall.Davis, White may be beatable
I really wanted to have my socks knocked off by American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White on their way to their expected and eventual title at Skate America. Their brilliant Die Fledermaus
program from last season is far and away one of my favourites.
Their music this year is from Notre Dame de Paris
. It's technically very solid and all of the boxes are checked off, but it feels somehow perfunctory. That doesn't mean it isn't good or that their skating skills and elements aren't great; it just means that I think it's beatable.
The results were not what I expected from the rest of the podium.
Canadian ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were second after the short dance. Their free dance this season is a real tour de force and is much stronger than the version I saw at the recent High Performance Camp would have indicated to me.
In a sport that is won or lost on the narrowest of margins, who would have expected that Weaver and Poje needed to be at their very best to stay in second.
They were beaten by the Russian team of Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev; who look transformed since moving to coach Alexander Zhulin in the spring of this year.
I have to say that the Russian program is sophisticated and borders on an almost avant-garde feel. It was a question of comparing cool program to cool program and although I would have had the Canadians ahead, when I took a careful look at the scores I understood that this program was decided on technical elements and not program component scores.
The thing with Weaver and Poje is that they have told me that disappointment only makes them work harder.Pang, Tong hampered by injury
I have to say I was not expecting two-time world champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong from China to look as tired as they did. They won the silver medal handily but not without a herculean effort. In the quick quotes after the event, Tong mentioned that he has an injured knee and that they weren't sure if they were going to be able to compete which explained everything.
Not surprisingly, the Russian world silver medallists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov took the title. I was delighted to see that their free program is mature and will allow them room to continue to evolve in their expression.
The women's event was dominated by American Ashley Wagner in both the short and free. The treat for me was in seeing her teammate Christina Gao rise to the challenge and take the silver, followed by Russian Adelina Sotnikova for the bronze.
I was stunned to see the world silver medallist, Alena Leonova of Russia, struggle to the extent that she did. In my mind, she would have been the logical challenger for Wagner. Instead, faltering in the short to a 9th place finish, Leonova didn't follow it up with anything except a lukewarm free program which only moved her to fifth overall.
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