Take the men. This event, held in Everett, Wash., should have been a hotly contested competition between the American champion, Evan Lysacek, and teammate and 2008 world bronze medallist Johnny Weir. No one really took into account the possibility of upstarts such as Japan’s Takahiko Kozuka and Canada’s “jumping machine” Kevin Reynolds really getting into the mix.
Is Reynolds really a jumping machine?
In the short program on Saturday, Reynolds delivered the single most valuable element in the event – a quad salchow-triple toe loop combination. He then followed that up by executing both a quad salchow and quad toe loop in the free skate Sunday.
But it was Kozuka who stole the show.
Trailing Lysacek and Weir after the short program, Kozuka went for broke and won the free skate to capture gold. Granted, the gap separating the top three going into the free was only about 1.5 points, but that didn’t stop Kozuka from treating it like a competition while the Americans seemed to be much more on autopilot.
The look on their faces as they stood on the podium said it all. While Kozuka was elated, Weir was contemplative and Lysacek completely stunned, not only by his spotty performance but by the result.
The ladies hit the ice in the second warmup of the short program with an amazing array of talent. The competition featured two former world champions – Japan’s Miki Ando (2007) and American Kimmie Meissner (2006) – reigning American champion Mirai Nagasu and the two-time world bronze medalist from South Korea, Kim Yu-Na.
Kim’s performance to Danse Macabre was an amazing piece of choreography, intricately woven around her technical excellence and ability to interpret music.
Her performance was spellbinding.
She had a nearly eight-point lead over the second-place Ando and her teammate Yukari Nakano going into the free skate. Even with some slight errors in her long program, Kim’s lyrical performance ensured the gold, while the Japanese skaters traded places to take the silver and bronze, respectively.
Let’s get back to the characters of today.
The short program in the pairs was easily won by the Russian team of Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov in an elegant display of what their county is best known for: strong skating, great ice coverage, speed and a wonderfully classical style.
However, the ultimate winners were the defending world champions from Germany, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who failed to deliver much except their athleticism.
But that didn’t show through with their short program skate to the Lost in Space soundtrack.
In the same vein, the Russians appeared lost in their free program, which dropped them to third. Part of it was due to skating errors, but an even larger problem was their pantomime style, which they both appeared embarrassed doing.
Mukhortova also wore a distracting costume that featured feathers with odd pieces of fabric.
The brightest note of the event came from American pair champions, Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker. The U.S. team made mistakes during both programs, but their exuberance and youthful energy, as well as obvious technical expertise, earned them the silver and put the rest of the countries on notice.
In the ice dance event, it appeared to be business as usual for both the defending world champions from France, Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, and Americans Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto.
Both teams, who ultimately took gold and the silver, respectively, skated and looked like they always do: strong technique, poise and performance ability and the readiness to do what was required.
Still, I don’t think they’ll cruise with a stronger field. The ultimate bronze medallists, Great Britain’s brother and sister team of Sinead and John Kerr, along with the American team of Emily Samuelson and Jason Bates, showed great flair and presentation in all aspects of the competition.
In fact, Samuelson and Bates delivered their 1940s’ inspired original dance with such charisma that, for me, it was the standout performance of the evening. They finished just shy of the podium at fourth.
Next stop, Ottawa this week for the Skate Canada International on Friday (CBC Bold, CBCSports.ca, noon p.m. ET).
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