By Daphne Backman

While I’m loving the live online coverage of Skate America by icenetwork, a high-speed internet connection is essential and today I found myself without one up until about twenty minutes prior to the free dance. Once it came back, I noticed that I wasn’t able to view more than two minutes of videos online – youtube.com, icenetwork.com or anywhere else for that matter. After a process of elimination, it came down to my cable router – something I remedied with a quick trip to Best Buy. Their ‘Geek Squad’ rules as they were able to help me upgrade to a new router that more than meets my video viewing needs.

Never the less, I was not able to have everything ready in time for the free dance; it was more like by the time the last group of ladies took the ice for their free skate warm-up.

It was a little less than a year ago that Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto competed at Cup of China, their first Grand Prix after winning the Olympic silver medal. Their post-Olympic whirlwind schedule contained a multitude of appearances including the World Championships and the complete Champions on Ice tour. At Cup of China, it was apparent that the American duo was not as prepared as usual as they finished second behind Russia’s Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin.

Fast forward to today.

In the free dance phase, Belbin and Agosto performed to selections from Frederic Chopin. The theme is different from previous programs, and definitely well-skated as evidenced by less than 10% of their marks below a +1 GoE. The serpentine lift near the beginning of the program showcased Belbin’s flexibility and was impressive enough to gain all +2. Most of their lifts were just as secure and the program had good speed throughout. Overall the performance showed they were much more prepared for this point in the season than they were at the same time in 2006.

I think my favorite free dance of the event came from Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat. I’ve enjoyed past programs from them, but this one pushes the envelope more. French teams are often known for program themes and costume choices that are more avant-garde compared to other countries’. Pechalat and Bourzat are no different. No, let me rephrase that. They ARE different! You’ve got to give props to a team selecting music titled “Organ Donor” and “Space Monkeys.” One of the selections reminded me of theme music from the horror movie “Phantasm.” Their first lift was solid with her upside down and balanced on his shoulders. Great unison and relation to each other in this bizarre, but fun performance. I can see where the music might grate on the nerves of some shall we say “more traditional” fans, but I don’t mind it in a four minute program. They blew away their previous free dance personal best score by nearly 6 points.

Italians Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali skated to music from the “Yentl” soundtrack – another different music choice. Unfortunately Scali fell in the first minute of the program, but not on an element. Their serpentine lift had a cool entry where Faiella rolled across Scali’s back and into her first lift position. The choreography matched the music well and it has potential. This was another program that I’m interested in seeing develop.

When you think of the Beatles, you may remember the more upbeat “Yellow Submarine” or the popular “Penny Lane” rather than the melancholy “Eleanor Rigby”. The somber-themed, ultra-dramatic program presented by Meryl Davis and Charlie White was a step in a different direction for them. They were off on their first set of twizzles – something that doesn’t happen often for them. Their lifts were unique and adventurous, but not as secure as I’m used to seeing from them. They did skate with good speed throughout and the choreography has potential to grow in time. Davis and White looked rather somber when they exited the ice, although the judges only gave negative GoE to their botched twizzles. It was just an off day. As with most sports, it’s better to peak at the right time and for the senior skaters, the season is just starting.

Kristin Fraser and Igor Lukanin presented a beautiful program to “Time to Say Goodbye”. Their opening spin travelled a bit. The choreography had different highlights, but the team didn’t do any lifts until after three minutes into the program. The first lift was quite strong with him on one foot and her in a horizontal position leaning out from him. It was a nice performance.