2009 GP Skate America Preview

Lake Placid, NY

It just feels wrong.

Week five of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating.

We should be in Russia.

Instead, we’re in Lake Placid.

Some things are familiar. Sasha Cohen has pulled out at the last minute. Chances are pretty good that Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto will get another medal (they are undefeated at Skate Americas in the eastern part of the U.S.). And most people are predicting Evan Lysacek to take the gold, even if he is 0-4 in the last four Skate Americas under these very expectations.

But it’s week five and instead of kicking off the season, Skate America is the penultimate event on the senior Grand Prix schedule this year. Ten dance teams are scheduled to compete. Some are making their first appearance in the series, and others are hoping to lock in a spot in the Final next month in Tokyo.

Two weeks ago, Belbin & Agosto beat Russians Jana Khokhlova & Sergei Novitski at Cup of China by a 14-point margin. The two teams, both world medalists, will rematch in Lake Placid. The Americans won all three phases of competition in China, while the Russians were second in the Golden Waltz and the original dance, and third in the free. While Khokhlova & Novitski won the vivid costume challenge by an overwhelming margin, the choreography and spark that won them titles a few years ago was noticeably missing in Beijing. Belbin & Agosto, on the other hand, had plenty of spark in their Moldavian original dance and then went the dramatic route with their “Ave Maria” free dance that debuted to mixed reviews, but was scored quite well.

Belbin & Agosto have 15 points and with a podium finish in Lake Placid, they will be poised to make the Grand Prix Final. Khokhlova & Novitski earned 13 points from their bronze-medal finish in China and need to aim for at least second place in Lake Placid in order to guarantee a trip to Tokyo. If they finish third, they would still have a great shot, as they already have a head start in the tiebreaker.

Also competing at Cup of China were Israeli siblings Alexandra & Roman Zaretski. Their placements jumped around in Beijing–a fourth in the CD, seventh in the OD, fifth in the FD–for fifth overall. Low levels hurt them in the OD, so with two weeks to work on those, they have the chance to score higher in Lake Placid.

Reigning World Junior champions Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein of the United States had a disappointing senior debut in Beijing, scoring more than 20 points behind the personal best that they set as juniors. Some low level calls, a few minor errors, and Program Component Scores that dropped a couple of points from what the duo had earned last year at Junior Worlds combined for an eighth-place finish at Cup of China. Lake Placid should be the perfect setting for a comeback, as both skaters have competed in this arena countless times over their careers.

The final team making the jump from Beijing to Lake Placid is Xiaoyang Yu & Chen Wang of China. Although the duo came in last at Cup of China, they have a free dance to “Cats” and skate in full makeup and costume–complete with ears and tail–and for that reason alone, they are not to be missed!

Like Belbin & Agosto and Khokhlova & Novitski, the third team aiming to make the Grand Prix Final is Italy’s Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte. Cappellini & Lanotte placed second at Cup of Russia, and although they were more than 32 points behind Americans Meryl Davis & Charlie White, the Italians still get their 13 points for winning the silver medal. Even with one extra week of practice between competitions, and a few thousand less miles to travel to get to the Adirondacks than their fellow 13-pointers (Khokhlova & Novitski), Cappellini & Lanotte may not have that much of an advantage. The Russians scored exactly 12 points more than the Italians in their first events. Furthermore, Cup of Russia’s compulsory dance was the Tango Romantica, not the Golden Waltz, making Cappellini & Lanotte the only one of the 10 teams at Skate America to compete both dances on the Grand Prix circuit this season.

Three of the teams competing at Skate America faced each other during the first week of the Grand Prix at Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris, France. Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentre of the U.S., Kristina Gorshkova & Vitali Butikov of Russia, and Zoe Blanc & Pierre-Loup Bouquet of France placed sixth, seventh, and 10th, respectively. Navarro & Bommentre have competed and performed in the 1980 arena multiple times, and debuted their free dance there this summer when they won the gold at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships.

The final team competing, Caitlin Mallory & Kristjan Rand of Estonia, are making their Grand Prix debut at Skate America.

Competition opens Friday the 13th with the compulsory dance. Original dance follows on Saturday, and the event concludes Sunday afternoon.