Senior Short Dance Report

When Alex & Maia Shibutani finished their short dance to “Carousel Waltz” at the 2011 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the audience rose to its feet and the scoreboard lit up with 70.47 — the highest score for an American team this season. All elements received level 4. Even two-time and reigning national champions, Meryl Davis & Charlie White, had only scored 68+ on the Grand Prix. Could we have what could be a huge upset on our hands?

Yeah…no. Showing no nerves at all (it’s a bit freaky, actually, how absolutely nothing seems to faze them!), Davis & White equaled the Shibutanis’ level 4 sweep and earned .35 higher in GOE. Still awfully close for comfort. Plus “the Shibs” dethroned Davis & White as king and queen of the twizzles–7.43 to 7.07. The Shibutanis were one of only a few teams at these Championships to do a third twizzle set as their difficult entry or exit. Most of the other teams choose a difficult entry instead, usually a jump into the first set.

“Since it was an option this year, our coaches and I decided it would be a good idea to do the three sets,” Maia said. “It pushes us; it makes us stronger skaters to do the third set. It just seemed like the right option for us.”

Program Component Scores made the difference, with Davis & White tallying 38.78 to their trainingmates’ 32.04. Highlighted by a perfect 10 for Composition/Choreography, the Olympic silver medalists earned marks in the 9s, save for a quartet of scores in the 8s. Their GOE weren’t too shabby, either, with a lone +1 among the +2s and +3s.

“For everyone else, it is kind of a, ‘Oh look at [the Shibutanis]. They’re so wonderful,’ but for everyone that’s been watching them for the past couple years, it’s no big surprise,” Davis said. “They’re so talented. They work tremendously hard. We’re really excited for them.”

Michigan teams took the top six spots in the short dance. A little nine-point gap separates the top two from the rest of the field.

Currently sitting in third are another Canton-based duo, Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein with 61.74. The 2009 U.S. and world junior champions had four of the five elements called level 3. Their rotational lift earned a level 4. Chock & Zuerlein received no negative GOE, just a half dozen base 0s to go with their +1s and +2s. They were pleased with their performance.

“It went really well,” Chock said. “We’re really happy. We tried to put out a really emotional performance. We’ve really been working on our connection to each other, and I think it really showed in that program.”

Ann Arbor-trained Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt were third in TES and fourth overall with 58.59. The long-named duo earned level 4 on both their straightline lift and their twizzles, with the former snagging a +3 among the GOE. Their Golden Waltz segments and midline footwork were called level 3. None of their elements received negative GOE, plus they only had four base zeros.

Close on their heels are Detroit-based Madison & Keiffer Hubbell with 57.91. The Hubbells were fourth in PCS, but a miscue by Keiffer on the exit of the second twizzle dropped the element to level 3 and cost them -.36 in GOE. Two judges dinged them on their midline footwork, but their net GOE was +.14. Their rotational lift and both segments of the Golden Waltz were level 4s.

Shannon Wingle & Tim McKernan, who also train in Canton with Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, round out the Michigan top six with their score of 55.07. Like their trainingmates, Wingle & McKernan had both of their Golden Waltz sections called level 4 with net positive GOE. Their curve lift was their third level 4 element. Both the midline and the twizzles were level 3, the latter receiving a majority of -1s for wonkiness.

The East Coast claims the next three teams.

University of Delaware’s Isabella Cannuscio & Ian Lorello made a bid for the final flight with their “Piano Man” short dance that received only two -1s among the 45 GOEs awarded. Their rotational lift earned mostly +2s, but unfortunately was called only a level 2. They went 2/3 on their Golden Waltz sequences, level 3 on their midline (the highest-scoring element worth 7.64), and level 4 on the twizzles. Their score, 54.43, topped their season best 52.19 from Trophée Eric Bompard.

Ginna Hoptman & Pavel Filchenkov, who train with Natalia Linichuk & Gennadi Karponosov, placed eighth in their U.S. Championships debut with 48.37.

Scoring 44.42, UDel’s Meredith Zuber & Kyle Herring placed ninth. They were one of two teams to skate to Alicia Keys’ “Fallen.” Their twizzles were their best element, earning level 4 and six +1 GOEs.

Colorado Springs’ Rachel Tibbetts & Collin Brubaker made the top 10 by just a point. Level 1s on the second section of the Golden Waltz and their rotational lift, and level 2 on their midline hurt their base value. Net 0 GOE on the other section of the Golden and -.36 on their twizzles (both level 3) gave them only 20.43 for TES.

Teams in 11th through 15th will skate in the early group for the free dance, due to an extended break for television.

Finishing in 11th place, Alissandra Aronow and Zachary Donohue are competing in their first Nationals as a team. Skating to music by Sting and Michael Bublé, the team received level 4 and four +1 GOEs for their rotational lift, but their twizzles were graded level 1 and they received negative GOEs from all but one judge.

In 12th, Kristin Nardozzi & Robert Cuthbertson also performed to “Fallin'” by Alicia Keys and had a decent performance, but lost points on Golden Waltz sequence two, when Nardozzi tripped.

Alison Carey & Ryan Van Natten finished in 13th place. The team was close together in both their twizzles and straightline footwork, but most of their elements received negative GOEs. This is their first Nationals as a team and they skated first.

Katherine Pilgrim & Alexander Lorello lost points when they did not receive credit for Golden Waltz segment 1, and received negative GOEs for GW segment 2, which received a grading of level 1. They had the most unique music choice, choosing to waltz to “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica before the music abruptly switched to a tango by Gotan Project. They sit in 14th.

In 15th place and skating to “Hallelujah” by Lee DeWyze, Katharine Zeigler & Baxter Burbank also did not receive any credit for their Golden Waltz segment 1, but their strong rotational lift was graded level 4.

The ice dance competition wraps up Saturday morning local time.

Senior Free Dance Report

A trio of teams who train with Igor Shpilband at the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton, Michigan took home the top three medals at the U.S. National Championships. The last time this happened was 1998, and the coach of the trio was also Igor Shpilband.

Meryl Davis & Charlie White won their third consecutive U.S. title with a smoldering performance to tango selections. Undefeated so far this season, the duo did not have too much to worry about heading into these championships, but they still wanted to give their all and continue building momentum for the last part of the season. Their total score of 185.48 topped their season’s best by nearly 14 points.

“I think tonight went really well for us,” Davis said. “It’s exactly what we wanted to do coming here and just kind of building confidence and increasing the level of performance of that program.”

Davis & White were visibly exhausted at the end of their performance, something not due to a lack of training, but to the passion that they poured into their free dance.

“We really wanted to give an emotional performance tonight and we are in fantastic shape,” White said. “It’s one thing to do the athleticism, but to put the emotion in the program really takes it out of you.”

Davis & White skated flawlessly and earned at least a full point of net GOE on every element, but were still edged by up-and-coming training mates, Maia and Alex Shibutani, by .18 on the Technical Elements Score.

The Shibutanis enchanted the crowd with their performance to “Smile” and “Let’s Face the Music and Dance,” receiving all level 4s, except for a level 3 on their diagonal step sequence. Though they bested Davis & White on technical, their PCS marks were nearly seven points back. Still, their score of 173.18 was close to 30 points above their own season’s best.

“This whole year, since the offseason, we’ve been gearing up for this competition,” Alex said. “Our goal is to make it beyond nationals and make it into the next two (events). I’m just really proud of ourselves and how we really fought through this week and put out two really good performances. This whole season has been such an amazing thrill for the two of us.”

Before the competition got underway, a battle was expected for the silver medal, but the Shibutanis pulled way ahead in the short dance and carried that gap through the free with higher GOEs and program components.

After the short dance, the battle was for the bronze medal and the third spot on the world team. Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein set themselves apart, taking on characters from the musical Cabaret for their free dance. Although they debuted a Cuban-inspired free dance earlier in the season, the team scrapped it and created this new program with their coaches in late August. Cabaret pushed them beyond their usual comfort zone, but it carried them to the podium on the senior Grand Prix and now, to their first senior World team.

“This year was a big step,” Zuerlein said. “More character—usually Maddie is the one who outshines me, but I think we’re more together, like the same amount of character this year.”

“We’re very happy. It was so much fun,” Chock said. “We just went out and wanted to put on an entertaining performance and show our best skating.”

Indeed, Chock & Zuerlein did show their best—15 points ahead of their previous best score, in fact. Their bronze medal effort at these championships earned 154.62 points.

Siblings Madison Hubbell & Keiffer Hubbell took home the pewter medal, finishing fourth in the free dance and overall with a total score of 141.70. Their performance to music by Yello and Art of Noise was well-received by the audience, especially their highlight and signature moves. The team received only three -1 GOEs on their twizzles, which were hit with a level 2 with a wonky exit. Their first lift was also graded level 2, which cost the team 1.5 points in TES.

Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt have generated buzz this season after their performances and sixth-place finish at Skate America. Their free dance to “I Belong to You” by Muse was extremely well-received. The performance here started very strong with a straightline lift that received several +2 and one +3 GOE and twizzles that were graded level 4. Unfortunately, a fall late in the program on their midline steps cost the team crucial points and took them out of medal contention. Their score of 138.42 was enough for fifth place, their highest finish yet on the senior level.

Isabella Cannuscio & Ian Lorello from the University of Delaware FSC, finished fifth in the free dance and sixth overall with their performance to music from West Side Story. This performance was notably one of their best of the season for this program. Only their twizzles received two -1 GOEs. They scored big on their level 3 step sequences, and all other elements received level 4.

Finishing seventh were Canton’s Shannon Wingle & Timothy McKernan, who skated a soft performance to “Summertime.” Their lifts were strong, and their circular footwork featured complex holds. Eighth in the free dance, this program was not quite as enchanting as their sixth-place short dance, but they moved up three places from last year.

Grand Prix competitors Rachel Tibbetts & Collin Brubaker were in 10th place after the short dance, but finished seventh in the free to pull up to eighth overall. Skating to a tango/rhumba medley, the team has always been known for strong lifts and this performance was no exception as their lifts received all level 4s.

In ninth, University of Delaware’s Meredith Zuber & Kyle Herring capped off their senior debut with a solid performance to “Tango de Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge. The team received only two -1 GOEs from the panel, with all of their lifts and twizzles receiving level 4. In their first season as a team, Zuber & Herring just need more time to develop the speed and performance level of the teams that rank above them, but they were happy with their experience this week.

Ginna Hoptman & Pavel Filchenkov started group two performing to “Still Loving You” by the Scorpions. All of their elements received level 4 except their two step sequences. Their weaving mirror twizzles received six +1 GOEs. Their only setback was a fall on the midline step sequence, which received mostly -2 GOEs. They finished 10th in the free dance and overall.

For live television purposes, the first group of dancers had to skate much earlier in the day, separated by a long break and the last half of the pairs event from the rest of the dance competition. Despite this, the competition was well-attended.

Finishing 11th in the free dance and overall, Alissandra Aronow & Zachary Donohue skated to music from Notre Dame de Paris. They received level 4 on both their straight line and combination lift (curve to rotational) with positive GOEs, but lower levels on their step sequences and spin along with negative GOEs on their twizzles kept them from scoring higher. This is Aronow & Donohue’s first season together, so they are still gelling as a team.

Kristen Nardozzi & Robert Cuthbertson drew first to skate in group one and presented a retro program to “Imagine” and “Revolution.” They started strong with a solid combination lift that received five +1 GOEs, but Nardozzi fell on their circular steps, and their twizzles were downgraded to level 2 and received negative GOEs. They finished 13th in the free dance and 12th overall.

Katharine Zeigler & Baxter Burbank pulled up to 13th overall by finishing 12th in the free dance skating to Ladies in Lavender. Two of their lifts were their strong elements and were graded level 4, but their twizzles received two -2 GOEs and two -1s. Zeigler & Burbank are full-time students who train with Robbie Kaine, Greg Maddalone and Cheryl Demkowski Snyder in Philadelphia, PA.

Presenting the character of a master spy and his customary lovely lady, Allison Carey & Ryan Van Natten finished in 14th in the free dance and overall skating to the main theme from James Bond. They struggled with their twizzles and were called level 1s on their step sequences, but they hit some nice positions in their lifts.

Katherine Pilgrim & Alex Lorello closed out group one with their free dance to music from Aerosmith. They started with their combination spin, but lost points on their twizzles, which were graded level 1 and received negative GOEs. An unfortunate fall on the second part (rotational) of their combination lift was more costly. The team had a rough performance, but their effort was admirable, as this is only Pilgrim’s third competition as a dancer.