by Anne Calder | Photos by Robin Ritoss
I’m back home in Arizona after three days of amazing figure skating at the 2021 Skate America in Las Vegas, Nevada.
It was so exciting to witness the personal, national and gender history made at the event.
Vincent Zhao (USA) won his first GP gold medal, Riku Miura & Ryuichi Kihara won the first Japanese Pairs GP medal (silver) in ten years and Russia’s Alexandra Trusova landed the first Skate America quad by a woman. Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue joined fellow Americans, Meryl Davis & Charlie White in winning their fourth straight Skate America.
Nine ice dance teams from six countries competed: CAN, ESP, JPN, POL, RUS, and the USA Unfortunately, Tiffany Zagorski & Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) had to withdraw due to her illness.
The rhythm dance was held on Saturday afternoon. The pattern was Midnight Blues; the rhythm was street dances. The majority of teams chose hip-hop.
The teams danced to music by Bruno Mars, Janet Jackson, Billie Eilish and Tina Turner just to name a few. The audience cheered, applauded and gave standing ovations.
“I was very aware of how the crowd was reacting,” Hubbell said. “Very often that energy comes through at the final bow and the very end of the performance, but even during the entry to our lift, I heard the uproar. It was very welcome after a year of mostly silence.”
Madison Chock agreed. “You could feel the energy of the crowd. We had a wonderful time performing for them because they were so receptive for what we were giving them. It was great to feel their response. When they were clapping along to the music, it was the best feeling.”
At the post RD Press Conference the skaters were asked whether the element levels being lower than what they’re used to was a concern or just due to it being early in the season.
“Coming into this competition and seeing some of the levels that were given at Finlandia last week, we were kind of expecting a very tough panel,” Hubbell said.
“We were in Finland. Today we got a little bit lower levels,” Bates said. “We felt we definitely skated better. We came off the ice not expecting the levels to be as low as we saw on the screen backstage. The important thing is we really attacked the program; it was a step up.
Checking over the protocols afterwards, the midline step sequences levels were low. There was one level two; seven were level one. One team did earn a level two Diagonal Step Sequence.
The Midnight Blues pattern level is determined by the number of the four key points hit during the performance. There was no level 4, one level 3, all the rest were 2’s, 1’s or base (zero) level.
Sunday the athletes skated their free dances in reverse order of the rhythm dance placement.
North America won all three ice dance medals. Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue (USA) were the final skaters and slipped into first place with a total 209.54 gold medal score. Madison Chock & Evan Bates (USA) were a very close second with 208.23 points for the silver medal.
Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Nikolaj Sorensen (CAN) were fourth in the Free Dance, but hung on to third and the bronze medal with 190.13 points. Spain’s Olivia Smart & Adrian Diaz’s free dance was third but their total 189.69 was .44 points behind the Canadians.
The free dance programs were performed beautifully by the athletes and received enthusiastically by the audience.
Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue scored 125.96 with their strong and undaunted performance to “Drowning” by French singer, Anne Sila. The American couple embraced emotionally at center ice after dancing at their final Skate America.
“I have overwhelming gratitude being it’s our last Skate America and four consecutive wins for us,” Donohue said. “It’s special having a live audience and all its energy and also surrounded by our fellow [I.AM] teammates and all our coaches who we get to share all our experiences with at the end of the day.”
Madison Chock & Evan Bates scored 125.68 for their Alien and the Astronaut program to music by Daft Punk. Chock’s makeup added realism to her unusual dance character. The team, who rattled up excitement with their “Snake Dance” two years ago are hoping they can launch another high scoring favorite. They came within 1.31 points of topping the leader board with their silver medal.
“Evan and I love stepping into these characters of the Alien and Astronaut,” Chock said. “They’re so unique and interesting to explore.”
Canadians Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Nikolaj Sorensen danced to “Call to Prayer” and “The Last Kingdom” and earned 114.80 points. The fourth place and Rhythm Dance scores added together were enough to stay in third place and take home the bronze medal.
“We’re very excited to perform the free dance again,” Sorensen said. “We did it only once last year for an audience. It’s a very personal one for us about our own story and the culture and background of us coming together.”
Olivia Smart & Adrian Diaz, representing Spain performed a very enthusiastic dance to a Spanish “Zorro” that scored 115.63 for third place. The audience was on its feet before the final choreographic step sequence ended in front of the judges. The total score came up .44 points shy, and they finished in fourth place.
“The crowd made the skate so memorable,” Smart said. “People standing at the end. I want to feel more of that during the rest of the season.”
On August 10, 2021, Nikolaj Sorensen officially became a Canadian citizen in a zoom ceremony, where he candidly admitted he cried. Sorensen and partner, Laurence Fournier Beaudry represented his native Denmark from 2012-2018 when he was released to skate for Canada. ISU rules required the team to sit out international competition for one year. After placing third at the 2019 Canadian Championships, they were named to represent the Maple Leaf at both 2019 Four Continents and World Championships.
With strong encouragement from their I.AM Montreal coaches Madison Chock & Evan Bates embarked on creating their Galactic Alien & Astronaut free dance. They hoped to convey a message of love and acceptance – one that would resonate with anyone and in any country. The couple wanted to make a program that would be remembered after they were done skating.
In 2011, Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue finished sixth and scored 131.04 in Ontario, California at their first Skate America. Over a span of ten years, the duo has competed at six more Skate Americas, winning gold at the last four. Las Vegas was their final stop in this decade long journey.
Molly Cesanek & Yehor Yehorov (USA) made their official ISU Grand Prix debut at Skate America. Canadian Hugo Chouinard arranged the music for the Virginia-based team. Unable to find a selection as passionate as they preferred for the second half of their program, Karl Hugo, figure skating music composer extraordinaire came to the rescue. After receiving a list of adjectives that described the duos feelings, he created an original piece of music that begins with the circular footwork to the end.
All the podium teams plus Olivia Smart & Adrian Diaz (ESP) and Komatsubara & Tim Koleto (JPN) train together at the Ice Academy of Montreal in Canada.
Several rows of cardboard cutouts made their way to the stands and were seen hanging out in the corner by the Zamboni entrance.
A friendly announcement not to walk down the aisles during a performance was very much appreciated.
The next Grand Prix competition will be Skate Canada International in Vancouver, British Columbia from October 29-31, 2021.