by Anne Calder | Photos by Daphne Backman

In 1997 at the Nashville Championships, I watched 14-year fold Tara Lipinski upset reigning World Champion, Michelle Kwan. In ice dance Naomi Lang & Peter Tchernyshev made their Nationals debut and finished fifth. Two years later they won the first of their five straight U.S. titles. 

As I settled into my media seat twenty-five years later, I wondered who would grab the 2022 headlines, and who was jumpstarting a future championship career.

In the rhythm dance, we saw only 12 of the original 15 Junior ice dance qualifiers after Oona Brown & Gage Brown and Isabella Flores & Dimitry Tsarevski withdrew before the event and Rebecca Kerscher & Davis Ortonward withdrew in Nashville. 

At the end of the segment, the leader board showed: Angela Lang & Caleb Wein (1), Leah Neset & Artem Markelov (2) Vanessa Pham & Jonathan Rogers (3) and Helena Carhart & Volodmyr Horovyi (4).

The early placements changed after the free dance. Neset & Markelov won gold after taking the lead with higher technical GOEs. Ling & Wein struggled with the twizzles, but maintained second place and the silver medal. Eliana Peal & Ethan Peal leapfrogged from fifth to third to claim bronze by just .59 points over the pewter medalists Pham & Rogers.

Neset & Markelov’s program to “My Immortal” by Evanescence and “In the End” by Linkin Park, Jung Youth and Fleurie was choreographed by Joel Dear. The team was sixth at the 2021 Nationals. After falling on their combination spin at the qualifier both claimed, “Our priority until Nationals is to work on spins.” In Nashville, it paid off.  Their total score jumped from 141.53 (Alpharetta) to 155.84.

Ling & Wein danced to “April” by the Lumineers and “Can’t Pretend by Tom Odell, choreographed by Charlie White. Ling explained her contribution to the program. “The song, “April” matched the second song very well, but was too short, so I used my piano and composed 20 seconds of the motif/theme of the original piece to put at the beginning.” The team placed fifth at the 2021 Championships. Their total 153.58 topped the qualifier 146.66.

Elliana & Ethan Peal danced to “Rise Up” by Andra Day, “Unsteady” by X Ambassadors and “Follow You” by Imagine Dragons and scored 140.67. The siblings finished eighth at the 2021 Nationals.

The Peals moved to Nashville to train in mid 2020 and are the first medal winners representing the Scott Hamilton Figure Skating Club. Rob Peal, their father and coach, competed on the senior ice dance level at the 1997 US Championships in Nashville.

Vanessa Pham & Jonathan Rogers scored 140.08 for their interpretation of the Beethoven classic, Moonlight Sonata. Pasquale Comerlengo and Igor Shpilband choreographed their programs. The Texas-based team finished ninth at the 2021 virtual US Nationals. At the Qualifier in Alpharetta, the team was disappointed with their 127.64 score. Coach Roman Zaretsky said, “It’s okay, we’ll go home and prepare for Nationals.” In Nashville, they topped it by over 12 points.

Carhart & Volodymyr Horovyi (5), Jenna Hauer & Benjamin Starr (6), Caroline Mullen & Brenden Mullen (7), Kristina Bland & Matthew Sperry (8), Romy Malcolm & Noah Lafornara (9), Madeleine Gans & Jim Wang (10), Madeline Freeman & Christian Bennett (11) and Olivia Dietrich & Eduard Pylpenko (12).

The event has changed considerably in the twenty-five years since I attended my sixth USFS Nationals. Figures, ice dance compulsories and novice competitors are no longer on the agenda. 

Some familiar names still involved in ice dance who competed at the 1997 event include: Ben Agosto (N), Dmitri Boundoiukin (J) Cheryl Demkowski (S) Oleg Fediukov (S), Brandon Forsyth (J), Mathew Gates (S), Melissa Gregory (J), Ron Kravette (S), Naomi Lang & Peter Tchernyshev (S), Tara Modlin (J), Rob Peal (S), and Nick Traxler (N).

The 2022 World Junior Championships will be held March 7-13 in Sofia, Bulgaria. Representing the US are Oona Brown & Gage Brown, Angela Ling and Caleb Wein, Katarina Wolfkostin & Jeffrey Chen. Alternates are Leah Neset & Artem Markelov (first) and Helena Carhart & Volodymyr Horovyi (second).