by Anne Calder | Photos by Daphne Backman

The Junior Ice Dance medal ceremony was held Wednesday evening. Since the Championship Rhythm Dance was not until Friday, I scheduled Thursday morning interviews. 

As I headed to the arena, snowflakes began to fall. Many years in Arizona had erased my memories of living most of my life in winter conditions, so it proved to be a challenge. After slipping and sliding, fortunately mostly downhill, I made it to my destination.

Throughout the day, Mother Nature raised havoc outside. The storm dropped 7 inches of snow, crippling Nashville, closing most buildings and restaurants. Frigid temperatures were forecast for overnight Thursday and into Friday morning, with single-digit windchills.

On Friday, I braved the sub-zero temps and arrived at the arena just in time for the Championship Rhythm Dance session at 2:00 pm.

Inside, the atmosphere was filled with excitement. The US Championships are not official trial events for the Olympics. However, the Rhythm and Free Dance placements help to determine the official US team for the Winter Games in Beijing, China.

Prior to the first group’s warmup, 2020 World Junior Champion Avonley Nguyen and new partner Grigory Smirnov announced their withdrawal due to injury. 

The 2021-2022 Rhythm Dance Senior programs included the Midnight Blues pattern and “Street Dance” rhythms. While the Juniors chose mostly Hip-hop as their genre, the Seniors added more of a variety to their programs with Disco, Blues Rock, R&B Soul, Rock Funk, etc.

The teams used music from many popular entertainers including: Backstreet Boys, Billie Eilish, Marvin Gaye, Bruno Mars, Nelly, NSYNC, Prince, Donna Summer, Justin Timberlake, Bill Withers and three Michael Jackson medleys. 

The Rhythm Dance results: (1) Madison Chock & Evan Bates, 91.94, (2) Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, 89.39, (3) Caroline Green & Michael Parsons, 80.85, (4) Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker, 79.39, (5) Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko, 77.90, and (6) Emily Bratti & Ian Somerville, 76.70.

Chock & Bates’ 91.94 points was the highest Rhythm Dance score at any US Championships. The team also earned level 4 for all their elements. 

Chock spoke about tweaking their Bilie Eilish program. “Since the Grand Prix Final was canceled, we had extra time to prepare – polishing and smoothing out all the details we wanted to.”

“The program was started in September, so it was a natural progression that it would become more polished as the season progressed, “ added Bates. “That was even more so since we had a late start.”

“It wasn’t the performance we wanted,” Hubbell said about their Janet Jackson program. “I almost tripped when I missed my toe pick in the Partial Step Sequence. Then in the second twizzle, I counted to three instead of four, so I came out early.” 

“We weren’t tired or nervous,” she confirmed. “The only thing out of the ordinary was since we wanted to avoid being in the rink more days than necessary, it was our first time hearing and skating to the music since we arrived. [They skipped the practice at the secondary rink] That’s something we’re not used to doing at competitions – just jumping in feet first.”

Green & Parsons’ Janet Jackson and En Vogue program was choreographed by hip-hop coach Jimmie Manners. 

“The program was a culmination of the work we’ve put in this year,” noted Parsons. “It was the first time everything has worked for us. We’re really happy and proud of how we skated. It’s great to be here with the best skaters in the world.”

Hawayek & Baker danced a Disco to a retro remix of Donna Summers selections. Hawayek had an opening twizzle stumble that proved costly in their Rhythm Dance score. 

“I had a twizzle mistake at the beginning, but we’re happy with the rest of the program,” said Hawayek. “We spent the last weeks drilling our levels. We understand the levels outside the twizzles were very good. That’s something we improved on from the beginning of our season.”

Prior to the Free Dance, Raffaella Koncius & Alexey Shchepetov withdrew from the competition.

The Free Dance was competed on Saturday  evening in front of a very enthusiastic audience. The Podium: (gold) Madison Chock & Evan Bates,135.43, (silver) Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, 136.20, (bronze) Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker, 126.29, (pewter) Caroline Green & Michael Parsons, 122.42.

Chock & Bates claimed their third US Championship title with a 227.37 total score. The music chosen for their Astronaut and the Alien themed dance was “Contact,” “Within,” and “Touch” by Daft Punk. The team again earned level 4 for all their elements and a grand total of 16 for both Dances.

Bates spoke about their mind-set skating last. “Today was unique as we had 11 hours between our 20 minute warm-up and our Free Dance tonight. It was frankly a challenging set of circumstances, being last and seeing Zach and Maddie had skated well based on the crowd response.”

“We relied on our training. Knowing it’s incredibly important, we’ve been working very hard to be as good as we can be for this next time in our careers. I think that training showed up, and today’s experience of gutting it out will serve us well in Beijing.”

Hubbell & Donohue won the Free Dance with their interpretation of “Drowning” by Anna Sila, but they were unable to over take their Montreal teammates. Their total 225.59 earned them silver.

“Zach and I wanted to end our careers here at the US Championships with a performance that felt fully present,” Hubbell said. “Stepping off the ice we knew we were content with what we put out there.”

Caroline Green & Michael Parsons

“The competitor in us wanted to be first, but being realistic with ourselves, we knew that we wouldn’t be able to win a National Championship with a bad skate because of the competitors we have. We couldn’t make up the 2.5 points from a poorly skated short program.“

“We feel very prepared for Beijing. We’re excited to keep the ball rolling and share another moment on the ice in a couple of weeks.”

Hawayek & Baker used Frédéric Chopin Selections to move into third place and earn their fourth straight Championship bronze medal with a 205.68 total score. An emotional Hawayek spoke about the challenges they’ve faced together this season. 

“This has not been a straight journey for us to this point. Over the last six months, Jean-Luc and I have leaned on each other more than ever. We found deep trust within one another through the challenges and obstacles we’ve overcome.”

“To get the bronze medal today is a combination of emotions for everything we’ve been able to accomplish.”

Green & Parsons performed an innovative dance routine that brought their total to 203.27 and earned them their second pewter medal in a row at the US National Championships. 

The team explained the genesis of their program to IDC back in July when it made its debut. They wanted to dance a completely different style than they had done before.The cooperative process between their coaches and them, allowed more freedom in creating their own choreography.  

We took a lot of inspiration from off the ice, especially Martha Graham’s modern dance style,” Green said. “We created movement and style that hadn’t been done before and transferred it on to the ice. One of our coaches is also a classically trained dancer and knew where to plug in those moves. The result is a much more artistic program than what we’re used to doing.”

 

NASHVILLE NOTES…

  • Katarina Wolfkostin & Jeffrey Chen skated to “Rain, in Your Black Eyes” by Ezio Bosso in their senior debut. The program was originally skated at two 2021 JGPs, and they added 30 seconds and two more elements to meet Senior requirements. “It lengthened the slow section for a bit more time to breathe until the finale,” said Wolfkostin. “It seems like the same program, but a little bit tougher.” Chen laughed, “A lot tougher!”
  • Eva Pate & Logan Bye received a suggestion from Rocker Skating Analyst Jackie Wong to skate to “Bye, Bye, Bye” by NSYNC because of Logan’s name. When the RD was open to hip-hop, they opted to use it along with “Cry Me A River” by Justin Timberlake. Pate & Bye met NSYNC singer Joey Fatone in Detroit and got a photo with him along with a lot of encouragement.
  • Several athletes discussed the difference between their past Junior and current new Senior Dance experiences. Emily Bratti & Ian Somerville: “There’s so much more about the audience that comes to the Senior event. I feel like  at this point you’re a real elite athlete. You’re with people who are fighting for a medal at the Olympics. It’s cool to be part of this.”

    Molly Cesanek & Yeyor Yehorov: “It’s an Interesting transition because the crowd is so different. It’s exciting. It’s an amazing experience to skate in front of such a large [Senior] audience. You feel the energy when they cheer.  We never experienced it before.”    

    Katarina Wolfkostin & Jeffrey Chen: “In Seniors, there’s more time to get into the program, get into the character and feel the energy of the program. Juniors is more condensed. Also in Seniors there’s more room to express, while in Juniors the focus is on doing the elements.
  • Evan Bates will become the first U.S. skater of any discipline to compete in four Winter Olympic Games. He will also be the second oldest American to compete in ice dance at the Games.
  • Senior Teams that made their U.S. Championship debut: Emily Bratti & Ian Somerville, Cayla Cottrell & Uladzislau Palkhouski, Raffaella Koncius & Alexey Shchepetov and Livvy Shilling & Ryan O’Donnell.
  • Junior Teams that made their US Championship debut: Kristina Bland & Matthew Sperry, Helena Carhart & Volodymyr Horovyi, Olivia Dietrich & Eduard Pylpenko, Madeline Freeman & Christian Bennett, Madeleine Gans & Jim Wang, Jenna Hauer & Benjamin Starr, Romy Malcolm & Noah Lafomara and Caroline Mullen & Brendan Mullen.
  • Elliana Peal & Ethan Peal are the first medalists (Junior/bronze) to represent the Nashville Scott Hamilton FSC.

INTERNATIONAL ASSIGNMENTS:

  • 2022 FOUR CONTINENTS    (January 15-23)  
    Emily Bratti & Ian Somerville
    Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko
    Caroline Green & Michael Parsons
    Alternate 1 – Eva Pate & Logan Bye
    Alternate 2 – Lorraine McNamara & Anton Spiridonov
    Alternate 3 – Molly Cesanek & Yehor Yehorov
  • OLYMPICS    (February 4-20)
    Madison Chock & Evan Bates
    Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker
    Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue
    Alternate 1 – Caroline Green & Michael Parsons
    Alternate 2 – Emily Bratti & Ian Somerville
    Alternate 3 – Katarina Wolfkostin & Jeffrey Chen
  • 2022 WORLD JUNIOR CHAMPIONSHIPS   (March 7-13)
    Katarina Wolfkostin & Jeffrey Chen
    Oona Brown & Gage Brown
    Angela Lang & Caleb Wein
    Alternate 1 – Leah Neset & Artem Markelov
    Alternate 2 – Helena Carhart & Volodymyr Horovyi
  • 2022 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS    (March 21-27)
    Madison Chock & Evan Bates
    Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker
    Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue
    Alternate 1 – Caroline Green & Michael Parsons
    Alternate 2 – Emily Bratti & Ian Somerville
    Alternate 3 – Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko