Davis & White Soar at Skate America

13gpusa-recap-davwhiArticle & Photos by Melanie Hoyt 

Meryl Davis & Charlie White’s fourth consecutive Skate America title was never really in doubt—not before the competition, nor during the event. Davis & White skated with a surprising amount of confidence for an early-season outing and easily secured the gold medal with a sky-high score of 188.23, just over a point off of their ISU personal best. It was a particularly special win, as 2013 Skate America in Detroit was the first chance that Davis & White (pictured, right) ever had to skate in a major competition close to their homes in suburban Detroit.

“It’s really exciting performing in front of a home crowd,” Davis said. “We really haven’t gotten to perform in front of an actual home crowd before. Skating at the U.S. Championships and Skate America is really nice—the crowd is really into it and supportive, which is so special for us—but this actually being our home crowd is amazing. I think we can really feel the love from the stands.”

Davis & White have a few opportunities to tweak some level 3 elements into level 4s—all of their footwork sequences in both dances were called level 3—but they should be encouraged by their high base value overall. In particular, the short dance was executed very well, and the team’s Finnstep earned level 4 on both segments of the pattern.

With new lifts and new variations on old lifts, their “Scheherazade” free dance delighted and thrilled the home audience. In particular, their first lift, in which Davis slides at ice level and is launched around White’s back and into position, was a crowd-pleaser.

“We started working on the lift with Marina two years ago, maybe more,” Davis said. “We had a really hard time with it at first—it’s all about the timing and balancing each other’s weight distribution. At the beginning of this off-season, it finally started to come together. It’s exciting to do at the beginning of the program, it kind of sets the tone.”

The judging panel seemed impressed with the construction of the “Scheherazade” program, giving Davis & White a total of 12 perfect 10.00 marks in the program components, including five for Interpretation / Timing. The competition should give them a boost of confidence as they prepare for NHK Trophy and, ultimately and most likely, the Grand Prix Final.

Silver medalists Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte had a delightful surprise when the season début of their “42nd Street” short dance brought them their first string of straight level 4s in international competition. Despite missing a little bit of training time when Lanotte injured his neck a few weeks ago, they looked confident and polished as they charmed the audience en route to a personal best of 69.88 in the short dance.

“We want to be focused on the improvement of our performance,” Lanotte said. “Tonight was just the beginning [for the short dance], but we are very, very, very pleased with the scores.”

“We have been working a lot on technique daily—one hour a day, just reviewing every element,” Cappellini said. “We have a lot of technical specialists coming to the ice rink and helping us with that. It’s definitely something that we’ll keep up.”

Their “Barber of Seville” free dance was also charming, but leaves more room for improvement on the levels as they continue to skate the longer of the two dances with more comfort and ease.

“It [the free dance] was definitely harder than yesterday,” Cappellini said. “Having lost a little bit of training—we had to pull out of Bratislava because of Luca’s neck problem—we weren’t fully 100% ready.”

Despite not feeling completely ready, Cappellini & Lanotte also set a personal best for their total score of 168.49. They may have been 20 points behind the leaders, but they also gave themselves a 14-point cushion ahead of bronze medalists Maia & Alex Shibutani.

13gpusa-recap-shibsThe Shibutani siblings (pictured, left) found themselves in a close race with fellow Americans Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue for the bronze medal. Heading into the free dance, the Shibutanis only had about half a point on their domestic rivals, a situation that no one expected two and a half years ago, when Hubbell & Donohue were just beginning their partnership and the Shibutanis were standing on the world podium.

The domestic rivalry, it seems, has prompted American skaters to push the envelope in this Olympic season, and the Shibutanis are no exception. They worked with ballroom champion Corky Ballas on their short dance, and they turned to choreographers Trevor Payne and Stacy Walker for their Michael Jackson free dance. Payne and Walker were Jackson’s own choreographers and this marks their first foray into the world of competitive ice dance programs.

The Shibutanis were taking the ice as the audience applauded enthusiastically for Hubbell & Donohue, and they really attacked the opening of their free dance, set to “Wanna Be Startin’ Something.” Perhaps Alex gave just a bit too much attack, as he tripped just after the opening dance choreography. The fall did not detract from the rest of the program, though—they were able to get right back into the dance—and it was not very costly in the points, since it did not affect an element.

“We’ve been waiting a long time to début this program—we love it so much,” Alex said. “I didn’t love being on the ice for a second and a half at the beginning, but the energy was so great that it inspired us to push through.”

In the end, the Shibutanis held onto the bronze medal with a score of 154.47, just a point and a half ahead of Hubbell & Donohue. The ranking may hold a bit of significance as the season progresses, but not enough to give the siblings much breathing room come January, when the United States could have four teams competing for two spots on the Olympic team (assuming that Davis & White’s tickets are already punched).

“Our goal this week was to put out two programs that would be a huge stepping stone for us this season,” Maia said. “For us, as skaters, we need to take things one step at a time and keep building each thing in our program. We still have a lot of work to do, but we’re really pleased with how we went out this week.”

“There are a lot of talented skaters in our country that we’re going to be going against in January,” Alex said, “but for us, we’re really keeping that out of mind. Today was, specifically, about going out there and trying to do the best that we possibly could.”

While Hubbell & Donohue did not go home with a medal, their effort was a significant step in their quest to regain a spot in the country’s top three teams. They performed very well to earn a score of 152.98, a new personal best, and they have an opportunity to improve their score even further by working on two footwork sequences (one in each program) that were called level 2. Since Hubbell & Donohue are closer in size than many of the top teams, they cannot rely on show-stopping acrobatic lifts to earn big points from the judges. Instead, they have focused on performance and program construction, which shines in their free dance to Lucia Micarelli’s “Nocturne” and “Bohemian Rhapsody.” With back-to-back Grand Prix events, Hubbell & Donohue will have plenty of time to work on levels and train their elements to perfection as they look ahead to the U.S. Championships.

Between fourth and fifth places, a gap of over 16 points appeared after the free dance. On the other hand, less than two-and-a-half points separated fifth from eighth place. No team from the first group of the free dance remained in the same ranking overall, which is almost always a sign of a terrific competition. Indeed, the first four free dances at Skate America set the tone for the rest of the event. Small mistakes ended up making a big difference in terms of ISU world ranking points and prize money.

Cathy Reed & Chris Reed gave a gutsy performance to finish fifth, tying their highest-ever Grand Prix placement. Chris has been skating since late August on a torn meniscus in his knee, an injury that he and his mother kept from his sister Cathy while the team trained for Nebelhorn Trophy. Only after they secured an Olympic spot did he admit what had happened. The Reeds have been plagued by injuries over the past few years, and they have decided to push through the injury instead of resorting to a third surgery. Their hard work paid off in Detroit with a 136.13-point effort. Their early preparation this season meant that their levels were secure, which made the difference between fifth and eighth at this event.

France’s Pernelle Carron & Lloyd Jones placed sixth with 135.70 points. Although they were 10 points off their personal best, the sixth-place is a bit of redemption after finishing last at their only Grand Prix event last year. Carron & Jones were delightful in their short dance to “Anything Goes,” but their modern take on “Swan Lake” was not quite as reliable in eliciting a positive reaction from the crowd. It may be a hard sell at their next event in China, too.

Isabella Tobias & Deividas Stagniunas represent Lithuania, but like most of the field, they train in the Detroit area. Their James Bond free dance, including Adele’s hit “Skyfall,” was a crowd-pleaser, although the energy did deflate at the end. They also went for the crowd with their Marilyn Monroe-themed short dance, a role that Tobias clearly enjoys playing. They struggled with the elements, though, especially the second half of their Finnstep pattern in the short dance, which earned only a level 1. Skate America was their only Grand Prix assignment.

Rounding out the field were Julia Zlobina & Alexei Sitnikov, former Russian national team members that have skated for Azerbaijan for several years. They had only one level 4 element in their short dance, the rotational lift, but their “Pink Panther” program was skated well and they were fifth heading into the free dance. Three level 2 elements hurt them in their “Pina” free dance, though, and they slipped to eighth with a score of 133.76. Zlobina & Sitnikov were 11 points behind their personal best at this event, which was also their only Grand Prix assignment this season.