b14SA-SD-7441y Melanie Hoyt | Photos by Daphne Backman

The short dance at 2014 Skate America was filled with plenty of flair and drama. While the top two spots are probably locked up, the remaining six teams are within four points of each other, and any of them could grab the last spot on the podium.

Americans Madison Chock & Evan Bates have given themselves a comfortable lead going into the free dance. They earned 68.96 points in the short and have a four-point cushion over their American teammates, Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani. Chock & Bates chose to put a perky spin on the Paso Doble theme, which makes their program different from the other short dances this year.

“We don’t look like typical Paso Doble matadors and we wanted to put our own spin on it,” Chock explained. “We are still trying to bring that strong presence as well. We don’t want people to feel intense watching us. We want people to enjoy it and suck them in as they are watching. We want to give them something to wonder about.”

They skated well and earned level 4 on the Paso Doble pattern, as well as the twizzles and the lift, while picking up a level 3 for their Partial Step Sequence and their midline steps.
The Shibutanis, in second with 64.14 points, appeared disappointed with their result, citing a twizzle problem as a costly mistake. While that element did earn level 4, their net GOE was only +.27, well below what they usually score on the twizzle sequence.

“It [the mistake] was at the beginning of the program and we had a really strong recovery,” Maia said. “So much of the program has improved and we feel really good about how strong this program is we are going to move on from today and focus on the free dance.”

They also lost a few points, as compared to Chock & Bates, on the Paso pattern and the partial sequence, which were both only given level 2. Their short dance is a traditional take on the rhythm and style, and achieved a high level of intensity.

“We are happy with the foundation of our program,” Alex said. “We have never had a program like this before. There’s an intensity to it and we’ve really developed over the course of our career. I think we’re at the point in our career we can show the program off in a really impressive way.”

Fighting back from a tough fall in practice, Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin of Russia are in third with   56.37 points. Despite spending part of the day at the hospital, Stepanova was fully invested in the dance and played well off her partner’s natural flair.

“I can’t say that it was really hard to come back,” Stepanova said. “Maybe that shook us up a little and made us awake. There wasn’t much time before the competition because we were busy with my treatment and so there wasn’t enough time to get nervous.”

Their twizzle sequence, highlighted by an impressive sit-spin-style feature, only earned a level 1. In fact, none of their elements were called level 4. If they had come closer to maximizing their levels, they could have really established themselves as frontrunners for the bronze medal. As it stands, though, they will likely need to be as impressive as they were in Finland last week in order to win their first Grand Prix medal.

Sitting in a surprising fourth place are Federica Testa & Lukas Csolley of Slovakia, who earned 55.63 points on the strength of solid elements. Testa & Csolley lacked the speed of the other teams in the field, but posted the third-highest technical score.

Americans Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus are still within reach of the podium with 55.14 points. Just over a point out of third, they could complete an unprecedented U.S. sweep of the dance medals at this event. After struggling in the short dance at both of their international events this season, Cannuscio & McManus corrected their Paso Doble pattern and earned a strong 30.04 in the technical elements score.

“We’ve been trying to get the Worlds qualifying score in the short dance for the past three seasons now, and we finally got that today,” McManus said. “That’s a really big step for us, and we’re really happy to get that notch in our belt. We couldn’t be happier.”

Right on their heels are Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams of Canada, who earned 55.10 points in their short dance. The Canadians skated with good unison and intensity, but they only earned level 2 on their midline steps. Still, the outing was an improvement from last week’s Autumn Classic, where level issues impeded their efforts to win a second international medal this season.

A twizzle mishap kept Charlène Guignard & Marco Fabbri of Italy in seventh place, despite earning the fourth-highest program components score. Canadians Élisabeth Paradis & François-Xavier Ouellette round out the field in eighth.

The free dance takes place tonight at 7 p.m.