One State, Three Flags – Michigan-Trained Teams Sweep the Podium at Skate America

11SA-DPod-6390-MPAfter a night of short dances that brought back memories of the 2006 Olympic Winter Games’ original dance fiasco, the free dances this afternoon at Skate America made for one of the best-skated competitions in recent history. Out of the 64 elements competed in the free dance (eight teams doing eight each), only one element (the Germans’ twizzles) earned a net negative GOE.

Having not lost a Grand Prix event since the Final in 2008, Americans Meryl Davis & Charlie White (who train in Canton, Mich.) notched another victory, winning both the short and free dances en route to Skate America gold with an event total of 178.07.

“It’s really nice to have our first competition of the year be Skate America,” White said. “We felt the crowd behind us and that does make a big difference, especially the first time out when you might be a little bit unsure.”

In their free dance performance, Davis & White of the U.S. proved that abandoning their initial choice of Nino Rota’s La Strada in favor of “Die Fledermaus” by Strauss was a genius decision. Besting their closest competitors by 10.52 points in the free, the 2011 World Champions received level 4 grading on all of their elements except both step sequences, which were marked level 3. They have always excelled at waltzing, and this program is no exception.

“(Coach/choreographer) Marina (Zoueva) came to us with this piece of music,” Davis said. “She had brought it to our attention a couple of times before, but we thought now would be a good time to take on that opportunity. With a couple of weeks of choreography under our belts and seeing how inspired both Marina and Igor were, I think we got really excited about the program. Here we are and we are absolutely thrilled with how it went.”

Taking the silver were France’s Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat (who now train in Detroit, Mich.). Like the Americans, the French also scored level 4 on their elements, with the exception of their footwork sequences; but while Pechalat & Bourzat’s diagonal steps were graded level 3, their circular footwork was graded only level 2.

“It was a nightmare for me today but I made it through the end with no major mistakes,” Bourzat said. “It was pretty smooth, I think. Not as strong as we could skate it; it’s still a raw program from the beginning of the season. We are quite happy. It was a nice performance. Not great, but nice.”

Bourzat did not display his usual power and full-out performance due to bronchitis, but nevertheless the team pushed through to skate a solid Grand Prix debut for their Egyptian mummy program to music by Peter Gabriel. They will not get a chance to recuperate as they are slated to compete at Skate Canada next week.

“I didn’t go through the program with the same intensity as yesterday when I tried to go 100 percent from the beginning,” Bourzat said. “We talked to our coach and he told me to focus on the elements and go through the end, not to push too hard, go like an exhibition. It was good advice because we made it. But it was pretty hard.”

The battle for that final podium spot was fierce. Even though Pechalat & Bourzat’s total score of 156.29 was almost 24 points higher than the group of teams below them, just 1.54 points meant the difference between a bronze medal and sixth place.

In their team’s Grand Prix debut, Isabella Tobias & Deividas Stagniunas, who represent Lithuania and train in Canton, Mich., moved up from fifth in the short dance to fourth in the free and snagged the bronze medal with an event total of 132.58.

“We are very happy with our bronze medal,” Stagniunas said. “We were happy with how we skated. We came here last minute to Skate America because somebody dropped out.”

Tobias & Stagniunas’ program to a medley of ’50s music entertained the audience and garnered level four lifts and only one -1 GOE.

“This is incredible,” Tobias said. “It’s really a validation of hard work. We are so thankful to have gotten the opportunity to compete here.”

Despite placing third in the free dance, Americans Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue were unable to pull out of sixth place overall. They received the same level calls as training mates Pechalat & Bourzat, but the GOE and PCS of the 20-week-old American partnership was no match for the French one of 11 years.

Hubbell & Donohue’s passionate performance to Joe Cocker’s “I’ve Put a Spell on You” highlighted excellent unison as well as the chemistry between the two. Tracy Wilson, who was commentating on the event for NBC, called the duo “raw energy, unapologetic.”

“We felt good,” Hubbell said. “Our goal after yesterday’s performance was not to let our scores and the whole event overtake us. We stayed strong and confident in what we could do. It wasn’t our perfect performance, but we fought for it and stayed aggressive.”

After the short dance, German’s Nelli Zhiganshina & Alexander Gazsi had nearly a three-point lead over Canadians Kharis Ralph & Asher Hill but lost ground and dropped to sixth in the free dance and fourth overall when they lost levels and GOE on their twizzles. Their dramatic performance to music from Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet soundtrack was also hit by level 2s on a straightline lift and spin.

Ralph & Hill skated a clean free dance to music by Glover Gill, receiving no GOE less than a base 0. Both step sequences and their final rotational lift were called level 2, and in a field this tight, the lack of TES dropped them to fifth in the free dance and overall.

Isabella Cannuscio & Ian Lorello of the U.S. rebounded from Lorello’s fall on the twizzles in the short dance to skate a confident free dance to music from Les Miserables. They finished the event in seventh place with a total of 115.22.

“I just put the short dance behind me,” Lorello said. “Mistakes happen and all you can do is move forward.”

The University of Delaware duo is making the most of their first Skate America appearance.

“It’s been great so far,” Cannuscio said. “We’ve been doing interviews, which we don’t normally do, and then later we have an autograph signing and tomorrow the Friends of Figure Skating Breakfast, which I’m really looking forward to. It’s completely different competing internationally.”

Canada’s Alexandra Paul & Mitchell Islam rebounded from a disastrous short dance performance to finish seventh in the free dance, but their total score of 111.70 retained their eighth place overall placement. Their program to “Tonight” by Bernie Taupin and Elton John was light and elegant and garnered level four on all of their lifts and their spin.

The Grand Prix moves to another Ontario for the second event, Skate Canada, to be held in Mississauga, Canada.