13Worlds-FD-4474-WP-MH 595by Melanie Hoyt

This week, Salt Lake City will host some of the world’s best ice dancers as the seniors kick off an important season. While some of the teams on the roster have previewed their programs at summer events, the second annual U.S. International Figure Skating Classic will be the season debut for several much-anticipated programs. This is the only Senior B International on the ISU calendar that is held in North America, so it provides an excellent opportunity for teams who train on the continent to avoid expensive travel and jet lag. The dance event at the U.S. Classic promises to be an exciting battle at both ends of the competitive spectrum, and it is hard to believe that lucky local skating fans are only set back $10 per day for such a strong event.

Two-time and reigning world champions Meryl Davis & Charlie White have chosen to begin this season’s Olympic quest with the U.S. Classic. Only the U.S. Figure Skating officials that were at Champs Camp have seen their new programs. This year, Davis & White have chosen music from “My Fair Lady” for the short dance and “Scheherazade” for the free dance. The overwhelming favorites for this competition, it would likely take a myriad of mistakes for them to finish anywhere but first. Instead of their placement, Davis & White and coach Marina Zoueva will likely be focusing on their levels and the judges’ reception to the programs, so they can make any final tweaks before Skate America next month.

Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje (pictured, right) are the second podium favorites at this event. Like Davis & White, they have not yet shown their programs outside of closed monitoring with their federation, and they will be seeking feedback and checking their levels in front of an international judging and technical panel. Last season, Weaver broke her fibula in December, but through sheer grit and determination, she was able to recover in time for the duo to deliver a pair of inspired performances at the World Championships, where they placed fifth. This year, they should be in their element for a short dance to music from “42nd Street” and they will take on a tango in the free dance.

Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams will also represent Canada at this event. In 2012, they finished fourth and eighth at their Grand Prix assignments before becoming the surprise bronze medalists at the 2013 Canadian Championships. Orford & Williams have already competed three times this season, the most of any teams on the roster. Their first outing at LPIDC had a few bugs, but they looked very strong a few weeks ago at BC/YK SummerSkate, where they scored 140.00. As the national bronze medalists, they are in the running for an Olympic spot and will look to strengthen that chance with good international results.

As the host nation, the United States is able to have four entries in each of the disciplines. Joining Davis & White on Team USA are three more dance couples all looking to make the most out of what is currently their only international assignment this year. Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt won the bronze medal at this event last year and have a shot at matching that result this year. They had a rough start to their season when Kriengkrairut suffered a concussion and Giulietti-Schmitt had a minor back injury shortly before the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. Their performances were not as strong as they would have liked, but they were able to compete in Lake Placid, finishing fourth in short dance group A and winning free dance group B. With additional training time, their “Spartacus” free dance could be a standout this weekend, as the program boasts lovely choreographic highlights.

Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus are another team competing at this event for the second time. Last year, they finished sixth in Salt Lake, and they were also sixth at the 2013 U.S. Championships. They also began their season in Lake Placid, where they were second in short dance group B and fifth in free dance group B. Their short dance to “Puttin’ on the Ritz” and “Come on Get Happy” suits them well, and they broke 50 points with it at LPIDC. If they can also reach that benchmark here, they will be off to a great start.

13Worlds-FD-2486-ZS-MH 595Making their international debut as a team, Alissandra Aronow & Collin Brubaker are last-minute replacements for Team USA. They were added to the roster on Monday when their training mates, Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani, withdrew, citing at injury to Alex’s neck. Aronow & Brubaker have been successful so far this season with their free dance, set to “Love Story,” placing just behind Cannuscio & McManus in Lake Placid and finishing third at the Quebec Summer Championships; but they have struggled with their short dance, scoring only as high as 40.29.

Several teams, including Angelina Telegina & Otar Japaridze (GEO), Allison Reed & Vasili Rogov (ISR), Pilar Maekawa & Leonardo Maekawa (MEX), and Justyna Plutowska & Peter Gerber (POL), are using this event to warm up for Nebelhorn Trophy, the last-chance Olympic qualification event later this month. All four competed at LPIDC. Among them, Telegina & Japaridze had the strongest results, winning the bronze medal in free dance group A.

As the top (or only) dance team in countries that have already secured spots for the Olympic Games, Julia Zlobina & Alexei Sitnikov (AZE) (pictured, left), Penny Coomes & Nicholas Buckland (GBR), and Isabella Tobias & Deividas Stagniunas (LTU), do not have to worry about Nebelhorn this year. However, they are all gearing up for the Grand Prix and beginning the season early at the U.S. Classic is still certainly to their advantages.

France’s Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat were originally listed for this event, but were removed from the roster on Monday. No replacement was named.

Because the U.S. Classic is designated a Senior B competition, valuable ISU points are up for grabs. The short dance will be held on Friday afternoon and the free dance is slated for Saturday evening.