by Anne Calder | Photos by Daphne Backman

The novice free dance was held at the Solar4America Ice in San Jose, California on Tuesday evening, January 2. Family and friends showered the skaters with stuffed animals, long-stemmed faux flowers, and loud applause.

Twelve teams, who qualified at the Eastern, Midwestern, and Pacific Coast Sectionals, competed.

The leaders after the Argentine Tango and Quickstep patterns were: Gianna Buckley & Jeffrey Chen, Katarina Wolfkostin & Howard Zhao, Elizabeth Tkachenko & Alexei Kilakov, and Caroline Liu & Kenan Slevira.

The podium included the same teams, but in a different order: Wolfkostin & Zhao (gold), Buckley & Chen (silver), Liu & Slevira (bronze) and Tkachenko & Kiliakov (pewter).

Wolfkostin & Zhao skated a seamless dance to music from the La La Land soundtrack. The lifts, spin, twizzles, and not-touching step sequence earned level 4. The gold medalists scored a 122.41 total.

“We’ve been skating together for less than two years and all the elements felt really good,” Wolfkostin said.

The 2017 intermediate champions train with coaches Angelika Krylova, Pasquale Camerlengo, Natalie Deller and Paul Bellantuono in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan.

“Our coaches really helped us to develop and pushed us to our limits,” Zhao added.

Their coach, European, World, and Olympic medalist Angelika Krylova, spoke highly about their performance.

“They have made such progress in the last year. Since they won in the first year as novice, they have worked so hard. They did great, and we are so happy about the results. They will be going on to juniors next year which means more competition and higher levels.”

Buckley & Chen were fifth in the free dance with a performance to “My Sweet and Tender Beast” that earned level 4 lifts and spin.

“Over all today wasn’t out best,” Buckley commented. “We made a little mistake at the end of the program, but we’re happy with the result.  We got a little far apart, and I tried to catch up to him and that led me to get off balance in the second twizzle.”

The team began skating together just eights months ago and train with Marina Zoueva and Massimo Scali in Canton, Michigan. When their first place pattern score was added to the free dance, the 116.77 total earned the silver medal.

“As a new team, we had to get used to skating with one another,” Chen stated.

“We are really happy and grateful to be on the podium and to get a medal together,” Buckley added.

Liu & Slevira danced a strong lyrical performance to Alegría (Cirque du Soleil) and were second in the free dance. Their spin and lifts were level 4; the twizzles and footwork were level 3.

Slevira shared his thoughts about the final minutes of the skate.

“We have our parallel footwork at the end, so I kept thinking we needed to get through it strong, and we would place.”

The bronze medalists, who just teamed up in 2017, train in several locations. Their primary coach is Dimitri Boundoukin at the Colonial Figure Skating Club in Boxborough, Massachusetts.

After the event, he spoke about his team’s performance.

“I think that was one of the best in the season. I was really pleased and excited. I really like it. It showed their work and our (coaches) work, which was really nice to see. It pulled the audience in.”

Elizabeth Tkachenko & Alexei Kiliakov won the pewter medal with a 112.95 total score. The 2015 Juvenile and 2016 Intermediate US National Champions skated to “Derap” by Hugues LeBars and earned level 4 for the spin, twizzles and straight-line lift.

After the event, Kiliakov commented on his favorite part of the performance.

”I like the last minute because it’s the most upbeat part.

“I like the twizzles because it’s my favorite element,” Tkachenko confessed. 

She giggled when asked why since most dancers approach them with trepidation, “I just love them,” Tkachenko said with a smile.

Alexei Kiliakov, Elena Novak, and Dmytri Ilin coach the team at the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy.