The official start of the international skating season began this past weekend at the Skate America competition. Skaters took to the ice to debut their new programs in front of judges.
Skaters in four disciplines competed in this event. On Sunday, it was the pairs and ladies freeskating competitions that took center stage.
The event was held inside the Citizens Business Bank Arena located in the Inland Empire city of Ontario in Southern California. The city also played host to the Southwest Pacific Regional Figure Skating Championships which were held earlier in the week.
Despite the soaring temperatures outside, the temperatures inside the arena provided a chilling, yet thrilling experience.
Outside the arena on a hot Southern California day
The afternoon began with the pairs freeskate. There were 3 new American pair teams entered into this event.
The first American pair team to take the ice were Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin. They came into the freeskate standing in 7th place after the short program. During their freeskate, they displayed strong throw jumps and maintained nice energy throughout their routine. Their total score of 155.42 pulled them up in the standings to finish in 6th place overall.
The next American team were Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker. Despite struggling throughout their program and missing some key elements, they still showed potential for the near future. They came into the freeskate in 6th place, but dropped to finish the competition in 7th. They finished the competition with a total score of 144.80.
The final American team to take the ice were Caydee Denney and John Coughlin. These two skaters have previously been U.S. National Champions each with different partners. They electrified the audience with spectacular throws, daring lifts, and crowd-pleasing charisma. The judges, however, still felt that this team needed more development, and gave them scores to reflect it. They dropped from 2nd place after the short program to finish in 4th, much to the dismay of the audience. They had a total score of 175.40, just over 2 points lower than the bronze medal position.
Denney and Coughlin are pleased after their freeskating performance
Finally, the medalists skated their freeskates. With some unexpected standings after the short program, the door was open for just about any team in the event to claim a spot on the podium.
The bronze medal went to Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch. This Canadian team attacked their program with speed and aggression. With a total score of 177.43, they were able to move up from 4th place after the short program.
Silver medalists Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang of China were the leaders after the short program, but were unable to maintain their lead after the freeskate. Even though they skated well, this team is often marked down in their artistic marks. They still provided enormous throw jumps and displayed great athleticism. They received a total of 178.66.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany captured the gold medal. The reigning world champions were surprisingly in 5th place entering the freeskate. Their innovative choreography, precise side-by-side elements, and explosive throw jumps catapulted them ahead of the rest of the field. Their total score was 183.98.
Savchenko and Szolkowy take a victory lap around the rink after being awarded the gold medal followed by the other medalists
Next up was the ladies freeskating event. A strong field held promise for an exciting competition.
Joelle Forte, who finished 9th at last season's U.S. Figure Skating Championships, was in 6th place after the short program. She skated her freeskate with calmness and ease with a style reminiscent of Michelle Kwan. Her pleasant disposition fared well with the audience. Unfortunately, she fell on a triple lutz jump and had many of her other triple jumps downgraded due to incomplete rotation. She received a total competition score of 139.70, dropping her to 8th place.
American Caroline Zhang was 3rd coming into the freeskate. The 2007 World Junior Champion has struggled in recent years with consistency, but always thrills a crowd with her style and flexibility that can only be classified as superhuman. She demonstrated her signature "Pearl Spin" during her program, but suffered 3 falls while attempting jump elements. The mistakes dropped her down to 6th position with a total score of 140.70.
Caroline Zhang shows off her amazing flexibility in her signature "Pearl Spin"
The bronze medal went to Swedish skater Viktoria Helgesson. She struggled during her freeskate. She suffered a hard fall on a triple lutz jump attempt, but showed maturity and composure throughout her routine. Her total score of 145.75 was good enough to pull her up from 5th place after the short program to a spot on the medal podium. Her sister, Joshi, also skated in this event and finished in 10th place.
Carolina Kostner of Italy claimed the silver medal. The veteran skater and winner of multiple world championship medals was in 2nd place entering the freeskate. She skated one of her strongest programs ever, executing a solid triple flip jump and unleashing an arsenal of other strong technical elements. Her speed across the ice and her artistic timing with the music showed why she is one of the top skaters in the world. Even though she won the freeskating portion of the competition, her total score of 177.35 was still not quite enough to claim the overall title. The one mistake that likely cost her the victory was on a triple salchow-double toe loop jump combination, when she did an extra turn in between the jumps.
Carolina Kostner shows her appreciation to the audience following her freeskate
Alissa Czisny of the United States was the final skater of the evening, and she certainly didn't disappoint. The leader after the short program maintained her 1st place ranking by skating a beautifully packaged program. The 2-time and reigning U.S. National Champion opened her program with a very difficult triple lutz-triple toe loop combination. One glaring error during her performance was a fall on a triple flip jump. There were a few other shaky landings on some of her other jumps, but her magnificent spins and seamless choreography enchanted the audience. A thunderous roar of applause from the crowd and a standing ovation awaited her as she finished her program. Even though she was 2nd in the freeskate, she was still able to hold on and win the gold medal with a total score of 177.48, just .13 points ahead of Kostner.
This is not the first time that Czisny and Kostner have finished closely in the final standings. At last season's Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final, Czisny again beat Kostner for the title by just 2.15 points. A few months later at the World Figure Skating Championships, Kostner beat Czinsy for the bronze medal by 2.43 points. This is definitely shaping up to be an exciting rivalry between the friendly competitors.