Event: US International Classic
Dates: 18-20 September
Location: Salt Lake City, Utah, USA
Category: ISU Challenger Series
The men’s competition provided a unique opportunity: since the first US International Classic in 2012, there had never been any other champion than Max Aaron, who won the competition all three times – 2012, 2013, and 2014. This year, however, he is starting his season at Nebelhorn, leaving the door open for someone else to take over.
That someone turned out to be Israeli pocket rocket Daniel Samohin, who pulled out a free skate performance packed with three quadruple jumps and a stack of energy to quite literally jump above everyone else. The seventeen year old was in 3rd place after the short, but the incredible technical element score (TES) that he accrued in the long saw him take out the prize.
Second went to Japan’s Keiji Tanaka, in only his second season as a Senior. The 20 year old’s elegant programs held out as the rest of the field failed to hold their nerves, propelling him to his first Senior international medal. It was a result almost no-one predicted, with Tanaka’s widely-regarded teammate Shoma Uno favoured to take out top spot in his first season as a Senior. The result here will give the Japanese officials some food for thought heading into the main part of the season.
The American men seemed to be in a battle as to who could keep their cool the longest, and that honour went to veteran Ross Miner, who took out the bronze. Miner was the US National silver medallist in 2013 but has struggled since, and his medal here could provide him a confidence boost ahead of the Grand Prix. Richard Dornbush had been considered the favourite of the US men here, but a shaky free skate to Coldplay saw him drop to sixth, behind Uno and Timothy Dolensky, who was making his international debut for Team USA.
There were originally supposed to be three Australian men at this event, but Brendan Kerry withdrew beforehand due to a minor foot injury. It was the season opener for brothers Andrew and Jordan Dodds, with wildly different results, but both with plenty of promise going into the season.
Jordan, who is making his international Senior debut this year, had a difficult time of it in the altitude of Salt Lake City, but his new short program is intriguing and elegant, with great structure and flow. The long program is a repeat of last year’s and remains a strong vehicle for him. The triple Lutz at the opening was one of the nicest done at the event, and is a marker of things to come - hopefully at Ondrej Nepala in two weeks' time.
Andrew came to this competition armed with two brand-new programs, and they surpassed all expectations. His gorgeous new Les Miserables short program was so well-received by the judges that, in spite of some mistakes, it shattered his personal best score by nearly ten points. The long program to Warsaw Concerto also wove a spell the judges found hard to resist, and the reward was a top-ten finish and another ISU personal best.
The biggest draw for this event was undoubtedly World silver medallist Satoko Miyahara of Japan, and she lived up to the expectations, taking out the gold here with two very composed programs. Small, whippy jumps and a late-program fall were the only concerns about her here. Her teammate, Kanako Murakami, struggled in her performances and ended up a disappointing 7th.
Kazkhstani Elizabet Tursynbaeva was second in her Senior debut, and showed off an impressive array of triple jumps that left little doubt as to her talent. The 15 year old already has considerable height and distance, which points towards a solid future, and she kept a solid nerve in a ladies' event that got progressively more anxious as it went on.
The USA's Angela Wang took out third with a mature, elegant skate that was again more about keeping her head than anything else. Her triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination at the beginning of her long program was easily one of the finest we will see at any event this year, and it was a strong outing for her as she looks to improve her national standing. Reigning National bronze medallist Karen Chen was fourth after making several uncharacteristic errors, while Mariah Bell had a disappointing Senior debut, finishing 6th on a day when the door was left open for more.
Brooklee Han had had a difficult end to last season, carrying an injury and becoming ill during the second half of the year. After the promise of her Grand Prix debut, she lost her National crown to Kailani Craine and then had a nightmare time at Four Continents and Worlds.
She showed off two new programs here, including a fantastic short to the music of Dans La Maison in a striking black catsuit that emphasised all of her best qualities. Her long program to The Lark Ascending was elegant and well-constructed, and alongside her improved jumps, her trademark gorgeous spins were very much in evidence. It’s a promising start to the season, and generates additional excitement when considering that she and Kailani will again compete against each other at the Nebelhorn Trophy this week.
Brooklee had an additional piece of good news this week, with the announcement that she had been selected to compete at Trophee Eric Bompard in France, the third event of the Grand Prix series.
It was a superb start for Tarah Kayne and Daniel O’Shea from the USA, with the couple taking their first Senior international victory here. Their performances culminated in a moving, emotional performance to the music of the Phantom of the Opera. On the surface this seems an odd choice given the glut of Phantom programs last season – there were no less than seven at Worlds in just the singles! – but their obvious connection to it makes it look an inspired decision.
Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran, also from the USA, opened their season with a silver medal. While it is obvious that this is a pair still learning each other's skating style - they teamed up only last year - their performances here held a lot of promise. There is a lot of jostling for position among the US pairs at the moment, with no clear leader as yet.
Kirsten-Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro of Canada were third, with some jump errors that will concern them heading into the Grand Prix. Their usage of dialogue within their cut of "Romeo and Juliet" was also quite bizarre, but nevertheless they gave a solid performance for this stage of the season.
At the end of last year Matthew Dodds retired from singles skating to focus on pairs with Paris Stephens, and that focus seemed to be paying off when he posted a clip on his Instagram of a very fine throw triple loop during their training session in Colorado Springs.
Unfortunately, the Stephens/Dodds combination had a difficult start to the season, with jump errors in both programs. Two new programs included some very nice new lift positions, and the team has clearly been working hard and will develop well over the season. Their short program in particular, to "Let's Get Loud", is the type of program that needs "breaking in", so to speak. International experience can only help, and Stephens/Dodds will also compete at Nebelhorn and Ondrej Nepala. They will then have a short break before the IceChallenge in Austria on October 27, their final international before the National Championships.
American team Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue took out the win here, leading after the short dance and never headed, their nearest rivals finishing twelve points back in spite of Hubbell/Donohue losing two points for extended lift violations. Their dramatic free dance was extremely well-polished for this time of year. New USA team Danielle Thomas and Daniel Eaton, who teamed up only five months ago, also had a strong showing, finishing fifth after a major mistake on the twizzles during their Hungarian free dance.
The surprise packet of the event, however, was the Danish team of Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorenson. Denmark is not exactly a figure skating world power, but this new team put in two very clean and polished performances to take the silver, and with the sort of score that will make some of the more established European teams a little nervous.
Elisabeth Paradais and Francois-Xavier Ouellette from Canada took home the bronze with an elegant and emotional free dance to "Bridge Over Troubled Water". Their aim is clearly to establish themselves among the crop of young dance teams in Canada and this dance is a good vehicle for them to do so.
Emily Pike and Patrick Adderley made their international Senior debut for Australia here and showed plenty of promise. Their free dance, which included "Big Spender" and "Fever", was delightfully playful and fun, even if not quite the technical match of the other teams here.
This is quite a young team, and some more international experience will do them a world of good. Their lifts show creativity - and all-important trust, which is vital in dance - and their choreography was well-constructed and well-suited to both skaters. They did unfortunately pick up a lift violation here - they held it too long - but many teams do in the early season, so this is not likely to be a long-term concern.
Emily and Patrick will next compete at the Skate Canada Autumn Classic (not to be confused with the Grand Prix event, the Skate Canada International), on October 13-15. That will be their last assignment prior to Australian Nationals, which commence on 28th November.