Ice aces: A guide to Skate America

World’s best return to Lake Placid

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier perform at the 2017 U.S. International Classic figure skating event in Salt Lake City. The elite pairs team will contend for the Skate America title Friday at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid. The event continues through Sunday.
(Provided photo — Melissa Majchrzak)

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier perform at the 2017 U.S. International Classic figure skating event in Salt Lake City. The elite pairs team will contend for the Skate America title Friday at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid. The event continues through Sunday. (Provided photo — Melissa Majchrzak)

LAKE PLACID — In 1979, Lake Placid hosted the very first Skate America — named Norton Skate at the time — as a preparatory international competition for the 1980 Olympic Games. The event was incorporated into the International Grand Prix series in 1995.

While Skate America rotated among different locations around the country for the next several decades, its roots have always been in Lake Placid. Now, in an Olympic year, it returns home to the Olympic Center Friday through Sunday.

Many illustrious skaters competed in that inaugural event in 1979. Scott Hamilton and Lisa Marie Allen earned gold medals in singles, Sabine Bae and Tassilo Thierbach were pairs champions, and Krisztina Regoczy and Andras Sallay won the dance competition.

The third-place finish of Canada’s Lorna Wighton and John Dowding in ice dance should be noted as well, as Wighton later moved to Lake Placid and taught skating here until she relocated to California in 2013.

Other well-known competitors included two-time U.S. national silver medalist Scott Cramer, 1980 national bronze medalist Sandy Lenz (Canada) and American pairs skaters Kitty and Peter Carruthers.

Ashley Wagner of the United States is a World silver medalist, three-time national champion and Olympian.
(Photos provided by U.S. Figure Skating)

Ashley Wagner of the United States is a World silver medalist, three-time national champion and Olympian. (Photos provided by U.S. Figure Skating)

Lake Placid has hosted the event four times over the years: in 1979, 1981, 1982 and 2009.

Although it was traditionally the first International Figure Skating (ISU) Grand Prix event of the series, this year it will be the last of the season. Points earned in the series determine which skaters qualify for the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in December in Nagoya, Japan. 

For those who can’t make it to the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Skate America offers a rare opportunity to see the world’s best skaters compete live. Skate America has traditionally had a good track record of predicting Olympic medalists. 

At the last Lake Placid Skate America in 2009, fans were treated to great performances from future Olympic champions and medalists. Evan Lysacek of the United States won the men’s title, and Kim Yuna of South Korea set a world record in the short program and won the ladies title. Both went on to capture gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

In pairs, Skate America winners Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China, who tied the world record in their short program, also went on to become Olympic champions in Vancouver. And in ice dancing, 2006 Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto won the Skate America title.

Adam Rippon is the 2016 U.S. national champion.
(Photo provided)

Adam Rippon is the 2016 U.S. national champion. (Photo provided)

This year could be just as exciting, with several national champions, world medalists and Olympians participating.

Competitions such as these have a relatively simple format, with four disciplines included: women’s, men’s, ice dance and pairs. Each discipline is comprised of two segments: a short program and a long program for ladies, men’s and pairs competition, and a short dance and a free dance in ice dance.

The short programs are comprised of seven required elements, including jumps, spins and, in the case of pairs skating, lifts and throw jumps. 

The long programs do not have requirements and are often where skaters take the greater “risks” in their elements (more or bigger jumps, for example). However, there are well-balanced program guides, and when skaters exceed the recommendations, they do not get extra points for any additional moves they complete. 

In ice dance, the short dance and the free dance are like the short and long programs, respectively, with an important difference: The short dance requires a set rhythm and music style for all competitors, and the requirements change every year.

Nathan Chen is the 2017 U.S. national champion.
(Photo provided)

Nathan Chen is the 2017 U.S. national champion. (Photo provided)

This year, Latin rhythms — including but not limited to cha-cha and samba — are the required short dance rhythms, but competitors can choose whatever pieces of music they wish as long as it fits the prescribed rhythm requirements.

To add to the complexity, the skaters must incorporate patterns of a prescribed dance to comply with the requirements. In this case, the prescribed compulsory dance pattern is the Cha-Cha Congalado, a challenging “international level” dance. Skaters must not only complete the steps correctly but also exhibit the spirit and style of the dance while incorporating other moves such as lifts and turns.

The free dance is like the long program in ladies, men’s and pairs: Dancers have more freedom with elements and musical choices. Ice dance is best compared to “Dancing with the Stars,” ballroom on ice and is perhaps the most dramatic discipline. 

SKATERS TO WATCH

Ross Miner of Vermont trained in Lake Placid.
(Photo provided)

Ross Miner of Vermont trained in Lake Placid. (Photo provided)

U.S. ladies

The ladies field boasts three Team USA skaters. Ashley Wagner, a veteran World silver medalist, three-time national champion and Olympian, will lead the field and seek to improve on her performance at Skate Canada.

Karen Chen, the reigning national champion, is seeking redemption after a disappointing seventh-place performance at Skate Canada.

Siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani are the undisputed U.S. stars of the ice dance event at Skate America.
(Photo provided by U.S. Figure Skating)

Siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani are the undisputed U.S. stars of the ice dance event at Skate America. (Photo provided by U.S. Figure Skating)

Bradie Tennell, a World Junior and Senior National competitor, is another skater to watch. She has won several summer competition titles and recorded an impressive placement at the Lombardia Trophy in Italy. 

International ladies

One international skater to watch is Gabrielle Daleman of Canada, who won the bronze medal in the 2017 World Championships, won silver in the 2017 Four Continents Championships and placed in the top 10 at the Cup of China Grand Prix event earlier this month. 

Also vying for the Grand Prix Final for her country is Satoko Myahara of Japan. The Final is not new to Myahara, who was the 2016-17 Grand Prix Final silver medalist and the 2016 Four Continents champion.  

Other notable international competitors include Russian skaters Alena Leonova and Anna Pogorilaya. Leonova competed in the 2010 Olympic Games and earned the 2012 World silver medal, while Pogorilaya is the 2016 World and Grand Prix Final bronze medalist.      

U.S. men

The men’s field is full of U.S. national champions and medalists: Nathan Chen (2017 national champion), Adam Rippon (2016 national champion) and Ross Miner (2013 national silver medalist) are expected to bring their A-games to Skate America. 

Watch out for Chen’s quad-jumping wizardry (he routinely lands four in a long program), Rippon’s artistic prowess and Miner’s connection with the audience.

Local skating fans will also no doubt welcome Miner with open arms as the Burlington, Vermont, native trained in Lake Placid as a young skater and continues to star in Saturday Night Ice Shows during the summer. He is also the only U.S. men’s skater who trains not in California but in nearby Boston, Massachusetts. 

International men

Quad-jumping star and 2017 World bronze medalist Boyang Jin of China was the first Chinese man to medal at the World Championships. He will be Chen’s greatest threat and comes to Lake Placid off a second-place finish at Cup of China.

Other notable men’s competitors include 2017 South Korean champion and 2016 Junior Grand Prix Final bronze medalist Jun Hwan Cha, four-time Japanese National bronze medalist Takahito Mura, 2017 European silver medalist and 2017 Russian National bronze medalist Maxim Kovtun, 2016 Russian bronze medalist Alexander Petrov and 2017 NHK Trophy champion Sergei Voronov. 

U.S. pairs

Pairs skating, perhaps the most thrilling discipline in figure skating, will include some of the top pairs skaters in the world on the schedule. 

Team USA has assigned 2017 national champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, 2016 National silver medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, and 2017 national pewter medalists Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay. 

The teams of Denney and Frazier, and Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim both had extreme physical setbacks but recovered to continue competing on an elite level. Denney had to have her knee reconstructed while Scimeca Knierim underwent three abdominal surgeries.

Watch for Denney and Frazier’s soaring pairs lifts, Scimeca Knierim and Knierim’s gravity-defying throw jumps and relatively new pair Stellato and Bartholomay’s ambitious technical elements. 

International pairs

One half of one of the most famous European pairs team, Aliona Savchenko, will compete in the Skate America event with partner Bruno Massot. Savchenko is no doubt memorable to pairs skating fans as the former partner of Robin Szolkowy, with whom she was the five-time world champion, two-time Olympic bronze medalist, four-time European champion and four-time Grand Prix Final champion.

The team of Savchenko and Massot, who partnered in 2014, continue to earn new medals together, including World silver and bronze medals and a European Championships silver medal. They come to Skate America after a silver-medal-winning performance at Skate Canada and at Nebelhorn Trophy. 

Coming off their gold-winning Skate Canada performance, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are certainly skaters to watch. They have accomplished much in their career, winning the world championships twice, earning the Grand Prix Final title in 2014 and winning the Canadian national championships six times. They have also landed a throw quad salchow in competition.  

Another Canadian team turning heads this season is Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro. With her previous partner Dylan Moscovitch, Moore-Towers is the 2011 Canadian champion, 2013 Four Continents silver medalist and part of Canada’s silver medal-winning team in the team figure skating event at the 2014 Olympics. With Marinaro, she started the season off well with a win at the U.S. International Classic and a third-place finish at Cup of China. 

Other strong contenders in Skate America include China’s Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang, who are the 2016 Grand Prix Final silver medalists. With previous partners, they earned various titles including national championships, several Grand Prix medals and even an Olympic silver medal. They come into this event having won a silver medal at Cup of China and gold at Cup of Nice. 

U.S. ice dance

Ice dance and Lake Placid are inexorably linked. Lake Placid has hosted the Ice Dance Championships, a prestigious non-qualifying event in the summer seen as a preparatory event for qualifying competition, for more than 80 years. Many of the dancers who competed in the hallowed event will once again return to Lake Placid for another honor: the opportunity to compete in Skate America, the last Grand Prix event of the season and the last chance to qualify for the Grand Prix Final event.

Without a doubt, the U.S. stars of the ice dance event will be siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, dubbed the “Shib Sibs.” Even casual skating fans might have glimpsed their Instagram or YouTube videos, or seen them in various ad campaigns. They are the most accomplished of the Team USA dancers in Skate America, having won the national championship twice.

Other accomplishments last season included a silver medal at the 2017 Four Continents and bronze medals at the 2017 Worlds and 2016-17 Grand Prix Final. They come to Lake Placid off a gold medal-winning performance at Rostelecom Cup, one of the Grand Prix events, and are anticipated to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. 

Like the Shibutanis, the team of Rachel and Michael Parsons are siblings. Also like the Shibutanis, they were champions on the junior level and won the 2017 World Junior and Junior National Championships. They also won gold in the 2016 Junior Grand Prix Final. This is their first year as seniors, and they placed top 10 in their first Senior Grand Prix event, the Rostelecom Cup. 

Team USA also includes rising stars hoping to prove their mettle on a Senior International stage. Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean Luc Baker, known for their smooth skating and connection to each other and the audience, come to Skate America after placing fourth in Skate Canada and second in the U.S. International Classic. They are known for their success on the junior circuit, having won both the World Junior and U.S. Junior Championships in 2014.

International ice dance

Perhaps the greatest challengers to the Shibutanis are the Italian team of Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte. As 2017 European Championships silver medalists, 2015 Grand Prix Final bronze medalists and 2014 European and world champions, they have the track record of excellence that places them in good standing for a Skate America medal. They recently placed third in their first Grand Prix event, the NHK Trophy, and will no doubt be fighting hard to get a place at the Grand Prix Final.  

The fourth-place finishers in this year’s NHK Trophy, Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia, will also compete at Skate America. Both have competed in the Olympics and have impressive track records with former partners. With partner Elena Ilinykh, Katsalapov won the bronze medal in the 2014 Olympic Games and helped the Russian team earn gold in the team event. Together they are the 2016 Russian national silver medalists. 

Representing Canada, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier will come off a fourth-place finish at Rostelecom Cup. They are known for their artistry and original performances, and they were the 2014 Four Continents silver medalists and five-time Canadian medalists. With previous partners, they won several national and international medals. 

Competing for Japan, the relatively newer team of Kana Muramoto and Chris Reed will come to Lake Placid after a top-10 finish in the NHK Trophy, a second at the Nebelhorn Trophy and a third at the U.S. International Classic. They are also the 2017 Asian Winter Games champions. Muramoto began her career as a singles skater but switched to ice dance in 2014. With previous partner and sister Cathy Reed, Chris Reed competed at two Olympic Games. 

Smucker’s Skating Spectacular

After the competition comes the event that many casual fans most look forward to: the exhibition. Featuring medalists from each discipline, the audience can enjoy watching the skaters have fun and perform solely for an audience. Unlike the regular fluorescent rink lighting, the exhibition traditionally features spotlights, adding a dramatic feel to the proceedings. 

For more information on the events, including how to purchase tickets and event schedules, go to www.2017skateamerica.com.

SKATE AMERICA SCHEDULE

1980 Herb Brooks Arena, Olympic Center, Lake Placid

Friday, Nov. 24

Pairs Short Program

Men’s Short Program

Saturday, Nov. 25

Pairs Free Skate

Men’s Free Skate

Ladies Short Program

Ice Dance Short Dance

Sunday, Nov. 26

Ice Dance Free Dance

Ladies Free Skate

Smucker’s Skating Spectacular

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