By Johanna Bear
The Grand Prix season kicked off this past weekend with Skate America, which was held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the very first time. The event ended up being very kind to its home country, with five medals going to U.S. skaters when everything was said and done, including the gold medal going to a U.S. man for the first time since 2009. Here’s a recap of the event:
2013 U.S. Champion Max Aaron was the story of the men’s event, taking the lead after the short program and never looking back, finishing with a total competition score of 258.95 to narrowly edge out Japan’s Shoma Uno for the gold medal. Aaron has worked with choreographer Phillip Mills to try to increase the artistry in his programs, and he showed definite improvements in both his “Nessun Dorma” short program and his “Black Swan” free skate, along with the incredible technical content that has become synonymous with his skating. Between the short program and free skate, Aaron landed three quadruple jumps, and with the exception of a botched double axel in the last seconds of his free skate, he skated two completely clean programs, which was enough to end the U.S. men’s Grand Prix title drought and secure his first Grand Prix victory.
“This win is amazing. It’s my first big win in a while, ” Aaron told the media following his free skate. “I’m not going to think about it a lot. I want this to be the start of a lot of things. I wish I could enjoy it a lot more than I can, but I hope this is the first of many. I can’t wait to see where I can go in the future.”
Reigning World Junior Champion and Junior Grand Prix Final Champion Shoma Uno electrified the crowd with his “Nessun Dorma” free skate and won the free skate portion of the event, but it was not enough to close the distance established between him and Aaron after the short program and he had to settle for the silver medal with a competition score of 257.43. Uno was able to land a beautiful quadruple toe loop-double toe loop combination along with a double axel-half loop-triple flip combination to help up his technical score to 92.35, which was the highest of any other man in the field. This was Uno’s first senior Grand Prix event.
Despite finishing the short program in eighth place after turning an intended triple flip-triple toe loop combination into a triple flip-single toe loop combination, reigning U.S. Champion Jason Brown rose to the occasion and ended up winning the bronze medal in Milwaukee by finishing third in the free skate and maintaining consistency when many of the other top contenders faltered. Though his quadruple toe loop attempt was deemed an under-rotation, he still was able to finish the competition with a total score of 238.47, partly due to his component scores, which were the highest in the event, reflecting the emotion and quality of his performances.
“I fought the whole way through,” Brown told the media after his free skate. “It wasn’t perfect by any means, but I’m proud of the fight. I continued to perform through entire thing.”
This was Brown’s third straight appearance at Skate America and his second Grand Prix medal at the event. Last season, he won silver in front of a hometown crowd in Chicago.
Ross Miner, the third U.S. man in the field, skated a clean short program but struggled to find his form in his free skate, and finished in seventh place with a total competition score of 215.11. He will look to rebound at his next Grand Prix event, which will be the Rostelecom Cup in Russia.
I just know that I’m so much better than what I just showed, and it stinks to do all that hard work and then not show what I’m really capable of,” Miner said after his free skate. “All I really want is to go out there and skate the way I can because I know how competitive I can be when I do that.”
Though the top two finishers in the ladies event were almost never in doubt, it came down to the final free skate of the competition to determine in what order they would finish. In the end, Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva managed to keep a four-point distance between her and 2014 U.S. Champion Gracie Gold to win the gold medal in her senior Grand Prix debut. Medvedeva showcased her exceptional jumping ability by executing a huge triple salchow-triple toe loop-double toe loop combination along with a triple flip-triple toe loop combination, which helped her earn a total competition score of 206.01. At only 15 years old, Medvedeva certainly made a name for herself by claiming a title in her maiden Grand Prix appearance.
Despite not winning the title, Gold was able to put together two performances that should build her confidence moving forward. She won the free skate with her “Firebird” program, but after having her accidental double flip in the short program invalidated, she was unable to pass Medvedeva for the gold medal, instead taking home the silver. She accumulated a total competition score of 202.80, keeping a 14-point cushion between herself and Japan’s Satoko Miyahara, who finished in third place. Gold improved over her third place Skate America finish from last season and will next compete at Trophee Eric Bompard.
“For me, at least, starting the program and finishing the program are the hardest parts,” Gold said of her performance. “You have to end at your strongest and begin at your bravest. I’m working on it.”
Miyahara, who won silver at the World Championships last season, claimed the bronze in Milwaukee with a total competition score of 188.07. Miyahara is known for her understated and mature style, and she exemplified that in her free skate to “Un Sospiro” by Franz Liszt, which was highlighted by her signature spirals and spins. She will also be competing at the NHK Trophy and will be joined by her Japanese teammate Mao Asada, who is returning to competition in the wake of her 2014 World Championships victory.
2015 U.S. bronze medalist Karen Chen started off well, finishing fourth in the short program, but was sixth in her free skate and placed fifth overall in her senior Grand Prix debut with a total competition score of 172.54.
“I guess a little loss of concentration got the best of me,” Chen told the media after she skated.
“I wanted the podium and I had that goal coming here. I knew with a decent short I felt like it was possible, and I just needed to go after everything. I felt like I did that, but I just couldn’t pull everything together.”
Mariah Bell, also making her senior Grand Prix debut, finished the event in eighth place with a score of 160.94.
“Getting a triple-triple done at my first Grand Prix in the short was huge,” Bell told the media of her debut. “And just being able to put out two respectable programs I think is huge, also. This is the first time this season that I’ve felt in the moment, and to do it on such a big scale and big stage just gives me more confidence. I’m excited for the rest of the season.”
Reigning World silver medalists Wenjing Sui and Cong Han finished the short program in second place, but ended up capturing the gold medal after skating an all but perfect free skate to “Samson and Delilah” that included a quadruple twist and a side-by-side triple toe loop-double toe loop-double toe loop combination. The only error was when Han fell on a side-by-side triple salchow, but beyond that they did more than enough to secure their first Grand Prix victory, putting together a total score of 202.00, the only team to surpass the 200-point mark.
“Today, I didn’t do very well,” Han said self-deprecatingly of his triple salchow fall. “Usually, we do those jumps with success, but today I fell. Our next competition is Cup of China in our home country, and I think we can do them very well there.”
Reigning U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim were on top after the short program with an ISU personal best score of 69.69, and finished in second place overall. The Skate America silver medal is their first medal at a Grand Prix event. They were able to execute a beautiful quadruple twist in their free skate but their side-by-side jumps were shaky, with Scimeca falling on a triple salchow and Knierim falling on a triple toe loop. They ended the competition with a total score of 191.97.
“We had a few stumbles, but we’re happy with the end result,” Knierim told the media. “We can go out and skate two good programs and we know that, especially for nationals, because we want to get to worlds. We still have a good amount of the season to go and plenty to practice.”
Though Canadian pair team of Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau were making their senior Grand Prix debut at Skate America, they did not let the nerves get to them and ended up as surprise bronze medalists with a total competition score of 189.49, just barely edging out 2014 Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov. Last season, Seguin and Bilodeau won the gold medal at the Junior Grand Prix Final, the silver medal at the 2015 World Junior Championships, and then placed eighth in their senior debut at the World Championships.
“Our only goal this season was to deliver beautiful programs, and that’s what we did,” Bilodeau said to the media. “We’re really happy with the score and that’s a plus. We have nothing to lose right now. Of course, we think about someday being Canadian champions, but we don’t put any pressure on ourselves. One day it could be us, if we continue this way.”
Reigning U.S. bronze medalists Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea were also making their Grand Prix debut and though their performances didn’t quite meet their expectations, they were able to fight all the way to the end of their Phantom of the Opera’s “Music of the Night” free skate and put together a total competition score of 165.99, which put them in sixth place.
“We both messed up on the triple salchows in the beginning, and the throw quad was not the best we could do,” said O’Shea following the event. “I felt good about how we fought back and finished the program strong.”
Rounding out the event were Team USA’s Jessica Pfund and Joshua Santillan, who have only been together as a team for six months. They found themselves making their Grand Prix debut a little earlier than they expected after fellow Americans Gretchen Donlan and Nathan Bartholomay had to withdraw due to illness. Pfund and Santillan, who just the week before won the bronze medal at Skate Canada’s Autumn Classic, would finish the competition in eighth place with a score of 151.40.
“It was really exciting to be out there, and for our first time out at a Grand Prix, it’s really good for us,” Pfund said. “We’ve only been together six months, so I’m very happy with that.”
Reigning World silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates won their second consecutive gold medal at Skate America. The two other American teams, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker and Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus, finished fourth and fifth, respectively.
For more coverage of the ice dance event, please visit ice-dance.com.
The Grand Prix series will continue on October 30th with Skate Canada.