Recap: Live from Skate America!!!

Hi everybody!

First off, I apologize for not covering several of the recent Challenger Series events…my schedule has been rather hectic and I didn’t get a chance to watch them. But this time, you’re in for a treat!

We all know that the Grand Prix started this week with Skate America, and I was fortunate to be able to attend all the events in person. I had a blast and I can’t wait to give you the inside scoop!

Since I loved the format of the “top 10 highlights/low points” post I did for the US Classic, I’m going to use it because I have stuff I want to cover in every discipline.

10. Highlight: Just in time for Halloween…Gilles/Poirier continue to innovate

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier are a very divisive team-you either love them or hate them and there is really no in between. I usually love them , and their short dance (shown here), set to an odd mix of Beatles songs and classical waltz music and featuring some of the oddest outfits I have ever seen, is so crazy it actually works. It’s a lot of fun, and a breath of fresh air from the nearly-identical Masquerade Waltz programs we’ve seen too many of (even for somebody like me, who loves classical waltzes and typically hates “edgy” modern interpretations). The free dance, however…well, it’s almost Halloween, I guess?

I really don’t even know what this is supposed to be…from what I’ve seen, the music is from a famous Norwegian film (a historical thriller-drama, if Wikipedia is correct), and their choreography looks very zombie-esque. I feel like they’re trying to emulate Zhiganshina & Gaszi, a famously wacky German dance team whose signature program was a zombie free dance (albeit more literal than this, but still…). This is a bit toned down from that, but it is a bit avant-garde for my taste…and what is up with those fake tattoos on her tights? Piper, who convinced you to wear this?!?

While I was not a fan of the free dance, I liked the short dance a lot and I have to give them props for trying something that’s not as “safe” as last year’s material. Innovation is rather rare in ice dance (most couples tend to copy programs that the judges liked in the past), and Piper and Paul consistently bring that to the table, which is really what makes them stand out as a team.

9. Low point: Denis Ten bombs an early-season event…as usual

Denis Ten has always been a late-season peaker, as well as ridiculously injury-prone (if he’s not injured, he has boot issues or the flu or some other unfortunate condition, it seems), so it was rather inevitable that he would not be at his (glorious-e.g. 2015 Four Continents) best at this competition. But what he actually did was so spectacularly bad it was almost impossible to watch.

The short program, while not even close to his best, left him with a small chance of a medal, so I was optimistic that he would at least be 4th (which would give him a small chance to make the Grand Prix Final). But no, it was not to be…

This might be the single worst program Denis has ever skated. After about four jumps, I had to look away (thank you, Twitter, for distracting me from this incredible meltdown), and that is never a good thing. *Sobs* HIS PROGRAMS ARE BEAUTIFUL…AND THEY DESERVE TO BE SKATED WELL…

*Sigh* Denis is an extremely frustrating skater to like.

8. Highlight: Nazarova/Nikitin get Mozart right 

Mozart programs have been all the rage ever since Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron won Worlds with their acclaimed Mozart free dance, but a lot of them have been extremely bland.

Not this one!

I never thought I would like a Mozart free dance because I didn’t really like Papadakis/Cizeron’s version (the original), but Nazarova/Nikitin’s version was gorgeous and far more interesting to watch than any of the other versions I’ve seen. This style is a complete change for them (last year, their free dance was an edgy, modern dance-inspired piece), but it suits them surprisingly well. And while their scores weren’t fantastic (that score would’ve put them in 17th at worlds, which is where they placed last year), the program has potential. I’m excited to see more of this team!

7. Low Point: Alaine Chartrand very nearly makes me cry 

Going by the short program alone, this seems like an odd choice for a low as, aside from some underrotation calls, Alaine’s short program was quite nice. (I really love this program.) She didn’t fall, her spins and footwork were nice, and she had great energy. Buuuut…

This also happened. Althought Alaine was in 6th after the short, this free skate was a Denis-level disaster. I really wanted her to do well here…but after that skate, her chances of a medal were, like her music, Gone With the Wind.

This was honestly depressing and I seriously hope she can get it together before her next event. Alaine has medaled on the Grand Prix before-what is she doing in last?!?

6. Highlight: Another silver medal! Scimeca/Knierim break through

Coming into this, I didn’t think that Scimeca & Knierim, the top American pair team, would place higher than 3rd. (And, according to Alexa’s Instagram, neither did they!) But in a field of relatively clean but unmemorable skates, they managed to lead after the short program, clearing their personal best by three points with a score of 69.69. I was not sure if their FS would be enough to keep them in the lead, but the fact that they were in first after the short was extremely exciting-I don’t even know when an American pair last did that!

This program was edgy, intense and mature, and their facial expressions were downright frightening (Alexa was giving us quite a bit of the infamous “Oda O”, while Chris was extremely blank in comparison), but it worked. They were very committed to the performance and Alexa in particular was selling the heck out of it.

Alexa & Chris’s free skate was not their best, but, fortunately, neither was anyone else’s, so they were able to hang onto the silver medal (despite placing fourth in the free). I like this program but it is a little bit flat at this point in the season-it should grow with time-but this was an excellent first outing and puts them in a good position to make the Grand Prix Final.

5. Low Point: Yulia ain’t lookin’ too good…

Ever since she burst onto the scene in 2013, Yulia Lipnitskaya’s emotional performances, maturity, and insane flexibility have made her a favorite of many skating fans (myself included). Most everybody was expecting great things from her until she hit a growth spurt, bombed at the Grand Prix Final, and, in a dramatic end to her season, came in 9th at Russian Nationals. And it hasn’t exactly been uphill from there.

Those of us who were wishing for an Elizaveta Tuktamysheva-type comeback from Yulia didn’t get one.

While this short program wasn’t terrible, it left her in 5th, which certainly wasn’t what she wanted. ( I really don’t like this program-I don’t like Elvis, and the costume looked like a 5-pack of highlighters threw up on it-which didn’t help matters any.)

The free skate was even worse.

I actually like this program, and it was lovely from a performance aspect, but the jumps just weren’t there. Her spins were superb and the interpretation excellent, but there were too many costly jump mistakes for her to pull up in the standings. She had to settle for 6th, and after this I’m left wondering what her future prospects are if this is the form she’s in.

4. Highlight: Hawayek/Baker prove that Finlandia was a fluke

After a rather dismal showing at the Finlandia Trophy, I was concerned about Hawayek & Baker’s outlook this season (which was rather worrisome as they’re one of my favorite teams). But they proved me wrong, and I’m incredibly relieved that they skated well here! Their short dance is lovely and deserves a good performance-which they had here.

Their free dance was what I was most worried about (they had one of their worst skates ever in the Finlandia free dance), so I was hoping they would skate it well enough to hold onto 4th. They did! This is a great free dance for them (very original but still fitting for them and of a similar style to the stuff they’ve done so well in past years) and, judging by the audience reaction and scores, the judges and fans like it. It was a huge relief to see them skate it this well, and I will be excited to see how their next Grand Prix goes.

3. Low point: I can’t even…

Florent, who told you this was a good idea?!?

Do I even need to say anything else?

2. Highlight: Chock & Bates unveil spectacular short dance

Okay, before I get into this, I heard that this was only the THIRD TIME they’d ever done this program in full.

Just let that sink in, because if they can skate like this the third time they do a program, I don’t even want to know what it’s going to look like at Nationals!

That aside, this short dance (their third this season) is absolutely spectacular. It was the only dance program of the event to get a standing ovation, it’s gorgeous, it’s powerful, it’s memorable, and (shallow note) the costumes were beautiful-this one’s a world-champion program if I ever saw one and I think it was a great choice to switch programs. I can’t wait to see this again at Cup of China and I expect it to be amazing.

1. Best moment of the event: Gracie Gold’s Free Skate

I wanted this to be Gracie’s year before it even began, but I didn’t know if it would be as she has a bit of a problem with inconsistency…but with better programs than ever, I was confident she could pull it off.

And pull it off she did.

While her short program was good aside from a doubled flip (which was invalid, as it was supposed to be a triple), it would take a lot to win, as she was five points out of first. I was extremely nervous watching her, but I had no reason to be-aside from a doubled salchow (apparently she pops jumps instead of falling now…), Gracie’s free skate was technically perfect, artistically much improved from any of her previous programs, and very crowd-pleasing. She got a personal best score of 137 (which was already a 9-point improvement from last year’s season best!) for a total of 202-good for second place. Not only did she show how much her consistency has improved, she’s now in a great position to make the Final.

I couldn’t have picked a better event to attend.

Thoughts? Did I miss anything? Leave a comment! Thanks for reading!