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Shen and Zhao's Take Big Lead at Skate America

Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China took a commanding lead in the pairs event at Skate America in Lake Placid yesterday. Reigning World champion Evan Lysacek of the United States stood in first place after the men’s short program while Americans Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto danced to an early lead. Skate America is the fifth of six events this season in the Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series. In each event, the skaters are competing for global prize money of $180,000 (U.S.).

THE MEN

Lysacek captured first place in the men’s short program ahead of Florent Amodio of France and Brandon Mroz of the United States, who placed second and third, respectively.

Lysacek delivered a passionate performance ofto “Firebird” to earn 79.17 points (39.62/39.55). “I took a lot of pride skating in my home country tonight, and I really like this program,” Lysacek said. “I was in China the week before last and I had a good first step to the season, but this event is a little different challenge.”

Lyscaek landed a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, a triple flip but he cheated the triple Axel and it was downgraded by the technical panel. His three spins were graded level four. “It hasn’t happened in a long time,” Lysacek said about the deduction for the triple Axel. “Honestly, I just slipped and that happens sometimes. I have to be very conscious not to leave a grey area at all. That’s my responsibility.”

Competing in his second senior-level Grand Prix event of his career, Amodio posted a personal best 72.65 (39.90/32.75). “Today it’s a really good result for me to be in second place after the short program at Skate America. I am very happy to have done a good program,” he said. “I’ve had problems with my skates earlier this season but I was able to solve them and to get back to my level of skating.”

The French teenager nailed a beautiful triple Axel, a triple Lutz and a triple Salchow-triple toe loop combination. He earned a level three for both step sequences and a level four for the change foot sit spin. His combination spin was graded a level one by the technical panel.

Mroz went for a quad-triple toe combination, but did a three-turn out of the second jump. He also had to fight for the landing of the triple Axel. The reigning U.S. silver medalist scored 71.40 points (40.90/30.50), setting a season best score. “Today I did definitely better than at my last Grand Prix, which is great,” he said. “I had a few turn outs which is the adrenalin pumping but nevertheless got the job done by the number. It was going to be on home turf today and I just want to rock it hard in the long and give a good show tomorrow.”

Adrian Schultheiss (SWE) is currently ranked fourth. His solid program included a triple Axel and a triple Lutz-triple toeloop combination (67.55 points). Shawn Sawyer (CAN) came in fifth. He landed a triple flip-triple toe loop combination and showed excellent spins, but he doubled the Lutz and stepped out of the triple Axel (65.95 points).

Andrei Lutai (RUS), whose luggage with his skates arrived only a few hours before the competition, finished sixth (60.54 points). 2008 European champion Tomas Verner (CZE) faded to 11th after missing his quad toe attempt and doubling the Axel and the Lutz (55.90 points).

THE PAIRS

Shen and Zhao of China took the lead with a score almost 13 points ahead of the second-place finishers, Ukraine’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov. Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Craig Buntin followed in third.

Performing to “Who Wants to Live Forever,” Shen and Zhao performed a lovely program to score a personal best 74.36 points (41.10 element score/32.96 program component score). It was a nice birthday present for Shen, who celebrated her 31st birthday yesterday. “I think we skated overall better than we did at the Cup of China, although I felt a little tired,” Shen said.

The married couple was easily the class of the field. They hit solid side-by-side triple toe loops, a high triple twist and throw triple loop. The three-time World champions were awarded a level four for their spins, the hand-to-hand lift with difficult variations and a level three for the footwork. Only the backward outside death spiral was a level two.

“Last night, I went to bed at 7.30 in the evening, and today I had to skate the short program at this time! The time difference to China is 13 hours,” Zhao said. “We felt really good and did all our elements clean. We are very happy about that.”

Volosozhar and Morozov collected 61.70 points (35.30/26.40) in their routine to “Dreams Illusions.” They opened the program with side-by-side triple toe loops, but he stepped out of the landing. “Today I made a little error on the toe loop,” admitted Morozov. “Overall it felt a little hard to skate, maybe because of the time change, but it wasn’t bad. Hopefully we’ll skate cleaner tomorrow.”

Volosozhar and Morozov’s program was highlighted by a huge triple twist, a one-armed lift and throw triple loop. Volosozhar and Morozov received a level four for both spins.

Duhamel and Buntin scored a season best 59.64 (33.84/25.80). The Canadians landed a double twist and a triple toe loop in their program to “Hotel California” but their throw triple Lutz was wobbly.

“We had a great start tonight,” Buntin said. “It’s only our second time out with this short program. We did quite a few little technical errors. It gives us something to looking forward to tomorrow.”

Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker (USA) finished fourth at 58.4 points. They completed a triple twist and throw triple loop, but she popped the Salchow. Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang (CHN) are standing in fifth place. Dan Zhang doubled the Salchow and their side-by-side spin was out of sync (56.84 points).

ICE DANCE

Belbin and Agosto (USA) too the early lead in ice dance after the compulsory dance, which was the Golden Waltz. Russia’s Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski and Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte were in second and third place, respectively.

Belbin and Agosto put out a flowing performance and made the difficult steps look easy. The reigning World silver medalists posted a season best 39.28 points (20.22 element score/19.06 program component score).

“The Waltz felt great today. After China (Cup of China), we really wanted to go home and work on just performing more and having more speed and ice coverage. So we felt really good about how we skated and we are happy to see that our scores went up a little bit,” Agosto said.

Khokhlova and Novitski earned a season best a score best score of 36.94 (18.96/17.98). “We are for the very first time in our career at Skate America, and this is also quite interesting for us. We aren’t so frequent guests in America, and so we were a little surprised that we even have fans here,” Novitski said. “The second competition is always easier. Obviously you already got some experience and it should be getting easier with each competition. So it was easier here (than at their first event Cup of China) and we skated more freely. It’s a plus for us that we had the Waltz in both our events.”

Cappellini and Lanotte scored 32.04 points (16.90/16.14). “The performance was good, but not perfect. We had a couple of small mistakes, but the judges are sitting so close to the ice and they see everything,” Lanotte noted. “We know that we can do much better. We made a lot of changes to our skating in our work after switching coaches. (New coach) Muriel Zazoui works in a different way. We have improved our skating skills.”

Alexandra Zaretski and Roman Zaretski (ISR) came in fourth at 31.93 points. Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre (USA) finished fifth (30.19 points).


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