The champions were crowned on Saturday at 2019 Skate America in Las Vegas, and despite some early season hiccups, each of the four competitions showed promise for an exciting season ahead.
Russia’s 15-year-old Anna Shcherbakova announced her arrival on the senior Grand Prix circuit by decimating the field with an incredible performance in the free skate. The gold medalist opened with two quad Lutz jumps — one in combination with a triple toe loop — en route to her first Grand Prix title. Shcherbakova added five other triple jumps for good measure, and surprised the audience with an unexpected costume change in the middle of her program set to “Six Gnossiennes: Gnossienne No.1” (Eric Satie) and “The Firebird” (Igor Stravinsky).
Shcherbakova, who sat in fourth after the short, earned 160.16 points for the free — a score that would have earned third place in the men′s competition. Her total tally of 227.76 points, a new personal best, would have placed her in sixth overall.
“I am happy that I skated clean today because my goal was to show quad Lutzes and the other jumps,” Shcherbakova said. “(Winning) is very important to me because this is my first senior year, and I want to show my skating.”
When asked if the ladies are ready to start competing with men in the same competition, Shcherbakova responded, “I am so happy that I can also do quads. It’s important to show that we can do it, too, but I don’t know that if we could compete with the men.”
Bradie Tennell finished in second place, marking her best finish on the Grand Prix circuit in three seasons. First after the short, Tennell performed well in her routine to the “Cinema Paradiso” soundtrack, but could not compete with her young Russian rival despite landing six clean triple jumps. Tennell finished the competition with 216.14 points.
“I’m happy with my skate today. I think there’s a lot of room for improvement,” Tennell said. “Last night’s performance was a bit more free than tonight. So I think going into (my next competition), that’s my main goal is to just skate free.”
Fifth after the short, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva moved up to capture the bronze medal with a strong performance of her playful free skate set to music by The Hot Sardines. The 2015 World champion opened with two triple Axels, setting the stage for her push toward the podium. Tuktamysheva landed seven triples in all, and finished the competition with 205.97 points.
“I am so happy because I did my free program almost clean,” Tuktamysheva said. “I just want to improve my (stamina) in the program so that I can perform my program even better.”
Kaori Sakamoto faltered in her “The Matrix” program, and slipped from second after the short program to fourth after the free. Teammate Wakaba Higuchi plummeted from third to sixth with a disappointing performance.
In the men’s competition, Nathan Chen made easy work of the rest of the field, winning his third consecutive Skate America title by exactly 44 points over teammate Jason Brown. Chen executed three different quads — flip, toe loop and Salchow — and two triple Axels in his “Rocket Man” inspired program. Though Chen doubled an intended quadruple toe loop, he still had the crowd on their feet, drawing raucous cheers for the program-ending hip-hop step sequence. His point total of 299.09 was far from his personal best, but it is the highest score of the men who have competed thus far this season.
Nonetheless, Chen said he was “pretty happy” with his performance. “Again this is the first Grand Prix of the season, the first competition of the season since Worlds, so it was nice to be able to put out both programs. I’m pretty happy with the score. There are still a lot of things to improve on, but overall it’s a good starting point. I felt like I was dragging a bit throughout the program, but I definitely felt the footwork and the choreographic step sequence at the end had a little bit more energy. That was partially just because the audience got really into the program then, or at least I heard them so that really helps me get through the program.”
His teammate Jason Brown delivered a touching performance to music from “Schindler’s List” by John Williams and made it a 1-2 sweep for Team USA. Brown withdrew from his Challenger Series assignment in order to recover from a concussion he suffered during a minor traffic accident in August. He earned a combined score of 255.09 at his season opener. Though he did not attempt a quad jump in Las Vegas, Brown did land seven triple jumps in his free skate. It was the strength of his grade of execution and program component scores that propelled him onto the second step on the podium.
“It was my first debut of this program,” Brown said. “I’ve been working really hard on it all summer and getting into the emotion of it and working it through. I think I really tried to put my heart into it here. I had a rough go of it yesterday…a little bit with confidence. I tried to put it behind me and focus on the performance, take it one step at a time and really settle into it rather than getting ahead of myself.
“I practice the quad every single day, and it’s definitely frustrating at times,” Brown admitted. “I am getting more consistent with them, but in a competition setting, it is a completely different story. This puts me at a little bit of a deficit, but I work as hard as I can on accentuating my elements to maximize the grade of execution as best as I possibly can.”
Dmitri Aliev of Russia slipped from second after the short program to finish in third place with an uneven performance to Disturbed’s version of “The Sound of Silence.”
Aliev opened with a failed quad Lutz attempt that was deemed an under-rotated triple. That mistake ended up costing him the silver medal. Skaters can only repeat one jump in a program and Aliev lost credit for a third triple toe loop late in the program. He ended the competition with 253.55 points. “Overall I am satisfied, but I made two serious mistakes and could have earned a lot more points,” he said. “This is the way it happened today. Overall I really enjoyed performing here. It was a warm atmosphere with lots of support from the audience.”
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the U.S. were able to hold off a strong challenge from Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin to capture their second consecutive Skate America title. The gold medalists were relieved to have finally put their “A Star is Born” program in front of an audience to see what areas need some work in advance of their upcoming events. Despite a strong performance, Hubbell and Donohue finished in second place in the free dance, just 0.08 points behind the silver medalists. The duo admitted that they were a bit tentative in the program, as Donohue has been fighting off bronchitis this week. They earned 209.55 points.
“We were really looking forward to debuting this program. You work on a project for so many months and you can’t see straight anymore,” Hubbell said. “We were happy to put it out for the first time and looking forward to getting a lot of feedback. There were good things and not so good things, and we feel like we can make a lot of progress for next week. There was a nice crowd reaction and there was a good connection between the two of us and that’s a great place to start.
“You always hope to be in the best health but that doesn’t always happen. A cold unfortunately turned into bronchitis for Zach but luckily we have a great medical team here to help him get through. But, it’s been a hard week or so and certainly that adds an element of stress going into a free dance. We felt like there was a lot of energy missing but we fought through until the end. It wasn’t the same kind of performance that we know we can give of that program.”
Stepanova and Bukin were equally strong in their free dance set to “Primavera” by Ludovico Einaudi and Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River.” The Russian team edged the American duo on the strength of their technical elements, scoring nearly a point more on the twizzle sequence. Stepanova and Bukin captured the silver with 206.57 points. “We are more pleased with our performance today than we were yesterday,” Stepanova said. “We fought and pulled through until the very end, and overall it wasn’t a bad competition for us.”
Finishing in third place, Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen stood on a Grand Prix podium for the first time in their careers, earning a 197.53 points with their Chris Botti/David Foster/Michael Bublé free dance. “I think that this is something that we have been dreaming of for a long time — stepping up on that podium together,” said Sørensen. “To finally to do that here at our first Grand Prix for Canada after not being on the circuit last season is very exciting. We have set really high goals for ourselves this season, and we felt like we were really able to give our best.”
Cheng Peng and Yang Jin of China held on to the lead after the short program, capturing the pairs title by nearly four points. A fall on the throw triple loop marred an otherwise successful performance to the “Cloud Atlas” soundtrack. Their total of 200.89 points was enough to capture their first Grand Prix title.
“We have won several silver medals in previous events, so we have been hoping for a gold medal,” Jin said. “This is a good start, but it also means that we have a long journey as we keep pushing toward our goals, which will hopefully include more gold medals.”
Russia’s Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin maintained their position after the short program to earn their highest placement in a Grand Prix event in their second season on the circuit. Skating to “Tron Legacy” by Daft Punk, the 2018 World Junior champions made two mistakes incurring an under rotation on the side by side double Axel as well as a rough landing on the throw triple Salchow. They earned a career-best 196.98 points.
Fourth after the short program, Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier moved up to capture the bronze medal with the second best free skate of the day. Reviving the “The Lion King” program from five seasons ago, the duo skated with abandon, which inspired a standing ovation from the Las Vegas crowd. They earned a career-high 192.70 points.
“Our goal for this program was to be very proactive and mindful of what we were doing and not let anything get taken away from us,” Denney said. “We want it so bad and we’re going to fight for everything and not let anything go. I think we did that today and that’s why we got very emotional at the end of the program.”