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The ladies and ice dance teams took the spotlight in the Saturday evening session at 2018 Skate America.
The ladies were up first and what an exciting competition.
Skating last but finishing in first place, Satoko Miyahara led the charge of three Japanese ladies who occupy three of the top four spots after the short program. So anticipated was the trio’s Grand Prix season debut, more than 20 journalists and about half the crowd made the trek from their native Japan.
Miyahara, a three-time Grand Prix finalist, demonstrated here in Everett that she is primed to make a run at a fourth consecutive trip to that event. Skating to “Song for the Little Sparrow” by Abel Korzeniowski, she skated with a quiet confidence that somehow makes the diminutive skater seem larger than life.
Miyahara was equally brilliant when executing the technical elements in the program, earning positive grades of execution for each and Level 4s across the board. Her opening triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination earned the highest element score of the competition.
“Until I finished my program, I was very nervous because I was worried that I wouldn’t do my best performance,” said Miyahara who earned a total of 73.86 points. “After the flip, I was very relieved and I skated well for myself.”
In second place is Miyahara’s 2018 Olympic teammate, Kaori Sakamoto, who performed like a seasoned veteran in just her second season on the Grand Prix circuit. Her score of 71.29 points is a new season’s best, well eclipsing that earned at her Challenger Series event by more than 20 points.
“It is true that this season has been difficult, but with my coach I was able to practice very hard — especially for the Grand Prix’s,” Sakamoto said of her early season challenges. “In this competition I was able to do my best, and I want to continue doing my best as the season continues.”
Sakamoto is a skater’s skater, demonstrating no weaknesses in her “From My First Moment” Charlotte Church program, and like Miyahara, earned positive grades of execution on each of her elements. The difference here was that Sakamoto could not keep pace with the Levels of her teammate, earning Level 3 on the step sequence and camel spin. “I will do my best to do well tomorrow,” she said after the competition.
In third place is newcomer Sofia Samodurova from Russia who was the first skater of the evening. So completely surprised by her placement, the 16 year-old had to be called at the end of the competition to remind her that she had a press conference to attend.
“I am happy that I am in third,” she said. “I’m really surprised. It’s really unexpected for me as I skated first. I am very happy, and my coach, Alexei Mishin, is also very happy.”
Skating to “Nyah” from the Mission Impossible 2 soundtrack, Samodurova was technically brilliant, completing each of her elements with command. But the 2017-2018 Junior Grand Prix finalist fell behind her more experienced competitors in the program component scores, and had to settle for 64.41 points.
A third Japanese skater, Marin Honda, the 2016 World Junior champion, finished in fourth place, while American Bradie Tennell missed the back half of her combination jump and finished in fifth place.
As expected, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue took the lead after the rhythm dance with 78.43 points. The reigning U.S. champions performed two Piazzolla Tangos with confidence until the very end when a slight shift in weight caused Donohue to fall to the ice in their closing pose. The miscue incurred a one-point deduction.
“It was great for Zach and I to be back in the States again competing. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to be here at Skate America,” Hubbell said. “Overall we were happy with the way we performed. We got a little overly passionate and I fell on top of Zach at the end.”
In second place, and in contention for their first Grand Prix medal is the Italian team of Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri. Like the Americans, the duo performed a wholly Tango rhythm dance that earned 75.01 points.
“We were felt very good when we stepped on the ice, but unfortunately we had a couple of little mistakes,” Fabbri said at the post-event press conference. “So we’re not 100 percent happy with our performance because we could have done better tonight. It’s the first major event of the season, and it was a good start.”
Finishing in third were Russians Tiffani Zagorski and Jonathan Guerreiro with yet another Tango. Sidelined by an injury in the early part of the season, the 2018 Olympians were happy to get back into competition after missing their Challenger Series event. The duo earned a career high score of 73.30 points.
“Today was our first competition of the season, so of course this was the first time we competed this program. We were happy with our performance today,” Zagorski said. “Of course there are some things to improve upon, but overall we’re pretty happy.”
Americans Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter are nipping at the Russian’s heels in fourth place, and are less than a point behind heading into Sunday’s free dance. The British team of Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson sit in fifth.