Solid Lead

Michal Březina, Nathan Chen, Julian Zhi Jie Yee

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The 2018-19 Grand Prix kicked off last night at Skate America as some of the world’s best figure skaters descended upon Everett, Wash., for the second time in a decade. The post-Olympic season is always one of transition, and this one is not unlike any other. Here in Everett, more than a third of the athletes are making their Grand Prix debuts.

Reigning World champion Nathan Chen of the U.S. leads after skating a watered-down short program to a modern version of Duke Ellington’s “Caravan.” Despite the lack of technical scoring power, Chen showed a new playful side to his skating.

“It was a good start for my season and for my first short program of the season since being at Worlds last year,” he said. “It definitely wasn’t the best in terms of all the technical elements, but the performance was pretty good. The audience was amazing and I had a lot to go off of.”

Chen opened with an easy triple Axel, but then struggled on the next element — a quadruple flip. Although his combination jump, a triple Lutz-triple toe loop, was as clean as a whistle, it was in stark contrast to the quadruple-triple combinations he was doing last season.

“Quads are very important, and it’s something that I think are very important. They are something I will keep implementing and keep working on,” said Chen. “I definitely get the most enjoyment out of doing quads, even just in practice, so that’s still something I want to bring to the table in competition. But of course, there are pros and cons to them. I’m putting a lot of emphasis on spins and choreography this season and it’s something I will definitely keep trying to improve on.” Chen finished with 90.58 points.

In second place is Chen’s former training mate, Michal Březina of the Czech Republic. Březina opened his “Who Wants to Live Forever” program with a solid quad Salchow-triple toe loop combination, but then singled the next element, the flip. The 2013 European bronze medalist finished with 82.09 points.

“This was the second competition of the season for me, and this was a step up except for that beautiful single flip,” he said. “Other than that, it’s better than what I am used to in previous years, so I am happy with the rest of my program.”

The surprise of the evening was Julian Zhi Jie Yee from Malaysia, who finished in third place in his Grand Prix debut. With his participation in Skate America, Yee became the first skater from his country to compete in a Grand Prix event.

“I think for me to be invited to a Grand Prix for the first time in my career, and then to have the short program of my life is very unexpected, that’s for sure,” he said. “Hopefully I do just as well in the free and just keep improving as the season progresses.”

Yee opened with a strong quad Salchow that set the tone for his “To Build a Home” program. He went clean through the rest of the program, and earned a career best 81.52 points.

Finishing in fourth place was 31 year-old Russian Sergei Voronov with 78.18 points, while Italian Matteo Rizzo is nipping at his heels with 78.09 points.


PAIRS

Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took a commanding lead over a bumper crop of up-and-comers in the pairs competition. The reigning World silver medalists were easily the class of the field, outdistancing the rest of the field by more than eight points.

“There were some small mistakes and it was a bit difficult today,” Morozov said. “But it feels good to get the short program under our belts, and hopefully we will have as much success in the free skate.”

Skating to a crowd-pleasing mix of James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” the Russians skated with energy and command. Despite an early mistake on the side-by-side triple toe loops, Tarasova and Morozov won over the modest crowd with sassy choreography and level four elements. The duo earned 71.24 points in the competition.

Sitting in second place is the Russian team of Alisa Efimova and Alexander Korovin, who are making their Grand Prix debut here in Everett. The newcomers made two large errors — a fall on a triple Salchow early on, and a botched spin to close the program.

“We had some mistakes, but it felt like a good performance,” Efimova said. “It felt like a Grand Prix event, and we felt a bit nervous here.”

 The quality of the rest of the elements in their “Human” (“Rag’n Bone Man”) program helped Efimova and Korovin to earn a personal best score of 62.38 points.

Germans Minerva Fabienne Hase and Nolan Seegert finished in third place with 60.04 points, also a personal best score. “We skated really well here,” Seegert said. “It was a great atmosphere, and it felt like the audience was with us.”

Hase and Seegert had perhaps the cleanest performance of the evening, but they struggled with levels in the death spiral and step sequence. Still, the audience was very enthusiastic about their Say Something (A Great Big World) performance.

Americans Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc finished in fourth place with an error-ridden program and 57.72 points. The reigning U.S. Champions, Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim finished in fifth with 57.31 points.

The competition continues later today with the conclusion of the pairs and men’s events, while the ice dancers and ladies will compete in the first phase of their respective competitions.


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