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Drama Escalates at Skate America

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After five Grand Prix events this season, the final stop was Skate America before the Grand Prix Final commences in December. This event determined the outcome of who would make it to the Grand Prix Final and it continued to help federations decide which athletes to place on the Olympic Team.

If there was one event that figure skating fans could say was “cursed” this might just have been it. From bugs on the ice, to dislocated shoulders to mid-program withdrawals, this was an event that will be remembered for years to come. Maybe it was because of the pressure of the Olympic season or maybe it was the condition of the ice, but this event was full of figure skating drama.

Adam Rippon rose above the flies

Rippon went to his starting pose twice before actually hitting his pose and starting his program. This was due to the amount of dead flies that were reportedly on the ice. He started picking them up before starting his free skate. The flower girls helped as well and he took his position again, only to have a referee call him over to pick up more of them. This is apparently a problem that they have in this arena that has existed for years. Even Scott Hamilton chimed in on Twitter as he recalled the flies as well from when he competed there. It’s curious that they are still having this problem and it still hasn’t been resolved.

It was impressive that Adam was able to refocus after all of this fly drama and skate as well as he did. Rippon fell on his opening quad lutz and held his shoulder. He looked at his coach and for a moment it looked like there might be another withdrawal. It was alarming as many of us had just witnessed Israelite skater Daniel Samohin dislocate his shoulder a few performances prior to Adam’s skate and was forced to withdraw. Apparently Rippon did dislocate his shoulder as well, but managed to pop it back into place and keep skating. No one can ever say that he isn’t a tough competitor. 

“I got off the ice and saw (U.S. Figure Skating President Samuel Auxier), and I said, ‘You know what, you could throw rocks at me, you could blow the whistle at me, there could be a bunch of bugs on the ice that I need to clean up before, but I’m going to do everything I can to skate my best and nothing’s going to stop me from going where I need to go'” Adam said according to Team USA.

Somehow Adam managed to push past the flies and the shoulder pain to give a wonderful performance. This just shows how much Rippon has grown as an athlete both physically but also mentally. It was so exciting to see him capture the silver medal at this event. This is the first time that he has won silver in both of his Grand Prix assignments in the same season. This was an extraordinary moment for Adam, not just because he won the silver medal and qualified for the Grand Prix Final, but he has proved himself this season and will likely be placed on the U.S. Olympic Team.

Shibutanis win gold

Maia and Alex Shibutani have solidified themselves as the top U.S. ice dance team by winning their second Grand Prix event this year. There are only two other teams that have won gold twice during the Grand Prix this season and they are Olympic Champions Virtue and Moir and two-time wold champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. This reveals that Maia and Alex Shibutani could very well win the bronze at the Olympic Games. It will certainly be fascinating to see how they stack up at the Grand Prix Final.

The turn of events for the American ladies

One of the main headliners for this event was Ashley Wagner and she was certainly the favorite going in. Ashley has not had the best season so far, but she still had a chance of making the Grand Prix Final. At the end of the event, many were surprised to see that it was not Ashley, but newcomer Bradie Tennell who was the highest placed American lady as Ashley withdraw during the free skate.

This was Bradie’s Grand Prix debut and her only Grand Prix assignment. Tennell made the most of the moment she had, delivering a fantastic short program and free skate. Bradie was in fourth place after the short program. I wasn’t sure if she would manage to hold it together for the free skate, but she certainly did, capturing the bronze medal. Tennell has now joined the Olympic Team conversation, but it’s still early and this was only one event. She is still packaged as a junior skater, but if she delivers at the U.S. Championships should could find herself on that team.

Karen Chen once again struggled, finishing in eighth place. Karen did seem to fight harder in the free skate, but her errors added up. Chen went back to her short program and free skate from last season, which is a lot of change for one season. It seems like the focus has been on her programs (as she has gone through three different ones this season alone) and not enough focus has gone into the actual skating. She will need a dynamite performance at the U.S. Championships if she still wants to make the Olympic Team.

Nathan Chen strikes gold

Despite an awkward landing on the triple axel, everything else in Nathan Chen’s short program was brilliant. It seems like Nathan learned how to sell this program to the judges and the audience. He has come to the point with it that he can let go by the end and interpret the music so well. Not only were his jumps astounding, but his artistry was captivating.

Sadly this momentum that Nathan built during the short, did not translate into the free skate. Chen landed two quad lutz jumps but stepped out of the quad flip and fell on his quad toe. It was a messy performance that still managed to rack up points. 

There was talk about Nathan changing out his blades before the competition and that could have very well affected him, but it seems like every time he does his free skate his layout for the program changes. This could be a strategy that he and his coach have decided on to see which jumping passes work the best or it could be that they are still unsure about what sequence they want the jumping passes to be in. The purpose is unclear, but I do hope that they begin to solidify his layout so that Chen can hopefully build more consistency.

It may have been Chen’s lowest free skate score in more than year, but his 15-point lead in the short program kept him in the lead. Nathan became the first U.S. man to win both of his Grand Prix assignments since Johnny Weir in 2007. Chen also managed to become the only man to win gold at both of his Grand Prix assignments this season, which should give him some confidence heading into the Grand Prix Final.

American pair teams fall short

Pair skating has not been a force in the U.S. for many years. This event especially was disappointing for the U.S. teams. There were three U.S. pair teams that competed at this event and the top finishers were only in fifth place out of eight. Alexa Scimca-Knierim and Chris Knierim were the best American team and could very well be competitive internationally again if they could just hit those side-by-side jumps. It seems like event after event they just keep having problems with their jumps. Their lifts are beautiful, their throws are high, but they always fall or double their side-by-side jumps. Hopefully they will take this time to train and be ready for the U.S. Championships.

In the end it was Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot who captured the gold after being in third during the short and delivering a gorgeous free skate. China’s Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang skated beautifully to secure the silver and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford took home the bronze. All of these pair teams have qualified for the Grand Prix Final, so we will get to see them face-off again in just a few weeks.

Satoko Miyahara makes a comeback

It looked like all hope was lost for Satoko Miyahara after her fifth place finish at the NHK Trophy.  There are so many talented Japanese ladies that it seemed highly unlikely that Miyahara would make the Olympic Team. Satoko clearly came into this event ready to prove herself. She was in first place in the short program and gave a stellar free skate and won the event. Her beautiful style and delicate manner almost makes you forget how small her jumps are. She flows with such grace and rotates so quickly, but it did seem like some of her jumps were under-rotated. The judges were surprisingly lenient with her and granted her the gold.

This was a big accomplishment for Miyahara and if she performs well at nationals she could still very well make the Olympic Team. Satoko’s teammate Kaori Sakamoto performed beautifully in the short and free skate and finished with the silver medal.

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