By Lynn Rutherford
In an upset, Caitlin Mallory & Brent Holdberg won the senior free dance with a passionate performance to the romantic Russian gypsy song "Dark Eyes." The couple, who placed 11th at 2006 U.S. Nationals, skated with dramatic flair as Marina Klimova’s choreography gradually built intensity through seamless transitions and elegant lifts. They earned 72.44 points (39.17 TES + 33.27 PCS), some 3.67 points more than the second-place team.
"It was a little rough; the (footwork) could have been smoother at the end, but we’re happy," said the 17 year-old Mallory.
"I really like the music; it has a beat, but it’s slow. It’s really a waltz. Most people think of Sasha Cohen’s (Olympic short program) when they hear "Dark Eyes," but this is a much more dramatic version. I’m a gypsy woman, and he wants me – I want him – but I’m a free spirit and I’m fighting him a little."
Trained by 1992 Olympic champion Sergei Ponomarenko in San Jose, CA, the couple is hoping to secure an international assignment from U.S. Skating.
Second place went to Kate Slattery & CG Lee with 68.77 points (37.37 TES + 31.40 PCS). For the second consecutive season, the couple performed to music from "The Phantom of the Opera," although the choreography has been modified by new coach Natalia Linichuk. They skated with good speed and Lee showed strong edges in their lifts, with their closing one-arm rotational a particular highlight.
"We went to University of Delaware to work with Natalia and Gennadi (Karponosov) on June 1st," said the 21 year-old Slattery, who will be a senior at UD this fall.
"Before, we were training with Nikolai (Morozov) in Connecticut, but I was going to the University of Hartford and I hated it. When we got to UD we worked harder than ever, six hours a day, to get ready for this competition. Our (free dance) music is the same (as last season) but it’s really an entirely new program."
She added that she and Lee were considering a new free dance. (The couple did not perform "Phantom" at 2006 U.S. Nationals due to severe facial injuries Lee suffered in a collision during the Original Dance warm-up.)
In their second season together the fast-improving Charlotte Maxwell & Nick Traxler, who train in Plano, TX under Pierre Panayi, were third with 66.05 points (36.67 TES + 29.38 PCS). Performing to a fast-paced medley including Stevie Wonder’s "Superstitious," the Jackson Five’s "I’ll Be There," and Aretha Franklin’s "Respect," they showed good twizzles and smooth entrances into their lifts, but slowed down a bit on their most difficult footwork before closing with a fine one-arm rotational lift.
"We’ve put a lot of work into new lifts, as well as complex changes of hold. It’s incredible that February of last year Charlotte was still a novice," said Panayi, who added that the couple also traveled to the Detroit Skating Club to choreograph their tango OD with five-time U.S. champions Elizabeth Punsalon & Jerod Swallow, and work on their compulsories with Liz Coates.
Katherine Copely & Deividas Stagniunas, who skate for Lithuania, placed fourth (35.62 TES + 29.79 PCS = 65.41 points) with a cheerful, well-skated "Kalinka." They showed lovely stretch in a low curve lift, as well as a strong rotational lift; their only major mistake was Copely’s stumble on a twizzle sequence.
Coached by Elena Garanina & Val Spiridinov in Ashburn, VA, the couple teamed up at the partner tryouts at 2006 Nationals. Stagniunas began as a freestyle skater and moved to the U.S. in March 2001 to try dance. He teamed with Nicole Frey for the 2004-2005 season, placing 19th at Junior Worlds and 2nd at Lithuanian Nationals.
Former World bronze medalists Margarita Drobiazko & Povilas Vanagas placed fourth at 2006 Worlds in Calgary, earning Lithuania two spots at the ’07 Worlds.
"We are planning to go to Oberstdorf, and so is the other Lithuanian team (two-time Lithuanian champions Clover Zatzman & Aurimas Radisaukas), and then it will be decided who will go where," said the 21 year-old Stagniunas.
The new partnership of Mimi Whetstone & Chris Obzansky, who train in Igor Shpilband’s group in Canton, MI, placed fifth with 63.90 points (35.76 TES + 28.14 PCS). Performing to music from the soundtrack of "Great Expectations," Obzansky showed strong edges and Whetstone attractive positions in their lifts.
Last season, Obzansky skated with Kendra Goodwin, with whom he won a U.S. junior silver prior to leaving the U.S. for a two-year Mormon mission in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. (In his absence, Goodwin skated for two seasons with Brent Bommentre, who now partners Kim Navarro.)
"Kendra decided she wanted to concentrate on school; she was burned out from skating. I saw this as an opportunity to check out other training sites, and I spent a week in Canton with Igor. I enjoyed it there and put my information on the IcePartnerSearch.com," said Obzanksy.
"I saw his name and sent him an email, then went to Canton for a tryout. It felt good so we decided to form a partnership," added Whetstone. The two have skated together since May.
Pre-event favorites Trina Pratt & Todd Gilles, who placed sixth at 2006 Junior Worlds and eighth at the 2006 U.S. Championships, had a disappointing performance to Aerosmith’s rock anthem "Dream On," finishing seventh with 62.27 points (30.71 TES + 34.57 PCS).
In practice, the free dance – choreographed by Christopher Dean right after Junior Worlds in March – had everything: electric energy, stunning lifts and, especially, unique transition moves including connections via "leg pulling" rather than grasping hands. In competition, the couple’s performance level dropped off a bit, and they faltered badly on their final step sequence, finishing behind the music. Still, it was the most interesting free dance of the event.
Pratt & Gilles sustained three points in deductions: two points for two over-long lifts, plus a one-point deduction for repeating a short lift (Gilles put his foot down on what was intended to be their combination lift). In addition to the deductions, the intended levels of the lifts were downgraded.
"It’s disappointing, because we’ve had much better performances in practice," said the 20 year-old Gilles.
"They had a lot of run-throughs in training, but the program is a minefield. It goes non-stop. It’s hard to be ready with such a difficult program so early in the season. We knew we were pushing the envelope with some of the elements and taking a risk coming here," added Gottwein.
Pratt & Gilles are scheduled to compete at Skate Canada and NHK Trophy this fall.
"We’d really like Chris (Dean) to accompany us to Skate Canada (Nov. 2 – 5), but he will probably be back in England by that time working on his television show (the reality program "Dancing on Ice")," said Gottwein.
In their senior debut, Elizabeth Miosi & Dmitry Ponomarev, who were sixth at 2006 U.S. juniors, took seventh place with 66.05 points (29.39 TES + 27.63 PCS). The couple, who train under Garanina and Spiridonov, skated to mambo and rumba rhythms. Their lifts were smooth and strong, especially the one-arm rotational, but Miosi fell out of their second set of twizzles.
"We took a more African approach to the samba. We wanted to kick it up a notch for seniors; this is a great learning experience. It feels so great to be on the ice with top teams. It pushes us," said Miosi, a dedicated student who has taken this coming academic year off to concentrate on her skating. (Ponomarev missed the cut-off age for the JGP by just two weeks.)
"We saw the mistakes and we know what we have to focus on in training," added Garanina.
Erika Hoffman & Alexander Boeglin were eighth with 53.86 points. Emma Cyders & Ikaika Young, who train in the Toronto area under four-time World dance champion Bernard Ford, with ninth with 50.50 points. Ikaika Young previously skated with his sister, Kakani, now a student at CalTech and considering becoming a Technical Specialist.
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