Delobel and Schoenfelder win gold at Skate America

The third and final day of Skate America proved to be a crazy one in the world of ice dance, with more movement among the top ranks in the free dance competition. However, the top six teams after the original dance maintained their positions at the end of the competition.

Leading the way and winning their first Skate America title, was France’s Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder. Skating a modern dance to music by Pink Floyd, the World Champions struggled to achieve top levels on several of their elements, and had to settle for second place in the free dance. However, the couple’s overnight total carried them to the win over Americans Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto.

“Tonight we skated the best program that we have so far this season,” Schoenfelder said. “So we think that we did very good, but we know that we have a lot of work to do on the technique. We knew before coming here that we had a lot of work to do, but we are satisfied, and now we know exactly the things that we have to improve to get stronger for the rest of the season.”

The French skated with an emotional calmness, and used the highs and lows of the music to accentuate their elements.

“As soon as we heard this music, we knew that we wanted to continue to skate this season,” admitted Delobel who considered retirement after last season. “We worked with Marie France Dubreuil on the music selection, and this piece really captures the emotions that we want to share.”

Delobel and Schoenfelder were successful in earning level four on five of their elements, but had to settle for level two on two others. Still, their competition total of 187.64 was enough to harvest gold.

Belbin and Agosto seemed to come alive in this dance, a dramatic departure for the U.S. Champs from the previous rounds of competition here. Skating to Tosca, The defending champions were successful in interpreting the dramatic story behind the music, and showcased much improved lifts in their program.

“We worked with a ballet specialist this season on our lifts,” Belbin explained. “We wanted to make sure that the lifts suited the program, and that they were in better positions than we have achieved before. These lifts feel more secure and better suited to our programs than other season’s lifts, so we know that we are heading in the right direction.”

The 2006 Olympic silver medalist earned level four on all but two of their elements; the lone holdouts were both of their step sequences. As a result, Belbin and Agosto outdistanced the French on the technical score, but were unable to close the gap left from a disappointing original dance.

“This competition is recognition of what we need to do to improve our levels,” admitted Belbin. “I think that is typical for this point in the season, and we’ll just go home and work on it. We will keep pushing in the direction that we are heading, and just get better prepared for competitions that are coming down the line.”

Belbin and Agosto’s competition score of 186.53 easily outdistanced Sinead and John Kerr of Great Britain, who earned their first Grand Prix medal here in Everett.

The brother-and-sister team skated an interesting program to music by the band Muse, and showed a new theatrical style that showed vulnerability and an elegant sophistication.

“This is one of our favorite bands,” said Sinead, “and we spent a lot of last season using their music in our cool down sessions after our practices. We thought about making an exhibition piece out of this music, but as we worked on our edges, our body positions, speed and flow in the off-season, we realized that this would be a great choice for us to express what we wanted to express this season.”

The British Champions, however, made a slight miscue on their level four twizzles and only earned a level one for their rotational lift, causing them to place fourth in free dance. Like the champions, the Kerrs used their cushion from the previous legs of the competition to take home a set of medals of their own.

“Our goal was to place in the top three,” confessed John, “and obviously we did that, so we are quite pleased. But at the same time, we obviously have a lot of work to do, so we will continue to work hard so that we can have a late-season surge like we normally do.”

Finishing in third place in the free dance and fourth overall, USA’s Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates skated perhaps the most entertaining program of the day. To music titled Amazonic by Tonci Huljic, the Americans again earned the highest technical marks of the competition, and received level four on all but one element.

The reigning World Junior Champions skated with sure edges, tons of personality, and difficult transitions that earned them an impressive score of 175.66 points in their senior Grand Prix debut.

“We came here without any pressure, and we just wanted to make a strong debut,” Bates said. “We did that, so we can leave knowing that we accomplished our goal.”

Remaining in fifth place were the Pernelle Carron and Mathieu Jost of France, followed by the Russians Ekaterina Rubleva and Ivan Sheffer.

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