Savchenko and Szolkowy seize third Skate America title

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany came from fifth place after the Short Program to win their third Skate America title.

After finishing in fifth place in yesterday’s pairs short program in Ontario, Calif., Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robyn Szolkowy rebounded to win the 2011 Skate America title. The three-time World Champions skated a modern dance program influenced by the work of Pina Bausch.

“We were not quite familiar with her,” Szolkowy said of the legendary German choreographer. “Our coach came to us with this idea sometime in May, and we tried to cut the music in a good way. When (the biopic Pina) came out in Germany, we tried to get inspiration for the feeling and story of that we could tell.”

The program, aside from the technical mastery that the champions showed, was replete with angular choreography by Ingo Steuer that Bausch could have herself created. Throughout the piece, there are vignettes of Bausch’s work—such as the stiff-as-a-board fall forward by Savchenko did at the beginning of the program.

“We worked with a special ballet coach,” Szolkowy continued. “We were taught how to move maybe more like dancers instead of typical skaters. The first people who saw our program said it was really good, so hopefully we can improve the elements so we can show that skating can be done with new types of themes.”

Savchenko, 27, and Szolkowy, 32, earned 124.53 points for the program, more than six points higher than the next best team. Their total of 183.98 points is far off their personal best, but is a strong start to the season.

“We want to try new and different things,” said Savchenko when asked about trying new elements. “Every year we want to develop. We’ve mastered all other triple throws and now we want to take another step and develop further. We want to show you are never too old to learn something new.”

Finishing in second place was the Chinese team of Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, who are making their return after more than a year away from competition. The 2006 Olympic silver medalists looked rusty, but showed some of the technical tricks that once made them top contenders.

“This is only the fourth time that we have done this program,” Hao Zhang admitted. “Before this, we only did three run-throughs. My endurance is still lacking, but we are working on it.”

Skating to Liszt’s Totentanz, it was evident that Zhang, 26, and Zhang, 27, were not completely trained—doubling planned triple Salchows and botching the side by spins in the middle of the program. However, Dan Zhang was as fearless as ever even though her partner is not completely healed from his injuries that kept them off ice last season.

“I’m not afraid of doing any of the elements with my partner,” she said. “Even with the short practice time, I have confidence that he is always going to be there for me. It is up to us to continue to work hard so that we can improve over time.”

While they were able to hold on to the silver medals on the strength of their short program, they were only able to manage third place in the free skate. Zhang and Zhang scored a total of 178.66 points in the competition.

Canadian champions Kirsten Moore-Towers, 19, and Dylan Moscovitch, 27, moved up from fourth place to capture the bronze medals with a strong performance to music from Henry V.

“We came in well prepared, and we competed like we skate in practice,” Moscovitch said. “We are very satisfied with the program today, and we are very happy to earn a spot on the podium.”

The duo had the second best free skate of the day, and earned a total of 177.43 points, missing the silver medals by a little more than a point.

“Both of us are thrilled to be here competing against some of the more established teams,” Moore-Tower said. “The experience just helps us grow, and watching how they approach skating helps me for sure.”

The newly formed American team—a hybrid of two former U.S. Champion teams—of Caydee Denney and John Coughlin made an impressive debut here at Skate America. Though they were unable to hold on to their second place finish after the short program, their Turandot program was more than acceptable.

“It was exciting,” the 25 year-old Coughlin admitted after the free skate. “In the end, it was everything that we were hoping for—we put out a strong performance, and were able to get the crowd behind us at the same time.”

The program was not perfect, however. Denney singled a planned double Axel, and Coughlin came out of a spin too early, dropping the level on the element. Overall, however, they were pleased with their performance.

“It was a little [frustrating],” said Denney of the popped Axel. “You always want to skate your best and it’s something that I haven’t been training that much back at home. We’ll just work a bit harder on these particular elements before NHK. It helps to know the kinds of mistakes that you make in competition. It will help us to get stronger for each competition that we go in to.”

Denney and Coughlin finished the competition with 175.40 points.

Russians Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov, who stood in third after the short program, skated a sloppy program to finish in fifth place in the long and overall.

USA’s Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin overcame some pre-skate music confusion to finish in sixth place with a strong performance, while teammates Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker and Germans Maylin Hausch and Daniel Wende rounded out the field in seventh and eighth, respectively.

Click here for full ISU Figure Skating and Ice Dancing Results and Protocols (opens in new window).

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