Normally, the USFSA Fall Open is a pro-am with an exhibition skate and no head-to-head marking in each of the disciplines. However, Michelle Kwan’s decision not to compete in the Grand Prix left the USFSA with fewer options because ISU rules prohibit Kwan from skating in pro-ams if she does not also participate in the Grand Prix series. The end result was an eligible-only, free skate-only competition staged in Daytona Beach, FL with a panel of five ISU judges.
With only two months to prepare for the upcoming season following the cross-country, 92-performance Champions on Ice tour, most of the skaters struggled through their 4-minute (ladies) or 4-minute-30-second (men) free skate routines. To top things off, most skaters were debuting their programs for the new season, many of which had been completed only a few weeks ago. The level of skating was a far cry from the World Championships.
Taking a break from Stars on Ice rehearsals, Alexei Yagudin, who also toured with Champions on Ice for most of the summer, won the men’s competition with marks ranging from 5.6 to 5.9. Using one of his favorite free skates to the soundtrack of “Man In the Iron Mask,” he missed his opening two attempts at a quadruple toe loop, but went on to land two triple Axels (one in combination with a triple toe loop), and four more triples including a triple lutz-half loop-triple salchow sequence. Yagudin showed no signs of the stress fracture in his right hip that caused him to miss his last few scheduled performances of Champions on Ice earlier in the summer.
Archrival Evgeni Plushenko, no longer sporting his infamous mullet hairdo, skated to last year’s “Carmen” program and finished a solid second with marks of 5.4 to 5.9. He also missed both of his opening quadruple toe loop attempts, but went on to land five clean triples.
American Michael Weiss was the crowd favorite with his performance to “Malaguena” and “Concierto de Aranjuez.” Bits of the choreography, particularly the footwork sequences, have been “borrowed” from Weiss’s short program to “Malaguena” last year. Although Weiss was the only man not to fall, his programs were slightly watered down with no triple loop or second triple Axel attempt. As promised, he attempted the quadruple lutz but landed on two feet.
Japan’s Takeshi Honda, ranked third in the world, unveiled his new free skate from “The Mummy” soundtrack, quite a departure from his usual classical style. Just like the men in front of him, Honda fell on both of his quadruple toe loop attempts and landed just four triples total. Perhaps most distracting was his costume, which featured shreds of mummy wrap that looked more like toilet paper.
Honda finished fourth, just ahead of Americans Matt Savoie and Timothy Goebel. For Goebel, in particular, this was a disappointing competition considering his status as Olympic bronze medalist and World silver medalist. Though his new program to Albeniz and Turina selections featured some interesting sections, such as one-foot straight-line footwork, Goebel took three spills on jumps and one additional fall on choreography. Though quads have become his trademark, Goebel did not attempt a quad salchow and fell on his quad toe. With just four triples and no triple Axel, Goebel bottomed out the field.
The level of competition was higher in the ladies field, though the ordinals of the five-judge panel were very mixed. Six-time U.S. Champion Michelle Kwan won the event with three first-place ordinals, one fourth-place ordinal, and one fifth-place ordinal. Kwan’s new program to “Aranjuez” was a departure from her normal style, but she landed just four triple jumps. Kwan is still undecided about whether she will compete in January’s U.S. Championships, which serve as the qualifier for the World Championships in March.
Colorado Springs’s Ann Patrice McDonough was the surprise of the competition with her “Madame Butterfly” free skate. The reigning World Junior Champion had the most time to prepare for this competition and had previously skated her program in a few club competitions. The training paid off, as her six triple jumps and polished program vaulted her into second place, ahead of U.S. World Team member Sasha Cohen and even Olympic Champion Sarah Hughes.
Hughes struggled with her jumps, downgrading her planned triple lutz to a double, not completing her triple flip, and not attempting either of the triple-triple combinations that won her the gold medal in Salt Lake City. In all, she had just three triples total. Technical merit scores dipped as low as 5.2 to reflect the lack of jump content. Presentation marks for her new “La Bayadere” free skate ranged from 5.4-5.9, a mixed bag that produced ordinals from first to fifth.
Fresh off a cross-country move to Newington, Conn. and Tatiana Tarasova, U.S. silver medalist Sasha Cohen turned in a credible performance to Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Cohen landed one of each triple, including a triple toe loop-half loop-triple salchow sequence, but late in her program she fell on a second triple lutz, bobbled one spin, and nearly fell on another. Nevertheless, she looks prepared to make a move in her first Grand Prix of the season, Skate Canada, which takes place in Quebec City from Oct. 31 to Nov. 3.
Viktoria Volchkova of Russia also landed one of each triple in a promising free skate that bodes well for the coming season. Her music was rather disjointed, switching back and forth between Bach’s “Air on a G String” and Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” and her presentation still needs some work to be competitive with the top ladies. Volchkova finished just ahead of Canadian newlywed Jennifer Robinson, who missed both of her lutz attempts to finish sixth.
Skaters will now have three to four weeks to prepare for their first Grand Prix events of the season and remove any lingering effects of the physically and mentally exhausting summer spent touring the country.