The 2002 Hershey’s Kisses Figure Skating Challenge, a pro-am held in New Haven, Conn., was the final event of the figure skating season for the top skaters in the United States. The competition was held on April 16th and aired on May 12th. The skaters faced a unique set of challenges not only in the special pro-am rules that mandated things like 5 different jumps and at least two triples jumps, but also with ice that at times looked like a swimming pool thanks to a compressor that was not working properly.
Teams were divided into “boys” versus “girls,” with the U.S. ice dance champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev captaining the “boys” team and the U.S. pairs champions Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman captaining the “girls” team.
Boston’s Jennifer Kirk opened her program to Mandy Moore’s “Only Hope” with an unfortunate fall on her triple lutz. Though she rebounded to skate the rest of the program cleanly with three triple jumps and a double Axel, her score of 55.6 put the girls team nearly a point behind. Johnny Weir of Newark, Del. had problems of his own, with a fall on his triple Axel and a two-footed triple lutz, but he drew impressive presentation marks for his program to “Songs from a Secret Garden.”
Next up for the girls’ team, Sasha Cohen’s program to “Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps” and “Hernando’s Hideaway” was going strong until the final minute, where she fell on a triple toe, her final jump of the program. Former U.S. Champion Michael Weiss edged out Cohen by 0.1 with two-footed but close attempts at a quadruple toe loop and triple Axel.
Boys’ team captains Lang and Tchernyshev had a sizzling program to “Parisienne Walkways,” but a mistake early in the program left the door open for girls’ team captains Ina and Zimmerman. Though Ina singled her double Axel, a rousing standing ovation from the audience was greeted with three perfect marks of 6.0 from the judges, nudging the girls team closer.
In a battle of the U.S. pewter medalists, Matt Savoie’s solid triple Axel and complement of triple jumps held him over Angela Nikodinov, who opened with a strong triple flip but doubled or omitted the rest of the jumps in her program, which lacked a fifth jump, a second triple jump, and a combination jump.
With a reworked version of his Olympic short program to “Carmina Burana” and “Mythodea,” Todd Eldredge drew the highest overall score of the night, 59.0, landing all of his jumps perfectly despite the less than ideal ice conditions. Even Michelle Kwan’s powerful “Fields of Gold” could not match Eldredge’s score. Kwan received four perfect marks for presentation– the highest of the night– but her technical scores were lower after she popped her triple lutz combination to a double.
Olympic champion Sarah Hughes made the same error as Kwan on her combination attempt, but she still maintained a 0.4 advantage over Olympic bronze medalist Timothy Goebel, who tripled his quad attempt and stepped out of a triple Axel. Nevertheless, the boys team triumphed overall, 347.3 to 345.3.