The Championship Pairs competition at the 2005 State Farm US National Championships began last tonight with little anticipation from media and fans alike. Last year’s competition crowned a champion decided not by inspiring programs, but rather by who could stand up on their blades the longest. With the short program complete for 2005, the same still could be said with only one couple skating without a glaring error. However, the overall quality of skating from last year to this seems to be at a higher level.
Katie Orscher and Garrett Lucash began their program to Still Got the Blues almost perfectly; a beautifully executed split double twist and well timed and clean side-by-side triple toes. Then, Lucash vaulted Orscher into the air with height rivaling the top Chinese pairs skater, into a throw triple flip. At first, Orscher seemed to have the difficult throw jump landed, but slid off of her edge at the last moment, crashing to the ice. That was to be the only flaw to an otherwise beautiful performance which earned them presentation marks ranging from 5.5 to 5.8.
“I’m happy with how we skated,” Lucash said. “I know that Katie fell on the throw, but I still think that we put in a good performance.”
Reigning US champions Rena Inoue and John Baldwin finished second with a program that was not up to the standard of the title. While Inoue landed a triple lutz to begin the program, Baldwin doubled his. “I am very proud of Rena,” said Baldwin. “It was a beautiful triple lutz, comparable to the best ladies in the world,” he added with praise. After the miscue on the jump, Inoue and Baldwin went on to complete a throw triple loop jump in which Inoue pinched forward at the waist. All of the other program elements we clean, but their routine to Bird of Fire was not up to the level of the national champions. The team, however, still garnered four first place ordinals (Orscher and Lucash received five).
The surprise of the competition was Marcy Hinzman and Aaron Parchem in third place. Skating first, Hinzman and Parchem, floated across the ice with blazing speed, ticking off each required element as if they were compulsory. The only glaring error was Hinzman’s doubling of a planned triple toe loop. “I’m just thrilled with our performance,” gushed Hinzman. In skating to music by Pink Floyd, the duo earned scores of 4.9 to 5.0 for technical merit, and 5.1 to 5.3 for presentation.
After finishing last season in 7th place in their first season together, the duo are in contention for their first national championship. “To sum it all up, surprising would be a good word,” Parchem said. “We dreamed all year about this.”
In fourth place, are Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, a team making a charge to the top of the US Pairs skating world. At last year’s Nationals, the team finished 10th, but with improved speed and precision of elements, Evora and Ladwig catapulted to the final flight of skaters in Friday night’s free skate competition. Skating to Aaron Copeland’s Theme for the Common Man, Evora and Ladwig blazed across the ice with artistic tension and attention to body line that dancer’s strive to achieve.
When the skaters were asked how they felt about the use of the old scoring system in terms of spot selections for the upcoming world championships (which will be scored using the new system), the top three teams were in agreement. “I think that’s not for me and Katie to worry about,” reasoned Lucash. “That’s for our coaches to worry about.” Baldwin added, “I still think that you are going to see the same skaters at the top with whatever system you use.”
Former national champions and 2002 Olympians, Tiffany Scott and Phillip Dulebohn finished a disappointing 6th in the short program, their worst finish at this competition since 1999. Scott stepped out of the throw triple salchow, and fell on the solo triple toe. In fifth place are last year’s pewter medalists, Jennifer Don and Jonathan Hunt. After landing perfectly timed solo triple toe loops, Don fell hard on the throw triple salchow. In addition, Hunt struggled to complete the overhead pairs lift with his usual flair and ease.
Earlier in the day, Jeremy Abbott finished first in the Junior Men’s Short Program. Abbott landed the difficult combination of triple Axel to triple toe loop, as well as a solo triple loop out of footwork. Abbott’s only mistake was a fall on the required double Axel. Douglas Razzano was second, and Craig Ratterree was third.
The junior men complete their competition on Friday morning at the Rose Garden, while the pairs free skate takes place on Friday evening at the same location.