Donlan, Speroff surprise with Ondrej Nepela winScimeca, Knierim reel in pairs bronze; Gao lands third in ladies
Coming off a sixth-place showing at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff started the season off strong, winning pairs gold at the 2013 Ondrej Nepela Memorial. Team USA grabbed a second spot on the pairs podium with Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim earning bronze, and Christina Gao added a bronze medal in ladies.
Donlan and Speroff were victorious over Russia's Anastasia Martiusheva and Alexei Rogonov and U.S. teammates Scimeca and Knierim, respectively. The winning duo maintained gold-medal position thanks to a solid "Méditation" short program that gave them a five-point cushion going into the free skate.
The program featured three Level 4 elements, including the step sequence, lift and pairs spin. Their throw triple Salchow added 5.20 points to the program's 56.63 total points. They went on to earn 160.19 for the weekend after coming in second to the Russian team in the free skate.
Martiusheva and Rogonov, who came into this event as reigning champions, moved up from third after the short program. The second half of their free skate included several high-risk elements, including three lifts and a throw triple loop, that all received a 10-percent bonus for being executed in the latter half of the program.
Scimeca and Knierim, the 2013 U.S. silver medalists, earned 153.34 points overall. Their Ever After free skate had a mixture of strong moments and struggles. Highlights included three Level 4 lifts, but the jumping elements seemed to give the Colorado Springs-based duo headaches with all four such elements, including side-by-side and throw jumping passes, receiving negative grades of execution (GOEs).
Japan's Haruka Imai sealed the ladies victory after winning the free skate Friday afternoon. She totaled 163.64 points, and her free skate featured a double Axel-triple toe combination and a triple loop-double toe combination. Her free skate score of 110.93 was the highest by about nine points.
Silver went to Nikol Gosviani of Russia with 157.12 points. Each of her programs included triple flip-triple toe combinations, but both times the element received negative GOEs due to edge or rotation issues. Gosviani, who led after the short program, finished second despite two falls in the free skate.
Gao was also plagued by a pair of falls in the free skate, but she moved up from fourth after performing her Angels and Demons program. Gao earned 152.84 total points, including 100.70 for the free. The top moments of the skate included two Level 4 spins and a triple toe-double toe-double loop jump sequence.
Despite her disappointment in the overall outing, Gao was hopeful following the event.
"This wasn't my best performance at all. I'm disappointed," she said. "However, this experience was good for me because it opened my eyes to what I need to change and how I can improve my training.
"I know exactly what I need to do and I'm very motivated to make it happen. I'm determined to come back strong for the Grand Prix season."
Great Britain's Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland rebounded from a fifth-place showing at the 2013 U.S. International Classic to win the ice dance title with 148.64 points. The leaders throughout, Coomes and Buckland skated two clean programs that included Level 4 twizzles, lifts and spins.
The podium was rounded out by Italy's Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri and Germany's Tanja Kolbe and Stefano Caruso.
In their senior international debut, Americans Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton finished sixth with 130.49 points. The two-time reigning U.S. junior champions saw higher levels in their Bollywood-inspired free dance than they did in their short dance. The free dance featured three Level 4 lifts and twizzles that added up to 7.00 points after earning a full point off the GOE.
Aldridge and Eaton will make their Grand Prix Series debut the first weekend of November at 2013 Cup of China.
American Ross Miner was shut out of the podium by a trio of veterans. Miner finished fourth behind Tomás Verner of Czech Republic, Japan's Takahito Mura and Germany's Peter Liebers.
Verner recorded his first international victory since 2010 Cup of Russia with a total of 242.45 points. The free skate, which propelled him to the win, opened with a huge quad toe-triple toe combination worth 16.40 points. He added a triple Axel-double toe that tacked on 11.11 points to his free skate total of 161.92.
Like training mate Gao, Miner also experienced some issues with his jumps in the season opener. His "Boston Strong" free skate started with a hiccup when his planned quad Salchow was called as a triple, downgraded and received a negative GOE. He rebounded to execute a pair of triple Axels before receiving no credit for a triple Lutz-loop-triple Salchow (called an "invalid element" on the judges' protocol).
Miner and Gao, who will compete at the same events through the fall, will start their Grand Prix seasons Oct. 23-25, at Skate Canada International.