Ice Network

Calalang, Sidhu grab surprising lead in Salt Lake

Scimeca, Knierim bumble into second; Aaron, Settlage settle into third
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Overcoming a fall on their opening element, Americans Jessica Calalang and Zack Sidhu finished first in the pairs short program with a score of 51.92. -Jay Adeff

On a night with its share of miscues, Jessica Calalang and Zack Sidhu emerged as surprise winners of the pairs short program at the 2014 U.S. International Classic.

Skating to ragtime-tinged selections from the Gershwins' My One and Only, the California-based duo performed Pasquale Camerlengo's sprightly choreography with verve and precision, marred only by Sidhu's fall on an under-rotated triple Salchow.

Their lift had good speed and ice coverage, their throw triple flip was smooth, and their Level 2 triple twist was high and solid.

The skaters, who are in their fifth season together, earned 51.92 points and take a 2.92-point lead into Friday's free skate.

"I was really happy with the way they skated the program as a whole," said Todd Sand, who coaches the team in Aliso Viejo. "They performed really well, which is a lot of what we've been working on. They related to each other and skated the program very strong from beginning to end."

The team, 11th at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, made improving their triple twist a top priority this offseason. The 1.40 grade of execution (GOE) they earned from the judging panel shows their hard work is paying off.

"We worked on getting it up higher, and getting a better catch; before, it used to crash a little bit," Sidhu said. "We worked with our coaches (Sand, Jenni Meno and Christine Binder), and also with Rockne Brubaker, to try to get it smoother."

"Last year, the twist was tiny; this year, it's growing," Calalang said. "Next season, it will be even better."

Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim's exciting and promising program to "El Tango de Roxanne" opened with a soaring triple twist landed right to the music, but they lost ground when they both fell on their side-by-side triple Salchows and had timing trouble on a difficult new lift. The Colorado Springs-based team earned 49.00 points.

"It was rough," Knierim said. "It's not exactly what we wanted technically, but we kept ourselves in it with the components side, so that's good."

"The lift is going to take some experience in trusting," Scimeca said. "I think I did the [position] change too slow, because it's a very quick change. I think I was second-guessing it out of nervousness. The balance point was just a hair off, and I just couldn't hold it up any more."

Skating in their first-ever senior international event, Scimeca and Knierim's World Arena training partners, Madeline Aaron and Max Settlage, delivered a charming and polished performance to Saint-Léon's comic ballet Coppélia, choreographed by Julie Marcotte.

The program is loaded with balletic detail, suiting ballerina Aaron to a tee, and their side-by-side combination spins and closing death spiral shined. But Settlage fell on an under-rotated triple Salchow, and Aaron put a hand down on the landing of a throw triple loop. They sit third with 48.16 points.

"I love this program, and Max does, too," Aaron said. "I think we've been wanting to skate to this music for a long time; it was just a matter of finding the right pieces. It's a ballet, but it's a fast-moving, controlled ballet, so we really enjoy skating to it."

Canada's Brittany Jones and Joshua Reagan landed triple toe loops and had a fine Level 4 lift, but trouble with their spins and death spiral limited their score. They are fourth with 42.94.

Reporter's notebook: A bit of ISU history was made in Salt Lake City. Controller Sally Rehorick, technical specialist Whitney Gaynor and assistant technical specialist Veronique Fleury comprise the first all-female pairs technical panel.