Ice Network

Aldridge, Eaton take ice dance gold in Salt Lake City

Orford and Williams win silver; Bronze for Cannuscio, McManus
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Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton of the United States won the gold by the narrowest of margins, edging Canadians Nicole Orford and Thomas Williams by 0.68 points -- 141.70 to 141.02. -Jay Adeff

For Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton, this season is all about the characters.

Portraying characters in Bizet's Carmen helped ignite the passion in their short dance. In their free dance, they really play with fire by taking on the roles of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler from the 1939 blockbuster, Gone with the Wind, interpreting different scenes, including the burning of Atlanta.

The role playing is working: the team captured their first international senior gold medal by winning the U.S. International Classic by 0.68 points over Canadians Nicole Orford and Thomas Williams.

"We're really working on showing the characters, because last season, that's where we struggled the most," Eaton said. "I think we're making huge strides. This is our first competition this season, and the PCS (program components scores) are already higher than last year."

Aldridge and Eaton showed good early-season technical form, gaining four Level 4 elements, including a three-part twizzle sequence and all three of their lifts.

They clearly enjoyed taking the audience through the well-known hallmarks of Scarlett and Rhett's love story: a meeting at an elegant ball, dancing a raucous polka, the burning of Atlanta and the finale, where Rhett leaves Scarlett for good.

"This performance was strong for us," Aldridge said. "We're focusing on the characters a lot, and from the beginning, when we looked at each other in our beginning pose, we knew this performance would be together and easy."

Eaton thinks the win is the first fruit of a coaching change the two-time world junior bronze medalists made early this summer, leaving Detroit Skating Club to train with Marina Zoueva and Massimo Scali in Canton, Michigan.

"We're striving to bring a new style, a new maturity to the ice," Eaton said. "Last year we were consistent technically, but we knew our program components were lacking. With the new coaching team, all the new people coming in, we have the ability to have 8.0-9.0 program components."

Aldridge looks forward to the program growth over the course of the season.

"Marina has made it very clear: This is just the beginning," she said. "Our characters' relationship will grow, and I will grow into my character of Scarlett -- she has so many sides to her, it's a challenge to make sure I'm really showing them all."

The Vancouver-based Orford and Williams, fifth in Canada last season, also portrayed famous movie lovers: Rose and Jack from Titanic. Mark Pillay's choreography effectively told the story of that film couple, from meeting aboard ship, to the below-deck Irish jig, to the battle with the iceberg. 

Like Aldridge and Eaton, the Canadians gained four Level 4 elements, including two lifts, their twizzles and the spin. They lost ground with a shaky straight-line lift that rated just Level 1 but still earned 87.28 points for their free dance and 141.02 overall.

"Everything was feeling really good, and then right toward the end, we messed up our big Titanic lift moment, so that was a little disappointing," Orford said. "I don't know what it looked like, but hopefully the audience could see what we were trying to do."

"I got a little too far back on my leg," Williams said. "I was trying to get on to one foot, into the position too quickly, and I was way too far back on my heel. I had to put my free foot down to stop the momentum."

Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus didn't go the movie route but still portrayed characters: lovers who emerged from their graves to dance, only to return to their cemetery before dawn.

Skating to Saint-Saëns' "Danse Macabre," with a bit of the Young Frankenstein film score, the Delaware skaters opened with a smoothly executed step sequence and showed a fine Level 4 spin. Three other elements, including two lifts and their twizzle sequence, also gained Level 4, and their free dance earned 80.10 points. They won bronze with 126.44 points.

The skaters and their coaches, Karen Ludington and Sasha Kirsanov, made extensive changes to the free dance after competing it at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in August.

"I thought it went really well," Cannuscio said. "We changed a lot of the program, and we wanted it to be solid and perform it, not just think about the elements. I think we did that. It felt comfortable."

"For the changes that we made in the past month, I couldn't be happier with how the program felt," McManus said. "It was a good performance for us."