Ice Network

Master storytellers McNamara, Carpenter take lead

Powerful routine propels Parsons to second; Pogrebinsky, Benoit third
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Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter look to be on their way to a second straight U.S. junior championship, as the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy (WISA) team claimed first place in the short dance with a U.S.-record score of 73.42. -Jay Adeff

Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter didn't just come to Saint Paul's Xcel Energy Center to skate -- they came to tell a story.

Even before the world junior silver medalists took the ice at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships for their short dance Wednesday, they were deep in character for their routine to Edvard Grieg's "In the Hall of the Mountain King," music composed for Ibsen's play about the world-wandering Peer Gynt. McNamara's arms and hands were all aflutter; Carpenter looked on in wonder.

"In every dance we do, we want to tell our own story and create characters that fit the music," Carpenter said. "The moment we hear our names called, we try to live those characters as much as we can."

"I am Anitra the wood nymph," McNamara said of her role. "What we do, in order to become the characters, is really analyze the music. That gives us a better sense of who we should be and how those characters would act."

The characters were on full display in the routine, along with speed, secure edges and lots of confidence. The defending champions, who won the Junior Grand Prix Final in Barcelona in December, earned Level 4's for all five elements, racking up +2 and +3 Grades of Execution (GOEs) along the way. It all added up to 73.42 points, a new record for a junior short dance at a U.S. championships.

"We actually had a different short dance at the Chesapeake Open (in late June), and we were told it would be better to change," the team's choreographer, Elena Novak, said. "This music came to me as a march, and then we looked at other (waltz) pieces to match with it. It was a little risky, but it was good because it was different. Lorraine and Quinn always push the limit of music choices, and they definitely pulled it off well."

McNamara and Carpenter's training partners at Rockville, Maryland's, Wheaton Ice Skating Academy (WISA), Rachel Parsons and Michael Parsons, performed an entrancing short dance to music from Prokofiev's Cinderella, skating with good speed and hitting a difficult three-part twizzle late in the routine. They, too, gained Level 4's for all five elements, and were rewarded with 70.29 points. 

"Our elements felt really good, our presentation felt really good. It was powerful," Michael said. "All the boxes were checked."

"The goal is to show Cinderella's sense of wonder at the ball, how she is kind of living the dream," Rachel said.

Novak, who founded WISA in 2003 with husband Alexei Kiliakov, selected Cinderella to show off the team's strengths.

"For Rachel and Michael, their flow across the ice and big, positive expression has always been their plus," Novak said. "When we heard this music, Alexei and I thought it would be perfect to emphasize their extreme power across the ice."

Two couples who train in Igor Shpilband's group in Novi, Michigan, sit third and fourth.

Elliana Pogrebinsky and Alex Benoit, the bronze medalists at this event last year, showed connection and chemistry in their short dance to Eugene Doga's "My Sweet and Tender Beast." The program built intensity until it culminated with a striking, straight-line lift with Pogrebinsky in a fully-extended spiral position. The team earned three Level 4 elements and sits third with 65.98 points.

"I think, overall, we skated really cleanly, listened to the music and focused on each other," Pogrebinsky said. "No matter what was going to happen, it was going to be our moment."

"We really worked on owning the entire program as a whole instead of individual elements," Benoit said. "It's like watching a really good film -- you don't look at it frame by frame. You view it as an entire story, a seamless piece of work."

Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko performed a fast, fun short dance to Charlie Chaplin tunes, gaining four Level 4 elements and earning 64.81 points.

"We really killed our twizzles and patterns today," said Ponomarenko, the son of 1992 Olympic ice dance champions Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko. "I find this music really easy to skate to. It makes me want to invest my energetic personality into my skating."