Ice Network

Tarasova, Morozov wow Szolkowy, lead after short

Denney, Frazier sit second in Grand Prix return; Séguin, Bilodeau third
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Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia posted a personal-best 75.24 points to take the lead at Skate America. -Getty Images

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov's short program to the upbeat "Glam Electro Swing Remix" had it all: a massive triple twist, a huge throw triple loop and a clean and precise lift, all done at breakneck speed.

They were so good, a five-time world pairs champion -- who also happens to be their coach -- shook his head in wonder.

"The skating was the best I've ever seen from them in competition," said Robin Szolkowy, who trains the team with Nina Mozer. "They had the power from the first second of the program to the last second."

The judges agreed, awarding the Russians 75.24 points, including 8.47 for their Level 4 triple twist alone. Their score is a new personal best and gives them a 7.95-point lead heading into Friday's free skate.

"Today we did well," Morozov said. "We had a personal best, and we're glad to have this moment."

More great moments likely lie ahead for the young team, who placed fifth in the world last season. Their training partners, Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, expect their first child and are not competing this season. Olympic silver medalists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, who also train in Mozer's group, have withdrawn from their Grand Prix events due to Stolbova's foot injury. That may well clear the way for the up-and-coming team of Tarasova and Morozov to carry the flag as Russia's top pair.

"It's a good chance for them, a great chance," Szolkowy said. "There is friendship with their teammates and everything, but when you have a chance, you have to take it -- especially in Russia, a big country where there are so many competitors around you. But for me, it's more important that they make it to the top of the world, not only Russia."

Certainly, it will be difficult for another pair to keep them from their first Skate America title. They plan a quadruple twist in Saturday's free skate.

"For sure, it will be there," Szolkowy said. "They already did it at their first competition this season (Ondrej Nepela Memorial), and it's working well in practice."

When Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier competed at 2014 Skate America, they went home with the silver medal. After a polished performance to music from the musical 'Don Juan,' highlighted by a superb throw triple loop and a strong closing lift, their 67.29 points -- a new personal best -- puts them in the same position this season.

It marked a remarkable comeback for the 20-year-old Denney, who suffered a serious right knee injury in April 2015 that required surgery and kept her off the ice for months. The team didn't start training throws until February, and Denney's titanium brace only came off in April. She still wears a soft knee brace.

"I think Haven and I can both agree that there were some really tough days, especially when she was first cleared to get back on the ice," Frazier, 23, said. "It took us a long time to get some of the elements that came easy to us in the past. It took a while to get things moving on top of everything -- getting things trained into a program, moving to a new training location and coaches -- the whole thing felt like more than just the injury itself."

Two-time U.S. champion Rockne Brubaker, who trains the pair with his wife, three-time Italian pairs champion Stefania Berton, is especially pleased that his skaters competed their short as well as they've been practicing it.

"When they really perform the program, and emote and relate to the music and to each other, they are technically sound," Brubaker said. "When they get stuck in the pattern of calculating the steps and keeping the same timing, then that's when things can go off. For us, the last few weeks have been about pushing performance, performance, performance. I think that's what's really showing up here."

Canadian silver medalists Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau, eighth in the world at 2015, skated a captivating short to Louis Armstrong's "Skokiaan," including a solid throw triple lutz. But Bilodeau doubled an intended triple loop, and they sit third with 66.49 points.

"That's a new element for us, but it's been working well, until tonight," Bilodeau said with a laugh, and then added, "I made that mistake, but we had our personal-best score. We have been able to get our level we wanted to have at this competition, so we are happy with that, and we still have some room to go higher in the score."

Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès of France, who recently relocated from Paris to Florida to train with a group headed up by three-time U.S. champion John Zimmerman, had a solid short and are fourth with 65.78 points.

Two other U.S. pairs were disappointed with their short programs.

Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran had good moments in their short to Alicia Keys' "Fallin," including side-by-side triple salchows. But an uncharacteristic error on their final move, a lift, cost them big, and they are seventh with 61.17 points.

"It was a dumb mistake. I'm upset with myself," Tran said. "It's denial and bargaining, then fear and acceptance, something like that. ... Honestly, that's the first lift we've missed in, I honestly can't say when."

For Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea, the big trouble came on the throw triple lutz, when Kayne fell on the landing. The U.S. champions, whose training was limited this summer by Kayne's left knee injury, sit eighth with 57.93 points.

"Looking at our protocol, we missed a few levels, and while I think we're making strides, we are not where we want to be yet," Kayne said. "We had to take a while off; we just got back into doing jumps and throws a few weeks before Finlandia Trophy (Oct. 6-10). Every time we skate, we get off the ice and say, 'That felt a little bit better,' and I think it will be the same with our competitions. Each time out we will get better."