Ice Network

Griffin, Coleman ride double axels to pairs lead

Peterson, Ogren slot into second place; Crafoord siblings stand third
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Thanks to a rousing short program -- which was set to Danny Elfman's "Ice Dance" -- Erin Coleman and Derrick Griffin picked up 45.58 points to leap ahead of the field. -Jay Adeff

Last winter, Derrick Griffin was working as a skate guard at Panthers Ice Den in Coral Springs, Florida, managing traffic as skaters glided on and off the ice.

"I was a dancer for about two years, but I never picked up any jumps," the 20-year-old said.

Erin Coleman, 15, competed as an intermediate lady and had never tried pairs. But coaches John Zimmerman and Jeremy Barrett had an idea.

"We knew they would be a good match for each other -- we just had to get them together," Barrett said.

Last December, a tryout was held, and the two skaters have never looked back. On Monday, they stepped out to a near six-point lead after the novice pairs short program at the 2017 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Kansas City.

Performing to Danny Elfman's haunting "Ice Dance" from the Edward Scissorhands soundtrack, the unlikely duo hit the most difficult elements of the event, including side-by-side double axels, a big Level 4 twist and a solid throw double lutz. They take 45.58 points into Tuesday's free skate.

"We can really thank John Kerr for such magnificent choreography, and just a beautiful program," Coleman said.

"We have to give major credit to our coaches (who also include Silvia Fontana) for that double twist; they've worked hard to get us that," said Griffin, whose 6'2" height and athletic build likely helped. "It started from a little baby thing and just grew from there."

The young pair shares the ice in Coral Springs with French champions Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès, who moved to Florida in the summer.

"We look up to them; they inspire us every day," Griffin said. "We see the tireless effort they put in and that just makes us want to work harder."

"We want to get up to their level," Coleman said.

Ainsley Peterson and Kristofer Ogren, who train in Colorado Springs under Dalilah Sappenfield and Drew Meekins, sit second with 38.67 points after a charming tango short highlighted by a strong axel lasso lift as well as superb Level 4 steps.

"We worked hard on that lift this year," Ogren said. "We got Level 4 here; that's the first time we've done that. We worked a lot on it on and off the ice, to improve consistency."

"I think we changed the footwork about seven times," Peterson said. "We worked on it a lot, too."

Sappenfield, who has coached the team for two years, praised the skaters' adaptability and motivation.

"They are able to work well together to get their styles to match, and they're hard workers," she said. "That's why they're getting the results they are getting."

Twin siblings Greta Crafoord and John Crafoord are on the heels of Peterson and Ogren with 39.14 points.

The 16-year-olds -- who train in Southern California under Jenni Meno and Todd Sand -- had a solid outing to Arlen and Mercer's upbeat classic "Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive," skating with good speed and hitting an exceptional throw double lutz. Greta lost an edge on a transition step and fell, but the team still takes a solid score into the free skate.

"I think we did really well; all of the elements were pretty clean," Greta said. "I got a little too excited (on the step) because I knew the program was going well."

"I thought they did all of the elements as well as they could, and I thought it was really great," Meno said. "I know Greta is disappointed about the fall, but things happen."

The siblings have busy schedules. Both are students at Elisa Niguel High School, where Greta runs track and John plays varsity ice hockey.

"He would probably like it known he leads the league in penalty minutes," Sand said.

Eliana Secunda and Blade Eisenach, who train under George Selimos and Robyn Sudkamp in Westminster, Colorado, are fourth with 36.04 points.