Ice Network

Duhamel, Radford in command at Skate America

Yu, Zhang place second in pairs short; Savchenko, Massot sit in third
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Having already earned a gold medal on the Grand Prix circuit this season with their win at Skate Canada, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are once again atop the leaderboard. After delivering a powerful rendition of their "With or Without You" short, the Canadians are in the lead with 75.37 points. -Getty Images

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford set a goal for their short program at Skate America: rack up 80 points. The 75.37 points the two-time Canadian world champions earned on Friday fell a bit short, but they still lead the competition by 1.7 points heading into Saturday's free skate in Lake Placid's Olympic Center.

Equally important, the performance pleased the famously critical Duhamel, well-known for vocally dissecting the pair's every slight flaw.

"Obviously we lost a lot of levels, which hindered the score we thought we would get sitting in the kiss and cry," she said. "But overall, this was a lot better than at Skate Canada, and it's going to be better at the Grand Prix Final, and better at the Olympics. We're going to keep moving in the right direction."

"For me, there are aspects I am proud of -- how we felt the program and stayed in the moment," Radford added.

There was no major mistake in the pair's routine to "With or Without You," choreographed by John Kerr and Julie Marcotte. They struggled a bit on the entry to the pair spin, and their triple twist had a slight collision on the catch. But the choreography flowed well, as did their side-by-side triple lutzes and throw triple lutz.

"We got a Level 2 pair spin, one of the positions was probably not held long enough," Bruno Marcotte, the team's coach (and Duhamel's husband), said. "We lost a level on the twist; they touched on the catch. One of the clusters was flat in the footwork. So I knew we were going to be a bit under (the score) we could do, but the performance felt good. It was better than at Skate Canada, and as long as we take a step up each performance, we're happy."

Also happy are China's Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang, who skated a clean, technically solid -- if emotionally cold -- routine to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, choreographed by Lori Nichol to talk advantage of Yu's flexibility with some lovely spiral transitions into elements.

The skaters, who placed fourth in the world last season in just their first season skating together, hit a strong triple twist and triple loop. They also nailed their opening side-by-side triple toe loops, an element Zhang struggled mightily with in practices here.

"When we first came here, we felt a little tired, and that probably showed in practice," Zhang said. "But in the competition, it was fine."

Far less happy are Germans Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, whose sophisticated, passionate flamenco to "Ameksa-Fuego" by Taalbi Brothers was marred by Massot's fall on a triple salchow, as well as trouble with their pair spin. The two-time world medalists' opening triple twist was spectacular, and their throw triple lutz was solid. They bring 72.55 points into the free skate.

In the mixed zone, Savchenko looked grim; Massot was nearly beside himself.

"Well, continue to work," Savchenko said. "Nothing else to say."

"Just right now I have to be really, really focused, because it is difficult choreography for me," Massot said. "The pressure was here, I was ready to concentrate, but I would say today my legs were like a piece of wood and it was difficult to be flexible."

Massot has been troubled by an ailing back, for which he received treatment in Lake Placid. But the pair's coach, Alexander Koenig, said that was not a factor.

"When you go to a competition, you have no excuse," Koenig said. "The program was not that bad. His fall was a pity, and they struggled in the entry of the spin and the first position was not so good. Otherwise it was okay."

Russians Natalia Zabijako and Alexander Enbert skated their finest short program of the season to place fourth with 70.15 points.

For 2016 U.S. champions Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, the event was a mixed bag. The couple showed good connection to each other in their short to "Come What May," and most of the choreography and elements -- including a throw triple flip and closing lift and death spiral -- worked well. But their nemesis, side-by-side triple salchows, cost them big: he did a double and she fell. They earned 64.27 points, a shade lower than their score at Japan's NHK Trophy earlier this month, and sit fifth.

"I think everything in that program was better than in Japan except the jumps, and the jumps were worse, because I fell this time and he popped," Alexa said. "So it was a kind of yin-and-yang program for us."

"We are just going to keep working," she added. "This doesn't tear us down inside, we know what we are capable of. It's just another chapter in our story. Now, (it's) what can we build on this tomorrow, and then what can we take to nationals."

Skating to John Legend's "All of Me," Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier lost points on their triple salchows when Denney's was judged under rotated. But the remaining elements -- including a throw triple loop -- were solid, and their 63.04 points seemed a bit low.

"We were proud of that performance, this is how we have been training," Frazier said. "It felt better than at Skate Canada, and this is what the season is about, continuously putting out better performances."

"Some things weren't as comfortable and relaxed as they could have been," he added. "But for the majority, Haven and I did a good job of selling the performance and executing what we needed to execute."

Canadian bronze medalists Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro lost ground when Moore-Towers took a hard fall on a triple toe loop. They placed seventh with 59.97 points.

Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Nathan Bartholomay, fourth in the U.S. last season, skated a near-clean short to a cover of Lennon and McCartney's "Eleanor Rigby," hitting their triple toe loops and triple twist. Stellato had a slight two-foot on the landing of the throw triple loop, and they earned 57.18 points for eighth place.

"It's a step forward from our last competition and we look forward to taking more steps for nationals," Bartholomay said. "We definitely have to get consistent on our levels, work on our component mark and just improve our overall skating."