Ice Network

Savchenko, Massot win gold with career-best free

Yu, Zhang hold steady to take silver medal; Duhamel, Radford slip to third
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Possibly buoyed by the news that he, at long last, will gain his German citizenship in time to compete at the 2018 Olympic Games, Aljona Savhcenko and Bruno Massot performed the finest free skate of their career Saturday. The Skate Canada silver medalists posted a personal-best score of 150.58 in the segment, which gave them 223.13 overall, and they rallied from a third-place finish in the short to win the gold. More important, they clinched a berth at the Grand Prix Final for the second year in a row. -Getty Images

In the mixed zone Friday, after he had fallen on his triple salchow in the short program, Bruno Massot was inconsolable. His partner Aliona Savchenko was, no other way to put it, annoyed.

A day and a new personal-best free skate later, the pair is on top of the world -- and the Skate America podium.

"Well, I think half of my energy I gave to Bruno because I know how hard the preparation was for him," Savchenko said. "Today he fought with his back and with himself, and when I was watching him do the rotation in the (triple salchow) jump, I was like, 'Oh, nice' and I was really happy for him. And then I did a small mistake."

"That's OK," Massot shrugged. "I fell yesterday."

Savchenko's mistake -- doing the triple salchow combination with two single toe loops instead of doubles -- was the only noticeable error in the Germans' free to La Terre vue du ciel (The Music of Earth from Above), choreographed by Christopher Dean. The program's transitions, dance lifts and steps perfectly fit the music's subtle piano and strings, and emphasized the lyrical -- though still strong -- side of Savchenko.

The opening triple twist was the most spectacular element, but all else -- including side-by-side triple toes and throw triple flip and salchow -- was more than solid, with almost all +2 and +3 Grades of Execution across the board. They earned 150.58 points, and won gold with 223.13 total.

There's a cloud on the horizon, though: Massot's ailing back. Once the euphoria of the win wore off, pain was etched on his face. Physiotherapy and a special warm-up routine got him through the competition; he and Savchenko are scheduled to travel to Nagoya, Japan, for the Grand Prix Final in about a week.

"Yesterday, because of the stress, the pain in my back was big, so it was a little difficult," Massot said. "Today, I really focused on my special warm-up to get a good preparation before the program, so it was much easier to control the pain. The pain is still there, but I was fighting myself not to think about it."

China's Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang, fourth in the world last season, shone in their free to music from the Star Wars soundtrack, choreographed by Lori Nichol to emphasize Yu's elegance. Highlights included a lovely transition move from a death spiral to a pairs combination spin, as well as back-to-back huge throw triples in the program's second half. They, too, set a new personal-best free skate score (145.53) and won silver with 219.20 total points. The finish qualified them for the Grand Prix Final as well.

"We're very happy we skated our best, and we're very happy to go to the Grand Prix Final," Yu said without the aid of an interpreter.

"It's just like the story in Star Wars -- I am Princess Leia, he is my warrior, and we, together, fight evil and try to save our world," Yu said of the program. "We're very happy we skated our best, and we're very happy to go to the Grand Prix Final."

Two-time Canadian world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, who led after the short program, lost their chance to win Skate America for the first time when Duhamel fell on a triple lutz, before nearly sitting down on the landing of a throw quadruple salchow. Other elements -- including their triple salchow combinations, a throw triple lutz and lifts -- were strong, but the Canadians uncharacteristically gained lower levels, including Level 2's on their death spiral and pairs combination spin. They settled for bronze with 215.68 points.

"We felt centered but pretty stressed," Radford said. "We saw Aliona and Bruno posted a very high score, and I would lie if I said that didn't intimidate me a little bit. We had a very uncharacteristic mistake at the beginning, and the last eight programs we trained were clean. We had to regroup, but because of that feeling after the lutz, I think we played it safe."

Duhamel was exasperated with the pair's loss of many levels.

"We've done the same pair spin for eight years and we've gotten Level 4 on it for eight years, so you guys tell us why it's a Level 2 today," she said. "We held every (position) longer than in the short, and it was still a Level 2. And the twist catch was very smooth, so we don't know why we got Level 2 on that either, or on the death spiral for that matter."

Natalia Zabijako and Alexander Enbert of Russia were fifth in the free but fourth overall, after she fell on a triple salchow during their program to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim opened their free, set to selections from the musical Ghost, with a typically high and impressive triple twist, and other pairs elements -- including two big triple throws, a salchow and flip -- were strong. But their side-by-side triple jumps were again their nemesis: Alexa fell on a triple salchow and Chris popped his into a double, and there were credited with landing only double toes. They ranked sixth in the free and fifth overall with 189.07 points.

In the mixed zone, Chris revealed he has been struggling with a left patella (knee) injury that has limited his ability to train jumps since shortly before the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships.

"I need to train the jumps hard and do a lot of reps, and I wasn't able to," he said. "Obviously, it's not what we wanted here or in Japan (at NHK Trophy), but it's hard to be really upset about it, due to the circumstances going in. I am getting over the injury, which is great, and now I feel I can actually train jumps and programs strong going into nationals."

U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier opened their free skate to Queen's "Who Wants to Live Forever" well, with an improved Level 3 triple twist and strong throw triple loop, but Frazier fell on a triple salchow, and the team reduced planned triple toes to doubles. Some of their levels -- particularly a Level 1 on a death spiral -- were disappointing, and they placed seventh in the free and seventh overall with 172.16 points.

"That was 100 percent not what we've been training, (in terms of) the movement and the attack and energy," Frazier said. "It definitely slowed down after the jumping passes, which is very early in the program. We have a lot of good things in the second half, like the lifts, and the lifts were not executed the way we can do them today."

Skating to a U2 medley including "One," Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Nate Bartholomay showed attractive lifts and a clean triple twist and throw triple salchow, but Stellato-Dudek fell on an under-rotated triple salchow and stepped out of the landing of a throw triple loop. They ended up eighth in the free and eighth overall with 165.00 points. 

"We're just frustrated because I cannot remember the last time I fell on a triple salchow," Stellato-Dudek said. "I'm so mad right now."

"Those were the first we missed in the last two weeks," Bartholomay said. "That happens. We're going to figure out how we were feeling and why it happened, and make sure it doesn't happen again."

Quad twist on the way for Knierims

Since returning to competition late last season, the Knierims have not trained their most valuable element, the quad twist. That's about to change, Alexa said. 

"We haven't tried one yet, but it will be at nationals," she said. "Probably when we get back to Colorado, after a few days we will start training it for nationals."

Moore-Towers, Marinaro continue Oympic pursuit

Moore-Towers and Marinaro, who won bronze at the Cup of China earlier this month, are fighting with Canadian silver medalists Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch, and 2016 Skate America champions Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau for two spots on Canada's Olympic team. (Duhamel and Radford are shoo-ins.) The pair is the only one of the three to win a Grand Prix medal this season, but it could still come down to the 2018 Canadian Figure Skating Championships.

"I don't know if it will. Last year I would have told you yes, but last year it didn't," Moore-Towers said. "The other team (Séguin and Bilodeau) didn't compete (due to injury), and they were selected to go to worlds. Understandably so, they had a great fall season, but because of that, we (tried) to set ourselves up well here."

Moore-Towers and Marinaro, who teamed up in June 2014, were hampered by injuries last season. Now, though, they're ready to put forth their best effort.

"Last year, we had such a big wrench in our plans due to my injury (a concussion in August 2016). We weren't really able to train properly August to April, a long time," Moore-Towers said. This year, we are ready to fight for it and show we are reliable and ready to go (to PyeongChang)."