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South rises to the top for Easterns' senior men

Tommy Steenberg prevails in intense competition

Senior men's winner Tommy Steenberg (left), with coaches Audrey Weisiger (center) and Chris Conte.
Senior men's winner Tommy Steenberg (left), with coaches Audrey Weisiger (center) and Chris Conte. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Liz Leamy, special to icenetwork.com
(11/17/2007) - The South Atlantic skaters prevailed once again in the 2008 Eastern Sectionals senior men's free skate today, and claimed the top four spots in this intensive and technically- and artistically-proficient competition. Tommy Steenberg (SC of Northern Virginia) won the gold; Parker Pennington (Washington FSC) the silver; Derrick Delmore (Washington FSC) the bronze; Shaun Rogers (University of Delaware FSC) rounded out the final four senior men who claimed coveted U.S. Championships invitations.

It was an exciting competition and was chock full of all those things that warrant a superior-level skate-off -- in fact, the buzz was that this competition was comparable to that of a U.S. Championship or even ISU Grand Prix event.

"It was fun being out there with everyone -- it was a good competition," Shaun Rogers said.

Although there were some mistakes during this exciting senior-level showdown, the overall standard was exceptionally high among all of the skaters, who performed with the confidence, poise and expertise of well-seasoned competitors. Nearly all of the top finishers rocked out triple Axels and triple-double combinations. Some also did triple-triple combinations and one even did a quad (Rogers).

"It was a great competition and it felt really good to be out there," Steenberg said.

The performance standard was also superior in this talented and highly-skilled contingent. Each one of the top finishers had programs that were arresting, engaging and creatively-charged. The music also seemed to be ideally suited for each one of them.

"These guys were all wonderful. There was such a good feeling among everyone out there, and they were all so great to watch," said Jill Shipstad Thomas, the choreographer for Derrick Delmore.

Steenberg, who is 17 years old, racked up the highest total point score -- a 194.30 -- of the event with his elegant and stellar rendition of the ubiquitous classic, "Bolero." This represented a personal best total point score for Steenberg.

"I'm really happy. I've worked hard all year to improve my strength and power, and I've been getting stronger with each competition," Steenberg said, referring to the Liberty Open in July, South Atlantics in October and now this competition.

Steenberg certainly seemed to be right on track at this competition, that's for sure. His routine, designed by Pasquale Camerlengo was arresting on every level. His technical proficiency seemed to be right on for most of the time and his artistry was engaging.

Although he missed his opening triple Axel, Steenberg confidently rebounded with a triple Lutz-triple loop, triple toe-double toe-double loop, triple loop, triple Salchow and triple Lutz-double toe. He missed a triple flip, however. Still, all of his jumps were big, long and solid.

"He's been doing more physical training off-ice, and I think he's gotten more developed physically. He also worked with a ballet master from the Kirov ballet in Washington D.C., which, in the long run, will enable him to be a more competent skater," said Audrey Weisiger, who has been training Steenberg for more than seven years.

Parker Pennington (Washington FSC) stepped up once again in the free skate and snagged a silver medal with a final point score of 188.04. His riveting interpretation of "Cirque de Soleil" was loaded with interesting movements and moments that mimicked a tiger hunt. He was technically proficient and did a rich array of his signature, textbook-like jumps, including a triple Axel, triple Lutz, triple Lutz-double toe-double toe, triple flip with a three-turn into a triple toe, triple loop, triple Salchow and spread eagle into a double Axel.

"He gave it a very serious effort out there and didn't give up -- I thought he was gutsy," said Weisiger, who is Pennington's coach too.

The best thing about Pennington's performance, however, was his artistic interpretation. He wore a brown costume with navy ribbon-like embellishments and showed the different stages of someone being hunted by a tiger. He first flew around the ice, then slowed down, and then crept around in his footwork.

"It's taken a lot of work to develop this aspect of my skating, but it has all been an interesting and fulfilling process," Pennington said, adding that ultimately, he hopes to perhaps inspire the people out in the audience with his skating. "Maybe if I can even inspire one person to skate, I feel like I've done something."

Derrick Delmore was awarded the bronze medal for his sophisticated jazz routine to "Harlem," "Puttin' on the Ritz" and "Madagascar," which earned him a score of 175.05. He wore a streamlined navy blue outfit and skated with his usual high level of artistry, skill and poise.

Although he singled a planned triple Axel, Delmore fired out a triple Lutz with a fall out, triple flip, triple Salchow and triple loop in which he touched down on the landing. He also did a triple Axel in which he two-footed and touched down on the landing.

Still, Delmore's overall skating quality was exceptional. He was finished and fluid and did his signature sit/cannonball and camel spins, among other elements.

"He filled the bill today. These skaters have a big job, because they have to be steely and vulnerable at the same time, which isn't easy," said Jill Shipstad Thomas, adding that Delmore "is a wonderful artist and interprets music beautifully." Delmore's coach is Shirley Hughes.

Shaun Rogers claimed the fourth and final spot with a final score of 173.52. Rogers' program to the Grindhouse film score was modern and defined by energy, power and athleticism. He reeled off a whopping quad toe, along with a triple Axel-triple toe combination, triple Salchow-double toe-double loop, delayed triple toe and a triple Axel with a step out on the landing. Although he singled a planned triple loop and fell on a triple flip, the overall technical quality of his program was excellent and generated one of the most audible crowd reactions of the day.

"I felt the beginning and end were good, and I was happy with the (quad) toe and triple Axel-triple toe combination," said Rogers.

Rogers is coached by Pam Duane Gregory, who was unable to be at this event due to an international competition commitment with Kimmie Meissner. As a result, Rogers was put out by the esteemed Delaware-based coach Ron Ludington and said he was really motivated by him.

"He offered me 100 dollars if I skated clean -- I almost got it," said Rogers, who added that he did, in fact, end up with half the amount at the event's conclusion.

Another major story to develop from this competition was the fantastic performance of Jason Wong (SC of Boston) in the free skate. Wong, who was sixth in the short program, skated a phenomenal program to "The Mission," and wound up fifth with 168.33 points. He did a gorgeous double Axel, a triple-triple combination and nearly all of the other triples. He also was lyrical and engaging in this memorable portrayal of the "Mission" story.

After he finished his program, he could be seen hugging and perhaps even crying with his mother in a warm embrace. Needless to say, this marked one of the best moments of this entire competition.

"The program felt really good. Every bit of it was for myself, and that's all that mattered," Wong said.