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Duarte and Grafton grab pairs gold

Joshua Farris leads intermediate men after short program

Duarte and Grafton skated away with the USJC intermediate pairs title.
Duarte and Grafton skated away with the USJC intermediate pairs title. (Jay Adeff)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(12/01/2007) - Last year Kylie Duarte and Colin Grafton fell just short of standing on top of the juvenile pairs podium at the U.S. Junior Championships, settling instead for the silver. This year, they left no doubt about who was the best intermediate team in the land.

Skating to "Romantica" by the composer John Bayless, Duarte and Grafton, representing the Colonial Figure Skating Club, blitzed the field Friday afternoon en route to the U.S. intermediate pairs crown. Their score of 60.87 was six points higher than that of silver medalists Becky Du and Steven Evans (Dallas SC), bronze medalists Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier (Broadmoor SC) and fourth-place finishers Lauren Gifford and Carson Bodnarek (Eastern Iowa FSC). The latter three teams were separated in the standings by a total of .76 points.

In the past, Duarte and Grafton have skated to more upbeat numbers, like last year's "Cirque de Soliel," but they wanted something more mature this year, and "Romantica" fit the bill. They landed side-by-side double Lutzes, a double flip-double toe combination, a throw single Axel and a throw double Salchow, and their two spins earned a level three and a level four. Their victory is all the more impressive considering they didn't receive credit for their second lift.

This is the pair's fourth year skating together, and with that experience comes familiarity.

"We know each other so well; we know what the other one's going to do," Grafton said.

Du and Evans had no problem with their throws; it was the lifts that got them.

"The hardest elements for us are the lifts, since we're so close in size and age," Du said. "They were a little scratchy today."

The protocol sheet bears that two of three elements for which they received a negative grade of execution were lifts. Still, their throw double loop, throw double Lutz and double Lutz-double toe combination supplied them with enough points to earn the silver. This is the second year in a row they have medaled at the U.S. Junior Championships; last year they finished third in juvenile, one spot behind Duarte and Grafton.

Both Du and Evans also compete as singles. She just missed qualifying for this competition at regionals, where she finished fifth, and he skates novice.

"We're serious about competing, but we don't train that hard in pairs," Evans said with a giggle. "We focus on singles more."

They are coached by 1992 Olympic gold medalist Natalia Mishkutionok.

"We get inspired by her," Evans said.

Denney and Frazier's My Fair Lady program was error-free except for their double loops (-.60 GOE). Besides that, every other element received a GOE of zero or higher.

For such a young couple, they have been through a lot. They both started as singles roller skaters, then paired up and became a competitive team, even going to nationals and winning a silver medal in the elementary division there. They then decided to switch surfaces, not to mention equipment.

"We hung up the four-wheels [roller skates] and went to blades," Frazier said.

After two years competing as a pairs figure skating team, he unexpectedly quit, claiming he wanted to "be a normal kid." He played football but didn't do much else, coming directly home from school every day for five months. Bored, he decided to give figure skating another try, and they've been reunited ever since.

Gifford and Bodnarek have an instantly recognizable person in their corner: Andy Seitz. After retiring from competitive skating in April, Seitz turned to coaching full time.

"It's fun because [Andy's] not that far off age-wise," Bodnarek said. "We work really hard but still have fun."

The pair skated to "Cirque de Soliel," a program that came together in the last three months. When they competed in August at the Indy Pairs and Dance Challenge, where they came in fourth, they were skating to Neil Diamond music, but Seitz thought they needed a change, and it looks like it was for the better.

The strongest points of Gifford and Bodnarek's program were their spins, both of which were deemed level fours. Their pairs combination spin earned them 4.38 points, the most of any single element in the event.

The team wasn't even sure if it would be able to compete after Bodnarek sprained his ankle a week ago.

"We're just excited we got to come," Gifford said.

Intermediate Men's Short Program

Joshua Farris (Broadmoor SC) knows there's a time for laughter and a time to be serious.

His warm-up routine Friday night fell under the former. While attempting a single Axel in the warm-up for the intermediate men's short program, he fell, and when he got up, he started chuckling. The crowd took full notice of the mishap and started laughing along with him.

"I thought it was really funny," Farris said.

But once the music started, Farris was all business.

Skating to the haunting "Carmina Burana," a piece which requires an ungodly amount of expression, Farris, who resembles Tobey Maguire with his youthful, boyish looks, put on his fierce face and wowed the Salt Lake Sports Complex with a passion-filled skate.

Farris, the 2006 U.S. juvenile champion, scored a personal-best 36.92 points to take the intermediate men's lead heading into tomorrow's free skate. His previous high score for this program was the 35.85 he scored at the Liberty Summer Competition, which he won handily.

Although he skated to Phantom of the Opera last year, this program represents a whole new level of seriousness for Farris.

"I feel like I'm more grown up," the 12-year-old Farris said. "I feel bigger out there."

The best element of the program, according to Farris, was his double Lutz-double loop, although his double Axel and change foot combination spin earned more points (4.1 and 4.3, respectively, as opposed to 3.9 for the combination).

Farris will look to add a second U.S. title to his resume tomorrow; the free skate begins at 4:30 local time.

In second is Andrew Nagode (Univ. of Delaware FSC), with a score of 33.44. The smooth-skating, sandy-haired Nagode matched Farris element for element except for the double flip, for which he received a slightly negative GOE. Other than that, his "Wizards in Winter" program was a delight to watch.

"That's the best I've skated that program this year," Nagode said. "I'm happy with my program component scores (14.26). The past couple times [I've skated this program] they've been lower."

Nagode credits two of the individuals in his stable of accomplished coaches with elevating the program to where it is today.

"Pam [Gregory] and Jeff [DiGregorio] have worked on cleaning it up, making the transitions better, making it clean, powerful-looking," Nagode said.

The third-place skater is New England Regional champion Mark McAvoy [Champlain Valley SC], who landed four clean doubles in his Hawaiian-themed program en route to a segment score of 31.74.

In fourth is Jay Yostanto (All Year FSC), the 2007 U.S. juvenile silver medalist. Yostanto scored 31.64 points for his Star Wars program, the highlights of which were a clean double Axel to start off and two level-four spins. It's the same program he used last year to make the podium at the U.S. Junior Championships in Cleveland. He said his favorite part of it tonight was the footwork sequence, during which the "Star Wars Cantina" music plays.

"I liked to hear the crowd clapping for me," Yostanto said.