Sinead and John Kerr would win their fifth straight British ice dance championship in Sheffield on Saturday." />


Controversy reigns at British Championships

Sinead Kerr and John Kerr.
Sinead Kerr and John Kerr. (Getty Images)


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By Alexandra Stevenson, special to
(01/13/2008) - It was a sure thing that Sinead and John Kerr would win their fifth straight British ice dance championship in Sheffield on Saturday.

And that did happen by the large margin of 18.52.

"We didn't skate the free dance our best," said John Kerr. "The ice was a bit slow because it hadn't been resurfaced since the Junior events. But we didn't expect the technical score to be so low."

In the Enigma Sci-fi routine, they play two aliens from Venus where there is only one sex. The marks were termed "insulting" by many, "outrageous" by Evgeny Platov, who coaches them in Princeton, New Jersey, and "puzzling" by their supporters.

Their element score for the four minute routine was a measly 39.32 compared to 43.83 earned by Phillipa Towler-Green and Phillip Poole for their Latin Medley

Towler-Green, daughter of Diane Towler-Green, who, with Bernard Ford, won the 1966-69 world ice dance titles, were runners-up for the third straight year.

They are not in the same league as the John and Sinead, as demonstrated by their 23rd place in the 2007 European championships in which the Kerr's finished fifth.

Analysis of the "details" sheets was confusing. The Scottish siblings received no marks for their eighth and final element, their long lift, which, nevertheless, was awarded Level 4 for both parts, which has a base value of 6.40.

John Kerr explained later, with a frustrated grimace: "We do a difficult entry into our curve lift and the specialists decided that the short time taken to do that meant we actually did a straight section before we got into the curve part.

"Of course, we can get immediately into a curve but we were trying to do something unique. Anyway, that was classed as a two-part lift and so the last lift didn't count.

"We watched video of the tape several times with an expert and we still feel we were right. We also timed it and they were correct about the timing violation. We were over time. We don't contest the extended lift deduction. But we were surprised with the costume violation because Sinead's (emerald green "alien") eye make-up was too theatrical."

The eye makeup did make her look different but it suited their sprayed silver/grey hair and black body suits which were enlivened with epaulets and with oddly shaped dashes of royal blue and lemon.

His sister added, "What we don't understand is that there was no problem with the lift in both our Grand Prix events in China and Japan."

Platov said he was shocked at the situation. At the compulsory dance draw for the skating order, the Technical Controller, former British champion and world silver medalist (1977) Janet Thompson-Coton, asked all the competitors to please make sure they presented all their elements while their music was played so the Technical Specialists would see them.

For the free dance Philip Askew was the Technical Specialist and Doreen Hoppe his assistant. If there was something wrong with the move, why did not some British official notice the situation and inform the skaters?

"These low marks signal to the rest of the world that Britain has no confidence in their best skaters. It's outrageous," said Platov, who, with Oksana Gritchuk, won the Olympic gold in 1994 when Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean returned to competition after ten years and took the bronze.

"I remember seeing the results from the British championship in 1994 and Torvill and Dean got all sixes. That put fear in my heart and I went to the rink to practice more.

"It is usual in national championships for the judges to score their skaters more generously, but this, obviously, was not the case here."

(Gritchuk and Platov continued to compete for Russia for another four years and are the only ice dance couple to win gold medals in two Olympic Games.)

Past British champions, Robin Cousins and Steven Cousins, who are not related, often said that from the time they began to train in North America (Robin with Carlo Fassi in Colorado and Steven with Doug Leigh at the Mariposa rink in Ontario) they hated competing in their national championships because the judges seemed to treat them as outsiders and were, said Cousins, "very stingy with their marks".

The Kerr's also got a costume deduction in the Yankee Polka when his kerchief fell off as they finished off their compulsory with a lift.

But there was no problem with the original in which both wore short kilts. "As soon as I heard the ISU announcement that the theme would be Folk/Country, I knew I would have to wear a kilt," said John Kerr. When they twizzled their kilts flew up, and John revealed bronzed, brawny legs that were greeted with great applause from some of the females in the audience. "We heard the wolf whistles and I knew they weren't for me," said Sinead.

Towler-Green and Poole were second in both compulsory and free dance but their original, to music from the movie Zorba, the Greek, was judged third best.

Phillipa's twin, Candice, and her partner, James Phillipson, pulled out after placing seventh in the compulsory, because of his back problems.

Christina Chitwood and Mark Hanretty take the bronze

Christina Chitwood, a 17-year-old from Colorado, and her 22- year-old Scottish partner were competing on what is now their home-rink in this old city which is roughly in the center of England. They debuted in this event last year but finished last because she was suffering from mononucleosis.

This time, they gave a far better showing. To put her in a more relaxed frame of mind, he sent her a Good Luck card stating, "Remember - It's not the destination, it the road that's important." That was so that she'd remember to enjoy every minute whatever happened.

They were fourth after the Yankee Polka but a second place in the original pulled them up to third. "I'm very proud I'm from Glasgow (Scotland's largest city)," said Hanretty, "So there was no question we'd use Scottish music for our original."

For some reason, all the skaters' music was played relatively softly, and Chitwood and Hanretty's free, set to The Mission and "Nella Fantasia" seemed to suffer in parts from not being loud enough. They were third in this section and finished 5.61 marks behind Towler-Green and Poole.

Melyssa James and Jamie Burns, who train at the SC of Wilmington, had an initiation by fire. Burns said, "We've only been together since August so I think we did very well considering everything."

They were fifth in the Yankee Polka and sixth in the other two sections and overall. While the audience really enjoyed their original dance which was set to African and Australian music, complete with didgeridoo segment, the judges didn't.

They received a costume deduction for having makeup that was too theatrical. But, in fact, the facial markings were completely consistent with their theme.

Their free was set to Nothing Else Matters by Appolyptica. "That title says it all," said Burns. "Nothing else matters to us but our skating,"

Unfortunately, James fell just seconds from the end of the routine and was not only penalized a point for the fall, but also a second point for an "interruption in excess".

Senior Ladies

Jenna McCorkell from Coleraine, Northern Ireland, won her fifth British senior title in six seasons. Although neither short nor long programs were perfect, McCorkell, who is 21, gained her best scores since competing in the Cup of China in 2004 for both the free skate and overall.

"That shows I'm on my way back," said McCorkell who suffered a back injury which forced her to withdraw from the December 2005 championship which was won by Melyssa James' twin, Vanessa.

McCorkell took back her title last January. Vanessa James, who was second last season, withdrew in late December from both the singles and pairs event. She now hopes to skate pairs with Yannick Bonheur for France.

That left only one entry in Pairs and three in the Ladies event. McCorkell said, "I don't know how Stacey (Kemp) and David (King) do it - competing by themselves (and winning their third senior title).

I so admire Karly (Robertson, who was second in both sections), and Phillipa (Packard) for moving up to seniors when they are still young enough to stay in juniors."

McCorkell, who is also the champion of Belgium, lives in that country, and will marry Kevin van der Perren in May. She explained, "We don't think about that at all at the moment. We're both focused on doing our best in the Europeans. All the bridesmaids' dresses were done last summer although there are still a few more last minute details that remain."

Senior Men

Eliot Hilton, an 18-year-old who trains in Coventry, claimed the title left vacant by three-times champion, John Hamer. Hilton overtook Thomas Paulson, 20, the leader after the short program, to win by 1.04 points. Tristan Cousins, 25, who is 1980 Olympic champion Robin Cousins' nephew, returned to this event after an absence of two years because of injury, to claim the bronze in a field of six.

Hilton said it's a good omen that his first international as senior title holder will be in the 2008 European Championshipswhich will be in Zagreb, where he first competed internationally as an 11-year-old in the Golden Bear contest. He returned to that competition several times. "I know the standard of the Europeans is really good and the standard of British skating is not," said the realistic Hilton, "but I'll do my best."

Last year he shocked the skating fraternity by taking himself off the "squad" of elite skaters selected by the National Ice Skating Association (NISA) who attend training camps and are fast-tracked into international events. He explained, "I had a stress fracture and I needed a break."

Junior Ice Dance

Just three weeks before they were due to defend the title they had won twice, Leigh Rogers and Lloyd Jones were beaten in a local event by Penny Coombes and Nick Buckland. An argument followed and they promptly split up.

Coombes and Buckland, who are both 18, became instant favorites in a field of five couples and they fulfilled that prediction. But it wasn't an easy road. They have had a succession of injuries and set backs and in the warm-up for the Viennese Waltz, there was a collision between them and American Lindsay Cohen and Evan Roberts.

The collision, which did not appear to be anyone's fault, left Coombes, writhing on the ice for several minutes before medics helped her off the rink. She had hit her head, got badly winded and injured her foot. An X-ray revealed nothing was broken in the foot but it was very painful.

Fifteen minutes after the competition restarted, Coombes and Buckland skated their Viennese Waltz and won but only by 0.34. Cohen and Roberts, who have skated together for six years, are both 19. They were able to enter this event because, explained Roberts, "My father is totally English. He left Coventry for the United States when he was in his 20's."

They had drawn to skate immediately after the warm-up. "I was shaking from the collision," Cohen said. "I skated a lot better in practice. It was certainly not our personal best. We feel very bad because we're new here. We hadn't wanted the accident which happened."

In the original, Coombes fell at the end of their non-touching midline twizzles, but their sophisticated Flamenco widened their lead to 6.52 points. Cohen and Roberts presented an African dance but had a problem with their lift, and received no marks at all for that element. Both couples had a deduction for an extended lift in both the Original and Free Dance.

Coombes and Buckland's free was set to Requiem for a Dream which increased their margin of victory to 10.46. Cohen and Buckland's routine is a modern version of Romeo and Juliet which begins with Romeo crying out with grief at what he perceives as Juliet's death. The routine was very demanding but Natalia Linichuk, who trains them at the Ice Works in Pennsylvania, had a special incentive for them. She brought them some blue flowing 'chiffony' outfits, which had belonged to Bulgaria's Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski. "Albena's fit me perfectly," said Cohen. But Roberts explained, "Maxim's had to be stretched a bit. I'm a little bigger than Maxim."

Other Events

Sally Hoolin and Jake Bennett from Blackburn won both sections of the Junior Pairs championship ahead of Tameron Drake and Edward Alton.

Philip Harris, an 18 year old from Blackpool, dominated the Junior Men's event in which only four competed.

Karla Quinn, a 19-year-old who was competing on home ice, held onto the lead she established in the short program although she was only third in the free skate. Amy Tanner won the free skate after being second originally but finished 3.70 points behind Quinn in the field of eight. The very talented American 16-year-old, Sasha Lanser, who won the Novice title last year by a wide margin and was expected to do well in Juniors, did not skate due to bronchial problems.