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Lake Placid turns back the clock on Day 3

Ice dancers perform to music from the 1920s, '30s and '40s

Maia and Alex Shibutani excelled in their junior original dance on Friday.
Maia and Alex Shibutani excelled in their junior original dance on Friday. (Daphne Backman)

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By Alexandra Stevenson, special to icenetwork.com
(08/02/2008) - After hearing hours and hours of old-fashioned but endearing music of the 1920s, '30s and 40s at the Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Friday, casual spectators might have thought they had drifted into an earlier, simpler era.

Instead, it was twelve senior- and 25 junior-level ice dance couples at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships unveiling their original dances for the upcoming season, which must be programmed to tunes that would have put a twinkle in the eyes of their great-grandparents.

The most accomplished of these participants, Jane Summersett and Todd Gilles from Colorado Springs, Colo., got their second victory in two days.

They again overshadowed their Canadian rivals, Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier, receiving 52.90 points.

"We performed to a Foxtrot, 'I'd Rather Be Blue, Thinking of You.' We were doing the '20s scene, and then we went into the Charleston from [the movie] Funny Girl," Gilles explained.

They had one troubling moment when Gilles had to put his hand on the barrier to stop from crashing into it. The problem was caused "by timing," Gilles said. "We might have given in an earlier version of our music."

They also won this event last year in their debut as a team.

Crone, 17, and Poirier, 16, the silver medalists at the 2008 World Junior Championships, scored 50.01.

The young Ontario natives, who finished fourth at the 2008 Canadian Championships, were competing at the senior level outside their country for the first time.

Their routine was set to Scott Joplin music for the movie The Sting, which is set in the Depression Era. There is a famous scene in that movie in which Robert Redford rides a bicycle. Crone and Poirier do a tribute to that moment with a "bicycle" lift in which Poirier, skating on his right foot, pedals through air with the other leg while holding Crone airborne as she pedals with both feet.

Their coach, Carol Long, said, "I wanted them to do Ragtime, because my father played the piano for the silent movies. It's a little tribute to my dad, John Long.

"Their costumes are black, white and grey because movies were not in color then," Long added. Crone's period outfit included a "cloche" hat, which had belonged to her coach.

The duo, who has been skating together since 2001, began with a unique spin that changed direction but not feet. Crone did not get her free leg high enough, however, and the technical specialist, five-time U.S. champion Judy Blumberg, called it a Level 3, one short of the maximum.

Crone and Poirier have already been named to the Canadian team for Skate Canada in Ottawa, Oct. 31-Nov. 2.

Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, who train in Ann Arbor, Mich., with Iouri Tchesnitchenko and Yasa Netchaeva, were third with 48.73.

The 19-year-old Kriengkrairut said, "At first, I was really nervous, but I got my legs under me, and I thought we skated really well. It was a pretty comfortable skate. Our coaches did a lot of research into this period and came up with the music."

They use a very famous song, "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." The piece is played twice. Sandwiched in between is "I Want to Linger." Both pieces are sung by the 1940s superstars, The Andrews Sisters.

Giulietti-Schmidt said his GI uniform and the stripes on his right arm "are a tribute to my grandfather, Dominic Giulietti, who emigrated to the United States when he was 13. He served the United States in World War II. It's fitting music, too, because it's about a bugle boy from Chicago and I'm from Chicago."

All five of their required elements received the base value or better, although Giulietti-Schmidt admitted that "the non-touching midline steps [Level 3] were a little bit rough."

Less than a quarter of a point behind them in fourth were Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell who earned 48.50 points. The brother-and-sister team that gained the top marks in the junior free dance on Thursday jumped up to the senior ranks on Friday.

Madison explained, "We came here to show we were ready for our Junior Grand Prix in Mexico City. We wanted the official monitoring feed-back. We chose to do the senior OD because both senior and junior have the same required elements but we were able to compete with the higher-level skaters. With the new rules, there have been a lot of changes to get a Level 4."

They succeeded in getting a 4 by presenting a somersault entry into their lift, which is classed as a plus "acrobatic" feature. They also received a Level 4 for doing a reverse variation on their spin.

Their synchronized twizzles, however, were given the minimum Level 1. "I did only one revolution in my second twizzle," Keiffer admitted a little sheepishly.

The point difference between Level 1 and Level 4 in this requirement is 1.70, which could have taken them up to second place if the Grade of Execution marks were the same.

U.S. Figure Skating officials monitor top skaters at competitions to make sure that their routines are up to the high standard required to represent their country. This is particularly important with the International Judging System, in which new interpretations of the rules are being made almost every month. The Hubbells performed to "Minnie the Moocher" by the current band, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy. Though the International Skating Union rules specify that the style must be from the '20s, '30s and '40s, modern arrangements and musicians are allowed because sound technology has improved so much since those days.

Madison explained, "We loved the whole OD genre, and I really love playing Minnie, the sexy character in the Blues song."

Last year, they had to pull out of this event because of Keiffer's injury. "We got a late start because of that and we missed getting international assignments." That shouldn't be a problem this year for the reigning U.S. junior champions.

Charlotte Maxwell and Nick Traxler, who train in Plano, Texas, were fifth, earning 44.49 points for their routine set to music from the motion picture soundtrack Chicago, which opened with a lively Charleston.

JUNIORS

Maia Shibutani, who just turned 14, and her older brother Alex, 17, dominated group B of the junior original dance, giving a joyful and polished performance that earned them 49.43 points. Maia even smiled during their spin, a rarity since skaters' faces often contort into grimaces during spins reflecting their intense effort.

Alex, being older, is the spokesperson for the team. "For this time of year, we feel really prepared, and that's because our trainers, Igor (Shpilband) and Marina (Zoueva), have put so much time and effort into us. It's really paid off.

"The big band [and blues] program is so much fun to skate. We had a blast out there. These costumes are really fun."

Maia wears a knee length, velvety, ruby red sleeveless dress that would be a hit at a prom. Alex has red suspenders and a "cool" tie.

The duo earned the pewter medal at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but they are hoping for better things this year. Alex explained, "It's our second season at junior level nationally, but Maia just became age eligible for the Junior Grand Prix Series."

Maia added, "We will compete in the first one, in Courcheval in France. I'm really looking forward to it. It'll be our first time to France.

"I'll be in junior high school this year doing two classes in and two classes out, but we'll still get to work as much as we can on the ice."

If they do well in Courcheval, they will be assigned to a second Junior Grand Prix in the series of eight competitions. The other host countries this year range from Belarus to South Africa.

Madison Chock, who recently turned 19, and Greg Zuerlein, also 19, performed to "Minnie the Moocher" and "The Dancing Fool" to gain second place with 47.97 points.

It was surprising they had any energy left at all. Earlier on Friday, they were second in the Paso Doble in group A, won the Starlight Waltz and were in the lead going into Saturday's repeat of the Starlight Waltz. The top eight in each group would progress to a final skate-off executing the Paso.

For most couples, that would be too much, but they seem comfortable with the workload. Zuerlein said, "We've already absorbed our critique. We can't wait to go out again and show how much better we can do. The more often we are out there, the more experienced you become."

When asked what she felt about the move to eliminate the compulsories from ice dancing, Chock said, "Even if we hadn't done so well, I would still be against getting rid of compulsories, because they teach basic skating and it allows the judges to compare the couples' actual skating skills."

Zuerlein added, "I definitely agree. They are a test of who's the best skater, so I would be sad to see them go."

Both the Shibutanis and Chock and Zuerlein train alongside each other with Igor Shpilband in Canton, Mich. Chock and Zuerlein finished just ahead of their training mates, in third, at last season's U.S. championships at the junior level.

Piper Gilles, the twin sister of U.S. junior ladies champion Alexe and younger sister of Todd), won group A with her new partner, Zachary Donahue, with 45.49 points.

"We've only been skating together for eight weeks, so we're delighted," said Donahue, who was a latecomer to the world of ice, taking up the sport when he was 10. He has only been in ice dancing for four years.

The couple had their legs extended straight out to the side on the synchronized twizzles, which earned them a Level 4. "It's one of the difficult lower body features," Patti Gottwein, their coach, said. Neither partner had performed this variation before.

They performed to "Go Daddy Go" and "Flat Foot Flugi" and included a particularly exuberant moment when Donahue threw Gilles up into the air. Is that even legal?

Gottwein explained, "Your first lift is your required lift, and then you are allowed to have a free lift. It has to meet all the requirements -- no hands above the head or upside down splits. It's very typical of the [dance] Lindy Hop."

Second in group A were Elyse Matsumoto and Patrick Mays, who earned 42.54. They performed to music from the motion picture soundtrack Thoroughly Modern Millie.

Mays wore spectacles to look like his character in the movie. He explained, "He hides behind this disguise pretending to be poor with a job as a paper clip salesman, but, in reality, he's a billionaire."

Matsumoto, who wore a silver head piece and a hair curlicue on her right cheek, said, "I think it was one of our strongest run-throughs. We're pretty happy."

Mays added, "There is definitely a lot that we can improve on before our next competition. We had some bobbles, but, all in all, it was a pretty good performance with expressing the characters."