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Gilles, Donohue shine in Lake Placid

Junior duo on fast track after Compulsory win

Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue perform their Compulsory routine in Lake Placid.
Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue perform their Compulsory routine in Lake Placid. (Daphne Backman)

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By Alexandra Stevenson, special to icenetwork.com
(08/03/2008) - It was raining heavily outside the historic Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, N.Y., on Saturday afternoon. But inside, two new stars shone brilliantly in the last event at the junior level, the compulsory championship.

The blonde Piper Gilles took the ice in a dramatic, blood-red, two-piece dress with her new handsome, dark-haired cavalier, Zach Donohue. They emitted a charged presence which lit up the rink. The hackneyed tones of the pounding music and archaic steps of the Paso Doble compulsory (devised in 1938) were given a glorious new dimension.

They performed this old warhorse with aggression, which, possibly, would have set a speed record had that been recorded. They succeeded in conjuring up the battleground of a bull fight.

"In practice," Gilles said, "sometimes we go too far. We've both had many bruises to show for it. But our coach [Patti Gottwein] tells us we have to put everything into it. We have to give it our all. I think we really benefited from getting our critiques earlier. We are hoping to get noticed and to get Junior Grand Prix assignments."

Critiques from judges and technical specialists were given to every couple and their coach after they competed.

Gilles and her previous partner, Tim McKernan, seemed set for the fast track after winning the silver medals in junior ice dancing at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships earlier this year.

The 5-feet-4, 16-year-old from Colorado Springs, Colo., who is one of six siblings, admitted, "It was a tough break-up. It was like losing a brother, but we still talk and I cheer for him and his new partner."

McKernan is now skating with Shannon Wingle. They also did extremely well in Lake Placid after being together for only four weeks. The junior level was packed with talented youngsters making the judging extremely difficult.

Donohue, a 17-year-old from Madison, Conn., who stands 5-feet-11, has had several partners, two of whom, Sara Bailey and KK Patitucci, competed against him this time in Lake Placid with their current partners. He was at a low point last year when he and his most recent partner failed to advance from sectionals to nationals.

Then Piper Gilles' advisors called his coach, Mathew Gates.

Dohohue explained, "As soon as I heard from Mathew, I started making arrangements for the tryout. I was on a plane to Colorado Springs within ten hours. I knew as soon as we skated together at the World Arena that the partnership would work.

"When we went back to the Gilles' home, I got down on one knee in the kitchen and said, 'Piper, you are the girl of my dreams. Will you skate with me?' And she said, 'Yes'. That was ten weeks ago."

Piper's older brother, Todd, and his partner, Jane Summersett, had already dominated the senior level in Lake Placid and are expected to compete at Skate America in October.

"It has been a marathon," the elder Gilles said. "We competed on all four days. You normally only do one compulsory, but here we did three. I've almost lost track of what's going on. The juniors had it even worse because they did four compulsories [because of the elimination round].

"It's an unbelievable experience. This is the start of only our second season together. We've gained enormously from the excellent monitoring program done here. But we're utterly exhausted."

He will get a few days off with his girlfriend before resuming training. In the meantime, Summersett is headed for some hiking and kayaking with her parents in the beautiful area around this village.

It is not at all unusual for partnerships to play merry-go-round. Even the 1984 and 1994 Olympic champions, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, whom many believe are the greatest ice dancers ever, didn't start out together.

Torvill was a British pair champion with Michael Hutchinson and Dean was a British junior ice dance champion with Sandra Elson. When asked, many years later, why she had broken up with Dean, Elson said, "Well, I didn't know he was going to become so bloody good, did I?"

Closing these championships on Saturday evening was the intermediate free dance. An incredibly cute brother-and-sister duo, Vu and Danvi Pham, who are 9 and 11 years old, won a field of 14 pairs by a significant 5.91-point margin over second-place duo Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter.

Both couples train at the Wheaton Ice Skating Academy in Maryland, near Silver Springs.

The Phams also won the $500 Jim Yorke Memorial Award for "Excellence in Choreography and Expression at Intermediate Level." Their routine, set to the Polovtsian Dances from Alexander Borodin's opera, Prince Igor, was intricately designed, enthusiastically performed and showed tremendous promise. Their twizzles gained Level 4 and both lifts were Level 3.