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Novice dance kicks things off in Cleveland

Bonacorsi, Mager lead; Olson, Cowan second

Lauri Bonacorsi and Travis Mager finished the competition with a final score of 105.80.
Lauri Bonacorsi and Travis Mager finished the competition with a final score of 105.80. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/19/2009) - The 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships got off to an elegant early morning start today when 12 novice couples took the ice for the compulsory dances.

Lauri Bonacorsi and Travis Mager took the lead by .96 points after winning the Blues and placing second in the Paso Doble.

"We were happy just to make it to nationals," Mager said. "To be in first is a big surprise."

The skaters met over icepartnersearch.com and were teamed up by coaches Greg Maddalone and Genrikh Sretenski late last May.

"Coming in, we really thought the Paso was our stronger dance, but we've worked hard on the Blues and it paid off today," Bonacorsi said.

Both said they enjoyed competing compulsory dances, the set-pattern routines used by judges to help evaluate ice dancers' basic technique. The future of the sometimes old-fashioned event is in jeopardy, since the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has requested that for the 2014 Olympics ice dance include only two events, in line with other figure skating disciplines.

"I like doing them; they're all about staying in control," Mager explained.

"It's fun expressing yourself to the different music," Bonacorsi added.

The two dances competed today both date back to the 1930s but have little else in common. The pulsing Paso is all about power and precision, while the more languid Blues emphasizes deep knees and strong edges.

Anastasia Olson and Jordan Cowan sit second with 46.26, with a first place in the Paso and second in the Blues. They train in Ann Arbor, Mich., under Yuri Chesnichenko and Yaroslava Nechaeva, where they share the ice with world junior champions Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, U.S. junior champs Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell, and other outstanding teams.

"We love training there," Olson said. "We really look up to Emily and Evan, and the Hubbells. Practicing with them is a great way to improve ourselves."

Gabrielle Friedenberg and Benjamin Nykiel captured third in the Paso and fourth in the Blues, for third place overall with 44.14 points.

Training under Robby Kaine and Sretenski in rinks including the IceWorks in Aston, Pa., they too see elite competitors up close, including five-time U.S. champions Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto and U.S. bronze medalists Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre.

"They really inspire us," Nykiel said. "They're not intimidating at all."

"Tanith and Ben, and Kim and Brent, are such good role models," added Kaine. "Gabrielle and Ben go out there and get to feel the same enthusiasm these top teams do. Their work ethics are incredible and they set a great atmosphere."