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Chock, Zuerlein win junior OD, but nobody's happy

Ice dancers critique themselves, and words are harsh

Junior ice dancers Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein have a small lead entering the free dance.
Junior ice dancers Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein have a small lead entering the free dance. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/21/2009) - In ice dance, skaters tolerate nothing less than perfection.

With no quads, triple Axels or huge throw jumps to supercharge their programs, the finer details - edges, stretched positions and the speedy, one-foot turns known as twizzles - are examined with a hypercritical eye.

So while the audience enjoyed last night's junior original dance, where teams showed off rhythms of the 1920s, '30s and '40s set to sprightly Broadway and Big Band tunes, the athletes were far from satisfied.

Even Junior Grand Prix Final champions Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein, who won the event with 52.89 points and take a 1.11-point lead into the free dance, made it clear they hadn't performed their best to Cole Porter's "Let's Misbehave."

"It started out pretty well, and then towards the end we both lost our breath and got pretty tired," Chock said. "We both sort of fell apart."

"Most of the elements were well-executed," Zuerlein attempted.

"Well, the spin was wobbly," Chock interjected.

"And we did have a minor problem with the straight-line lift," her partner admitted.

Chock and Zuerlein, who like many teams here train under Igor Shpilband and Marina Zueva in Canton, Mich., have had a grueling schedule. They competed this fall in Great Britain and Italy, with the Final held in Goyang, South Korea, in December.

"All of the traveling definitely takes a toll on you, but it's been a marvelous experience and I wouldn't miss it for anything," Chock said.

Fellow Shpilband-Zueva students Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani seemed a bit more pleased with their effort, despite a several-minute delay start to their program spent scouring the ice for stray beads.

"Unfortunately, Shannon Wingle [who placed sixth with partner Timothy McKernan] cut her finger in the middle of her program, and there were drops of blood on the ice and crystals from someone's dress," Maia explained.

"The referee [delayed our start] because the officials were looking out for our best interests," Alex added.

Despite the delay, the Shibutani siblings performed an elegant routine highlighted by strong lifts, although Alex had minor twizzle trouble.

"I think our legs were less warmed up [due to the wait], but we handled it well," he said. "I thought we had a good connection with each other and the audience."

Colorado Springs-based Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue, who have skated together just seven months, placed third with 47.33 points, but they, too, were a bit disappointed.

"We had a minor stumble at the beginning of our program, but the rest was pretty good, up until the twizzles," Donohue said. "I had a little brain fart and couldn't remember what I was supposed to do."

"Stuff like this is going to happen," Gilles added. "You don't wish it upon yourself or anybody else, but it just makes you stronger."

Gilles is battling an injured adductor tendon, which forced the team to withdraw from the Junior Grand Prix Final. She treats the injury with massage, physical therapy and weight training, but admitted that the moves in the original dance trouble her the most.

"It's pretty hard; we just started doing run-throughs [again] a few weeks ago," she said. "[This program] wasn't what we wanted, but I couldn't do anything other than what we did. I didn't want our season to end with another withdrawal."

Gilles and Donohue enter the free skate in third place overall with 76.83 points. Their Colorado Springs teammates Rachel Tibbetts and Collin Brubaker were fourth in the original with 47.19 points.