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Chock, Zuerlein win U.S. junior dance title

Skaters glide to victory with Phantom of the Opera; Shibutanis are second

Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein put an exclamation point on a career-defining junior season in Sofia.
Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein put an exclamation point on a career-defining junior season in Sofia. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/22/2009) - Tuesday's original dances left the top three couples so cranky you could feel a chill in the air. Today, there were smiles all around.

None were brighter than those of Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein, the Junior Grand Prix champions who added the U.S. junior ice dance title to their medal haul with a sensitive, finely woven performance to selections from The Phantom of the Opera.

"We felt like we had a good skate. It was nice to have a day off [Wednesday] so we could start out fresh today," Chock, 16, said. "I really thought we had a connection to each other and the audience."

"I felt much better than in the OD. I could feel my legs underneath me," Zuerlein, 20, added.

Chock and Zuerlein, who train in Igor Shpilband's school in Canton, Mich., led the event from start to finish. They ended with 167.81 points, some 6.78 ahead of the field, to score their fourth major victory of the season.

"Every competition is good, to gain more experience," Chock said. "You make mistakes, and then you learn how to fix them."

The next logical step is the ISU World Junior Figure Skating Championships, to be held in late February in Sofia, Bulgaria.

"Our goal is top three," Chock said. "But mainly, we just want to enjoy our performances. If we do, it usually shows."

Chock and Zuerlein's training mates in Canton, siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, performed a soft, elegant program, to music from Cinema Paradiso, marred only by Maia's fall on a twizzle sequence. They placed second in the free dance and second overall with 161.03 points.

"I'm happy with the overall skate," Maia, 14, said. "This is a sport. Everyone has an off-day or an off-moment. I just slipped out of it. It was a fluke sort of thing."

The Colorado Springs-based team of Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue prevented a Canton sweep of the medals by winning the bronze with a spirited and intricate program to Latin rhythms. They ended the competition with 151.10 points.

"It was definitely a major improvement [over the OD]," Gilles, who is battling an injury to her adductor tendon, said. "My legs felt much better. It was a great way to end the season -- doing something we're proud off. We tried to have fun and entertain everyone, and hopefully we did that.

"This week has been a little bit nerve-wracking; its like, 'Is my leg going to hold up?'"

Donohue, who moved to Colorado Springs to skate with Gilles just seven months ago, was more than satisfied with his first trip to the U.S. Championships.

"There are a lot of new things to get myself into, a lot going on, between the [Quicken Loans Arena] here and the practices at Hoover Arena," Donohue said. "It's been blessed. I'll take a bronze medal at my first nationals. I can't complain."

Shannon Wingle and Timothy McKernan, who also train in Canton, were fourth with 145.05 points.

None of the top three couples were certain whether they would move up to the senior ranks next season.

"We probably will, but we're not sure," Chock said. "Next year will be a busy year. I don't know what our coaches' plans are for us yet. We have to wait and discuss it with them."