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Championship events get underway in Michigan

Crouse, Holliday and Trzaska take gold medals on Friday

The top-three finishers in championship gold ladies -- Jenna Graciano (left), Cindy Crouse (middle) and Cynthia Jacobson (right) -- smile together.
The top-three finishers in championship gold ladies -- Jenna Graciano (left), Cindy Crouse (middle) and Cynthia Jacobson (right) -- smile together. (Becca Staed)

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By Becca Staed, special to icenetwork.com
(04/24/2009) - The championship events at the 2009 U.S. Adult Figure Skating Championships finally got underway Friday at the Patterson Ice Center in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Championship Gold Ladies

Cindy Crouse, 51, and Cynthia Jacobson, 45, showed that age isn't everything after winning the gold and silver medals, respectively, Friday night in the championship gold ladies event.

"This says something for the older group," said Crouse's coach, Sue Schmitt.

Bronze medalist Jenna Graciano, 30, also had something to prove after finishing 11th in this event last year.

"You have good days and bad days," Graciano said. "That was not my best day, but 11th place was still something I was proud of, because I was 11th in the country. But, overall, I am pretty pleased. I had a lot to skate for today."

Skating second to last, Crouse, the CEO of an international trade association, landed eight clean jumps, six in combination, and brought in the highest program component marks in her division -- 18.83 -- for a 31.72-point free skate mark.

"It was my best skate this season," said Crouse. "My coach of six years, Sue, created wonderful choreography, and the judges rewarded that."

Jacobson, a Pilates instructor and personal trainer, moved up three spots from last year's fifth-place finish, for which she credits long hours spent fine tuning her on-ice artistry.

"I wanted to improve my program component score this year," she said. "Pretty much, at my age, I can only do so much. Technically, I am probably not going to learn any more jumps, so I wanted to improve my artistic side of skating and look a little more polished."

Skating to 1920s-inspired music from the Leatherheads motion picture soundtrack, Jacobson landed five clean single jumps, four in combination, and one of three planned double jumps. Jacobson's program component score of 18.64 bested Graciano by more than a point. She collected a competition total of 30.06.

A sophomore at the U.S. Adult Championships, Graciano gave everyone a scare when she entered into a planned double Salchow wrong and fell hard from a nearly horizontal position in the air, but she immediately picked herself up unfazed.

"The entry was a little off, but, you know, it happens," said Graciano, who was a track and field state champion in college. "I always tell myself not to [play it safe]. Go for it, go for everything you are trying to do."

Despite the fall, Graciano's free skate to music from Rudy featured a clean double Salchow in combination, as well as nearly eight clean single jumps. Her opening sit spin earned a Level 2, and she garnered a 17.28 program component score for 29.83 total points.

Patti McNeill landed seven clean single jumps to finish fourth with 28.97 points.

Championship Masters Junior-Senior Men

Larry Holliday, 44, reclaimed a couple of things this year in the championship masters junior-senior men's event. Not only did he win gold for the first time since 2004, when the former senior-level competitor and 1990 Team USA member became the first to successfully land a triple jump at the U.S. Adult Championships, but after five trying years, Holliday also managed to land another triple jump -- a Salchow -- in competition for the first time since that glorious day in 2004.

Going into the 2005 U.S. Adult Championships, Holliday broke his leg and was forced to undergo surgery, missing two years of competition. He returned in 2007 to win silver, and he finished third last year in this event.

"I've just been trying to get back into it," said the figure skating coach. "The last two times I competed, I put [the triple] in but missed it. This is the first time back that I was able to pull it off. When I landed it, I knew that was awesome, but I also had another three minutes left."

In those three minutes, Holliday ticked off five huge double jumps, two in combination, and a clean single Axel. Two of his spins earned Level 2s from the judges. He received the highest program component scores -- 23.33 -- for a competition mark of 47.34.

Davin Grindstaff, a 39-year-old communications professor at Georgia State University, defended his silver medal, earning 45.11 points for his free skate to Debussy's "Clair de Lune."

After steering away from his traditionally classical style last year, Grindstaff discovered that new is not always better.

"I went back to classical music this year, which was a big rule for me," he said. "Last year, I ventured out of my comfort zone, and the program never felt comfortable. This program, though exhausting, feels comfortable."

He also enlisted the help of a ballroom dance choreographer this year, which helped him hone his movements. Yet, too much thought on the ice kept him from realizing his potential this year, he said.

"At the beginning of the program, I got excited and then anticipated it a little bit," Grindstaff said. "I was counting the points as I missed them. My brain has a hard time shutting down. I felt OK about the overall program, but I am disappointed in myself."

Grindstaff landed five clean double jumps and a clean double Axel en route to second place.

Dressed in a 12-year-old clown costume, bronze medalist Edward VanCampen revisited a former program for what he said would be his final appearance at the U.S. Adult Championships after six competitive years.

"I'm old," said the 49-year-old skating instructor. "I am too old to compete against the 20-year-olds. If I can't keep skating at the level I want to show, it's time to go."

Skating third to Saint-Saens' "The Swan," VanCampen popped three double jumps but landed two clean singles and a nice double toe. His spins were the highlight of the performance, earning two Level 4s and a Level 3, for a 39.19-point free skate score.

Fourth place went to Michael Orr, who landed three of seven double jumps cleanly and nailed two single Axels for a competition mark of 38.78.

Championship Gold Men

Many from last year's championship gold men's class moved up this year, making room for several fresh faces, including two of the top-three finishers.

First place went to Stephen Trzaska, a newcomer to the division, who is making his fifth appearance at the U.S. Adult Championships since 2004.

The 33-year-old freelance science editor passed his gold tests just days before the January 2 deadline in order to be able to compete at the championship gold level.

"I had 18 days or so to learn an Axel, and my coach and I just put the nose to the grindstone and did it," Trzaska said. "I haven't really done it since, but I did it when it mattered."

He landed 10 single jumps and received three Level 4s on his spins. His 31.54-point free skate score bested silver medalist Dennis Palaganas by nearly four points.

Trzaska won silver in the gold pairs event earlier Friday with partner Tara Cioppa and will also compete in championship adult pairs with Cioppa Saturday night.

Palaganas, 39, a seven-year veteran of the gold level, made his first appearance as a championship gold man last year, finishing fifth. His primary goal this year was to land a clean double Salchow, but nerves got the best of him and he two-footed the landing.

"I was trying not to be nervous, but I ended up very nervous and had a mistake at the beginning of my program," said the software engineer. "I eventually calmed down and said, 'Just do the rest. Don't make any more mistakes. Don't think about the element you just missed and try to put it in some time later. It's gone and done.'"

With 17.03 points, Palaganas garnered the second-highest program component score of the group, behind William Lay, who took fifth. Though shaky, he landed all of his single jumps, including a nice single flip, en route to a 27.72-point competition mark for second place.

Another newcomer to the championship gold event, 45-year-old Marco Pizzo, claimed the bronze medal with his free skate to music from the Romeo and Juliet movie soundtrack.

"I was really pleased with my skate," said the interior designer. "I got all the elements I wanted, and the crowd was amazing. They helped me get through the whole thing by cheering."

Pizzo landed 10 flawless single jumps, seven in combination, on his way to a 27.34-point free skate.

Liam Cowper claimed his second consecutive pewter medal in this event with a free skate score of 26.59.

Championship Adult Dance

Following the championship adult dance compulsory dances, six-time champions Julie Keith and Michael Ricigliano are positioned for yet another gold medal. They are in first place with 37.74 points. 2008 silver medalists Anna Li and William Eastler sit in second with 34.80 points, and event newcomers Barbara Walker and Timothy Bookwalter are in third with 30.12 points.