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Wagner looks sharp at Moran Memorial

Once Upon a Time in America short is a hit

Ashley Wagner finished first in the short program at the Moran Memorial Championships.
Ashley Wagner finished first in the short program at the Moran Memorial Championships. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(08/29/2009) - Without a protocol, you're lost.

At first glance, there were some clean short programs from the ladies at the Moran Memorial Championships, a non-qualifying competition being held at the Ice House in Hackensack, N.J. But that's before you study the sheet that tells the technical tale.

Take Ashley Wagner. After an opening triple flip-double toe combination, she got hit with a double deduction on her triple Lutz. It was both downgraded and flagged for an incorrect inside take-off edge, leaving it worth just 1.6 points.

"We've been working a lot on my technique," said Wagner, 18, who placed fourth at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships after winning the event's free skate.

"Clearly, [coach] Priscilla [Hill] and I will not be satisfied until my Lutz is 100 percent on an outside edge [take-off]. We're taking baby steps. We hope it's there by nationals, and we're also hoping for a triple-triple combination for my Grand Prix events [NHK Trophy and Rostelecom Cup]."

Wagner's Once Upon a Time in America short was crisp and sure, with energetic straight-line steps and two level 4 spins, as well as a level 4 spiral sequence. She earned 54.88 points, edging out Georgia's Elene Gedevanishvili by 1.19.

"I was happy with it," she said. "The first program of the season is always the most difficult. You want to go out there with a big bang, but everything is still so new.

"I've really only been seriously training for one month; after Champs Camp [in June], I was so sick. I was out for two weeks and off ice completely for a week. Ever since I've gotten healthy again, we've been training all out."

Gedevanishvili, who placed tenth at the 2009 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, took second with a speedy, flirtatious take on the jazz classic "Fever," opening with a solid triple Lutz followed by a triple toe-double toe combination.

The highlight of her program, choreographed by coach Robin Wagner, is a sinuous straight-line footwork sequence created with former Georgian champion Vakhtang Murvanidze.

"It felt good," Gedevanishvili, 19, said. "I could have pushed more and done the triple toe-triple toe, but I'm happy."

"We still have to tweak the program but it's getting there," Wagner said. "We've really worked on holding the spiral positions, especially the fan spiral. If you don't hold them long enough, you'll end up with zero points."

Gedevanishvili and Wagner recently returned from the BC/YT Summer Skate competition, held at Vancouver's Burnaby 8 rink, where the Georgian skater won the free skate.

"It wasn't held at the Olympic rink, but I wanted to get away for a few days, and I wanted Elene to get a whiff of the [2010] Olympic city," Wagner, who trains Gedevanishvili at the Ice House, said.

"I saw the [athlete's] village, and the Canadian people are so nice, they're over nice," Gedevanishvili added. "They can't do enough for you."

Last season's eastern sectionals champ Joelle Forte placed third with her program to music from Mr. and Mrs. Smith.

The 23-year-old Fordham University student hit a triple Lutz-double toe, but her seemingly solid triple Salchow was downgraded by the technical panel. Her spins, footwork and spirals gained level 3's and 4's, but her program components were lower than the top ladies' and she ended with 48.88 points.

"It felt really good; I felt on top of my feet," Forte said.

The skater, who placed 12th at the 2009 U.S. Championships, hopes to represent Azerbaijan at Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany in September.

"So far, go good," she said. "Hopefully, it will move even more smoothly, and I will be confirmed for Oberstdorf. It was a lot of paperwork; I did it and now it's wait and see."

"Representing Azerbaijan opens up more opportunities for her," Elaine Zayak, who coaches Forte with Dmitri Gromov, said, adding that the president of the Azerbaijan skating federation watched Forte compete at the Liberty Open earlier this summer.

"Joelle should be at the world championships and competing with world-class skaters, and we don't know if that could ever happen in the U.S. It's not that we don't want that, it's just being relatively unknown in an Olympic year, it's tough. I would love to see her at worlds and possibly the Olympics; she deserves it."

According to Forte and Zayak, everything is set with Azerbaijani officials, and they are awaiting approval from the ISU.

"The ball is in their court," Forte said.

Ksenio Makorova, who will represent Russia in next week's Lake Placid Junior Grand Prix, was fourth with 47.91 points. Makorova, 16, is the daughter of Larisa Selezneva and Oleg Makarov, who won two European pair titles and two world medals skating for the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

The tall, blonde skater turned out of all of her jump elements, including an opening triple toe-triple toe, but showed impressive speed and skating skills, earning 47.91 points.

Like Wagner and Forte, Samantha Cesario's "Bohemian Rhapsody" short scored lower than expected due to a downgrade. In Cesario's case, an under-rotated triple flip, done in combination with a double toe, cost her points and put her fifth with 46.96 points.

"I'm really happy with the program," Cesario, who turned 16 last week, said. "The flip is new for me. We're trying to get the bigger jumps out there."

Carriere skates clean short
There were no downgrades or edge calls for Stephen Carriere, who impressed with his short to "Carmina Burana."

The skater's sometimes troublesome triple Axel looked spot-on here, gaining positive grades of execution from four judges. He also hit a triple Lutz-double toe and triple flip.

"It was okay, better than it was in early June [at the Boston Open]," Carriere, who won the junior world title in 2007, said.

"Oh my gosh, the triple Axel -- we've been taking it apart and analyzing it. Now I've got to go back and work even harder."

The 20-year-old skater made a surprising coaching change earlier this summer, moving from long-time mentors Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson at Skating Club of Boston to Priscilla Hill and Karl Kurtz in Wilmington.

"I just needed a change. Literally, change is the word," Carriere said.

"Training [in Wilmington] is really fun, just like it was in Boston. Skating with Ashley [Wagner], Shaun Rogers, Viktor Pfeifer and all of the other kids is very motivating."

Carriere's new training partner, Rogers, was second with 57.16 points. He opened with a quadruple toe-double toe, but put a hand down on the quad and later turned out of the landing of a triple Axel.