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U.S. wins four medals at Ice Challenge in Austria

One gold, two silvers and a bronze for Team USA

The 2008 European champion and six-time Czech champion, Tomas Verner, led the men's competition, finishing with 201.80 and the gold medal.
The 2008 European champion and six-time Czech champion, Tomas Verner, led the men's competition, finishing with 201.80 and the gold medal. (Getty Images)

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By Becca Staed-Bishop, special to icenetwork.com
(11/01/2009) - The U.S. team at Ice Challenge in Graz, Austria, collected four medals -- one gold, two silvers and a bronze -- the most of any country there. Several unexpected contenders claimed podium spots, such as ladies gold medalist Kanako Murakami of Japan, who made her senior international debut in Graz, and newly-paired Italian pairs team Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek, who picked up bronze despite Berton's switch from singles to pairs in the past year, while the Czech Republic's Tomas Verner, who is fifth in icenetwork.com's world rankings, topped the men's podium.

Ladies
Kanako Murakami dominated the ladies event, leading by 12.62 points with a personal best 170.41 competition mark. Also making her senior international debut was American Amanda Dobbs, who finished second in the short program, only to be overcome in the free skate by Italy's Valentina Marchei. With 157.79 points overall, Marchei earned the silver medal, while Dobbs took home bronze with a personal best score of 148.19.

Murakami led Dobbs in the short program by only 1.36 points, displaying three Level 4 spins and a dazzling triple flip, followed by a double Axel. The 2008 Japanese junior bronze medalist lost 0.80 points on her opening triple Lutz-double toe for taking off on the wrong edge.

Dobbs' short program was spotless, but her program component mark trailed Murakami's by 1.16 points. Her jumps -- a triple toe-double toe, triple Salchow and double Axel -- were spot on and earned 3.40 GOE points combined. All of her spins earned Level 4s and her step sequences were Level 3s.

Marchei earned 54.64 points for her short program. The four-time Italian national medalist landed a clean triple Lutz-double toe and triple Salchow, and performed three Level 4 spins. She lost 0.80 points on her double Axel, and her layback spin received only a Level 2. Her program component mark was only the fourth highest.

Yet, Marchei shone in the free skate to finish second, nearly eight points behind Murakami but 13 points ahead of Dobbs. She landed five clean triples and six doubles, including an opening triple Lutz-double toe. Three of her spins earned Level 4s, and her layback spin improved to garner a Level 3.

In her free skate, Murakami performed five doubles and three triples, two of which earned negative GOEs. Yet, she made up for the losses with a triple flip-double Axel jump sequence, followed by a triple Salchow-double loop-double loop, which brought in 18.37 points combined. Two of her spins earned Level 4s, and her three remaining elements received Level 3s.

Skating second to last, Dobbs slipped into third in the free skate, mostly because of a lower base value than her contenders. She lost one point on her triple toe loop in sequence, and her second double Axel in a double Axel-double Axel jump sequence was downgraded. However, she had a strong program component score of 45.60 and landed three clean triple jumps and four doubles. Three of four spins received Level 4s.

"I am really happy with third place," said Dobbs. "It is my personal best ever and my senior debut. I am feeling more confident in my skating and have been able to enjoy and feel the music. My jumps have also gotten better and more consistent."

After competing on last year's Junior Grand Prix Series, in which she won gold and bronze medals and earned a berth to the JGP Final, where she finished seventh, Dobbs is enjoying her extra training time this season.

"It's a little different this season because I am not traveling as much and have more time to train, which is good and has helped me get more comfortable in my jumps and learn to deal with nerves," she said.

Four-time Estonian champion Elena Glebova finished fourth in both segments to come in fourth place overall with 142.17 points.

Men
The 2008 European champion and six-time Czech champion, Tomas Verner, led the men's competition, finishing with 201.80 and the gold medal. Silver medalist Anton Kovalevski of Ukraine closely pursued Verner to end with 197.88 points. Frenchman Alban Preaubert finished fourth in the short program and fifth in the free skate but came out third overall with 193.83 points.

After an erroneous opening, Verner regained himself to land two triple jumps back-to-back. All of his spins earned Level 4s and his step sequences received Level 3s. His program component score was the field's highest by three-and-a-half points. The Czech's free skate was littered with mistakes but enough to keep him afloat, particularly with the help of his 72.40 program component score that topped the free skate runner-up by nearly eight points.

He attempted opening with a quad toe loop but fell short, receiving a -2.88 GOE. He also popped his triple Salchow, singled an intended triple Axel, took off with the wrong edge on his triple flip and received a Level 1 for his flying combination spin. Yet, Verner successfully landed three triple jumps -- two in combination -- and performed two Level 4 spins and two Level 3 step sequences.

Kovalevski, a three-time Ukrainian champion, trailed Verner by just 2.30 points in the short program. He landed two clean triple jumps and displayed three Level 4 spins. Low GOEs combined with a fall on his triple Axel and a botched double flip placed him third in the free skate. Yet, he sat just 0.06 points behind second place, having successfully landed four triple jumps, including three in combination, and two double jumps, and performed two Level 4 spins. His 68.90 program component score was easily the second highest.

Three-time French bronze medalist Preaubert came in fourth in the short program, but just 0.14 points behind his countryman, Chafik Besseghier, in third place. He did not fare much better in the free skate, finishing fifth but, due to erratic finishes in that segment, was able to maintain third place overall.

He had two falls in his free skate but landed four clean triples, three in combination and two of which were Axels, performed a Level 4 change-foot combination spin and had the third-highest program component mark.

In his second senior international competition, Besseghier finished third in the short program and sixth in the free skate to place fourth overall, just 0.52 points behind Preaubert.

Pairs
The American pairs teams of Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin, and Chloe Katz and Joe Lynch maintained the top-two spots during the pairs event to take home gold and silver, respectively. Yankowskas and Coughlin topped their previous personal best total of 141.70, earned at 2008 Skate America, by more than 20 points. The newly-paired Italian team, Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek, finished third with 151.77, just three points behind the runners-up.

Yankowskas and Coughlin made just one mistake in their short program - turning out the landing of their side-by-side triple toe loops that elicited a -2.00 GOE. However, they performed a strong routine, highlighted by a Group 4 lift and pairs combination spin, both of which received Level 4s. Their opening Level 2 triple Lutz twist lift was solid, and their backward-outside death spiral and throw triple Salchow both earned 0.70 GOEs.

In the free skate, the duo displayed an excellent throw triple Salchow that brought in a 1.40 GOE. Their Group 5 Axel lasso lift earned a Level 4 and a 1.00 GOE. Their pairs combination spin and closing Group 4 lift also received Level 4s, and the team posted the highest program component score by more than three points.

Yankowskas took a spill on the throw triple loop, which cost the team three points total; they lost two more points on their side-by-side triple toe loops, but the duo isn't dwelling on the mistakes, but looking ahead to their next competition - Skate Canada in November.

"This competition was about being committed to the changes we made earlier in the season -- trying to be more efficient and getting the most points," Coughlin said. "This was a great chance to get feedback from the American judge who was also at (the) Indy [Pairs Challenge] to know what we need to work on before Skate Canada. We are really happy with the result."

Katz and Lynch, the 2008 Coupe de Nice silver medalists, sat just more than a point behind their U.S. teammates in the short program, during which they displaying two Level 4 spins, a Group 4 Level 4 lift, and strong side-by-side double Axels. They fell into fourth place in the free skate but earned the second-highest program component score to stay less than a point behind second place in that segment and in second place overall. The duo earned Level 4s for both of their spins, including a spin sequence that garnered the highest GOE of 1.00, as well as for their opening lift. They also performed clean side-by-side double Axel-double toe loops and a nice Group 5 step-in lasso lift.

Katz and Lynch lost 1.10 points total on their opening triple flip twist lift and side-by-side triple toe loops, yet was most excited about their improvement on those elements since they began working on them.

"We are happy with how we skated, and we are excited because we hit our side-by-side triple toes," Lynch said. "And this is only our second or third competition with the triple twist lift, and each competition it's getting a little better. We are really looking forward to nationals."

Berton and Hotarek finished third in the short program, just less than four points behind Katz and Lynch. Berton is new to pairs but is a three-time Italian national medalist with three top-four finishes on the JGP Series. Hotarek is a two-time Italian national pairs champion (once as a junior) with former partner Laura Magitteri.

Their routine featured a Level 4 combination spin, throw triple Salchow and Group 4 Level 4 lift. They finished second in the free skate after an impressive routine that displayed two Level 4 spins, a throw triple Salchow and two Group 5 lifts - a step-in lasso lift and an Axel lasso lift -- both of which earned Level 4s. Their only major mistake occurred on the opening side-by-side triple toe-double toe, which received a -2.00 GOE.

Germans Maylin Hausch and Daniel Wende came in fourth with 150.29 points.

Ice Dancing
The 2009 Hungarian champions Nora Hoffmann and Maxim Zavozin maintained a secure lead throughout the ice dancing event to claim their first international victory with a 163.87 competition mark, an eight-point lead over silver medalists Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt of the United States, who posted all-around personal best scores. Three-time German champions Christina Beier and William Beier won the bronze medal.

In the compulsory dance, The Hungarian team posted the took a nearly five-point lead over Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt, who, with 29.08 points, sat third behind U.S. teammates Trina Pratt and Chris Obzansky. The Beiers were fourth with 28.66 points.

Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt, the 2008 Karl Schäfer Memorial silver medalists, posted a personal best original dance score of 49.38 to win the segment. They earned positive marks on all of their elements, including 1.00 Grades of Execution (GOE) for both of their step sequences. The routine was highlighted by an opening straight-line lift and sequential twizzles, both of which received Level 4s.

Hoffmann and Zavozin trailed the American by just 0.34 points in the segment and posted the highest component score of 23.51 to stay ahead. They earned 1.00 GOEs for both of their step sequences, while their sequential twizzles merited a Level 4. The Beiers finished third in the original dance after posting a 47.93-point score. The 2007 Nebelhorn silver medalists had the field's second-highest element score. Their opening sequential twizzles and straight-line lift both received Level 4s, and their midline step sequence was graded the highest GOE of 0.67.

In the free dance, gold medalists Hoffmann and Zavozin collected 80.91 points for first place. They received Level 4s on all three of their lifts as well as their synchronized twizzles. Both of their step sequences were graded 1.00 GOEs.

Runners-up Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt trailed the Hungarian team by just more than three points in the free dance with 77.41 points. They had the second-highest component mark and earned Level 4s on five of seven elements, including all lifts and their closing spin.

"We worked really hard to get to this point, and I think it was a bigger accomplishment for us because things have been chaotic here," said Giulietti-Schmitt. "The compulsory event was delayed two hours, and our practices kept getting pushed later. But we just rolled with it and didn't let things fluster us."

The Americans' only bobble in the free skate came at the end on the synchronized twizzles, for which they received a -1.00 GOE. "Everything was going well until the twizzles," Kriengkrairut said. "We were kind of tired from the week and the program itself. I had a stumble on the first twizzle and did the second twizzle, but the sequence still got a Level 1."

They finished with 155.87 overall, beating their previous personal best total score by nearly 22 points.

The German team finished third in the free dance with 76.61 points. They opened with Level 4 synchronized twizzles that received a -0.17 GOE. Yet, the brother-sister duo maintained positive GOEs throughout the rest of the routine, which featured two Level 4 lifts and a Level 4 combination spin. Their serpentine lift earned the highest GOE of 1.00. With 153.20 points overall, the Beiers earned their third international bronze medal together.

Fourth place went to Great Britain's Christina Chitwoood and Mark Hanretty, who, with 150.15 overall points, beat their previous personal best by more than 15 points.