Lysacek, Kim hit the ice in Lake Placid
Belbin, Agosto head dance field; Chinese continue comeback
|Yu-Na Kim seeks to maintain the torrid pace she's set after earning a world record 207.71 points winning the world title in March. (Getty Images)|
By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(11/09/2009) - Storylines abound at this week's 2009 Cancer.Net Skate America in historic Lake Placid, N.Y., the fifth of six ISU fall Grand Prix events. Will world champion Evan Lysacek take home his first Skate America gold medal after three silvers and a bronze? The two-time U.S. champion skated well at his first Grand Prix event, Cup of China, placing second to red-hot Nobunari Oda. In Lake Placid, he'll face-off against 2008 European champion Tomas Verner, the charismatic, quad-jumping Czech who won silver at Trophee Eric Bompard. "I'm really happy with this starting point for the season," Lysacek said after his free skate at Cup of China. "I think as the year progresses to the Olympics my free program [choreographed by Lori Nichol to Scheherazade] is going to turn into something even better." U.S. silver medalist Brandon Mroz, who placed seventh at Cup of Russia, and Mroz' training mate Ryan Bradley, ninth at Eric Bompard, will also contend for medals. There will be plenty to watch on the ladies side, despite the withdrawal of Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen due to injury. Yu-Na Kim seeks to maintain the torrid pace she's set after earning a world record 207.71 points winning the world title in March, then besting that standard by 2.32 points (to 210.03) at Trophee Eric Bompard last month. The South Korean marvel has added a triple Lutz, triple toe loop combination to her programs and has looked virtually unstoppable. "She's a perfectionist; she wants every jump to be clean for the callers and judges," Kim's coach, Brian Orser, said in Paris. So far this fall, Kim's mostly achieved that goal, although a skipped triple flip in her free skate at Bompard to Gershwin's "Concerto in F" proved she is human. Two-time U.S. silver medalist Rachael Flatt guns for her second-ever senior Grand Prix medal, hoping to improve upon a fourth-place finish at Cup of China. The Colorado Springs-based skater will look to hit her triple-triple combination and zest to her Lori Nichol-choreographed programs, a short to Sing, Sing, Sing and free skate to Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a theme by Paganini." Dark horses lurk in the rest of the ladies' field, including five-time Japanese champion Fumie Suguri, Georgian Elene Gedevanishvili and high-jumping Hungarian veteran Julia Sebestyen, who won the short program at Cup of Russia before placing sixth there overall. 2008 U.S. junior champion Alexe Gilles hopes to build on her respectable fifth-place finish at Trophee Eric Bompard, while 2006 Olympian Emily Hughes replaces Cohen and returns to competition for the first time since last fall. The 20-year-old skater, who is taking a year off her studies at Harvard University, seeks to re-establish herself heading into the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Her last international assignment was 2008 Trophee Eric Bompard, where she placed a disappointing ninth. "The last time I competed . . . that's not the way I want to go out," she told icenetwork.com this summer. "I want to look forward." Skate America is her chance. Coming off a convincing win at Cup of China, five-time U.S. ice dance champions Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto will seek to perfect their programs while once again holding off European champions Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski, who took silver in China. "This was a very good start for us, because these are probably the most difficult programs we've ever had," Belbin said in China. The Americans and Russians will be challenged by Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, who won silver at Cup of Russia, as well as two-time U.S. bronze medalists Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre, who opened the fall season with a sixth-place finish at Trophee Eric Bompard. Navarro and Bommentre will perform a free dance to Bono and Mary J. Blige's version of U-2's "One," choreographed by three-time U.S. dance champion Renee Roca. "They told me they wanted to kick up the lift elements a notch," Roca told icenetwork.com. "For the first couple of days we just worked up lift ideas on the floor. Of course, many were not possible [under IJS], but some could be tweaked. They're really interested in opening up their repertoire." Reigning world junior ice dance champions Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein, who like Navarro and Bommentre hope to contend for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team, will also be on hand in Lake Placid. The young team, who are coached by Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, made their senior debut at Cup of China, placing eighth. Two-time Olympic pair bronze medalists Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, continue their stunning return after two years away from competition. The 31- and 36-year-old skaters haven't lost their high-flying triple twist or soaring triple throws, defeating younger countrymen Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang to win Cup of China despite losing points when they failed to complete their pair combination spin. "We are very pleased to have followed our [comeback] plan since May," Zhao said in China. "Our program was good, but not yet perfect." Zhang and Zhang, the reigning Olympic silver medalists and three-time world silver medalists, are also in Lake Placid. Two-time U.S. champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker will meet the Chinese legends for the first time and are thrilled by the prospect. "I was joking with my mom that maybe I would get their autographs," McLaughlin told icenetwork.com last week. "[Competing against them] will definitely be motivating. I've loved watching them since I was 13, when I saw them live at Four Continents. They're amazing." The pair made their season debut at the Rostelecom Cup, winning the bronze medal with two programs choreographed by Sarah Kawahara: a short to "Unchained Melody" and a free skate to selections from the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack. "We were surprised and pleased with how well our short went," added McLaughlin. "Even though I fell in the free [on a triple Salchow], I'm proud I didn't give up without a fight. For Skate America it's all about competing well and looking more mature and polished." The skaters don't plan any major changes to their routines. "We're going to really try to all-out perform the programs," Brubaker said. "I feel like we've trained well and our stamina is good. We may add more arm movements. We're concentrating on [improving] the program component scores." Coming off a bronze medal at Cup of Russia, Ukrainians Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov will bring their powerful triple twist and strong lifts to Lake Placid. 2007 U.S. champions Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski, who impressed at competitions this summer, and Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig, seventh at Cup of China, are featured in the deep pairs field.