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Russian pair leads the way in Kingston

Castelli, Shnapir sit second after "best ever" short

Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze turned in an impressive short program at Skate Canada.
Lubov Iliushechkina and Nodari Maisuradze turned in an impressive short program at Skate Canada. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/29/2010) - For tiny Lubov Iliushechkina, who won the short program here with partner Nodari Maisuradze, there are no secrets on how to make a successful transition from the junior to senior ranks.

"We have had [intense] preparation for this," the 19-year-old skater said. "We spend a lot of time on the ice and skate, skate, skate."

The 2009 world junior champions have impressed in practice here in Kingston with near-perfect run-throughs done at breakneck speed.

Their competitive short, skated to Mozart's "Marriage of Figaro," was more of the same. They opened with side-by-side triple toes, followed by a huge throw triple loop and triple twist. Their death spiral; side-by-side spins; and lift all gained Level 4, and they earned 60.72 points.

"This is my favorite program, but it was not the best we ever skated," Iliushechkina said. "At our second Grand Prix last season, Cup of China, we earned 62 points, and it was better."

The pair, who train in Moscow under Natalia Pavlova, take a 4.38-point lead into tomorrow's free skate.

Performing to Pink Floyd's "Money," Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir of the U.S. -- who squared off against the Russians at the 2009 world juniors, winning bronze -- had what they called their best short ever, hitting clean side-by-side triple Salchows; a snappy triple twist; and big throw triple Salchow. Their only error was on their final move, a back inside death spiral, where they gained just Level 1.

Shnapir has had back issues in recent weeks, and the Boston-based pair's practices here have been less-than- stellar. But they put all concerns aside once the music started.

"Practice is just practice," Shnapir said. "Even in juniors, lots of times you would see kids do outrageous tricks in practice and then not execute in the competition. We don't let little mistakes in practice effect us."

"We didn't have a great warm-up, either, but that was fine; I think it made us want to fight for the program even more," added Castelli.

The skaters who are coached by Bobby Martin, Carrie Wall and Sheryl Franks, worked hard this summer to improve their triple twist.

"From the beginning of the year, we've been working on the clean catch, rotating fast, and not having a crashy landing," Castelli said. "This was our best performance ever. We really bumped up our second mark [program components] and performed for the crowd."

Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers, sixth in Canada last season, sit third after a rousing turn to the City Slickers soundtrack that earned 56.14 points.

Except for a trouble on their triple toes -- he touched a hand down, and she stepped out -- they nailed their elements, gaining extra applause for a flashy lift with a spectacular exit they call "the Missile."

"Our lifts are a joint effort; we work with different coaches," the bubbly Lawrence said. "The one in our short, the exit is from David Pelletier."

Asked to describe it, Swiegers said, "It's a basic lasso entry, then [I lift her] with the right hand, rotate two revolutions to a platter position, then spin her upside down and over."

"It's not the right hand, it's the left," interjected Lawrence. "And I'm in a difficult position, grabbing my leg. Mr. [Lyndon] Johnston, one of our coaches, calls it inverse rotation. I just know I'm [moving] upside down and hopefully he catches me."

U.S. junior silver medalists Britney Simpson and Nathan Miller, late entrants to the event, sit sixth with 46.39 points. The Colorado Springs pair made an uncharacteristic error on their triple twist, landing short of rotation and having the element downgraded.

"We were a little nervous; this is our first real [international] senior competition," Simpson said.

"Last season, at our first Junior Grand Prix in Lake Placid, it was the same thing: we had some small mistakes in our short, and then did better in the long," added Miller. "I think we'll have our feet under us tomorrow."