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Savchenko, Szolkowy eke out slim lead

Rising Canadians are second; Denney, Barrett third

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy have a slim lead after the short program.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy have a slim lead after the short program. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(11/13/2010) - Although far from their best, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy managed an unexpectedly narrow 2.35-point lead after the pairs' short in Portland.

Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch, the surprise success story of the Grand Prix season thus far, are second. U.S. champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett skated a clean program and sit third.

The two-time German world champions, who skipped their usual early-season tune-up at Nebelhorn Trophy this season, were expected to easily outclass the field here, but lacked their usual speed and fire. Skating to the Hungarian-Russian folk song "Korobushko," Savchenko doubled a planned triple toe and their side-by-side spins were badly out of sync. Still, they earned 63.99 points, good enough for first place.

"We are glad that we survived our first program in a competition this year," Szolkowy said. "Everyone knows we always want to skate our best and that's not what we did tonight. We're looking forward to doing better tomorrow.

"In practice we've done much better programs than this. We felt good coming here but tonight, it was like ten people were holding us back. Maybe we did need to have one more competition."

Moore-Towers and Moskovitch, who won silver at Skate Canada, performed a far more entertaining routine to music from Zorba the Greek, including a high triple twist, solid throw triple loop and fast closing side-by-side spins.

Although Moore-Towers put a hand down on her triple toe and their steps were rather sloppy, they ignited the crowd on their way to earning 61.64 points, a new season high.

"All in all it was pretty much what were we're hoping for, what we skated in practice," Moscovitch said.

In just their second season together, the Canadians are on track to possibly earning a spot in the Grand Prix Final, to be held in Beijing in December.

"Skate Canada gave us more confidence, but the Grand Prix Final is not in our minds, we're keeping it in the back," Moore-Towers said. "Mostly, we're just thinking about skating a great free program tomorrow. If it happens, it happens."

Denney and Barrett were delighted with their clean effort to the love theme from Cousins, choreographed by David Wilson. The Florida-based team, who are coached by John Zimmerman and his wife, Silvia Fontana, were solid throughout, landing well-synchronized triple toe loops and a fine Lasso lift. They earned 58.49 points, more than five points higher than at NHK Trophy earlier this season.

"We're happy with the way we skated; there are still a couple of spots where we need to improve our levels for nationals," Barrett said. "Overall, it was a big improvement over NHK."

The dramatic and romantic program marks a mature departure for the team, usually noted more for their athleticism and technical prowess than their artistry.

"We wanted to do something different this year; David picked out the music for us," Barrett said. "He thought it would help us grow as a team. Since it is such a different style, we still have work to do, but I think by nationals it will look pretty good." World junior champions Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China are fourth after their a crowd-pleasing turn to a country dance, highlighted by a solid triple twist and throw, as well as the tiny 15-year-old Sui's charming and dynamic presence. They earned 57.53 points.

Reigning U.S. junior champions Felicia Zhang and Taylor Toth hit strong triple toes in their program to Debussy's "Clair de Lune," earning 48.13 points for sixth place. Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, who placed fourth at Skate Canada, had a disappointing outing, with Shnapir falling on a triple Salchow and Castelli falling on a throw triple Salchow. Their 47.24 points put them seventh.