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Rockettes lead after short at world synchros

Marigold Ice Unity is second, Haydenettes third

The Rockettes won the gold medal at the 2011 World Synchronized Skating Championships.
The Rockettes won the gold medal at the 2011 World Synchronized Skating Championships. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lauren Magliola, special to icenetwork.com
(04/09/2011) - As expected, the Finns made their presence known right away at the 2011 World Synchronized Skating Championships, on and off the ice.

The overwhelmingly Finnish crowd set the tone early on in the short program, clapping along to the music of every team that took the ice, whether the music was upbeat and cheerful or slow and lyrical. This support propelled the 21 teams in attendance to amazingly energetic and clean performances, with an unprecedented 20 of the 21 teams skating programs free from falls or any other deductions.

The Finnish teams were the stars at the end of the night, with Team Finland 1, the Rockettes, and Team Finland 2, Marigold Ice Unity, sitting on top of the leaderboard. Team USA 1, the Haydenettes, is currently in third. The placements are an exact repeat of the 2010 World Championships podium.

A deafening roar from the crowd greeted the reigning world champions as they took to their home ice. Skating with confidence and power in bright yellow dresses, the team did not earn a grade of execution lower than 2. Their "Brasil" short program earned program components scores of 8.50 and higher from every judge.

"I was really, really proud of my team," coach Kaisa Nieminen said. "They did what they do every day in practice."

The leaders' total score of 74.81 puts them just over a point ahead of the second place, currently held by their Finnish teammates, Marigold Ice Unity.

The 2010 silver medalists whipped the already ruckus home crowd into a frenzy with their rhythmic and passionate program to the music "Be Italian" from the Nine soundtrack. The team earned grade of execution scores higher than two for four of their six elements. The program was highlighted by a rapid paced no hold step sequence that earned the team 7.77 points.

"I was very relaxed because the skaters were very relaxed," coach Anu Oksanen said. "There was a little more fight in the warm up maybe, but overall, very calm."

Runners up at last year's World Championships as well as the last two Finnish Championships, the team is hoping to close the small gap between first and second in the free skate to earn the team's fourth World Championship title, which would be their first since 2006.

Last year, the Haydenettes earned their first world medal, a bronze, in front of a home crowd in Colorado Springs, Colo., and the team now finds itself poised to repeat that feat in the hometown of their coach Sara Krantz.

The team's program to music by the group "Safari Duo" lit up the arena and continued the party atmosphere present throughout the competition. The program was highlighted by a level four circle that earned the team 7.63 points, helping the team reach a total score of 71.16 points.

For Krantz, watching her team enjoy a clean skate in front of a Finnish crowd held special meaning. Krantz earned her first World medal, a silver, as a member of the Rockettes the last time the World Championships were held in Helsinki in 2001. "I'm mesmerized by the audience and flashbacks from 10 years ago," Krantz said, "I tell them that if you go out there and do what you do every day it can happen. It is amazing to watch it when it does, and to see them enjoy themselves so much."

The team is within reach of the top of the podium, but the overall goal of reaching the podium has been their driving force throughout the season.

"Our goal is again to be on the podium," Haydenettes member Jenna Longo said. "All we can hope for is to have a strong, consistent skate and have fun, because that is what we are all here for."

The other U.S. representative, Miami University, also felt the enthusiasm of the Finnish crowd and used that energy to complete an emotional and powerful program to "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" by Mary J. Blige and Andrea Boccelli.

After missing qualifying for this event in 2010, the skaters earned their way to Helsinki with a silver-medal performance at last month's U.S. Synchronized Skating Championships in Ontario, Calif. This event marks the first World Championships for 15 of the 20 skaters on the team.

"I think not coming last year makes us appreciate the experience that much more and how much hard work it takes to get here," Miami skater Marisa Hutchinson said. "The skaters who are at their first Worlds are so captured by the whole thing, and it reminds us all how special it is to be here."

The team's total score of 56.64 puts them in ninth place going into Saturday's free skate. They are less than half a point from the eighth place team, and just over four points away from seventh.