Cain, Reagan bank on strong jumping skills
New twists for Evora, Ladwig; Castelli, Shnapir have faith in Axel
|Ashley Cain and Joshua Reagan will compete at the Rostelecom Cup in November. (Getty Images)|
First, the young Texan read that she and pairs partner Joshua Reagan were assigned to the Rostelecom Cup, to be held Nov. 25-27 in Moscow.
"I found out from friends on Facebook," Cain, 16, said at U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp. "They [wrote] 'Congratulations on Cup of Russia.' So I called my dad [Peter Cain], and he said, 'You guys are at Cup of Russia!' We were so ecstatic and excited.
"We're just happy to be out on the Grand Prix our first senior year, because that doesn't always happen."
As U.S. junior pairs champions who placed fourth at the 2011 World Junior Figure Skating Championships, the team figured to have a good chance at a Grand Prix. But even after a sixth-place finish in junior ladies at the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Cain's chances for a Junior Grand Prix were uncertain due to the many fine junior-eligible ladies in the United States. So when that call came, she was doubly ecstatic.
"On Tuesday [Aug. 23], I got called," she said. "[U.S. junior bronze medalist] Katarina Kulgeyko got injured from JGP Latvia, so I leave Monday [Aug. 29]." Peter Cain, a five-time Australian pairs champions with his sister Liz, is as excited as his daughter.
"We were sorry to hear of Katarina's injury, but otherwise [the assignment] is what we've been waiting and hoping for," he said. "Some skaters might have trouble balancing pairs and singles competition, but it really seems to work for Ashley."
David Kirby, the well-known ISU technical specialist who with Peter and Darlene Cain coaches Cain and Reagan at the Dr. Pepper Star Center in Euless, agrees.
"I think it actually helps the pairs, to be quite honest with you," Kirby said. "If you go back in history, [Kristi] Yamaguchi and Rudi [Galindo] were very good, and I thought they should have stayed together.
"Ashley is a tremendous athlete both in singles and in pairs, and we're riding those coattails."
Competing at the Rostelecom Cup has an added benefit for the skaters: the chance to share the ice with their idols, three-time German world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy.
"It will be pretty hard to be on the ice with the Germans," Reagan, 22, said. "That's really intimidating."
"I've looked up to them, obviously, since I started doing pairs," Ashley said. "I think they're a great team, and I'd love to be on the ice with them."
While Ashley is away, Reagan -- who competed in singles earlier in his career -- lifts a car tire during practice.
"That's never fun," he admitted.
With their strong singles skating background, the pair hopes to jump their way to success on the senior pairs circuit. They plan to put triple loops in their short program to "Moon River" and have packed their free skate to Dr. Zhivago with difficulty.
"We're putting two triples in our long program, a triple Salchow, double Axel [sequence] in the beginning and then triple toes at the end," Reagan said. "It's hard, but jumping is one of our better things."
"We love the triple Sal and we love the double Axel, so our coaches were like, 'If you love both jumps, try them together,'" Ashley said.
While many teams include difficult lifts and throws in the second half of their free skates -- Savchenko and Szolkowy do a throw triple Salchow in the last seconds -- few teams want to take on the added risk of side-by-side triples.
"It's never been done in the history of our sport [under the international judging system], [a pair] doing triple toes in the second half of the program," Kirby said.
"They do beautiful triple loops side-by-side, and Josh is getting close with triple flips. Ashley is so in tune with these triples, it helps his skating skills. So I'm hoping that in a few years we have a team that can actually do triple loops and flips out there instead of toes and Salchows."
The team has set ambitious but attainable goals for their first senior season: two clean skates in Moscow and a top-six finish at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
"It's our first senior year, so we kind of want to test the waters, but we want to do really well," Ashley said. "We're working hard, and we're just going to try to have a really good senior debut."
Evora, Ladwig say let's twist again
In their ninth year together, U.S. silver medalists Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig are still working hard to up their game.
This season, they've targeted the triple twist, a move featured in both their short to Gershwin's "The Man I Love" and free to music by Ravel and Debussy.
"We want to see a little bit more height; we've been noticing that the lateral approach seems to work a little better so we're giving that a try," Ladwig, 31, said. "I think it's coming along real well."
"The twist is one of the pushing elements in pairs skating right now, and I feel that height is very important, [but also] we're trying to show an easy, solid catch," Evora, 26, said.
The skaters, who train in Jim Peterson's group in Ellenton, Fla., also plan to up the "wow" factor of their already exciting lifts.
"In our long program, my favorite will be back, the Militano," Ladwig said. "It's a reverse lasso overhead with a carry in a split position and a pop dismount."
"We also have a new lift in our short," Evora added. "Plus, our pop platter, a lift we used to do in the past, has a split twist with a catch in a platter position now."
A more exciting twist and ever-inventive lifts certainly helps at the international level, but to gain top marks and land on more Grand Prix podiums -- they won bronze at the Rostelecom Cup last season -- they also need consistent side-by-side jumps.
"I hate to beat a dead horse, but that's what it comes down to sometimes," Peterson said. "The times they have been consistent, such as U.S. nationals in 2010 and 2011 and the Vancouver Olympics, the marks reflected that. When I look at [protocols] and break it down and see the GOEs on their pairs elements and even their transitions' score, the placements there are always higher then where they end up overall."
While in Colorado Springs for Champs Camp, Peterson enlisted Christy Krall, coach of world champion Patrick Chan, to lend a hand using Dartfish, a video analysis program that helps skaters and coaches analyze jumps.
"We need to look at fresh technique and new ideas," Peterson said. "Christy is providing that. We're going to consult with her and send her video at least twice a month. She is very willing to help, and we're planning on having her come to Florida for two visits this fall."
Maturing Castelli, Shnapir plan throw triple Axel
Last season, Boston-based Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir attempted to become only the second pairs team, after two-time U.S. champions Rene Inoue and John Baldwin, to land a throw triple Axel in competition.
They didn't quite succeed, although Castelli often gained the full three-and-a-half rotations on the move.
This season, they plan to do their efforts one better and land the move in their free skate to Rachmaninoff's "Piano Concerto No. 2."
"Her confidence has increased so much just going out and doing them in the practices and the warm-ups," said Bobby Martin, who coaches the team at Skating Club of Boston.
"She's hitting them more frequently at home. It's still not an element you normally would think is ready to be in competition programs, because she's not doing them quite consistently, but we're still going with that same philosophy. I think the improvement they've made in their jumps is because we've pushed them . . . I have a very long-term approach."
Even when they do land the move, the pair doesn't want to be seen as one-trick ponies.
"Our biggest goal this year is to be consistent," Castelli, 21, said. "Last season we would skate a great short and then we wouldn't do a good long, or we would do a good long and not a good short. We've been working with Peter [Johansson] and Bobby on making sure we do it each day in practice."
"Before, we would let ourselves make mistakes in practice and think it was okay," Shnapir, 24, said. "We have to change that attitude. Accept that we made a mistake and make it better, but not settle for anything."
That's music to Martin's ears.
"They really have grown a lot personally and together," the coach said. "This is their sixth season [together], and I still feel like they're so young. The biggest change for me has been that personal jump each of them has made . . . I no longer have to be the life coach and can focus on really training them. They're becoming professional athletes."