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Czisny bringing triples galore to Ontario

Zhang hopes to bounce back from last year's event

Alissa Czisny is a top fantasy option among the ladies at Skate America.
Alissa Czisny is a top fantasy option among the ladies at Skate America. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/17/2011) - When Alissa Czisny hits the ice at 2011 Skate America in Ontario, Calif., this week, she will be firing weapons she hasn't tried in years: a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination, and a triple Salchow jump.

The 24-year-old U.S. champion will also break new ground by including seven triples in her free skate.

"I've been working on triple toe-triple toe, and triple Lutz-triple toe, all summer," Czisny said on a teleconference with reporters.

"At Skate America, I probably won't do the Lutz-toe in the short program, just because we want to go for clean. In addition, I've added a triple Salchow back into my [free] program, which I haven't done in competition for five years."

The elegant skater, who placed a career-high fifth in the world in Moscow in April, last graced Skate America in 2005, when she took home the silver medal. A week later, she won 2005 Skate Canada.

Since then, Czisny's career has been a graceful roller coaster ride. After a few disappointing outings, she won her first U.S. title in 2009. A devastating 10th-place finish the following year prompted her to begin training under Jason Dungjen and Yuka Sato at her longtime on-ice home, the Detroit Skating Club.

A change of attitude and technique led her to victory at Skate Canada and the Grand Prix Final in 2010 and the 2011 U.S. championships, but a triple-triple was not in her arsenal. With last season's success, a new mindset makes the difficult combination possible.

"I think I'm coming from a little bit different place this season," Czisny said. "Last season I was re-learning everything over again and I really didn't know how the season would go. Obviously it went pretty well. I was really focused on the things that I needed to do to make it happen.

"I was able to put down good programs under pressure and I can learn from that. It's nice to have that background this season ... I know what to do to make it happen."

Although top juniors routinely hit triple-triples last season, a successful triple Lutz-triple toe (base value: 10.10 points) would vault Czisny into rarefied company among current senior ladies. Yu-Na Kim hit six triples, including a stellar triple Lutz-triple toe, in winning the Olympic free skate. Miki Ando triumphed at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships with a relatively conservative five-triple effort that did not include a triple-triple combination.

"I wanted to add a triple-triple to my program [and also] repeat two more difficult jumps rather than repeating two triple toes," Czisny said. "So, I am doing two Lutzes and two flips in my long program, and decided to add back the triple Salchow, which I'm excited about and nervous about at the same time.

"You don't forget how to do it and I think [the triple Salchow] is much better now than it's ever been."

At U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp in August, Dungjen said the technical prowess of younger ladies, including Japan Open champion Elizaveta Tuktamisheva of Russia, has forced older athletes to up their technical games.

"If you only stay where you are, someone is going to beat you, so you always have to push yourself because the younger ones are thinking, 'How do I beat this person? I need to do a triple-triple,'" he said.

"These juniors have grown up with a much different mindset and you just have to be willing to adapt."

With so much new technical content, Czisny and her coaches aren't breaking new ground artistically. The skater refers to her short, to Edith Piaf's signature song, "La Vie en Rose," and free, to Sibelius' "Valse Triste (Sad Waltz)," as "classic Alissa" programs.

"I'm not stepping outside of the box, but at the same time I want to grow, performance-wise," she said. "I think this year's [free skate] is stronger than last year's program while still being classical. It gives me a chance to push myself further."

Czisny has had a performance of "Valse Triste" this fall, at the Japan Open on Oct. 1, placing fifth in a field of six ladies.

"I was really glad to be able to put my long program out in competition before Skate America," she said. "At the time we had just added the triple-triple and the triple Salchow to the long, so they were both fairly new.

"My goal was just to go there and rotate both of them. One of them happened, one did not."

In Japan, Czisny stood up on the triple Lutz-triple toe, although the second jump was called under rotated by the technical panel. She doubled the Salchow.

"At the time, the focus was on the jumps; since then, I think the program has grown," she said before adding, "I feel like my jumps have improved [since last season] ... we spent a lot of time working on them this summer.

"Last year was a work in progress throughout the season to improve and I feel we built a good base. At the same time, having more strength in the jumps, I'm able to work on the program and the transitions and choreography a little bit more."

Zhang seeks redemption; Kostner debuts new programs

Caroline Zhang has a blunt assessment of her ninth-place finish at 2010 Skate America.

"My Grand Prix events last year were a disaster, along with nationals," said the former U.S. bronze medalist and the 12th-place finisher at the 2011 U.S. Championships.

"My goal for [2011] Skate America is to just show that I'm a competitor again and that I can still be a contender for the world team."

Under coaches Peter Oppegard and Karen Kwan-Oppegard, Zhang competed at several competitions this summer, with solid programs at Glacier Falls Summer Classic in early August.

"I've been working on the consistency of my jumps and the speed of my programs," the 18-year-old said. "It's been hard for me to improve the speed but I think that working on the cross-overs has helped a lot. I think I've just been stabilizing my jumps, and that's also going to help."

"She has been training well," Kwan-Oppegard said. "She has been doing run-throughs for months now. She's trying to turn over a new leaf with her training and get things ready early."

Another U.S. entrant, Joelle Forte, will make her Grand Prix debut at age 25. The Fordham University graduate from Long Island, N.Y., placed seventh at the Nebelhorn Trophy last month.

The three U.S. ladies will square off against Italy's Carolina Kostner, the reigning world bronze medalist who won bronze at 2010 Skate America. It will be the three-time European champion's first international competition this season.

Georgia's Elene Gedevanishvili, who recently moved to Toronto to train under two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, took silver at Nebelhorn and could factor into the Skate America medals. Former Russian champion Ksenia Makarova, seventh in the world last season, could also earn a medal. Also appearing will be Swedish sisters Joshi Helgesson and Viktoria Helgesson; they placed fourth and sixth, respectively, at last season's Skate America. Joshi is coming off a bronze-medal finish at Nebelhorn.