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Cesario's revamped 'Black Swan' takes flight

Graceful Cain explores 'Ave Maria'; Forte fights her accessories

Samantha Cesario and coach Mary Lynn Gelderman are crediting an ISU rule change with the skater's improved 'Black Swan' free skate program.
Samantha Cesario and coach Mary Lynn Gelderman are crediting an ISU rule change with the skater's improved 'Black Swan' free skate program. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/21/2012) - Stop the presses: A skater and coach think the powers-that-be have helped them improve a program.

Last season, Samantha Cesario's Black Swan free skate won raves for balancing its technical content with choreographic tension and drama. Now, it's even better, and Cesario and her coach, Mary Lynn Gelderman, said they have the International Skating Union to thank.

"Once the choreography sequence rule came out, we kind of changed the whole program and re-did it," Cesario said. "I think it goes with the music a lot better now."

The 18-year-old referred to a new edict granting skaters an "extra" choreographed sequence of their choice, provided it comes after the step sequence technical specialists rate by level. Cesario took advantage of the change, and the final section of her program now has a spread eagle series, followed by a spiral into a sequence of two double Axels.

"[The rule] worked well for this program because of the drama of the spread eagles," Gelderman said. "She likes to do the [leveled] footwork late, but this fits the drama of the classical program. I think it's a great element for her, so we were happy about that change."

In addition to the powerful double Axel sequence, Cesario reeled off four triples, including Lutz, loop and Salchow as well as and a flip, done in combination with a double toe. Another flip and a loop were judged under-rotated.

It all added up to 103.68 points and a win in Liberty's senior ladies group B free skate.

"My goal here wasn't so much perfection," said Cesario, who has missed the last two U.S. Championships with injuries. "Last year, I felt I went so hard for Liberty, it was tough to keep it going all year. Here I just wanted to do a nice program, and I feel I did that."

"We're trying to pace her through the season the wisest way possible," Gelderman said. "We have a three-jump combination (triple loop-double toe-double loop), which today she didn't do. The spins are new, so I'm not sure she got all the levels. But we achieved our goal."

Cesario, too, sees bigger things ahead. On Friday, she said her goal was to gain two Junior Grand Prix assignments and qualify for the Junior Grand Prix Final.

"The triple loop-triple loop [combination], I'm trying to get that [for the short]," she said. "The mistakes I made here, fix those. And just go up and up to nationals, so I don't get hurt this time."

U.S. junior silver medalist Ashley Cain put grace and femininity on display in her "Ave Maria" free, combining Scott Brown's intricate and inspired choreography with six triples, including a double Axel-loop-triple Salchow sequence.

She placed second with 97.33 points.

"The way I started doing that sequence is, one day we weren't allowed to do toe jumps because the ice was really bad," Cain said. "I tried a double Axel-loop-double Salchow, and it was really easy, so I tried double Axel, triple Salchow. Those are two of my favorite jumps."

If the 16-year-old Texan has her way, more technical firepower will be added.

"I've been practicing triple Salchow-triple toe, triple toe-triple toe, triple loop-triple flip and triple flip-triple toe, so I'm going to get one of those under my belt this season," she said. "I definitely want to add a triple-triple, probably flip-toe, to the short program, and a triple-triple and second Lutz or flip to the free."

Skating to music from The 13th Warrior, Joelle Forte overcame a disruption in her program to land six triples, including a triple toe-double Axel sequence, as well as two Level 4 spins. (Two triples, the flip and second Lutz, were judged under-rotated.)

She earned 94.93 points.

"My bracelet got stuck on my dress on the first Lutz [done in combination with a double toe and double loop]," Forte, 26, said. "I couldn't just rip it out because I didn't know if it would break my dress, so I had to stop. But there was nothing wrong with my music; it was accessories."

Forte placed eighth at 2011 Skate America in Ontario, Calif.

"I really wanted to come out here and do a clean program and hopefully get an international again this year, which would be awesome," she said. "I put in a double Axel [out of an] Ina Bauer, which is new for me, and I might add it to the short, too."

Like Cesario, 15-year-old Yasmin Siraj is on the comeback trail. The Skating Club of Boston representative suffered a complicated injury last fall to her left ankle, including a cuboid subluxation and stress fracture, and only recently regained her jumping form.

"I was dealing with my foot, so I took a lot of time off after nationals to get that healing," said the petite Siraj, who estimates she's grown 2 inches since last season. "Coming back was a slow process, so I'm just building from performance to performance."

Catarina Lindgren's gentle and poetic choreography to John Williams' Seven Years in Tibet score should help speed the process. Siraj's triple jumps weren't perfect -- she fell on two Lutzes -- but her spins (including a camel combination featuring a change of direction), steps and "in betweens" were intricate and interesting.

"[Coach] Mark Mitchell and Catarina chose the music, and I fell in love with it," Siraj said. "I was on vacation in Iran for the first time to visit my grandmother, and Mark emailed it to me. I listened to it on the rooftop of Tehran; below me, I could see the whole city. I just knew it was for me."

Siraj stumbled upon her difficult change-of-direction spin strictly by accident.

"I teach learn-to-skate in group classes -- I'm a helper -- and I have to teach kids to spin both ways," she said. "I was experimenting on my own, so then I showed Mark, and we started to work on a combination spin with that feature."

Mitchell has little doubt Siraj, the 2010 U.S. junior silver medalist, will fully recover her jumps, including the Lutz, well in time for the fall season.

"She was off after nationals for a while, but the jumps are good, and they're back now -- it's just working them into the program," said Mitchell, who coaches Siraj with Peter Johansson. "This was the Liberty version. We'll get everything back in there."