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Subpar Volosozhar, Trankov good enough for lead

Faltering Pang, Tong sit second; Denney, Coughlin third after clean skate

Reigning world silver medalists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov were well off their game, but they still won the short by a comfortable margin.
Reigning world silver medalists Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov were well off their game, but they still won the short by a comfortable margin. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/19/2012) - After their short program to a bluesy version of Nino Rota's Godfather misfired like an errant pistol, Tatiana Volosozhar looked downcast. Partner Maxim Trankov looked like he wanted to sleep with the fishes. But the judges gave the Russian pair an offer they couldn't refuse, and they got away with a 3.82-point lead heading into Saturday's free skate at 2012 Skate America.

"Today, it was very hard to skate because of the schedule of the competition," said Trankov, one of the sport's foremost male divas. "We had only two hours at the hotel after our practice. Our practice was too late. We didn't eat, we didn't have rest. We had 11 hours [time] difference from Russia, so it is already early morning there."

They certainly skated their short, choreographed by Lea Ann Miller this summer in Connecticut, like they had a bad case of jet lag. Starting with a clumsy landing on their opening triple twist, the first three elements were off-kilter, with Trankov turning out of a triple Salchow and Volosozhar pitching forward on the landing of a throw triple loop. Under the circumstances, the judges were generous, awarding them 65.78 points by minimizing technical deductions and rightfully awarding them the highest program components scores of the evening.

But Trankov knew inquiries would have to be made.

"I think we have to work, we have to find out the reasons why we skated such a bad short program for the second time [after the Nebelhorn Trophy]," he said. "We not [only] made mistakes on the elements; we made mistakes in our skating, we had bad steps. We never skated like this, not even in practice. It was strange."

China's Qing Pang and Jian Tong were even shakier. Skating to the Paso Doble from Strictly Ballroom, the 33-year-old Tong, hobbled by knee injuries, fell on his triple toe, and Pang two-footed the landing on their throw triple loop.

Still, the judges -- impressed by their regal presence, commanding Level 4 steps and, perhaps, their pedigree, which includes two world titles -- put them second with 61.96 points.

"Tonight was not good as a short program, but for us, it is a good start to the season," Tong said. "The biggest trouble I am having is my knees hurt when I bend them, so I am in pain when I skate. We used to train five or six days a week; now, we have reduced that to four days a week."

Amid the glitches and missteps, Caydee Denney and John Coughlin skated a clean, challenging program to Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" -- one that included side-by-side triple toes, triple twist and throw triple flip -- that gained the highest technical score of the evening. Still, lower program components scores -- 5.30 and 1.45 points fewer than the Russians and Chinese, respectively -- left them in third place with 60.75 points.

"At the end of the day, this is a five-week-old short program," Coughlin said. (The original short was scrapped after U.S. Figure Skating's Champs Camp in August.) "So we're really pleased."

"That was a good start for our Grand Prix season, and hopefully we'll continue to get better," Denney said.

The U.S. champions' coach, Dalilah Sappenfield, brushed off suggestions her team was under-marked.

"I thought they skated pretty conservative for them; it's such a new program," she said. "It's their experience now, with a season under their belts, that let them be able to do what they trained and not let the nerves get to them. They fought through the whole program, so I was very pleased where they were for this time of the year."

The stylish French pair of Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès placed fourth after a sexy Latin medley that included solid triple toes and a throw triple flip. They earned 55.76 points, just edging Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, whose lively short to "Stray Cat Strut" gained 55.67. The Boston-based pair, fifth in the U.S. last season, skated a clean program with triple Salchows and a throw triple Salchow.

"We have never really trusted ourselves to do what we've trained, and this time we really let go and trusted ourselves," Castelli said. "It wasn't a personal best, but I think it's a great starting point, and we're ready to do it again."

"We're training harder than we've ever trained at home," Shnapir said. "We're really feeling the energy, and I'm glad to come out here and feel that excitement and bring all of that great practice out on to the ice."

Castelli and Shnapir's training partners, Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff, were disappointed with their short to the Nocturne from The Lady Caliph soundtrack, which saw Donlan fall on their step sequence, while several other elements, including their triple twist and back outside death spiral, lost levels. They sit seventh with 40.54 points.

"We're obviously missing some big points somewhere, so we'll have to keep going back and fight for those points we're missing: the death spiral, footwork, side-by-side spins," Speroff said. "I thought the skating felt good. We just had a fall and those missed levels."