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Zhang, Bartholomay emulate Kim, shine in free

Floridians eclipse Canadians at Skate Detroit; Davis, Brubaker impress

Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay are angling for the third U.S. pairs spot at Skate America.
Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay are angling for the third U.S. pairs spot at Skate America. (Jacque Tiegs)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/30/2013) - The lyricism and power of Yu-Na Kim's performance to Les Misérables won the Korean star a second world title and strengthened her fan base worldwide.

It even moved experienced competitors like U.S. pairs bronze medalists Felicia Zhang and Nate Bartholomay to take a few pages out of her book.

Commit to your music. Hit big elements. Always tell a story.

"Her Les Miz was so beautiful and captivating," Bartholomay, 24, said. "We immediately thought, 'That's what we want.'"

Coach Jim Peterson, who choreographed the program, wasn't on board at first.

"I thought it could easily become a cliché -- you know, 'Here we are, skating to Les Miz," Peterson said. "Their belief in it convinced me. Now, I can't deny it inspires them to create more feeling and bigger elements."

If Skate Detroit is any indication, the Ellenton, Fla., skaters made a fine choice. Their big elements -- opening triple twist, side-by-side triple toe loops and two triple throws (flip and Salchow) -- were solid, and their free skate program had three challenging lifts in its second half. There were tender moments between the moves, including an extended dance lift in the choreographed sequence.

They led the field with 116.87 points.

"Last year, the elements were there, and this season we want to do them with more ease," Bartholomay said. "When you make everything look easy, that's when judges hit the +2 and +3 [grade of execution] buttons."

"This gives us huge confidence," Zhang, 19, said. "Now we are going to build on this for Champs Camp and Salt Lake City (U.S. International Figure Skating Classic)."

Two U.S. champion teams -- reigning champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, and Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, who won the crown in 2012 -- are booked for Skate America; one U.S. pairs slot remains open at that event. Zhang and Bartholomay are already slated to compete at Cup of China.

"We haven't hit our peak yet; we're still on the rise," Bartholomay said. "We're hoping for that third Skate America spot. That's been over our heads."

"We came to Skate Detroit competition prepared, as if it was a national championships," Peterson said. "We know how important it is to the Skate America selection, and we're hopeful we're a part of the conversation."

Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch's free skate to selections from La Strada had plenty of speed, spark and promise but lacked clean execution.

The Canadian silver medalists, fourth in the world last season, opened with a triple twist and side-by-side triple toe-triple toe sequence. Then, Moore-Towers fell out of the entry to a death spiral and tumbled on a throw triple Salchow. They recovered with two fine lifts before faltering again on side-by-side spins.

After closing with a throw triple Salchow and spectacular carry lift, they earned 113.80 points.

"They're still finding the nuances with the program. Maybe they rushed things a bit," the team's coach, Kris Wirtz, said. "I'm not going to worry about the stuff they missed. They hit the throw triple Salchow at the end and did a +2 or +3 lift. Even with the mistakes, I'm happy."

The choreography, by Vancouver-based Mark Pillay, creates a bright, breezy feel, mostly bypassing the darker side of La Strada.

"We went with a fun, silver-screen theme, like we're on an outdoor date in Rome," Moore-Towers, 21, said. "We took a more playful take."

"The most important thing is we were well prepared for this competition," Moscovitch, 28, said. "We're right on track. It was a bad skate, with good things in it."

Wirtz has a busy schedule lined up for the pair.

"This team needs and wants to compete," he said. "There's no Indy [Pairs Challenge] this season, so I'm taking them to Sheffield [England] to do a seminar. In September, it's Salt Lake City. They need to always be on, and then they get better and better."

After their solid short program, Lindsay Davis and Rockne Brubaker, who train in Canton, Mich., under Johnny Johns and Marina Zoueva, continued to impress with a polished performance to Umbrellas of Cherbourg, choreographed by Renée Roca.

The new team hit triple Salchows as well as two triple throws, including a Lutz, in the second half of its free to Umbrellas of Cherbourg, and put a triple twist out in competition for the first time.

They earned 106.84 for third place. "We've been skating together four months exactly, so of course we have a ways to go," Davis, 21, said. "We are definitely making progress. We want to get the harder elements out there before our Grand Prix (Skate Canada)."

"For us, the biggest thing is finding each other's rhythm," she continued. "We watered down the elements a bit (in terms of levels) to get connected. We're glad we did the triple twist today."

The skaters travel to California the week after Skate Detroit to work with Roca as well as Davis' former coaches, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand.

"We're going to clean up the transitions in the program," Davis said.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier recovered from a disappointing short with an improved free to Notre Dame de Paris, choreographed by Montreal's Julie Marcotte.

The world junior champions opened with a big triple twist, followed by a throw triple Salchow. Frazier doubled an intended triple Salchow, and Denney fell on a throw triple loop, but they hit two double Axels in sequence and showed fine lifts to earn 105.73 points.

"It was a great start," Frazier, 20, said. "It's a hard program, not only technically but in terms of skating skills and transitions. We started doing full run-throughs five weeks ago, and this was a huge step up."

Frazier credits coach John Zimmerman, who with wife Silvia Fontana trains the team in Coral Springs, Fla., with adding more height and power to the team's triple twist.

"I love doing the twist," he said. "Elements can't just be OK; they always have to be bigger, faster, more powerful."

DeeDee Leng and Timothy LeDuc, who were teamed up by coach Serguei Zaitsev a year ago, placed fifth with their free skate to Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet.

Both having previously been singles skaters -- Leng won the U.S. junior ladies title in 2009 -- they were the only team to land two different side-by-side triples, toes and Salchows. They scored 102.15.

Gretchen Donlan and Andrew Speroff put their strengths -- big throws and challenging lifts -- on display in their free to Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker. Donlan fell out of a triple toe, and Speroff singled an intended double Axel, but they ended the program with a spectacular carry lift to place sixth with 101.75.

"Bobby [Martin] has confidence we can do [the carry lift] at the very end," Speroff, 25, said. "Today was our first time doing it in competition, and we need to get used to it."