Skate Canada Underway at Mile One Stadiumby Laurie Nealin, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
|Johnny Weir in the short program at Skate Canada|
Photo by Paul Harvath
(10/27/05) - Two American men are in the medal hunt at MasterCard Skate Canada International, but they are chasing reigning World silver medalist Jeff Buttle of Canada after Thursday's short program.
Buttle, who splits his training time between Barrie, Ont., and Lake Arrowhead, Calif., is more than four points ahead of his nearest rival Johnny Weir, the two-time U.S. champion.
Buttle's program, set to Louis Prima's "Sing, Sing, Sing," featured intricate footwork choreographed to Prima's scatting. His performance was marred by just one obvious error and earned 74.53 points to Weir's 70.25.
"It wasn't without flaw, obviously, with the hand down on the (triple) Lutz, but I felt really comfortable out there," Buttle said.
Takeshi Honda of Japan, on the comeback trail after a series of ankle injuries over 18 months, is third with 67.92 points thanks to his powerful "Romeo and Juliet" interpretation.
In fourth, with 64.37 points, is Matt Savoie, who skated confidently and without major faults.
Skate Canada, featuring 55 skaters from 12 countries, began Thursday after the ISU Grand Prix Series moved north up the eastern coast to St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. It is the second stop on the six-country circuit.
Atlantic City played host to the first event last week. U.S. skaters Alissa Czisny and Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig are the only competitors here who were also entered in Smart Ones Skate America, where Czisny claimed a silver medal.
Weir, the world's fourth-ranked man, lost valuable technical points when he slipped off the landing edge of what appeared to be a successful triple Axel.
"I have no idea what happened. I was trying to hold my landing for the grade of execution (score) and all that blah, blah, blah, and then I fell," said Weir following his performance at Mile One Stadium in St. John's, the most easterly port in North America.
"I'm just happy I rotated (the jumps) because the last two competitions, I popped," he said in reference to recent invitational competitions in Japan and St. Paul, Minn.
Skating to "The Swan" by Camille Saint-Saens, Weir wore a red glove on his right hand which he said was meant to be the swan's beak. He has named it Camille.
Illinois-based Savoie, fourth-place finisher at the 2005 U.S. Championships, said, "It was a good program for me, the first time I competed this season. It's the same program as last season but we adjusted several things... It feels new."
The men's final is Saturday. Last year, the Canadian men swept the podium, with Emanuel Sandhu taking gold and Buttle silver. Sandhu committed several errors on his jump elements and is sixth this year with 62.15 points.
In the pairs short program, reigning World silver medalists Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov were outscored by up-and-comers from Germany Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who notched 60.54 points to the Russians 60.10.
Wearing black bodysuits, Savchenko and Szolkowy methodically ticked off the required elements without flaw in their entertaining program which featured innovative choreography and spins. The couple ranked sixth at the 2005 Worlds although many observers felt they were insufficiently rewarded for their efforts in Moscow.
Petrova and Tikhonov, the 2000 World champions, also delivered a solid performance in classical Russian style, but she struggled to hold the landing on her throw triple loop and he doubled the triple toe loop, which cost them valuable technical points.
Canadian champions Valerie Marcoux and Craig Buntin were third with 53.40 points for their romp to "Hey, Big Spender."
Savchenko, who is from Ukraine, and Szolkowy, came together via e-mail in 2003 when each found themselves without a partner. The couple will not be eligible for the Olympic Winter Games, however, unless she is able to obtain her German citizenship.
"We tried to do our best, and we did it," said a very satisfied Szolkowy. "Obertsdorf was good, but this was better and more important," he said in reference to their win at the Nebelhorn Trophy last month. Still, the couple insisted they didn't feel more pressure this time out.
2005 World Junior gold medalists Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov of Russia had a rough go of it after she fell on the opening triple toe jumps. They ranked seventh among eight.
U.S. representatives Evora and Ladwig, ninth last week at Skate America and fifth at the 2005 State Farm U.S. Championships, also struggled during their short program. They were forced to abort their second lift.
"When we do it at home, it never goes down," Evora said. "It's a fluky thing."
The ice dancers were first out of the gate on Thursday, kicking up their heels to the Yankee Polka in their compulsory dance round. Married couples claimed the top three spots.
Twice Canadian champions Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, who train in Lyon, France, scored 33.24 points to lead the nine-couple field. The duo was seventh at the 2005 World Championships.
World bronze medalists Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov of Ukraine claimed second, garnering 31.76 points despite her loss of footing midway through the dance. The error drew a 1.0 mandatory deduction.
The United States' entry, Melissa Gregory & Denis Petukhov, were third with 31.31 points heading into Saturday's original dance. The U.S. silver medalists were 11th at the Worlds last season.
Newlyweds Nikoli Morozov and Shae-Lynn Bourne, Canada's 2003 World champion with Victor Kraatz, coach Grushina and Goncharov, Gregory and Petukhov and fifth-place Chantal Lefebvre and Arseniy Markov in Newington, Conn.
For the Canadian representatives LeFebvre and Markov, this was their ISU debut as a couple. He previously competed for Russia with Svetlana Kulikova, while Lefebvre was second-ranked in Canada and finished 15th at the 1999 Worlds with her former partner.
The six-event Grand Prix circuit culminates in December with the series top six points-getters in each discipline facing off at the Final in Tokyo.
Skate Canada is the first major figure skating event to be held in St. John's, North America's oldest city. A total of $180,000 in prize money is on the table this week.