Sokolova Wins, But Czisny Steals the Show

by Michelle Wojdyla, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
Elena Sokolova
Photo by Paul Harvath

2006 Smart Ones Skate America

(10/22/05) - There she is ...

After Michelle Kwan and Sasha Cohen both withdrew from 2005 Smart Ones Skate America, many thought the ladies competition would suffer with their absences. They could not have been more wrong. A new "Miss (Skate) America" was honored Saturday night with a silver medal. Alissa Czisny, an 11th hour replacement, won the free skate and placed second overall at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, N.J. Before Czisny was halfway through her final combination spin, the audience was on its feet and a roar rose through the arena.

"It's been a busy season for me," Czisny said. "I just have come off two competitions and a show in the last four weeks, so I just wanted to go out and focus on what I could do and obviously I did it tonight."

Czisny trounced her former personal best scores in both the free skate and overall. Last year at Skate America (where she was also a last-second replacement for an ailing Cohen) Czisny scored 91.16 and 141.36. Tonight her scores for the free and overall were 106.48/159.30.

"I hadn't gotten as high of marks as yet for the program," she said. "I was very excited when I saw those marks. I thought I skated well and was happy with my performance."

In her program to "La Bayadere" by Leon Minkus, Czisny worked her way through the elements. She opened with a triple Lutz-double toe and completed five triples in total Her only major mistake was a fall on the triple flip. Her flexibility is extraordinary, and she takes full advantage of it in her spins and spirals.

Elena Sokolova's lead in the short program was not enough for Czisny to overcome. Sokolova's 105.08 in the free gave her 163.02 overall and the gold medal. Skating to the techno-modern version of "Romeo and Juliet," Sokolova had a strong skate, adding a double loop on the end of her planned triple Lutz-double toe opening and later tacking a double toe on the end of her triple toe, adding valuable points to her score.

"When I skated "Notre Dame" (her former free skate) I feel myself like Esmeralda," Sokolova explained. "Now I'm Juliet, like Juliet in our [modern] times. I really understand she's fighting, fighting for her love. I'm fighting for my love - my love for figure skating."

After a reporter commented that Juliet doesn't win in the end, Sokolova quipped, "From what side [do] you look? They're still together!"

Sokolova has made numerous appearances at Skate America over the years, and this is her first title.

"It's my first [competition] this season and I usually skate pretty good in the United States, which hopefully will help me for the Olympics," she said. "The season is like a line; it goes up and down, up and down. Hopefully all downs will be in the practices."

Yoshie Onda from Japan was third. She landed all but one of her planned jumps in Nina Rota's "La Strada," popping only a planned triple Lutz into a single. Her new coach, former Canadian champion Josee Chouinard, has helped package Onda as a more graceful skater, although she is still a little stiff in her non-jump moves.

"The difference between this season [and last] is that I am focusing on the skating itself and enjoying it more than ever," Onda said.

Bebe Liang was fifth in the free skate and fourth overall, while teammate Emily Hughes reversed that, climbing from eighth in the short to fourth in the free and fifth overall. Hughes edged Liang 88.04 to 85.46 in the free, but Liang's total 133.0 topped Hughes' 126.78.

"When I missed the first jump, I was just making sure I kept my focus throughout the rest of the program," Liang said. "Every competition you learn something. You gain confidence, you gain experience. Next time I go to a big competition I'll be able to focus on what I need to feel."

Hughes said there was one important thing she'll take with her from this event.

"It's not over when you fall," the 16-year-old said. "This event is really a learning experience for me, being my first Grand Prix. I'll know what to expect next time. It's still really early in the season. I'm really excited to be a part of Skate America for the first time. I'm really looking forward to Cup of Russia."