Lake Placid Shows the Best in Ice Dancing

by Michelle Wojdyla, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
Meryl Davis and Charlie White
Photo by Michelle Wojdyla

More photos from the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships


(8/10/06) - Every August hundreds of ice dancers flock to the Adirondacks to compete in the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships. Within the storied walls of the Olympic Center, the skaters come to try new programs and receive feedback from the judging panel. Unlike many competitions where the judges and competitors do not mix, in Placid the opposite is true. Critiques are available and encouraged.

This year marked the first time the international judging system was used for all free dances. In addition to the solo compulsory dances, a new compulsory dance/original dance solo combination was available for novice through senior. These new categories made practice ice extremely limited, with many skaters traveling more than two hours round trip to find ice time in Plattsburgh rather than spend an entire day away from their own skating.

Unlike national championship events, Lake Placid offers each phase of competition as free standing. Many skaters took advantage of this to test out the programs they felt needed the most feedback. Reigning World Junior bronze medalists Meryl Davis (Arctic FSC) and Charlie White (Detroit SC) were one of these teams, skipping the free dance portion to focus on the original dance and the three compulsories. Perennial rivals Trina Pratt & Todd Gilles (Broadmoor SC) chose to skip the Golden Waltz.

“We actually haven't been working compulsories much at home,” Gilles said. “We decided it would probably be better to get our free dance [ready]. We were considering not even competing compulsories, but we had already done the Westminster (Waltz) and rhumba before in competition, so we knew them.”

The senior events opened with the free dance on Thursday, and when the scores were posted, a major upset was revealed. Pratt and Gilles, pre-event favorites to take the gold, were in sixth. Atop the podium were Caitlin Mallory (St. Moritz ISC) and Brent Holdburg (Stars FSC of Texas), who skated a romantic program to “Dark Eyes” that was choreographed by their coach, Marina Klimova. Mallory and Holdburg snagged four out of eight level 4 elements, three of which earned positive GOEs and gave them the highest technical score in the event.

Pratt and Gilles rocked out to Aerosmith's “Dream On” with choreography by Christopher Dean. Their first two elements, a rotational lift and a curve lift, earned level 4s, with GOEs mostly 1s and 2s. The program had some errors after that, most notably with their planned serpentine lift. That left them almost 8.5 technical points behind Mallory and Holdburg, although Pratt and Gilles had the highest program component score.

“We had two extended lifts and an added lift because we didn't finish our serpentine lift, so it became a curve lift,” Gilles explained. “That (second curve) lift got thrown out as an added element, plus there were no GOEs to it. We lost a lot of points.”

Kate Slattery & C.G. Lee placed second using their “Phantom of the Opera” free dance from last season. At the State Farm U.S. Championships in St. Louis, Mo., in January, Lee's nose was broken in a crash during warm-up, and the team was forced to withdraw. Now back with a new nose Lee proudly showed off, as well as a new coaching team of Natalia Linichuk and Gennady Karponosov, “Phantom” made its long-awaited re-appearance on competitive ice. Slattery and Lee received no level 1 elements and GOEs from –2 to +1 to claim the second- highest technical score of the day.

Charlotte Maxwell and Nick Traxler (Stars FSC of Dallas) won bronze with their high energy retro program to 70s music. Katherine Copely competed for Lithuania with new partner Deividas Stagniunas and finished a close fourth.

This season's original dance is back to a single rhythm: the tango. Dancers are free to choose the type of tango and style of music they best feel will interpret the theme.

Davis and White won the OD by a 6.5 point margin over Pratt and Gilles. With all six executed elements receiving positive GOEs, and with a lone level 2 among the level 3s and 4s, Davis and White were untouchable in both technical and component scores. Pratt and Gilles had the second-highest components but were only fourth in the technical scores after snagging a level 1 (albeit with all positive scores) on their diagonal step sequence. Slattery and Lee were third, followed by new seniors Elizabeth Miosi and Dmitri Ponomarev (SC of New York), and Copely and Stagniunas.

Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates
Photo by Michelle Wojdyla
The sweep of the golds was cemented after Davis and White won all three phases of the compulsory dance competition – the Westminster Waltz, Rhumba and Golden Waltz – by more than five points. The final gold looked to be in doubt after White took an uncharacteristic fall on the first pattern of the Golden Waltz, landing a level 4 belly flop near center ice. Amazingly, he was up in an instant and never let the interruption disrupt his rhythm. (Even more amazing was the 0 GOE given by one of the judges instead of the mandatory –2 minimum for such a fall.)

Slattery and Lee, who won this dance when it was last contested in Lake Placid in 2004, were second in this phase and second overall. Mallory and Holdburg pulled up to third after a disappointing eighth in the Westminster. Maxwell and Traxler used their third in the Golden to pull up to fourth overall.

Samuelson and Bates Lead Junior Ranks
While the performances of Davis and White were exceptional, one team did surpass them in the gold medal haul. Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates (Ann Arbor FSC) went six for six on the junior level, winning the free dance group A, original dance group B and all four compulsories. Training mates Madison Hubbell & Keiffer Hubbell picked up four golds (free dance group B, OD group A, Silver Samba and Midnight Blues), plus a silver and a bronze. Rounding out the success for their coaches, Iouri Tchesnitchenko and Yasa Netcheva, were Brooke Huber and Karl Edelmann, who grabbed bronzes in the free dance, OD, Silver Samba and Midnight Blues.

Samuelson and Bates' efforts were so strong that their scores would have placed them second in the senior original dance. The 16- and 17-year-old high school students excel at Latin rhythms, moving as though they were on a competitive ballroom floor rather than a sheet of ice. Out of all their scores throughout the week, only three were dinged with negative GOEs.

In the group A junior free dance, Broadmoor SC's Piper Gilles & Tim McKernan “skated up a level” and placed second in the free dance. Pilar Bosley (Peninsula SC) and John Corona (Philadelphia SC & HS) were third. Meanwhile, group B's silver medalists were Canadians Andrea Chong and Spencer Barnes (who also “skated up” and placed ninth in the senior OD, followed by Huber and Edelmann. Last year's U.S. novice silver medalists, the Hubbells, have moved seamlessly into the junior ranks. Their free dance to powerful vocals by Josh Groban was the highest scored of all the juniors and would have placed third in the senior division, despite being a minute shorter. "I am very pleased with our first competition as junior skaters,” Keiffer said. “We were perceived well by the judges and got a lot of feedback, which is exactly what we were hoping for."

Novice Stars
This year's team competition began Wednesday afternoon with the novice free dance. Last year's U.S. intermediate champions, Maia and Alex Shibutani, moved up to novice and captured the first gold medal awarded during the week. Skating to “Memoirs of a Geisha,” the siblings are coached by Patti Gottwein at the Broadmoor and train alongside Pratt and Gilles and Gilles and McKernan. Despite their small stature, the 12- and 15-year-old skaters think big.

“We know everyone always says, ‘Oh, the Shibutanis are so cute,' but we definitely don't want our skating to be small,” Alex said. “We really attempted to make ourselves grow as performers and fill the entire rink.”

With all their elements a level 3 or 4 (save for a level 1 circular step sequence), the Shibutanis received the second-highest technical score and were tops in program components out of both groups of novice dancers.

Sara Bailey and Kyle Herring
Photo by Michelle Wojdyla
In their only non-gold medal of the week, new couple Sara Bailey (Charter Oak SC) and Kyle Herring (Univ. of Del SC) placed second and received five of the possible eight level 4 elements. Canadians Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill were third.

This year's Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships marked the seventh appearance for Herring, who has competed in the event since he was a pre-juvenile skater.

“I love coming here!” Herring said. “There are so many people you don't (usually) get to see and it's such a great competition. It's a little early in the season, but it's fun to come here and get your stuff out there, have people see you. It's different than any other competition.”

In addition to their silver in the free dance, Bailey and Herring won all four compulsory dances.

“I think we're both much more confident this year than we were last year,” Herring said, although he admitted it was not just due to maturity. “I think partner-wise, we get along better. We really enjoy training together. It was a lot easier to prepare for this competition and come here confident. We were very, very excited. We did not expect this.”

Group B's free dance medals were all won by new teams. Madison Chock (All Year FSC) and Greg Zuerlein (Arctic FSC) captured gold, Ilana Morse (SC of New York) and Justin Morrow (Saratoga Springs SC) took silver, and Elyse Matsumoto and Andrew Skillington won bronze.

On Saturday evening the final two competitions took place: juvenile and intermediate free dance. Unlike the novice and junior levels, the youngest teams were not split into two groups for this final phase, making for very deep fields. Hilary Gibbons and Justin Pekarek, 2003 Lake Placid senior free dance champions, were on the other side of the boards, this time coaching the winning teams. Susan Enright and Michael Bramante took home gold in the juvenile free dance, while training mates Kate McDermott and Colin McManus captured the intermediate title.

“We kind of didn't expect to win, but it feels great,” Bramante said. “It was a great run-through and we did our twizzles correctly, so we were really happy at the end.”

His partner couldn't believe what she saw on the results board.

“I had to double-check them,” Enright said. “It was very exciting.”

Skating in the penultimate position, McDermott and McManus were only the third team to sweep their events, winning not only the free dance but also all three compulsories. The win this year made it a repeat performance for the duo from the Skating Club of Boston, who took home juvenile gold in 2005.

“It was more exciting last year because it was our first time ever competing as a dance couple and it was like ‘oh my god we just won!' It was crazy!” McManus confessed. “This time it was basically equal for me because it was the new judging system. You don't know what to expect.”

“We hadn't really skated that well all week,” McDermott added, “so that (competitive program) was the best.”

The dancers who had their first experience competing under the IJS seemed mostly in agreement.

“As opposed to thinking about doing things clean, you have to think about levels,” McManus said. “You have to think about holding things long enough. You have to think about twizzles.”

But overall?

“I like it more,” he said. “In training, there's that much more to work on. Every little thing counts. It can be overwhelming, but it's good for training.”