Gregory and Petukhov Take a Strong Step in Compulsory Danceby Laura Fawcett
|Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov|
Photo by Michelle Harvath
(10/26/06) - Skating essentially on home turf, U.S. ice dancers Melissa Gregory & Denis Petukhov jumped a step further in their careers by placing second Thursday evening in the Skate America compulsory dance.
Gregory and Petukhov trained in the Hartford area for three and a half years, and the duo has been making the rounds over the last couple of weeks promoting the year's inaugural Grand Prix event. In early October, the three-time U.S. silver medalists met with the media and visited a local elementary school to teach children a little bit about ice dancing.
Some of those kids were at the rink today supporting their new heroes.
"It's been great this week," Gregory said. "It's so nice to be home in Hartford. Everybody has been so warm, and you see so many friendly faces in the stands, so it's cool."
Gregory and Petukhov (35.02 points) skated a strong and smooth Westminster Waltz for their young fans, finishing nearly three points ahead of third-place finishers Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France (32.38).
Not surprisingly, Bulgarian World champions Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski are in first place with 39.19 points.
Just being here is a success for Gregory and Petukhov, which faced a setback in late July when Gregory dropped a 45-pound weight on her foot, fracturing it all the way through the bone.
“I was hysterical [talking to my mom],” Gregory told U.S. Figure Skating Online last week. "I said, ‘I'm not going to be ready. I'm not going to get anything done!' They wanted to cast me in the emergency room, and I wouldn't let them put a cast on. They though I was absolutely out of my mind.”
Gregory chose erchonia lasers to help heal her foot – a treatment used by athletes, including Lance Armstrong, to help muscles recover more quickly. After a number of treatments, she emerged essentially good as new.
“Knock on wood, I have felt no side effects of it, and it's much better,” she said. “I'm able to do everything.”
To complicate their summer more, they also switched coaches and began training with Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karpanosov.
“We had a lot of confidence going into [here],” Gregory said. “Natalia and Gennadi have really given us a big boost in our skating and in our confidence.”
Denkova and Staviski, competing for the first time at Skate America, left right off where they finished the 2005-06 season – on top. Adding a dramatic flair to their closing pose, the team looks like it made a good choice to stay competitive this season – even if it took the two a while to decide.
“We didn't know until June,” Denkova said. “We needed a little rest mentally and physically. But it's very nice to be on the ice. It's nice to practice. It's a pleasure for us to do the new dances, new programs and new elements. So we are not sorry we stayed at least one more year.”
Third place went to France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who practiced for the first time today on ice; their skates and their costumes didn't make the connection from Frankfurt to Chicago. Pechalat and Bourzat were 15th at the 2006 World Championships, so finishing third was a positive step.
“It's a really good result,” Bourzat said. “Very fine for the first competition."
2006 Four Continents silver medalists Morgan Matthews & Max Zavozin are in position to match or exceed their highest Grand Prix placement – fourth at 2005 Trophee Eric Bompard. The young team is in fifth place with 29.95 points, but that is less than a point behind fourth-place finishers Sinead and John Kerr of Great Britain.
Matthews and Zavozin finished just behind the Kerrs at the 2006 Nebelhorn Trophy last month, so they know all about the competition they are facing.
“We went into the first event a little blind, so we were more comfortable tonight,” Zavozin said. “We are excited to put our programs out there.”
The duo's next Grand Prix event will be in Zavozin's home country of Russia, and there will probably be a large contingent of fans cheering for Team USA.
“As soon as I found out, I called home, and all of my family and friends have already bought tickets,” he said.
Kimberly Navarro & Brent Bommentre might be the team most thrilled to be here, and they were still smiling after an eighth-place finish in the compulsory dance. This is their second season together and first Grand Prix assignment. They won the bronze medal two weeks ago at the Karl Schaefer Memorial in Vienna.
“[It was] awesome,” Bommentre said of their appearance on the Hartford ice Thursday night. “I thought we had a good start to our season this year and kicked things off well.”
With their fifth-place finish at the 2006 State Farm U.S. Championships, the duo said they could be ready to move up to the national podium.
“I think on paper we are [ready to medal],” Bommentre said, “but for us our focus is on performance and performing better each time out.”
The ice dancing competition continues Friday with the original dance.