U.S. Teams Go 1-2 in Skate America Pairs Short Program

by Laura Fawcett
Rena Inoue & John Baldwin
Photo by Paul Harvath

(10/26/06) - Blink, and you missed it.

That's how quickly the pairs short program finished Thursday night at 2006 Skate America in Hartford, Conn. In less than an hour, however, the United States staked its claim for a possible two pairs medals in a Grand Prix event, a feat that hasn't happened in 10 years. In 1996, Shelby Lyons and Brian Wells, and Stephanie Stiegler and John Zimmerman, went 2-3 at Skate America – the second year of the Grand Prix Series (then called the Champions Series).

But this year, Rena Inoue & John Baldwin (59.28 points), and Naomi Nari Nam & Themi Leftheris (57.32), are in a position to make it happen again. The two pairs lead a small field at Skate America, due to a number of late withdrawals, including Chinese World champions Qing Pang and Jian Tong.

Third place went to Canada's Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay (55.86), while the Polish team of Dorota and Mariusz Siudek struggled with a couple of their elements to finish fourth with 50.34 points.

It could be the first Grand Prix gold medal for Inoue and Baldwin, who say they only decided after the World Championships to compete another year.

“We really didn't know we would be competing this year,” Baldwin said, “but we sat down and talked about it and decided it would be worth it. We have a lot more to accomplish, and we are in a great position this year. We want to get that medal at Worlds.”

The U.S. champions had the highest elements score despite two small mistakes. Inoue stepped out of the side-by-side double Axels and put her hand down on the throw triple Axel (which still received 6.80 points). Level fours on four other elements helped keep them ahead of the competition. They also had the highest program components score.

“It's a good way to start,” Baldwin said. “Not perfectly clean, but just little mishaps.”

Baldwin added that they are also happy because Inoue sprained her ankle a couple of weeks ago before the Campbell's Cup.

Having never competed under the international judging system in an ISU event, Nam and Leftheris necessarily notched a personal best score of 57.32. They opened the program with spot-on side-by-side triple toe loops and a throw triple loop – an element they just added this year. Their least successful element was the combination spin, which only earned a level two and received a few negative GOEs.

This is the first Grand Prix event for the pair. Nam competed in the Junior Grand Prix Series as a singles skater but never in the Grand Prix.

“We felt really confident, comfortable and at ease out there,” Nam said.

Langlois and Hay had trouble on their side-by-side triple toes and throw triple Lutz.

“[The program went] quite good,” Langlois said. “We've been out twice so far, and in practice competitions for us, and there's a lot of adjusting to do to that program.”

The Siudeks (Dorota Zagorska recently began using her husband's name) had a major error on their side-by-side triple toes (he fell and she stepped out), but they received no points on their pairs combination spin. She tripped heading into the spin, and the rest unraveled.

The third U.S. pair, Tiffany Vise & Derek Trent, is in seventh place. This is also their first appearance at Skate America, and Trent said the most surprising thing was “competing against all the people I watch on TV.”

“I got out there and it was like, ‘Wow, this is a lot of fun,'” he said. “I missed the [triple] toe, but otherwise I thought we gave a really good performance. A couple of elements didn't get the levels we expected, which cost us three or four points.

The pairs competition concludes Saturday with the free skate.