Silver For Gregory and Petukhov at Skate America

by Laura Fawcett
Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov
Photo by Paul Harvath

2006 Skate America News, Photos and Blogs

(10/28/06) - Melissa Gregory & Denis Petukhov are a different ice dancing team this week in Hartford, Conn.

It could be that for the first time in a competition in the United States, they are the top American duo, out from under the shadow of the wildly successful Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.

It could be that they are skating on their former home turf, having trained in the Hartford area for more than three years.

Or it could be the influence of new coaches Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov, who have pushed Gregory and Petukhov to a new level in the sport.

It's probably a little bit of all three. Regardless, it all added up to a silver medal for the team, their highest finish at a Grand Prix event and second medal (they won bronze at Skate Canada last year).

They debuted their “Adam and Eve” free dance at the U.S. Figure Skating Campbell's Cup to lukewarm results, collecting only 79 points with three deductions. The outcome was entirely different Saturday afternoon at 2006 Skate America, as Gregory and Petukhov scored 90.35 points and received a standing ovation from the Hartford Civic Center crowd.

Petukhov was feeling no major side effects from his crash into the boards during the original dance warm-up Friday, though he did say he felt like he had been “hit by a truck” when he woke up this morning. Adrenalin, of course, helps an athlete forget most aches and pains when they compete.

And besides, Gregory said, “We look like pretty fairies, but we're really tough inside.”

Pretty fairies? The reference was to their unique costumes, which have a “Puck”-ish feel to them. Petukhov's costume was in part designed by their close friend, Johnny Weir

“It's hard to dress for Adam and Eve,” Gregory said. “The ISU doesn't allow us to be naked, and ABC probably wouldn't appreciate it either.”

Part of Weir's inspiration is the red piece of cloth on Petukhov's right wrist that represents the apple in the Adam and Eve story.

Gregory and Petukhov received only one negative GOE – a minus one on their twizzles (which received plus one from five other judges and plus two from another). Their elements were all level four except for a level two on the circular step sequence and level three on their curve lift.

World champions Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski skated to an almost anticlimactic gold medal to “Seven Deadly Sins.”

Saturday's early morning drama revolved around a collision between the Bulgarians and British champions Sinead and John Kerr.

While Denkova and Staviski took their turn to run through their music, they collided with the Kerrs. The four athletes landed in an entangled heap, slowly getting to their feet to access the damage.

“I know it was their music, so normally you wait until the person stops and then you do a bit of your program,” Sinead said after the practice. “They [Denkova & Staviyski] stopped, but they must have restarted again pretty quickly. I don't think either one of us saw each other. These things happen in practice because you try to get in as much as you can.”

“We were in the middle of a lift and I was totally blind,” John added. “We only went to do the lift because we saw them stop their program.”

“It happens sometimes on the practices,” Staviyski said. “We can't see them, so we can't see each other.”

Both teams checked in with their coaches before deciding to complete the practice session. Both Bulgarians were holding their backs, and Denkova had a cut to the back of her right thigh that was bleeding. John Kerr had a small cut, too, and was favoring his right knee.

Denkova had to wash the blood off Staviski's costume before the competition, but it had little impact on their solid performance. All but two of their elements were level four, and they did not receive any negative GOEs. Their serpentine lift even received a rare plus three from one of the judges.

“Overall I think we are very pleased with the marks and with the levels,” Denkova said. “We have just a few things to improve, and we hope to talk to the specialists and to the judges and to some of the coaches … to see what their opinion is for the program, for the elements, and see how we can improve some things.”

Gregory and Petukhov weren't the only U.S. team to make its mark at Skate America. Morgan Matthews & Max Zavozin finished third in the free dance (ahead of France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat) and fourth overall.

They also won the head-to-head battle with the Kerrs, who had a major error at the end of their free dance to drop to fifth. The Kerrs finished 11th at the 2006 World Championships – five places ahead of Matthews and Zavozin - and also narrowly defeated Matthews and Zavozin at the Nebelhorn Trophy in September. The teams will face off for a third time this season in November at Cup of Russia.

“The British are a very strong team,” Zavozin said before the final results were posted. “It's exciting competing against someone like that and coming so close at Nebelhorn. We're like a traveling pack. We meet the Kerrs at Russia again. I was talking to John and told him we'd be best friends by the end of the season.”

Morgan Matthews and Max Zavozin
Photo by Paul Harvath
Their program to “The Piano” soundtrack showcased a new maturity in their skating, combining grace and fire in different segments. They said they learned a lot by watching the top teams at the World Championships.

“We learned about the level of performance by the top skaters … their power, performance and relationships,” Zavozin said.

Matthews agreed that they saw what they needed to work toward as they developed.

“[The top teams] don't just look at each other,” she said, “they almost look right into each other.”

Like the gold medalists, Matthews and Zavozin (83.94 points) received level fours on all but two elements. Their straightline lift to open the program was particularly well received, earning three plus two GOEs.

“We need to train ourselves a little more, but overall it was good,” Zavozin said. “We were confident with our skating, and the bottom line is I guess we are pleased with ourselves and the way we did the whole competition here.”

Matthews was also bolstered by the presence of her parents, who left Virginia at 3 a.m. to be in the stands for the free dance.

Pechalat and Bourzat (82.02) had a difficult time in their “Four Seasons” program, receiving zero points for their curve lift and two deductions. They were still able to hang on for their first Grand Prix medal.

Kimberly Navarro & Brent Bommentre breezed their way through a Beatles medley to finish sixth in their Grand Prix debut. The strains of “The Long and Winding Road,” “You Never Give Me Your Money” and more entertained the crowd and pleased the judges as well. They scored a personal-best 77.59 points, and with improvement on difficulty for their circular step sequence and rotational lift, which both received level twos, they can only go higher.

“We're very honored to be out here on the Skate America ice,” Navarro said. “It's slightly intimidating at times, but I'm glad we rose to the occasion.”

Charming and at ease with the media, the two have bantered with reporters all week, and the free dance was no different. After years of limited success with previous partners, they are taking full advantage of the experiences that come with higher success. They compete next week at Skate Canada.

Michelle Wojdyla contribued to this story.