Intermediate Dance and Pairs Skate for Gold at U.S. Junior Championships

by Michelle Wojdyla, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
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More U.S. Junior Championships Articles, Photos and Results

(12/5/04) — The intermediate competitions at the 2005 U.S. Junior Figure Skating Championships drew the question: does figure skating create great kids, or are great kids drawn to figure skating?

Either way, the level of talent, sportsmanship, enthusiasm, and class that these young athletes displayed over the course of the week was simply inspirational. It was exciting to see personal bests, smiles radiating and fists pumping. It was heartbreaking to see falls and a program getting away, but not one skater ever gave up. Out there, with all eyes on them, they stuck out their chins, plowed through to the end, and even though it hurt the most, bowed to the judges and the crowd. Perhaps pro athletes could take a cue from what was shown in Jamestown. No one threw a chair. No one started a fight. The best in the nation did the sport of figure skating proud.

Intermediate Pairs
The pairs event, like at the juvenile level, has only a free skate. This means all the pressure is on just one program.

Meg Byrne and Nathan Bartholomay, who are coached by Vicki and Brian Helgenberg, won the event with seven first-place ordinals. Their program to “Les Miserables,” choreographed by Donna Helgenberg, featured the most difficult throw landed in the event, a throw double Axel. An overhead press lift with full arm extension set the tone for the program. Their side-by-side double Lutzes were close together, as was their Axel-double flip sequence.

Other elements included a Lutz lift with good speed in the rotation, a throw double Salchow, pair camel-change-camel spin, flying camel spins, and a straightline footwork sequence that accentuated the beats in the music. Good tension and extension ran throughout the program, and the final combination spin had excellent stretch.

“I was just a little off on the side-by-side spins, but I thought it was good,” Bartholomay said.

Byrne said this was the best they had ever performed the program.

“I was very excited,” she said. “I wanted to just relax and have fun. The best part was landing the throw double Axel.”

“That was the best part for me, too!” Bartholomay added.

The couple, who had both seen the horrific fall Tatiana Totmianina took at Smart Ones Skate America in Pittsburgh, were not deterred from pursuing the discipline they love.

“When we first learn an element, it's scary,” Byrne admitted, “but in about a day the fear is gone.”

“There's a risk,” Bartholomay acknowledged. “We do lots of off-ice work.”

Next season they plan to move up to novice. “We have throws,” he said, “but need the lifts.”

Caitlin Yankowskas and Daniyel Cohen placed second with a program to the music from “Gettysburg” and “Battlestar Galactica.” Their program included a split twist; side-by-side double Axels; side-by-side flying camels; two throws, a double Salchow and a double loop; side-by-side double flips and a double Lutz-double toe sequence. Their straightline footwork had ruler precision and their “month and a half old” high loop lift had great extension.

When the results were posted, “I was speechless!” Yankowskas said.

“I couldn't believe it,” Cohen said. “I didn't expect to get out of qualifying! When I saw the results, I started at the bottom and looked up.”

The couple is coached by Alex Vlassov and Laura Amelina does their choreography.

“Two weeks before regionals we threw a program together,” Yankowskas explained.

The couple, who are 14 and 16, decided to compete at the last minute. They put in seven hours a day, five on the ice and two off. Yankowskas attends A Beka Academy, a home school program that allows her to pursue intense training. Cohen credits the support of Elite Training and Education Academy for allowing him to balance both sport and education.

Yankowskas had kind words about her partner.

“I love having company on the ice,” she said. “He's always there for motivation. I feel secure with him.”

The assignment ahead of this team is clear. “Go home, work hard, get more lifts, and progress,” Cohen said.

Rounding out the medalists were Danielle Seitz and Brandon Moore (Indiana World Skating Academy), and Amanda Dobbs (Peninsula SC) and Christopher Trefil (St. Moritz ISC), who placed third and fourth, respectively. Seitz and Moore's program to “Shakespeare in Love” was highlighted by a straight-arm lift with many rotations and a straightline footwork sequence done mostly on one foot.

Dobbs and Trefil skated a program to “Kalinka” that had good lifts, including a swoop exit from the shoulder stag. During the six-minute warm-up, another team nearly collided with Dobbs and Trefil while he had her in a lift. Exceptional partnering skills by him saved her from what could have been a frightening fall.

{~PL1~} Intermediate Dance
The intermediate dance competition was a fight until the very end. It was a good event for Broadmoor skaters. Piper Gilles and Tim McKernan swept the event with eight first-place ordinals in the free dance, and Rachel Tibbetts and Eric Reinhart pulled up to silver with a second-place free dance. New team Kristine Kretz (San Diego FSC) and William Avila (Escondido FSC) were third in the free and fourth overall, while Detroit's Anastasia Olson and Greg Zuerlein reversed that and took home bronze.

“My dad so owes me an iPod!” Gilles joked after learning they had won.

Coach Patti Gottwein was visibly pleased for her young team.

“They did a great job. I'm happy for them,” Gottwein said. “They were consistent this week, which is good at this age.”

Their Latin-style program, choreographed by Tom Dickson, is one the skaters enjoy performing.

“I like to change expression in your face,” Gilles said. “It's really fun. I like the second lift the best. It's Todd and Trina's lift. We stole it from them.”

Todd and Trina, aka Pratt & Gilles (Piper's older brother), were at home in Colorado Springs on standby as alternates for the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final.

“The first part is smooth and lyrical,” McKernan said. “All twizzles are stressful.”

Stressful or not, the program had a lot of changes of handhold and a change of direction rotational lift. Both partners had solid, sure footing and showed energy throughout.

McKernan's father, Lieutenant Colonel Tim McKernan, was recently sent back to the Middle East where he is a quartermaster. Father and son won't be reunited until late next autumn, but may have a chance to see each other at the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in August, if Colonel McKernan is able to visit. The son visibly missed his father, tears in his eyes as he spoke about him.

“I just try to put it as far back in my mind as I can when I'm competing,” McKernan said. “I know he's thinking about me.”

They were able to speak on the phone. “He said ‘good luck and knock ‘em dead,'”

Silver medalists Tibbets and Reinhart had not expected this placement.

“Not that high, maybe third or fourth,” Tibbets said.

The team attributes their success to building confidence through a lot of off-ice work in front of the mirror so they are able to watch their unison and bodylines.

“I think our expression has gotten a lot better,” Reinhart said.

Their coach, Tiffany Hyden-Dombeck, was pleased with her team's success.

“It feels good,” Hyden-Dombeck said. “I'm excited to see how they do down the road.”

The program, set to Sting's “Desert Rose,” showcases a lot of forward skating with deep knee bends. A backbend lift, half-Biellmann spin, inverted stag lift, and a lunge with her draped over his knee were highlights of the performance.

Olson & Zuerlein's “Ingrid Tango” is a mature, almost dark free dance (a “dance-dance” Zuerlein called it) that featured strong use of edges and attention to footwork. A split rotational lift that is seen from many of the senior international skaters was also a highlight. A slight bobble at the beginning and some scratchiness near the end most likely hurt them.

“They had the most content out there,” coach Jerod Swallow said. “This event is a great learning experience.”

With “two days off and then back to work,” the team has their sights set on the novice events next season.

The third-place free dance by Kretz and Avila was set to the rhythms of rock & roll, blues and jive. Together only nine months, the team started the season off well with a medal at Lake Placid and built on that success throughout the season. Avila, a former pairs skater, said he made the switch to dance because he finds it “harder, more exciting.”

“We just had fun and skated our best,” Kretz said. “We didn't expect it. We did a lot of senior level lifts. We try to get as much difficulty as we can.”

“We watched Tanith (Belbin) and Ben (Agosto) videos and thought it would be good to have (a lift like theirs) and make it our own,” Avila said.

The team is not sure if they will move up next season.

“Wherever our coaches want us,” Kretz said.