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Skate America lights up Lake Placid

November 29, 2017
By CHRISTIE SAUSA - Correspondent , Lake Placid News

LAKE PLACID - Skate America, which began as Norton Skate in 1979 as a test event for the 1980 Olympics, returned to the Olympic Center in Lake Placid Friday, Nov. 24 through Sunday, Nov. 26

Lake Placid hosted the event again in 1981, before it began to be rotated among different cities and became part of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series in 1995. The last Lake Placid Skate America was held in 2009.

This year's Skate America was the final Grand Prix event of the season and the last chance for skaters to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, Japan in December. As was the case in 2009's Skate America, the skaters were doubly motivated by the impending Olympic Games, which will take place in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February.

Article Photos

Maia and Alex Shibutani dazzle the crowd with their short dance performance Saturday, Nov. 25 in the Skate America competition at the Olympic Center in Lake Placid. The brother-and-sister duo was rewarded with a gold medal in the event.
(Provided photo — Christie Sausa)

The event certainly had its share of moments. Some were triumphant; others were disappointing. All were memorable.


Shib Sibs

First, the triumphant. As expected, Maia and Alex Shibutani of the United States dazzled to win the gold medal by a wide margin. They recorded a personal best in the short dance and earned a season's best score in the free dance for a spot in the Grand Prix Final.

The win was especially poignant for the Shibutanis, who won the Lake Placid Ice Dance Championships in 2004.

"The crowd was absolutely incredible for the whole event," Maia Shibutani said after the short dance. "We really felt we did a great job embracing their energy and putting it into our performance."

"When we were warming up off the ice, (we) felt a little emotional, so it was a good test for us to be able to handle all the things and experiences that have built up to this season but still be able to put out a great performance," Alex Shibutani said after the free dance. "Just running around in the hallways backstage, those are the halls we warmed up in 13 years ago. This was the first big arena that we ever skated in in our lives, so it was a special weekend."

The Italian team of Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte claimed second place, while Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, of Russia, took the bronze.

Other Team USA skaters in the event were Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean Luc Baker who skated well to place fifth and the brother-and-sister team of Rachel and Michael Parsons that placed 10th.


Nicked blade

Nathan Chen might have won gold and earned a spot in the Final, but had a disappointing free skate that included mistakes on quad jumps and a triple axel that was "singled" instead. His problems stemmed from a nick on his blade sustained before the short program.

"I switched it (the blade) to another one and I think that was actually a bad call. It was a little bit too sharp on the inside edge, so every time I pressed into it for (a) salchow, for toe, for flip even, it would catch into the ice a little harder than I was used to," Chen said. "I think that was a good experience. I tried it. At Worlds I had an extra pair of boots but I didn't try it because I didn't want to risk it. I tried the risk here and it didn't work, so it's good to learn from."

Despite the disappointment, Chen enjoyed his experience competing in Lake Placid.

"We're staying at the OTC, so to be able to be there and see these portraits of all these Olympic athletes is super cool," Chen said. "Within a lot of the US events, the way that the rink is set up, we're face-level with the audience instead of them being on a platform. It's cool to be able to turn your head and connect with the audience much more easily and more personally."


'Cursed ice'

The men's free skate event seemed to be rife with difficulties for its skaters. Israel's Daniel Samohin, an entertaining young skater who had clearly been enjoying his Skate America experience up until that point, fell hard and dislocated his left shoulder. This injury forced him to painfully make his way off the ice, where his shoulder was reset before a hospital visit. He withdrew from the event.

American skater Adam Rippon also dislocated his shoulder during the program. In addition, he was asked by the referee to clean dead bugs off the ice before competing, an incident which prompted amused and sometimes sarcastic comments on social media and became an "inside joke" bantered about among the skaters and media. Rippon acknowledged the challenges but was not fazed.

"Well, I dislocated it on the first jump. This is sort of an injury that I've been recovering from, which is why I'm not doing the Rippon Lutz. I guess I won't be doing it for a little while longer," Rippon said. "Listen, I'm 28. I have a lot of experience. I have a goal and I'm focused, and literally nothing is going to get in my way. I'm ready for anything. I told Sam Auxier, our [U.S. Figure Skating] president, that you can throw rocks and bricks and put bugs on the ice - it doesn't matter. I'm going to do my job and I'm going to go out there. I'm a fighter and I'm a warrior."

Despite these difficulties, Rippon captivated with an evocative program to Coldplay's "O," which earned him a silver medal and a spot in the Grand Prix Final.

"I've beaten all of the U.S. men in some form and segment," Rippon said. "I've medaled at both my Grand Prixes. I'm going to the Grand Prix Final. I'm checking all the boxes to have all the criteria to be on the Olympic Team. I don't think it will be a question when we get to nationals."

The remaining Team USA skater, fan favorite Ross Miner of Burlington, Vermont, who competed and trained in Lake Placid as a child, placed sixth after several mistakes in the short and long programs, but was heartily supported by the audience for his crowd-pleasing programs.

Some on social media blamed "cursed ice" for these injuries, falls and unusual occurrences at the site of the Miracle on Ice hockey game in the which the US team triumphed over the Soviet Union in 1980. However, this seems unlikely considering that several great performances occurred afterward.


Japanese dominance

The ladies event was dominated by Japanese stars Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto. Miyahara, who missed part of last season due to a hip injury, earned a season-best score in the long program to win over Sakamoto by nearly four points.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the event was the bronze medal-winning performance of Senior Grand Prix newcomer Bradie Tennell, who became the only American woman to win a medal after the less than ideal performance of Karen Chen and the withdrawal of Ashley Wagner due to injury.

Skating to a Cinderella-themed program, which included the song "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes," Tennell's dreams certainly came true when she pulled off a nearly perfect and elegantly performed program.

"This is the first time I've ever been to Lake Placid, and skating in this venue has been kind of surreal for me, because I grew up watching the 'Miracle' movie," Tennell said. "Seeing this in person is really amazing for me."

Despite her spectacular performances, Tennell did not get ahead of herself when it comes to her Olympic chances, wisely choosing to focus on her own progress.

"I am just going to continue my training and take it one day at a time," she said.


Bump in the road

Reigning US national champions Nathan Chen and Karen Chen (no relation) struggled in Lake Placid.

Karen Chen skated two underwhelming performances to finish in eighth place overall. After a hard fall on a triple loop in the short program, she discussed her anxiety toward the jump and how she felt after the long program.

"I have to say, I am definitely a little sore from yesterday (the short program), just a little bit of everything. It was definitely scary for sure, but I felt like I managed it quite well and I tried to really block it out," Karen Chen said. "When I set that loop, I was like, 'It's not going to happen, just trust yourself,' and I did. It was definitely wobbly, not the quality triple loop that I'm capable of, but I guess this was definitely a skate that I am more proud of."

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the ladies' event for Team USA was the withdrawal of Ashley Wagner, who said this is the first time she has ever withdrawn from an event. The 2014 Olympian, known for her fiery skating style and technical prowess, started her performance before stopping almost two minutes into the program and to indicate her inability to continue for medical reasons. She was diagnosed with an infection in her right ankle a week ago, but had been coping with it previously.

"I was hoping to be able to mentally push through this," Wagner said. "But you know when you're out there and you're in nauseating pain and you have to do a long program, there's just no point in being in pain.

"I did everything that I could to do like a quick fix, but it's not a quick fix kind of a situation. My main goal is to be national champion and to go to the Olympics, and that's something that I absolutely can do with the right amount of training. There's no sense in me going out and competing here and being in pain and putting myself through that when this isn't my goal. My goal is the Olympics. This is a bump in the road. I'll go home and get myself 100 percent, and have the time to train for nationals and be the athlete that I want to be."



The pairs title was won by veteran champions Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany, while the Chinese pair of Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang earned silver and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada placed third.

Team USA skaters Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, and Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay placed fifth, seventh and eighth, respectively.


Skating Spectacular

After the competition, fans were treated to the Smucker's Skating Spectacular exhibition, which included performances by 140 youth and adult skaters forming the Olympic rings to open the show, a special program by the Skyliners, an elite synchronized skating team from New York City and, of course, performances from the top competitors at Skate America.

Overall, the competitors, fans, judges and other personnel seemed to enjoy Skate America and Lake Placid. Perhaps Ross Miner, who guest stars in the Saturday Night Ice Show every summer said it best about the energy in the arena during the event.

"That was by far probably the most excited crowd I've ever skated in front of in America," Miner said. "Maybe Boston nationals was the same, but boy Lake Placid did a nice job getting people in this building. That was really fun and exciting."

For more information on Skate America, visit their website at For information on US Figure Skating, the governing body that organized the event, visit their website at

The next skating event in Lake Placid is the Stars on Ice Legends Show Dec. 30, featuring legendary Stars on Ice performers Paul Wylie and Kristi Yamaguchi. For more info, visit



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