Skate America-2022 concluded at the Skating Club of Boston’s new rink in Norwood, MA this past weekend. It was the first of the 6-event ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating series – which will culminate in the Grand Prix Final on December 8-11 in Torino, Italy.
I was not a part of the official media pool this time and got to take in the atmosphere from a spectator perspective (a local spectator I should add, as I happen to live within a 15-min drive from the arena). As spectacular as 2,500-seat Norwood arena is- it is considered on a smaller side for this type of international events. Those of us who were fortunate to secure our all-event tickets back in spring though – enjoyed an almost intimate community-like celebration of the sport of figure skating. If you stayed in the central area (by the souvenir kiosk) long enough between the events – you had a chance to mingle with many figure skating stars of past, future and present!
Here is my report from Skate America- in 14 pictures!
If you ask any of the attendees to describe the event in two words- I am pretty sure it would be “Quad Axel”. 17-year old (youngest ever) men’s event winner Ilia Malinin of the US has successfully landed the jump in his free program, followed by 4 more quadruple jumps (one under-rotated). Malinin is the first skater to ever land this jump in competition. (it first happened earlier in the fall at the US Classic in Lake Placid). Ilia kept the audience in suspense until the day of men’s free skate event when we saw the coveted jump declared in the program content sheet. It felt amazing to be witnessing a figure skating history right in front of me! That axel was the first jump of the program and the buzz never really stopped until the very end.
From a scoring point of view, the quad axel (which has a half of a revolution more than other quad jumps) is worth only one point more (12.5 vs 11.5) than quad lutz jump. Considering that Malinin’s overall technical score for the free program was 112 vs. (second place) Miura’s 94 – it is possibly not enough of risk reward in it of itself to be including it in the program. But Ilia’s perfect execution ( he got 4.1 out of 5 grade of execution bonus added) and general “wow” factor may just keep him going for it- to the delight of his fans.
There was a plethora of incredible female athletes at the event. Take Deanna Stellato-Dudek who at 39 won silver for Canada in the pairs event with partner Maxime Deschamps. Deanna had retired from the sport as a single skater at 17 to come back 16 years later as a pairs skater at the age of 32! Stellato-Deschamps finished only 3 points behind another pair with the strong female lead on the podium – US’s Alexa Knierim /Brandon Frazier, (who were coming off their world championships win earlier in the year).
Alexa Knierim, 31, has previously partnered with husband Chris Knierim but went on to find a new partner after Chris decided to retire from the competitive skating in 2020 (Knierim and Frazier finished 6th at the 2022 Olympics in their second season competing together).
In Ladies’ event I was most looking forward to seeing US’s Gracie Gold, Isabeau Levito and Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto perform- for different reasons. Sakamoto is a reigning world champion and 2022-Olympics bronze medal winner who takes over the rink with her powerful uninhibited style. At 15, Levito is US’s bronze medal winner from earlier this year. It is this skater’s effervescent flowing presence on ice I adore the most – her free skate performance set to the music of Eugene Doga’s famous waltz gave me goose bumps (despite Levito’s issues with the jumps).
At 27 Gracie Gold is probably the oldest ladies’ skater currently competing internationally (and the oldest one to perform a triple lutz-triple toeloop combination). I saw Gracie’s win at 2014 US Championships in Boston! Gracie came back to the competition a couple of years ago after dealing with mental illness but has been gaining competitive strength every year. She finished 6th in the field of 11 here at Skate America but I believe in her ability to improve as the season progresses. She has already won the hearts of the figure skating fans with her determination and perseverance.
Passions of the Dance
Out of the four disciplines, ice dance is the most subjectively judged. There is rarely an upset by a lower ranked couple, yet it almost happened here. US’s Madison Chock-Evan Bates (the most experienced currently competing ice dance pair) have barely edged their teammates (and Montreal training mates) Kaitlin Hawayek-Jean-Luc Baker (Hawayek-Baker actually won the free skate).
Chock-Bates’ programs this year are meditations on love. It is still early in the season and (newly engaged) Chock-Bates, who have their eyes set on the top of the World’s podium, will surely enhance their performance with real life passions -as well as technical finesse- as the season develops. (Bates at 33 became the oldest Skate America ice dance winner ever; the skater has 4 Olympics behind him, two of them paired with Chock).
The crowd absolutely loved the silver medal winners Hawayek and Baker’s free program (which earned the best scores of the day in the two-program competition). The couple used the music from Norwegian musician Askjell in their etherial program that looked incredibly well trained.
Stars of the Future
Post Olympic year always brings career pauses and retirements and a chance for new generation (and those who stick around) – to shine. Brother-sister pair of Maria Mokhova (16)/Ivan Mokhov (23) (USA) were added to the list of pairs event participants just 3 days prior to the event but took 4th place and delighted the audience with their classic lines (I also give them the award of having the sweetest off-ice personalities of the entire event!).
Viv and I were happy to mingle with another young US’s pair- ice dancers Lorraine McNamara/Anton Spiridonov (7th place in respectable dance field here) who also have all the potential to grow in the ranks.
Saturday was a pleasantly sunny day in Boston last weekend and fans enjoyed some more “official” mingling activities organized by the US Figure Skating, including autograph signing session with Ashley Wagner (Sunday sessions were moved indoors due to rain). These sessions are as much about a couple of seconds spent connecting with a favorite skater as about bringing home a signed program. As a local of the area, Ashley is a frequent guest star at Boston’s skating events ( I look forward to running into her in local coffee shops as well).
I believe Aljona Savchenko (who was born in Ukraine but later represented Germany) is not only the best pairs figure stater but one of the greatest athletes of all times. Not only did she go to five Olympics, she kept getting better, took on a new partner after her fourth Olympics in 2014 (where she earned bronze), got him to her level, and finally earned gold medal in her fifth Olympics at the age of 34 (in 2018 in Pyeongchang). I don’t know if there is anyone who could match that success- do you?
Now a coach, Aljona brought two young pairs to the event (Greta Crafoord/John Crafoord of Sweden and Germany’s Letizia Roscher/Luis Schuster). I can only hope seeing Deanna successfully compete at 39 might have given Aljona some ideas…
Flags of Allegiance
As much as I want figure skating to be the place to escape from the “real” world, it is just not realistic. Ukrainian dance pair of Maria Holubtsova and Kyryl Bielobrov placed last of the 10 competitors here but were received with heartwarming support from the crowd waving the Ukrainian flags.
Here is their gofundme campaign to support the pair’s training away from their war-torn home.
*Russian skaters are indefinitely banned from competition due to their country’s invasion of Ukraine.