Sunday, May 30, 2010

Germans are ready for another four years

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy entered the Olympic season as two-time and reigning World Pairs Champions and were considered top contenders for the Olympic Gold. In the end, the season didn't go as well as the Germans had hoped, but they medaled in each event they competed in. At the World Championships, the creative team announced that they plan on competing until 2014 to realize their dream of an Olympic gold medal in Sotchi.

"This season we went up and down, from zero to 100 and from 100 to zero," Savchenko summed up. "The body doesn't know that there are Olympic Games. [This time] it gave a signal that it wasn't meant to be. It was too much. [When] the body says "stop", there is nothing you can do about it," she analyzed, referring to illnesses that hit her several times in the past months.

It was a hard season for the German pair, and only in the very beginning was everything business as usual.

"The year started as it always does, with new programs, with the Nebelhorn Trophy... it was a usual summer and we had no injuries," recalled Szolkowy.

But then bad luck struck. Savchenko fell sick after the Nebelhorn Trophy, but resumed training in time for their first Grand Prix in Paris. Or so they thought. After a good short program, the Germans completely fell apart in the free skate and made error after error. They barely hung on to the bronze medal.

"I couldn't believe it," said Savchenko, shaking her head months after the event from last October. "There is no explanation. It was like a black out. It just happened and we couldn't find ourselves. It was a nightmare. Everything went wrong that could go wrong."

After this shocking experience, coach Ingo Steuer and the team decided to switch to a new free program - something they had not yet done. The new program to Out of Africa went over very well with the judges and the audience at Skate Canada. Savchenko and Szolkowy performed brilliantly. However, at the Grand Prix Final, they didn't skate their best. Savchenko apparently was already affected by a bad flu that hit her even harder right after the Final. For more than a week, she was confined to bed, and the team missed Nationals.

The team was not able to get back in to top form before the European Championships, and were beaten by Russia's Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov in a somewhat controversial decision. Then, at the Olympic Games, two errors in the free skate prevented the Germans from finishing higher than third. They were disappointed, but they were relieved at the same time to have earned a medal.

full article.

Two-time Olympian Anabelle Langlois retires

Anabelle Langlois, the veteran of Canada's 2010 Olympic figure skating team, has decided to hang up her competitive skates after a long career. The Gatineau, Québec native, who began skating at the age of 11, will turn 29 in July, and has decided to move on from the competitive world. She has plans to coach young skaters, and to pursue post-secondary studies in psychology this fall.

Langlois, after competing at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games with her previous partner, teamed up with Cody Hay in 2005. The two had a successful five-year partnership, winning the Canadian pair title in 2008 and finishing eighth in the world that same year. They had a strong comeback this season, after missing all of 2008-2009 after Langlois fractured her foot.

"I was honored to have been able to represent Canada for several years, and especially in 2010 at the Olympics in our own country. We did all that we could to make everyone proud of us, and so appreciated the support of our fans for all these years," said Langlois.

"I have been so blessed to have been able to skate with Cody," she continued. "We had to fight hard through so many obstacles. He was such a wonderful partner for me, and so supportive through all the ups and downs of our career. Now I hope I can pass along some of the lessons I've learned to other skaters as I work with them."

Hay, 26, from Edmonton, Alta., plans to continue skating, and hopes to compete at the 2014 Olympic Games in Russia. "I support Anabelle's decision to move on to new challenges, but I have a desire to continue skating, and look forward to what the next few years have in store." Hay will continue to skate and train in Barrie, Ontario, and hopes to find the right partner to represent Canada again on the world stage. His biggest fan will be Langlois. "Cody has a lot more to give to this sport. He has my full support in his decision, and I can't wait to cheer him on!"

Longtime coach Lee Barkell also wished them both well. "It has been a pleasure being involved and watching Anabelle and Cody grow and develop, not only as a pair team, but also as people. And it was terrific to see them achieve their personal goal of representing Canada at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. They are true role models showing that with teamwork, a strong work ethic and a dream that you can achieve your goals." He added "Anabelle's passion, determination, experience and knowledge will be a tremendous asset as she pursues a new chapter in her life. I am very proud and excited for both Anabelle and Cody."

"As an Olympian, world competitor and a Canadian champion, Anabelle was a big part of our national team for over eight years," said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada High Performance Director. "A testament to her competitiveness and no-quit attitude was her ability to recover from a serious injury in 2009 to earn a spot on the 2010 Olympic and world team. We look forward to Anabelle staying involved with Skate Canada and wish her the best in her future endeavors."

Denney, Barrett hope to be a "Rhapsody in Blue"

Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett's lives still haven't slowed much since their whirlwind competitive season came to a close.

The couple won its first U.S. title, earned a trip to the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, placed seventh at the 2010 World Championships, was feted with a hometown parade, made appearances with the Smucker's Stars on Ice tour and visited the White House. And Denney, who turns 17 on June 22, is even learning how to drive, with hopes of getting her driver's license next month.

The U.S. pairs skating champions took a little bit of a breather for a couple of weeks -- Barrett kicked back a bit at the beach; Denney took spins in the car with her dad -- but now they are back at work, crafting their short and long programs in Toronto with choreographer David Wilson. The short program music will be revealed at a later date, and the free skate is to the George Gershwin classic, "Rhapsody in Blue.''

"I feel like this has all happened really, really fast and now we're back at the beginning again, back to square one,'' Denney said.

But being back on the ice is where they feel the most comfortable and both Denney and Barrett are excited to be working with Wilson. This season, the couple's third together, is the first in which the team is working with a choreographer other than their coach, Jim Peterson.

It was actually Peterson's idea to seek out a top choreographer for the team, and he went to Toronto with his skaters for the first few days of choreography sessions. Peterson returned to Florida because of other coaching commitments but Denney and Barrett will be in Toronto for a total of 10 days.

Denney and Barrett have been a very consistent team technically, but Peterson hopes they can reach a new level internationally by ramping up their choreography.

"They had a great season; that goes without saying,'' Peterson said. "And they did great in Vancouver and Torino as well, but I want to do everything I can to help this team and to help the country get three pairs teams at worlds. We're looking at the podium.

"I'm so happy the kids have this opportunity to really take them to another level.''

Wilson has designed programs for numerous elite skaters, including Yu-Na Kim's James Bond girl short program that helped vault her to the Olympic gold medal in Vancouver. He said he aware of Denney and Barrett's skating before Peterson contacted him about working with the team. Wilson was at the 2009 U.S. Championships in Cleveland, to help support some of his skaters, Adam Rippon and Alissa Czisny, and took notice of Denney and Barrett then.

"I remember the reaction from the crowd and all of the backstage drama, people talking and saying they should have won,'' Wilson said. "I know they've had these two amazing years. I think with pairs and dance teams, there's either a magic or there's not, and I think these two definitely have magic.''

full article.

Castile, Okolski retire from competitive skating

Brooke Castile and Ben Okolski, who won the 2007 U.S. pairs championship, announced today their retirement from competitive skating.

Both athletes plan to stay involved in figure skating and pursue careers in coaching.

"Although we are retiring from competitive skating, I don't intend to leave the sport," Castile said. "I feel like this is a transition rather than a retirement."

Castile and Okolski paired up in 2002. In addition to their U.S. title, their career highlights include earning bronze medals at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and the 2008 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, capturing the U.S. junior silver medal in 2004 and making two appearances at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships (2007, '08).

In addition to coaching, Castile hopes to add the title of "choreographer" to her resume.

"I have always known this is what I would do when I finished competing," Castile said. "I love the choreography and the art of expression through skating. Hopefully, this way I can still share my talents in the sport."

Okolski will attend Washtenaw Community College and is considering a major in accounting.

"I'm looking forward to going back to school as well as continuing coaching," Okolski said. "I hope to pass on what we've learned throughout our competitive career."

Castile and Okolski trained at the Arctic Figure Skating Club in Canton, Mich., with coach Johnny Johns since the 2006-07 season.

"We would like to thank our coach Johnny Johns, who has been an essential part of our success," Castile and Okolski said. "Most important, we would like to thank our families for their unconditional love and support throughout our careers."

Navarro, Bommentre announce retirement

Ice dancers Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre, who twice won the bronze medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, have announced their retirement from competitive skating.

The team will continue to skate together, appearing in the Sun Valley (Idaho) Ice Show this summer and then join a new Holiday on Ice tour.

"We are really excited about this next chapter," Navarro said. "We know we have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we feel ready for all the new challenges to come."

Navarro and Bommentre first paired in 2005 and placed fifth at the 2006 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Highlights of their career include a bronze medal at the 2008 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and two appearances at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships (2008 and 2010).

"There are not enough words to express our respect for our coaches Robbie Kaine and Cheryl Demkowski-Snyder," Bommentre said. "They allowed us to express ourselves through our skating, and we will always remember how good it felt to give that to the fans."

"We would also like to thank our home clubs, the Santa Rosa Figure Skating Club and the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society," said Navarro, a member of the former. "They, along with our rinks, were instrumental in generating support during our partnership and have always gone above and beyond to help us train."

U.S. Figure Skating announces off-season changes

Coaching changes by a pair of former U.S. champions and the retirement of a longtime national and international competitor highlight a busy off-season for several U.S. Figure Skating athletes.


After more than 10 years of U.S. and international competition, Bebe Liang announced her retirement from competitive skating. Liang, who trained with Ken Congemi and Frank Carroll during her career, won bronze at the 2006 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. Her best showing at a U.S. Figure Skating Championships was a fourth-place finish in 2007.

"My time as a competitive figure skater has been the most rewarding and exciting time in my life, but now I feel it is time to close that chapter and open a new one," Liang said. "I would like to thank my fans and everyone at U.S. Figure Skating who has been so supportive of me. I would especially like to thank my family and my coaches, who have put so much time and energy into molding me to become the athlete I am today."

Ice dancing team Jane Summersett and Todd Gilles have also made public their retirement from competitive skating. The duo, which teamed up three years ago, garnered bronze at the 2008 Nebelhorn Trophy and twice placed sixth at the U.S. Championships.

Four pairs teams have ended their professional partnerships, including 2009 U.S. junior champions and 2007 U.S. novice champions Tracy Tanovich and Michael Chau.

"Tracy and I had a very successful career in our six competitive seasons together. We have learned so much from each other and have had such great memories that I will never forget," Chau said. "Tracy is like a little sister to me, and there will always be a place in my heart for her. I wish her the best in the future."

Also concluding their partnerships are 2010 U.S. novice pairs silver medalists Tori Vollmer and Zack Sidhu, 2009 U.S. novice pairs champions Cassie Andrews and Nicholas Anderson and 2009 U.S. novice pairs silver medalists Haven Denney and Daniel Raad.

Andrews has formed a partnership with Timothy DeLuc, and Denney has teamed up with 2008 U.S. novice men's champion Daniel O'Shea.

Ice dancing teams Piper Gilles and Zach Donohue, the reigning two-time U.S. junior bronze medalists, and Trina Pratt and Chris Obzansky, who finished ninth at this year's U.S. Championships, have also split up.


2009 U.S. champion Alissa Czisny has announced that she will continue to train at the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., but now under the tutelage of Yuka Sato, who also coaches two-time reigning U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott.

"Having enjoyed taking lessons from Yuka Sato in the past, I am looking forward to working with her and Jason Dungjen as my full-time coaches," Czisny said. "I'm very excited for them to teach me everything they know."

Kimmie Meissner, the 2006 World champion and 2007 U.S. champion, has left her most recent training site in Coral Springs, Fla., for Fairfax, Va., where she will be coached by Chris Conte. Conte has worked as a technical consultant for U.S. Olympians Timothy Goebel, Sasha Cohen and Emily Hughes.

Other U.S. skaters making a coaching change include 2008 Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final champion Becky Bereswill, who is leaving Houston, Texas, for Canton, Mich., to train with Fedor Andreev and Johnny Johns; 2007 U.S. novice silver medalist and 2009 U.S. junior bronze medalist Alexander Johnson, who will be mentored by Tom Zakrajsek and Becky Calvin at the Broadmoor SC in Colorado Springs, Colo.; 2009 U.S. novice bronze medalist Angela Wang, who will remain at Salt Lake Figure Skating and train with Scott Smith; and 2009 U.S. novice ice dancing champions Lauri Bonacorsi and Travis Mager, who will train with Natalia Linichuk and Gennadi Karponosov at the IceWorks Skating Complex in Aston, Pa.

Three skaters announced they will be training with Frank Carroll, coach of Olympic champion Evan Lysacek and U.S. silver medalist Mirai Nagasu, in El Segundo, Calif. They are 2010 U.S. novice champion Leah Keiser, 2009 U.S. junior ladies silver medalist Ellie Kawamura and 2009 U.S. junior ladies pewter medalist Kristiene Gong.

Mr. Abbott goes to Washington

The trip started like any other day. We (those of us on the Stars on Ice tour) hopped on the tour bus and drove six hours from Connecticut to Baltimore, arriving at 4:00 a.m. Unfortunately, we missed the opening reception the night before.

Meryl Davis and I met in the lobby of our hotel so that we could check in, get our apparel and walk to Starbucks for much-needed caffeine. After meeting with Amanda Evora, we ran into one of the members of the gold-medal-winning U.S. men's sledge hockey team. I felt very ashamed of myself for not even knowing that our sledge hockey team had won! (In my opinion, the Paralympics does not get enough attention. It is incredible what those men and women can do!)

After this little detour, all the Olympians piled into city buses to make the hour-and-a-half drive to the White House. I was so exhausted from the new schedule of the tour that I admit I was not very excited about this day trip.

We arrived at the White House and had to pass through two security screenings before being let onto the grounds. Once we were inside, I finally started to really appreciate what was going on. All the pictures and artifacts mesmerized me. I love history, especially when you get to see it first hand. I get very lost in my imagination of what it must have been like to live through each of the presidencies.

They sectioned off a portion of the building and basically gave us free run of it. After so long, we were all corralled into groups by sport. We were told that the Vice President and Dr. Biden would be coming to meet with us first, to take pictures, and they would be followed by the President and Mrs. Obama.

When we were told we were going to Washington, I never thought I would ACTUALLY get to meet the president. I figured we would all group together, he would wave to us, stand in front to take a picture, and that would be the extent of it. However, we actually got to meet him and the first lady, and shake their hands. I was so impressed. Michelle Obama is a hugger... who knew?! She went around and made sure to give each person a hug, and Barack (Yeah, we are on a first-name basis) shook every single hand.

It was at this point that I realized how invaluable this experience was. I have never been star struck before, but to get to meet the leader of our nation, and to be a part of the history he has made, was the most humbling experience.

After our visit to the White House, we all went on to the Senate building for another reception (one that we actually got to attend this time). To be in these places that so few people get to see was truly amazing.

This trip was definitely an experience that I will keep with me for life. I am so glad that I did not give into my cynicism and decide to sleep through the event!

No offseason for determined Wagner

Don't tell Ashley Wagner there's plenty of time to worry about new programs. The skater, who turns 19 on May 16, is already growing impatient.

"There's not much of an offseason," she said. "We've started the search; there are a lot of ideas. Finding music takes a long time -- way too long, in my opinion."

Since placing third behind Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu at the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January, Wagner -- who lives with her coach, Priscilla Hill, in Wilmington, Del., -- has been hard at work.

"I've been doing as many shows as I can without having it interfere with my training," she said. "What Priscilla and I are trying to do is put together show programs, similar to [competitive] short programs. Shows are fun, but at the same time, they're great opportunities to practice before an audience."

At the Cityskate show to benefit Brooklyn Ice in Hackensack, N.J., last month, Wagner included triple flip and triple loop in programs set to music from Miley Cyrus and Christina Aguilera. She's also done a club show in Detroit and joined Smuckers Stars on Icefor its Bridgeport, Conn., stop.

"I absolutely loved S.O.I," Wagner said. "When I finished the program, I felt like going out and doing it again. I loved meeting some of these skaters I've been watching for years; it was really exciting meeting Todd Eldredge. I admire his career and the way he dealt with things. It's kind of similar to the way I'm doing things, hopefully."

Eldredge, the 1996 world champion, won U.S. titles in 1990 and 1991 as well as the 1991 world bronze medal. Later, he had lean years, missing a few U.S. world teams before rebounding with a third U.S. title and world silver medal in 1995. He ended his eligible career with six world medals and six U.S. titles, the last in 2002 when he was 30 years old.

While Wagner has miles to go before she approaches those achievements, the teen gains inspiration from Eldredge's fight to regain a spot on the U.S. world team. Wagner placed 16th at worlds in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2008 but narrowly missed out on trips in 2009 and 2010 despite success on the Grand Prix circuit, including a silver medal at 2009 Rostelecom Cup, silver at 2009 NHK Trophy and fourth place at the most recent Grand Prix Final.

"Worlds was obviously a huge opportunity for me, so my placement was disappointing," she said. "A lot of people don't realize I skated after [defending champion] Miki Ando had that meltdown and walked off the ice [and withdrew]. I had no time to calm myself down. I was 16, and I just got caught up in nerves and the excitement of the moment. As time goes on, I'm getting stronger as a competitor."

That's why Wagner was stunned when she blew her Olympic chances by missing a triple Lutz in her short program at the 2010 U.S. Championships.

"It was a huge Lutz, and I think I anticipating landing it way before I hit the ice," she recalled. "It was so unexpected for me. It was a surprise, for sure."

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Flatt headed to Stanford, will defer one year

Rachael Flatt, the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating national champion, announced today that she will attend Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., beginning in the fall of 2011.

With offers from several universities, Flatt selected Stanford and will defer enrollment for one year in order to focus on her figure skating career.

"I am looking forward to taking advantage of the many opportunities Stanford has to offer," Flatt said. "I am very fortunate to have had some excellent choices of universities to attend but I feel that Stanford offers the best programs for me in an environment that will allow me to continue my development as a figure skater."

Flatt will continue to train at the World Arena in Colorado Springs. As of April 2010, she was ranked ninth in the world by the International Skating Union. Rachael represented the United States at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games, finishing in seventh place overall.

Stanford is recognized as one of the world's leading universities. Established more than a century ago, the university was designed to prepare students for personal success and direct usefulness in life. The university has a rich tradition of fostering creativity and the arts.

Samuelson, Bates split from longtime coaches

Ice dancers Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, the 2008 World Junior champions and 2010 U.S. bronze medalists, announced today they have ended their 10-year professional relationship with coaches Yuri Chesnichenko and Yaroslava Nechaeva at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube in Ann Arbor, Mich., and will train with Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva at the Arctic Edge in Canton, Mich.

Shpilband and Zoueva also coach 2010 Olympic ice dancing champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada and 2010 Olympic ice dancing silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White. They previously mentored 2006 Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.

"We have spent a lot of time thinking about our skating and the direction we want to take our careers," Samuelson said. "With this coaching change, we're hoping to give our skating a new look and a fresh perspective."

In their two ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Series assignments last fall, Samuelson and Bates finished fourth at Trophée Eric Bompard and fifth at Skate Canada. They captured the bronze medal at the 2010 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Spokane, Wash., and were subsequently chosen to represent the United States at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games, where they finished 11th. The team finished the season with a ninth-place finish at the 2010 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Torino, Italy.

Under Chesnichenko and Nechaeva's tutelage, Samuelson and Bates also captured U.S. titles at the novice (2005) and junior (2007) levels, the bronze at the 2009 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships and a pair of silvers at the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final.

"Yasa and Yuri have taught us everything we know in ice dancing, from technique to presentation," Bates said. "We want to thank them for all the work they've put into us for the past 10 years -- we would not be where we are today without them. We wish nothing but the best for Yasa and Yuri and all their couples in the future."

"We'd also like to thank the Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club and Diane Wilson [general manager of the Ann Arbor Ice Cube] for all the support they've given us this past decade," Samuelson added.