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Tennell upsets Medvedeva at Autumn Classic; Hanyu leads men

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A cool and confident Bradie Tennell scored a big upset at the Autumn Classic International in Oakville, Ontario on Friday night, defeating two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia by 1.72 points to win her first-ever senior international title.

“I had a bit of a rough warm-up, so I’m really glad I was able to come back out there and do what I normally do,” Tennell said. “Obviously, there are some improvements that can be made, but overall I’m really happy with it, because it’s just the first one of the season.”

The U.S. champion, sixth in the world last season, has set an ambitious goal: “I want to be a whole new skater, unrecognizable from last season,” she said at U.S. Figure Skating’s Champs Camp last month. Performing her free skate to Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, choreographed by Benoit Richaud, she was more expressive and elegant, with angular movements and staccato footwork.

Famed for her consistent jumps, Tennell landed seven mostly solid triples including two triple-triple combinations, although two jumps were judged short of rotation. The program scored 137.16 points, bringing her total to 206.41.

“I’ve always loved (Romeo and Juliet) and I think it’s a very mature piece,” Tennell said. “There is so much feeling behind it. It’s obviously a very tragic story. There was a lot to do there as far as interpretation and choreography.”

“There are some things that need to be tweaked, but I love the program,” Denise Myers, who coaches Tennell in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, said. “It showed a more mature, different side to Bradie, which is what we are striving for this year. We will definitely return to Benoit to fix a few things. But this being the first big competition, just getting the program out was the goal.”

Medvedeva, who held a slim lead after the short program, also had a solid outing, landing six triple jumps in her free to a tango medley. But she fell on a triple loop and fumbled one of her three spins.

If she was disappointed, she certainly did not show it, running up to embrace and congratulate Tennell before warmly greeting reporters in the mixed zone.

“To be honest, I feel just amazing,” Medvedeva said. “This competition was really an incredible experience. First competition with my new team, new coaches, new everything.”

Heavily favored to win gold at the PyeongChang Games, Medvedeva was edged by her younger training partner Alina Zagitova.  She left Eteri Tutberidze’s group in Moscow this spring and seems to be thriving under Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson at Toronto’s Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

MORE: Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova delays season opener by one week

“There (were) a lot of mistakes and a lot of places where we can do better, but for my free program, it was really good,” Medvedeva said. “I feel I can do it better, perfectly clean. I have a little bit more than a month to make everything better (before Skate Canada). I can’t wait to go back to Cricket to work and make it better, better and better.”

Mae Berenice Meite of France had a strong free skate to place third with 178.89 points. Kailani Craine of Australia was fourth. In another surprise, Japan’s world silver medalist Wakaba Higuchi fell on a triple flip and had trouble with other jumps, and placed fifth.

The men’s short program, also held on Friday, proved that even two-time Olympic champions get a bit nervous at the start of the competitive season.

Yuzuru Hanyu leads the field by more than seven points, but Japan’s superstar didn’t skate his new short to Raul di Blasio’s “Otonal” the way he had hoped, with a slightly scratchy landing on a quadruple toe-triple toe combination and a major error on a sit spin combination that resulted in zero points for the element. Still, he landed a solid quadruple salchow and takes 97.74 points into Saturday’s free skate.

“This is the first competition and it’s always nerve-wracking,” Hanyu said through an interpreter. “The flow was not so good. I had a little glitch in my spin and quad, because I was so nervous. I am glad I was able to complete the program without major mistakes.”

Hanyu, who fought through a right ankle injury last season, told reporters he was fully fit for the season.

“I am not even thinking about my ankle,” he said. “I am just disappointed I did not show my step (sequence) better today.”

Junhwan Cha of South Korea, who trains alongside Hanyu at the Cricket Club, had no such worries. Skating to a medley of classic waltzes, the 16-year-old had the finest short of his career. Moving with speed and assurance, he landed strong jumps, including a quad salchow, and sits second with 90.56 points.

“The big thing is I don’t have any injuries, and I don’t have boot problems,” Cha said. “I am just training very, very hard.”

Jason Brown, third with 88.90 points, had a superb debut of his short to Two Feet’s “Love is a B—-,” showing a striking step sequence with lots of sliding moves as well as a strong triple axel. The 2015 U.S. champion lost ground when his triple lutz-triple toe combination was saddled with an under rotation.

“I got a little winded before the Lutz-toe combo but fought through that,” Brown said. “It’s the focus, and where to put that focus, in the program that I’m still learning.”

Like Medvedeva, Brown moved to the Cricket Club this spring to train under Orser and Wilson. The team has been re-working his jump technique, including the quad toe loop, a jump Brown hopes to land in competition this season.

“I work on it every day and it’s getting stronger,” he said. “(Orser and Wilson) have really been patient with me, working with me methodically. Each day I’m learning something new. We are really looking at it as a four-year program.”

And earlier Friday, Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France, reigning world bronze medalists, notched a total 210.21 points to win the pairs’ title by nearly 25 points. The only major error in their sensuous and edgy free skate to the Chris Isaak-penned “Wicked Game,” choreographed by Charlie White, was James’ fall on a throw triple salchow.

“I have only done double salchows and quads for the last three years, so muscle-memory wise, it was too high and opened up too late,” James said. “I only had five days to relearn a triple salchow….It was too easy for us and there was (lack of) concentration.”

The skaters, who train in Florida, abandoned their throw quad after new judging guidelines lessened its value.

“When we first did it, we needed it because we were stronger technically, than artistically,” James said. “We needed something (to differentiate) us from everyone else. It was worth 11 points when I landed it and when I fell it was (worth) 8 points. Now it is 6.8 points or so with a fall, and it’s not worth the energy and the risk.”

Instead, James and Cipres are focusing on their lifts, as well as seamless transitions in and out of the elements.

“We want to skate almost like dancers, and do elements like pairs,” Cipres said. “We are pretty happy about our program here and we think we are going in the right direction.”

Other pairs had rough free skates. Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, second overall with 176.32 points, had falls on their throw triple loop and side-by-side triple toe loops. 2017 U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had three falls in their program and placed third with 164.43 points.

Like James and Cipres, Denney and Frazier train in Florida under three-time U.S. pair champion John Zimmerman and his wife, former Italian champion Silvia Fontana.

“I think they felt the stress of wanting to prove something,” Fontana said. “They have worked really, really hard, not only on elements but everything in between, unison and skating skills …. The biggest challenge it to keep them confident. We know they are progressing really well, but they need to believe it themselves.”

A new U.S. pair, California-based Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, had a solid free skate and placed fourth.

MORE: Adam Rippon donates PyeongChang costume to Smithsonian

This year’s rhythm dance is all about the Tango Romantica, a pattern dance that takes up nearly a minute of the 2 minute, 50 second program. It hasn’t been competed since the 2009/2010 season, so the most experienced teams – like Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, Canada’s world bronze medalists — may have an advantage.

Performing to a medley including “Libertango,” choreographed by Igor Shpilband, Weaver and Poje performed an elegant, compelling program that earned 76.53 points. They lead the field by more than 9 points.

“It’s a romantic tango. We wanted to take away the aggression and the over the top drama, we’ve done that (before),” Weaver said. “We want to do something understated and beautiful and romantic.”

“The feeling we’re trying to create is: you’re going to a ball and halfway into the night, the slow song comes on, you see each other and you connect immediately,” Poje said.

The skaters, who split their time between Hackensack, New Jersey and Novi, Michigan, train under a trifecta of prominent ice dance coaches including Nikolai Morozov in Hackensack, and Shpilband and Pasquale Camerlengo in Novi.

“(Shpilband and Camerlengo) are very seamless,” Weaver said. “Pasquale is an artist, Igor is also an artist as well as a great technician. The great thing is everyone is under one plan. Nikolai communicates with Igor on a daily basis and Pasquale is always involved as well… We have three of the most legendary coaches ever, but it never feels like a competition. Everyone is united to help us reach our goals.”

“Nikolai is our head coach, and everyone realizes that,” Poje said. “The great thing is, Igor understands that. He and Pasquale are supplementing what we have.”

Olivia Smart and Adria Diaz performed a classic Argentine tango and sit second with 67.35 points. Carolane Soucisse and Shane Firus of Canada’s “hip-hop” tango placed third, earning 65.38 points.

The Autumn Classic concludes Saturday with the free dance and the men’s free skate. The event will stream live on Skate Canada’s Dailymotion page.

Yevgenia Medvedeva leads after short program at Autumn Classic

Yevgenia Medvedeva
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Olympic silver medalist and two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva leads after Thursday’s short program at her season opener, the Autumn Classic International. In her first competition since moving to Toronto to train under Brian Orser, Medvedeva scored 70.89 points.

Olympic team event bronze medalist Bradie Tennell sits in second place heading into Friday’s free skate with 69.26 points. Tennell, the reigning U.S. national champion, was joined by countrywoman Starr Andrews in Ontario. Andrews scored 56.70 points and finished fifth in the short program.

France’s Mae Berenice Meite rounds out the top three with 58.23 points.

Earlier on Thursday, Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres from France scored 73.81 points to build their lead over the pairs’ field. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro from Canada were second with 64.73 points, followed by the two American teams: Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier (61.91) and Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson (50.25), who competed internationally as new partners for the first time.

Competition at the Autumn Classic continues this weekend. Friday features the rhythm dance, men’s short program, and the pairs’ and ladies’ free skates. Saturday concludes competition with the free dance and men’s free skate. The event will stream live on Skate Canada’s Dailymotion page.

Elsewhere in the world of figure skating this weekend, Rika Kihira took the ladies’ short program at the Nepela Trophy in Bratislava. The reigning world junior champion attempted her triple Axel to open her “Clair de Lune” program but fell and was awarded -5 Grades of Execution across the board. She tallied 70.79 points and leads Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva by just 0.8 points. Russian Stanislava Konstantinova is third with 65.03 points.

Russian men lead the field after the short program in Bratislava. Mikhail Kolyada scored 96.82 points while Sergei Voronov earned 81.77 points. Japan’s Keiji Tanaka currently sits third with 77.53 points.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc have a three-point lead on the pairs’ field after the short program with 65.68 points. Deanna Stellato and Nathan Bartholomay, the other Americans in the field, are third with 59.60 points in their first competition of the season.

Competition continues at the Nepela Trophy this weekend with the rhythm dance and pairs’ free skate on Friday and the ladies’ free skate, free dance, and men’s free skate on Saturday.

MORE: Olympic gold medalist Alina Zagitova delays season opener by one week

Autumn Classic Preview: Jason Brown’s road to Beijing Olympics begins

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When Jason Brown takes the ice for his short program at the Autumn Classic International in Oakville, Ontario on Friday, he doesn’t expect to be firing on all cylinders yet.

For Brown, it’s his first competition since he won a bronze medal at the 2018 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in February. The 2015 U.S. champion declined an invitation to the 2018 World Figure Skating Championships in favor of a long vacation to mull his competitive future. Then, after trying out several different training sites, he moved to Toronto to train in Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson’s group at the Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

“Every day I work with them, learning their (jump) technique,” Brown said at U.S. Figure Skating’s Champs Camp last month. “It’s been harder than I thought it would be. You take what you think you know and they kind of change it all, to fit their method. I’m trying to learn it the best I can, but it’s a process.”

Brown possesses some of the sport’s finest skating skills and spins, but has not yet landed a clean quadruple jump in competition. Several missed jumps resulted in a sixth-place finish at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships last season, costing him a shot at a second Olympic team. In May, he announced he was leaving Colorado Springs and his coach of more than two decades, Kori Ade, to train under Orser and Wilson.

“They are picking apart everything, every triple jump,” Brown said. “We’re taking the time because we’re looking at it as a four-year thing… I want to peak in 2022 (for the Beijing Olympics). That’s where my head is. I want to start from the ground up.”

It hasn’t been all work for Brown in Toronto. He and another newcomer to the Cricket Club, two-time world champion Yevgenia Medvedeva of Russia, have become fast friends and spend much of their free time exploring the city.

“That was also something important to me, in a new training site,” Brown said. “I wanted to be in a city. If you look at it, I’m going to be here (for ages) 23 through 27, and I wanted to be living somewhere that I could grow and explore.”

Brown, like many of the other competitors, will show two new programs at the Autumn Classic, held today through Saturday. The event is the fifth of ten ISU Challenger Series events this fall. While considered a few notches below the ISU Grand Prix Series in prestige, the skaters competing in Oakville hold a combined 19 Olympic and world medals, including team medals. The event will stream live on Skate Canada’s Dailymotion page. Here’s what to watch for:

Hanyu, Hanyu, Hanyu: The two-time Olympic champion puts butts in the seats. The Oakville arena, which seats about 4,000, is sold out for his events, with hundreds of diehard “Fanyus” trekking the 6,500 miles from Tokyo to Ontario. Like Brown and Medvedeva, the Japanese star trains at the Cricket Club; at a press event there on Aug. 30, he announced his new programs: a short to Raúl di Blasio’s “Otonal” and a free skate called “Origin,” inspired by Yevgeni Plushenko’s “Tribute to Nijinsky” program first used during the 2003/2004 season.

With two Olympic golds and two world titles in his pocket, Hanyu told reporters that the pressure was off.

“(Before) I had to meet other people’s expectations and get good results,” Hanyu is quoted by International Figure Skating magazine. “But, I am satisfied that as a result (of my Olympic success) I have been released from the pressure that I have to produce results. I think, and feel, that I can skate for myself from now on. I want to go back to my skating origins.”

Still, Hanyu is famously competitive. In 2016 at this event, he landed the first quadruple loop in competition. He has been training a quadruple Axel, a jump featuring four-and-a-half rotations. It’s unlikely he will be ready to show it in Oakville, but there’s always a chance.

The “new” Medvedeva: Like Brown, the 18-year-old Russian seeks a fresh start in Toronto. She created her programs with Canadian David Wilson, marking the first time she has worked with non-Russian choreographer on competitive material.  In practice sessions in Oakville on Wednesday, she looked sharp, landing triple-triple combinations and joking easily with Orser and Wilson. She will be challenged in Oakville by Japan’s world silver medalist Wakaba Higuchi, as well as…

A “new” Bradie Tennell: The U.S. champion generated positive buzz this summer, skating well at a club competition and arriving at Champs Camp fit and prepared. Known mostly as a jumper, the 2018 Olympian wants to grow her artistry this season. She also has a new combination: triple Lutz-triple loop, the same element Alina Zagitova used to win Olympic gold in Pyeongchang.

“I’m definitely more confident in myself and what I’m doing,” Tennell says. “I believe in myself a lot more. I don’t think I’m as timid. I’m really working on not being as shy, just kind of letting my personality come through in everything.”

Tennell is joined by 17-year-old U.S. teammate Starr Andrews, competing in her second Challenger event of the season. Andrews is bidding to become the fourth U.S. lady, after Tonya Harding, Mirai Nagasu, and Alyssa Liu, to land the triple Axel in international competition. She included it in her free skate at the Asian Open early last month, but did not fully rotate the jump. Will it happen on Friday?

MORE: 12-year-old is third U.S. woman to land triple Axel internationally

Small, but interesting, pairs’ and ice dance fields: Canada’s reigning world bronze medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who will sit out the Grand Prix this season, debut their new programs. Their next competition will be the 2019 Canadian Figure Skating Championships. In pairs, world bronze medalists Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres of France are favored, but will be challenged by Canada’s top pair, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro.  2017 U.S. champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who train alongside James and Cipres in Florida, are on the comeback trail after a disappointing fifth-place finish at the U.S. Championships last season. A new U.S. pair, Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, make their debut.

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