Talent - and Togetherness - Abound at 2007 Liberty Summer Competition

By Liz Leamy and Lynn Rutherford

2007 Liberty Summer Competition Photos

(7/24/2007) - Many of the country's top skaters convened last weekend at the IceWorks Skating Complex in Aston, Pa., just outside Philadelphia, to face off against one another at the sixth annual Liberty Summer Competition, one of the most important U.S. nonqualifying events of the year. More than 850 competitors participated in this year's event, including approximately 35 U.S. Team Envelope skaters.

“It's incredible – so many of the skaters here have been at Junior Nationals, Nationals and at Junior Worlds,” said Jeff DiGregorio, a U.S. and World Team coach who served on the technical panel. “It is a great skating event and a wonderful learning experience for everyone.”

Many of the officials at this event are also high-profile national- and World-level judges who have a strong understanding of the ever-evolving international judging system (IJS), a great benefit to skaters and coaches.

U.S. Figure Skating officials are more driven than ever to make sure all of their athletes are properly prepared for the upcoming international season. Kathy Casey, the newly appointed U.S. Figure Skating director of athlete performance enhancement and tracking, ran monitoring sessions with Mitch Moyer, U.S. Figure Skating's senior director of athlete high performance, for all U.S. Team Envelope skaters following each of their events. These critiques were designed to provide skaters with in-depth feedback with regard to their choreography and elements.

“It's the first time we're doing this as a team,” Casey said. “These sessions are important, especially in light of the ongoing changes and clarifications to the international judging system. Obviously, we want every skater to be as prepared as possible for the season.”

Perhaps the biggest news item of this year's event was the exceptionally high technical standard among the skaters. Four men attempted and/or landed a quad in the short program, and the majority of the senior ladies executed clean triples in the free skate. Meanwhile, the top senior pairs teams performed throw triples as well as lateral triple twist lifts.

“The technical standard has been outstanding. Everybody has been trying new things,” Moyer said.

In the end, however, the most endearing thing about the competition was the wonderful feeling of camaraderie among everyone in attendance. The skaters hung out together, always seeming to be chatting, laughing and cheering for their friends. Coaches had fun catching up with their peers during infrequent breaks.

Bob Crowley, whose son, Robbie, competed in senior men, and who serves as executive director of U.S. Speedskating and is a former associate executive director of U.S. Figure Skating, said, “There is so much camaraderie – the skaters all work so hard to get to this point of competing, and it's like we're all part of a big family.”

Katrina Hacker
Photo by Liz Leamy
Senior Ladies Group A Short Program and Free Skate

The senior ladies Group A events were a triumph for Katrina Hacker (SC of Boston), who won both the short program and free skate competitions.

The 17-year-old skater, who attends New York's Professional Children's School just a few blocks from Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, is known for her lovely extension and strong spin positions. At Liberty, she also showed some strong jumps, opening her “Love Story” short program with a triple toe-double toe combination. Although she turned out of the landing of a triple loop before recovering with a strong double Axel, she won the event with 50.19 points.

“It's the same short program as last season, but we changed the jumps to a triple toe-double toe and steps into a triple loop,” said Hacker, who moved to Boston this summer to work on her jump technique with Mark Mitchell and Peter Johansson. “I'm very happy I got credit for completing my jumps, and also got level fours for my spins.”

“This was a big, big breakthrough for Katrina,” Mitchell said. “We got all of the calls we wanted. In the past, she has had trouble fully rotating her jumps, but here all of her jumps were completed.”

In her free skate to Joaquin Rodrigo's “Concierto de Aranjuez,” Hacker opened with a solid triple toe-double toe-double loop combination. Both of her triple Salchow attempts were downgraded to doubles, but she hit a strong triple loop, and her step sequences and spins were crisp and elegant.

“I missed some things at the end, but all in all I'm happy with it,” Hacker said. “I really love training with Mark and Peter. It's exciting to be out there with so many top-level skaters at Skating Club of Boston.”

Juliana Cannarozzo, who placed second in both group A events, didn't let a bad case of tendonitis in her right ankle stop her from competing. In her short program to “Sleepwalk,” the 17 year old – who also trains with Mitchell and Johansson at the SC of Boston – missed the landing of her triple flip-double toe combination but recovered with a strong triple loop.

“I kind of struggled, but getting on the ice every day and a lot of physical therapy helped a lot,” she said. “It's my first time out with this short. Jamie Isley and I choreographed it together, and I love the music. It's fun and different.”

The stylish skater turned in another gutsy performance in her free program to a selection of Astor Piazzolla tangos. She landed a triple loop and two triple toes, the first one in combination with a double toe, and captured the mood of the music with sophisticated step sequences and strong spins.

“Because of the pain in my ankle, I only did loops, toes and Axels today,” Cannarozzo said. “I had an MRI, and everything is okay, but I didn't want to push it.”

Rounding out the top trio, Megan Williams-Stewart (University of Delaware FSC) took third place in both segments. In her short program, the 20-year-old skater made an impressive attempt at a rare triple loop-triple loop combination, rotating the jumps but stepping out of the landing of the second triple. Although she singled an intended triple Lutz, the rest of her program was solid.

“Triple loop has always been my favorite jump, so I decided to work on a combination of two loops,” Williams-Stewart said. “This was the first time I did it in competition, so I'm happy with it. I got full credit for the jumps, but a (negative GOE) on the step-out.”

Her free program was highlighted by two powerful double Axels, the first from a back catch-foot spiral and the second from a spread eagle. She also executed a triple loop-double toe-double loop combination, although she fell on a triple Salchow.

“It felt good, except for a few mistakes,” she said. “It's my first competition this season, so it's good to get the bugs out. I really enjoyed it out there. I'm working on my artistry, trying to improve my presentation.”

Senior Ladies Group B Short Program

The senior ladies group B event was a duel between World Junior bronze medalist Ashley Wagner (Washington FSC) and Rachael Flatt (Broadmoor SC), who placed fifth in senior ladies at the 2007 State Farm U.S. Championships.

Wagner performed a speedy, confident short program, hitting strong jumps – including a triple Lutz-double toe loop combination and triple flip – and gaining the coveted level four for all three of her spins. She won the event with 50.91 points, just edging Flatt.

“I've always been known as a good jumper,” the 16 year old said. “Now, we're really working hard my spins, especially with all of the new rules on positions. I'm thrilled that I got level fours.”

Wagner and coach Shirley Hughes, who trains the skater in Alexandria, Va., said her next step will be to add a triple Lutz-triple loop combination to her programs.

“Liberty was a great test for her,” Hughes said. “Now she can go in to her Grand Prix events nice and strong. All she has to do is skate the way she does in practice everyday and she'll do well.”

Wagner is scheduled to compete at Skate Canada and Trophée Eric Bompard this fall.

Flatt showed new maturity in a new short program choreographed by Tom Dickson to a string arrangement of George Gershwin's “Ain't Necessarily So.” The skater made an impressive attempt at a triple Lutz-triple toe combination, but the toe was downgraded by the technical panel to a double. The same thing happened in her short program at the 2007 U.S. Championships. “Been there, done that,” Flatt said about the downgrade. “I just have to keep trying (the combination), get more miles on it. I still have a lot to work on, but I'm very excited about the program.”

“Rachael is really evolving and maturing as a skater, and I think this program shows that off,” said Flatt's coach Tom Zakrajsek, who trains the skater in Colorado Springs. Flatt is next scheduled to compete at the Colorado Championships in August, and is entered in the Junior Grand Prix in Vienna in September. Her 2006 fall season was cut short by a back injury, so it will be her first-ever Junior Grand Prix event.

Blake Rosenthal (SC of Wilmington), who placed fourth in junior ladies at the 2007 U.S. Championships, turned out of the landing of her triple Lutz-double toe combination but skated with fine carriage and flow, gaining level fours for her three spins and earning 48.55 points for third place.

Tom Zakrajsek, Rachael Flatt and Becky Calvin
Photo by Liz Leamy
Senior Ladies Group B Free Skate

Flatt came back in the free skate to rack up the high score of 107.19, earning a first-place finish, while Wagner wound up second with 86.59 points. Jane Bugaeva (SC of North Carolina) came in third with a score of 72.40.

Wearing a chiffon turquoise dress that accented the general mood of the music, Flatt out-classed the competition with her interpretation of a contemporary classical piano piece. She opened up with a triple Salchow, and then did a triple Lutz-triple toe combination with a slight fall-out on the landing. Her program also included a triple loop, a triple flip from a running double-three entry, a second triple Lutz, a double Axel-double toe and a triple flip-double toe-double loop.

“We've been working with the new system for one to two years now, and we've tried to become more consistent with skills, and we're also trying to maximize points,” Zakrajsek said.

A slight glitch occurred during Flatt's free skate, when her music stopped playing midway through her program. Once the situation was remedied, she picked up right where she had left off.

Flatt was unfazed by the unexpected break.

“I was just starting to get in my groove, but hey, I got a little breather,” Flatt said.

Wagner wore a dark pink and black dress with gold accents for her “Tango Jalousie,” program, which contained a triple Lutz-double loop, a double Axel, a triple Salchow, a fall on a triple loop, a triple flip-double toe-double loop, a triple loop with a two-footed landing and a triple Lutz-double loop. (Wagner's final Lutz-loop combo was not counted because it was scored as her fourth combination.) Her connecting steps were fast and fluid, and her spins were strong.

“It was not her best, but it was a fiery performance,” Hughes said. “She went for it. Her speed and her presentation were good.”

Bugaeva, dressed in a short-sleeved, chiffon ivory dress with maroon-ribbon accents, performed her rendition of Tango pieces by Piazzolla with assurance, speed and poise. She executed a triple flip-double toe, triple Lutz with a touch down on the landing and double Axel, among other elements. Although she doubled a planned triple flip and missed a triple loop, the overall quality of her program was good enough to put her in the top three.

“I thought my program was OK, but I definitely felt good about getting it out there,” Bugaeva said.

Senior Men's Overview

The senior men's event featured not only several U.S. skaters who have won medals at national and international competitions but also some distinguished skaters from other countries, including Canada's Patrick Chan, the 2007 World Junior silver medalist, and Viktor Pfeifer, an Austrian champion who is hoping to soon become a U.S. citizen and perhaps skate for this country down the road.

“I think I learned to enjoy the actual idea of competing a lot here,” said Chan, who won both the short program and free skate. “I'm also seeing a lot of friends that I've known from previous competitions, which has been great.”

Chan (Granite Club) clinched the top spot without doing a quad, but he did execute a triple Axel and a triple-triple combination in both programs.

Meanwhile, Jeremy Abbott (Broadmoor SC) rocked the house in the short program with his soaring quad toe-triple toe combination, for which he was given full credit. Stephen Carriere (SC of Boston) did a triple Axel with a slight fall-out on the landing and a triple-double combination, while Rohene Ward (Braemar City of Lakes FSC) and Shaun Rogers (University of Delaware FSC) both came close to nailing quads in their performances.

“This is a very good event – it's early in the season and you can go out and try everything,” said Rogers, who was fourth in the short program and ninth in the free skate.

Patrick Chan
Photo by Liz Leamy
Senior Men's Short Program

Chan won the senior men's short program with an enticing rendition of “The Banquet,” for which he earned a total score of 66.16. Chan, who was one of the first in the flight to skate, began his program on a high note with a triple Axel with a turnout on the landing – the first one he has ever done in competition. He went on to do a triple flip-triple toe and a triple Lutz.

Chan credits his coach, Don Laws, for much of his improvement over the past year. He began training with Laws down in Maitland, Fla., after the passing of his longtime Canadian coach, Osborne Colson, last summer. The move certainly seems to have benefited both of these individuals, since Laws had studied with Colson years ago and uses many of his same teaching methods.

“I have been doing a lot of work with the jump rope and also weight training,” Chan said. “That has really helped to make my skating and jumping better.”

Carriere showed why he's the reigning World Junior champion with a stellar second-place performance to his fresh version of Led Zeppelin's “Stairway to Heaven.” He executed a triple Axel with a hop-out on the landing, a triple flip-double toe and a triple Lutz. He also did some rock-solid spins, for which he earned level fours. Jamie Isley choreographed his program, for which he was awarded a score of 63.04.

“Stephen took a big step forward in this competition,” his coach Mark Mitchell said. “We got all of the calls we wanted. His spins were level four, and spins were never his strong suit. He can do great spins, but now he's also satisfying all of the rules.”

Abbott garnered third-place honors for his dynamic interpretation of “Treat,” a guitar selection by Santana. He wowed the crowd with a soaring quad toe-triple toe combination, and then took a bad fall on the landing of a triple Axel. He doubled a planned triple Lutz but still managed to earn a total score of 62.98.

“My thought was to rotate the quad no matter what,” Abbott said. “It was a little overwhelming. I tripped on a crossover into my Axel, and that's what threw me off. (The fall) was really uncharacteristic of me.”

Senior Men's Free Skate

The majority of the 12-member senior men's free skate group put out flawed programs, but Chan was not one of them as he once again skated away with top honors. His nearly flawless free skate to Vivaldi's “Winter” and “Summer,” which included eight triples, earned him a score of 130.71.

“I really like this program. It's the same program I used last season, and I'm trying to bring it to a new level,” Chan said.

Doug Razzano (Coyotes SC of Arizona) stole second place with his stalwart rendition of “Tosca.” He opened up with a nice triple Axel and reeled off five more triples in the program. His performance was defined by fast, fluid edges, streamlined spins and sharp quick turns on the footwork, earning him a solid score of 107.94.

Abbott once again came out high in the standings. Skating to "Ghost Waltz," Shostakovich's “Jazz Suite No. 1,” “River Waltz” and Khachaturian's “Masquerade Waltz,” Abbott fell on his opening quad toe, and then singled both of his triple Axels. He recovered to do a triple Lutz-triple toe-double toe, triple Salchow and double Axel. His signature edges and fast, well-extended spins were evident throughout, and he subsequently received a score of 101.85.

Ward wound up fourth with 100.61 points for his poignant take on Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Although he fell on his quad toe, he executed four clean triples, including a triple Axel-double toe.

“This is the best I've done in July. I'm very thrilled,” Ward said. “Mentally, I'm becoming a much better competitor.”

Keauna McLaughlin
Photo by Liz Leamy
Senior Pairs Short Program and Free Skate

This competition was a great early-season tune-up for World Junior champions Keauna McLaughlin & Rockne Brubaker, who took a huge step forward by landing side-by-side triple Salchows for the first time.

“This season is all about their growth as a pair, improving their unison and adding more difficult elements,” said the couple's coach, Dalilah Sappenfield. “The pressure is off. Keauna is too young to go to 2008 Worlds, so their main goals are to do well in their Grand Prix events and make a good impression in seniors at the 2008 U.S. Championships.”

McLaughlin and Brubaker, who train at Colorado Springs' World Arena, opened their “Moonlight Sonata” short program with a huge triple twist, followed by their side-by-side triple Salchows. The rest of their elements were solid, except for a step-out on the landing of the throw triple Salchow. They earned 59.36 points, winning the short program by almost 10 points.

“That felt great for so early in the season,” said Brubaker. “It's so exciting to land the triple Salchows for the first time.”

“Getting the triple Salchow done was my goal for this competition,” added his 14-year-old partner. “We need to have them in both our short and long programs this season to compete at the senior level.”

Amanda Evora & Mark Ladwig, the 2007 U.S. fourth-place finishers, had a near disaster at the start of their short program. The skaters collided on the catch of their triple twist and both fell, just missing the boards.

“We went into (the twist) with a lot of speed and just lost control for a second,” said Ladwig. “It was a freak accident.”

The team recovered with a difficult Axel lasso lift and solid throw triple Lutz, although they were unable to land planned side-by-side triple Salchows. The pair earned 49.59 points for second place.

Skating together, Jeremy Barrett and Shantel Jordan won the 2004 U.S. junior title; both are now competing with new partners. Barrett, who began skating with Alexandra Hill this spring, placed third in the short program, while Jordan and Steven Elefante were fourth.

Only the top two couples competed in the free skate event, which proved a far closer contest than the short.

Performing to “Romeo and Juliet,” McLaughlin and Brubaker again opened with a stunning triple twist, which earned a 1.40 grade of execution (GOE) from the judges. Although McLaughlin double-footed the landings of their triple throws, the couple performed solid side-by-side double Axels and strong lifts, all three of which earned level fours from the technical panel. They won with 97.13 points.

“It was OK for so early in the season,” Brubaker said. “Our short was better. The next time out our goal will be to nail both of the throws.”

“I choreographed this program for them last season, and we decided to stick with it this year,” Sappenfield added. “The focus right now is adding difficulty and polish to the elements.”

Evora and Ladwig debuted a new routine choreographed by Jim Peterson to Maurice Ravel's “Daphnis et Chloé” and Claude Debussy's "Reverie." The couple – which is known for its difficult elements and transitions – showed unique lifts, including a reverse overhead to a carry with a flip-out exit. Although they faltered on their side-by-side jumps and Evora turned out of the landings of their throws, the intricate program shows promise. They earned 94.87 points.

“We saw that lift on a roller skating video and decided to try it last season,” Ladwig said. “We started it with two hands and then went to one hand. This season, we learned the carry and added it.”

Including more difficult elements is worth the risk, his partner added.

“It's a longer way to get to the top, but in the end it will be better,” said Evora, who began skating with Ladwig in 2002. “We always aim to do level-four elements. Now we have to incorporate flow as well as difficulty.”

McLaughlin and Brubaker are assigned to Cup of China and NHK Trophy this fall, while Evora and Ladwig are scheduled to compete at Skate America.

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