Tennell, Chen and Hubbell and Donohue Lead After First Day at Skate America

(10/19/19) - Amidst the glitz and glamor of Las Vegas, U.S. figure skaters shined just as brightly on the first day of competition at 2019 Skate America presented by American Cruise Lines. American athletes lead in three of four disciplines – Nathan Chen and Bradie Tennell hold the top spots in men's and ladies events after the short programs, while Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue lead following the rhythm dance – additionally Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc hold third place in pairs.

PAIRS

In December of 2018, Cain-Gribble and LeDuc went through a pair team's nightmare. At the Golden Spin of Zagreb, Cain-Gribble fell on her head and neck while the pair was attempting a lift at the end of their free skate.

They finished the program, but Cain-Gribble was immediately taken to the hospital upon leaving the kiss and cry, and was diagnosed with a concussion.

The duo bounced back to win their first U.S. championship in January, and they're now in podium position after the short program at Skate America.

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc scored 68.20 for their program set to "A Storm is Coming" by Tommee Profitt featuring Liv Ash, good for third place behind Cheng Peng and Yang Jin of China (72.73) and Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin of Russia (71.25).

Cain-Gribble fell on the pair's throw triple Lutz, but they were otherwise pleased with their performance.

"To have a big mistake in the program and still score 68 is really awesome," LeDuc said with a laugh. "It puts us where our cap used to be, and we're in a good place going into the free skate."

After the fall in December, it may surprise many that Cain-Gribble and LeDuc are in the position they're in – reigning U.S. champions and ninth at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2019 – but if grit is a muscle, it's one they've been working out.

"We're really tough," LeDuc said. "We've gone through a lot, and mental toughness is something we've really worked on, and the process of always coming together and getting stronger as a team. There's a lot of expectation and we're ready to grow from this experience in any way that we can.

"We're always trying to take whatever we can from each experience to help us get stronger, because our long-term goal is always in sight, of being at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. So anything that we can take, any experience that helps us get stronger as we build toward that, is an opportunity."

An additional challenge has been dealing with the mental challenge of having a U.S. title to their name. They're frank about the added pressure that comes with the honor, but say it's mostly been internal.

"We feel a responsibility to put out our best effort," Cain-Gribble said. "And at the end of the day, we're athletes. Ice is slippery. We can make mistakes even if we've trained incredibly hard, and we have to keep that in mind."

Part of what they've worked on is not trying to be too perfect every time they take the ice.

"Because when we do that, we have performances like we did at (U.S. Championships)," Cain-Gribble said.

Right behind Cain-Gribble and LeDuc in the standings in fourth place are Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, scoring 65.18 points for their program to "Quidam" from Cirque du Soleil.

"Haven and I have kind of been tackling our own personal goals this season, and today was a step in the right direction to achieving those," Frazier said.
Those goals include not letting their nerves get the best of them and, similarly to Cain-Gribble and LeDuc, not trying to be too perfect.

While they know they have room for improvement, they're keeping things in perspective and plan on building up from here.

"It's not where we personally know we can be, but we're looking only at the next step," Frazier said. "It's a marathon, and I think I'm tired of sprinting."

Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson round out the U.S. pairs in fifth with 61.27 points for their program to "Light of the Seven" by Ramin Djawidi in their Grand Prix debut.

"Aside from the bobbles, I think we really stayed in character and skated a good program overall," Calalang said. "We kind of let the mistakes go past us and kept going forward."

MEN

When Chen took his place on the stage for the press conference following the men's short program, he looked exceedingly at ease.

Nonchalance under the glare of the spotlight, amidst cameras flashing and audio recorders capturing every word might not be a skill possessed by many people, but it's one Chen has honed following months and years of winner's press conferences just like this one.

Chen unsurprisingly holds first place following his short program in Las Vegas. His skate to "La Boheme," performed by Charles Aznavour, earned 102.71 points, besting Russia's Dmitri Aliev in second place with 96.57 and Canada's Keegan Messing in third with 96.34.

Chen took his place behind the microphone looking calm and unruffled, but immediately revealed the mindset that has made him so successful.

"I'm not entirely happy with how the program went," Chen said. "However, since this is the first outing, I'm pretty okay with how things went. I'm looking forward to competing tomorrow and hopefully cleaning up some of the mistakes I made today and keep moving forward."

Chen is still balancing his skating career with attending Yale University full-time, and says that his sophomore year course load is more time-consuming than it was when he was a freshman. But he's fresh off a summer spent back at his old training base in California, where he worked with coach Rafael Arutunian on setting himself up for the season.

"It was awesome that I had that opportunity," he said. "We used that time wisely and I feel that I grew quite a lot over the summer and built a solid base for me to head out to school without Raf. It was a lot of work on his part, too, so I'm really happy he was able to devote the time to me and help me grow this summer."

Jason Brown
sits just off the podium in fourth place, earning 83.45 points for his program to "I Can't Go On Without You" by Kaleo.

"I love both of my programs," Brown said. "I tried my best to pace it the best that I could. There were little bits of disappointments in there, but I'm really proud of the overall performance."

The disappointments included a popped triple Axel, a mistake that he says was caused by a split-second lapse in focus after landing them consistently all week.

"I think my experience definitely serves me well when it comes to making mistakes and having to pick back up like nothing happened," Brown said. "But that irritation doesn't go away."

It's been a trying few months for Brown, as a car accident in August left him with a concussion and whiplash and kept him from practicing his spins until two weeks ago.

"It's been a frustrating couple setbacks, but I've been trying to look at it as, hopefully it will make the end of the season feel so much better because I had a late start, and sometimes you can get tired at the end," Brown said. "So I'm trying to always kind of try to look at the positive side and always try to spin it in the best way that I can, considering the circumstance."

Alex Krasnozhon earned 72.30 points for his program to "Runaway" by Ramin Djawadi and "Freedom" by Pharell Williams, and sits in 10th place.

"I feel good," Krasnozhon said. "I missed some stuff, but I'll fix it tomorrow. It's all part of the learning experience and that it is OK to make mistakes."

ICE DANCE*

"Maddie, you have to be Marilyn."

When choreographing the rhythm dance for Hubbell and Donohue to "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" by Cole Porter and "West Coast Swing: Let's Be Bad" by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, choreographer Romain Haguenauer insisted that Hubbell take on the role of Hollywood bombshell Marilyn Monroe.

For Hubbell, who had dreamed about skating in this role for years, it was music to her ears.

So far, the portrayal seems to be working out about as well as she could've dreamed it, as Hubbell and Donohue lead after their rhythm dance, earning 84.97 points. Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin of Russia are in second with 81.91 points, while Canada's Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen are third with 79.17.

"I feel like we have so much progress to make on the program, but it was a really great performance for today," Hubbell said. "It was really exciting for me to debut the Marilyn Monroe character. It's something I have dreamed about skating to for many years, so it was great to actualize that here in Las Vegas."

She's not kidding. Hubbell and Donohue found "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" five years ago, but their coaches decided it didn't fit them at the time. Now older and more mature in both life and their skating, they were ready to finally tackle the program they'd been keeping on the backburner.

The two didn't compete anywhere before beginning the Grand Prix season, so Las Vegas was both the team's debut as well as the program's.

"We just felt like, going forward for the next two and a half years, moving towards the end goal which is the Olympics, we needed to take one season where we just take a little more time off during the summer," Hubbell said. "We live a little, we take a real vacation and come back with a lot of joy and excitement for the next project. And that's what we did, and it seems like it's working. If there's a risk, we'll see. We were willing to take that risk and take time for ourselves."

Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko hold sixth place with 70.41 points for their skate to "Too Darn Hot" from the Kiss Me Kate soundtrack.

"We lost a lot of points, left a lot of points on the table," Ponomarenko said. "We're disappointed with that. We didn't get most of our Levels. We had little mistakes here and there, and in the rhythm dance there's really no room for error, so we're looking forward to coming out tomorrow strong and showing what we can actually do."

Making their Grand Prix debut, Caroline Green and Michael Parsons sit in eighth place with 67.97 points for their rhythm dance to music from the Cry Baby soundtrack.

"I think we built a lot on our previous performance," Parsons said, referencing the duo's fifth-place finish at Lombardia Trophy. "I think we showed the judges and the audience that we've improved a lot, and we still have a lot more room to improve. We're happy with this and we're happy to keep building."

*Due to a calculation error on the element "Pattern Dance Type Step Sequence" (PSt), the Rhythm Dance (RD) scores at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating event Skate America had to be re-calculated for all skaters. The revised results and details are published with the corrected scores. The overall RD standing did not change.

LADIES

Two years ago, at Skate America in 2017, Tennell burst onto the international scene: her first Grand Prix assignment, and her first Grand Prix medal.
Since then, she's been almost a model of consistency, both in her ability to land jumps and her calm, reserved demeanor off the ice.

While the consistency is still there, 2019-20 might be the dawn of a new age for Tennell.

Her short program, set to "Mechanisms" and "Chronos" by Kirill Richter, is edgier and more playful than we've ever seen her. And after a 2018-19 season that saw her struggle more than ever before with regularly landing her jumps, it might be just the solution she needed.

Tennell leads after the short program with 75.10 points. Japan's Kaori Sakamoto and Wakaba Higuchi are in second and third with 73.25 and 71.76 points, respectively.

"Tonight I was really happy with my skate, especially after my injury and working my way back up to full training," Tennell said. "I went out there with the mindset of just doing what I do every day in practice. Not trying to make anything any better, and certainly not any worse, but really just to enjoy myself and be relaxed and perform."

The injury – a stress fracture in her foot that had her off the ice and in a walking boot for two months – prevented her from fully training until about a month ago. But she and choreographer Benoit Richaud hit on this short program early on in the summer, and Tennell has been in love with it ever since.

"The ice is my safe space," Tennell said. "It's where I feel most at home, and I think I'm just showing the side of myself that I am off the ice with my family – a little bit more sarcastic, a little bit more funny. It's almost like an onion. You have to peel back the layers, and I feel like that's what I'm trying to do with my skating now. So to show this program is a challenge for me, but it's a challenge that I welcome. And I was very excited to put this program out there because I'm very proud of it."

In her first Grand Prix event since 2017, Karen Chen is in sixth place after scoring 66.03 points for her program to "You Say" by Lauren Daigle.

"It was a little scary, not going to lie," Chen said. "Getting out there for the warm up, I could definitely feel that my legs were just a little shaky, which was definitely something that was new to me. But regardless, I know that this is what I want to do, and I love competing. I just need to feel comfortable again back out there."

Amber Glenn sits in seventh place, earning 64.71 points for her program to "Scars" by Madilyn Bailey.

Competing in her second career Grand Prix, Glenn focused on keeping her jumps aggressive even on a bigger stage than she's used to.

"It's something that I've always kind of done, and it's something that I really wanted to work towards here," Glenn said. "This is my first Skate America. I didn't want to let myself get intimidated. I wanted to go out there, perform and do my job. So I just tried to focus on that, and it worked out well."

Competition continues tomorrow with the ladies, men's and pairs free skates and the free dance. Catch all of the action live and on-demand on the Figure Skating Pass on NBC Sports Gold.

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