Defining moments of Skate America – in photos

A bun, a mystery tale, a sparkling dress – a pair of shoulders moving rhythmically to Eurythmics. A blue skate, some electro swing, a sleeveless T-shirt and enthusiastic screams. A buttery, lavender flow, a Rhapsody in Blue, a trip to East of Eden. And then some Frank Sinatra featuring Jay Z, a hip-hop medley with daring moves and looks, a movie night at Cinema Paradiso. The third part of a symphony, a lonely bird, a lady crying near the boards. A tango – and its darkness, its locura. Two people languishing for love, and then the eyes, the glow, the medal worn with pride. The stories of 2016 Skate America.

With her short program set to Manuel de Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance”, and with an overall appearance resembling a jewel or a painting, Mao Asada got us all under her spell. Under her wings too – Mao embodies a mysterious black bird in her SP this season. John Coughlin reacted on twitter: “#MaoAsada is so elegant. Just needed to say it”.

Mariah Bell skating to music from the soundtrack of “Chicago” in the city of Chicago – what a treat! And where was this young lady up until now? Such joy, such freshness, beauty, attitude: in her glowing dress, resembling a star, Mariah pulled off a lights out performance in Sears Centre Arena, soaking the audience’s response and building confidence for the next day of competition.

What a beautiful, blue discovery this Mai Mihara is – and her debut in the Senior GP circuit this season, a great momentum to build upon. The flow, the musicality, the little smile, you have to love all of these on Mai – and we’ll surely see her again. The short program to “Rondo Capriccioso” in Skate America was a great way of introducing herself on the bigger scene.

Bold, and beautiful, and so out there!
Ashley Wagner was all of the above in her short program in Chicago, skated (so appropriately) to “Sweet Dreams” by Eurythmics. You literally couldn’t take your eyes off her during the 2.50 minutes of the skate – and this might have been exactly the purpose of both Ashley and Jeffrey Buttle when choosing the music and putting together the short program for this season. One more thing: the World silver medal in Boston, earlier this year, gave Ashley wings to fly – and she’s definitely not afraid to use them.

This disco short program to “Glam (Electro Swing Remix)” by Dimie Cat may very well be my favorite routine from everything that Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov have skated so far. The beat, the tempo, the quality of everything – I didn’t even know they could skate like that. Evgenia’s skirt fluttered victoriously in the air during that gorgeous twist, and the scores matched the energy of the routine: 75.24 points, a personal best for the two, who aim to become Russia’s no.1 pair this season.

What a beautiful, lyrical skater Jorik Hendrickx has become, and his short program, to Josh Groban’s “Broken Vow”, a wonderful ally this season. The improvement in terms of components is obvious, and we say hats off to choreographer Adam Solya too, for putting together a program that highlights so well Jorik’s musicality. Waiting for him to continue on this ascending path – and break through at the Europeans.

“No need to look for the future of men’s figure skating. The future is now”, Inside Skating wrote on twitter just seconds after Shoma Uno’s short program in Skate America, and we see no reason to take it back. His performance to music from the movie “Ladies in Lavender” was as smooth as butter; as soft and quiet as the breeze in a lavender field. And him smiling after landing the triple Axel, which he really fought for, the cherry on the (figure skating) cake. This young man loves to skate – he’s half serious, half amused while on the ice – and we love to watch him do it. One of our favorite moments? The silence before the music started, him creating the perfect mood for his “Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra”.

Adam Rippon in a sleeveless T-shirt was clearly among the it moments of this year’s edition of Skate America – but there’s more to it than the appearance (that made some ladies in the audience scream enthusiastically at his dance moves, and a judge to credit Adam with violating the costuming rules). Adam is actually pushing the boundaries of the sport right in front of our eyes – and we should clearly thank him. Him, Ashley Wagner and coach Rafael Arutyunian, for constantly trying to change the way we look at competitions. Skaters and audience altogether should have fun during an event – and there are no performances to prove it better than those of skaters in team Arutyunian.

“You’re in charge”, Lee Barkell told Gabrielle Daleman when taking the ice for her free skate to Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”. And apart for some small inconsistencies, Gabrielle was in charge, and almost flied to the wings of the blue rhapsody. In her case too, the improvement in terms of components is so, so obvious – and Lori Nichol’s choreographies suit her beautifully. Great musicality, great personality, a step sequence to die for – the Canadian is definitely a skater to watch all throughout this season.

A day after her short program, Mariah Bell was still glowing. And she continued to do so in her “East of Eden” free skate, in her pale-yellow dress, and her eyes were still glowing in the Kiss and Cry, while waiting for the scores in between coach Rafael Arutyunian and choreographer Rohene Ward. And I won’t even try to describe their reaction when the marks were shown: with 130.67 points, Mariah won the free skate, and her enthusiasm won the day. She was second overall, behind training mate Ashley Wagner, who smilingly came to congratulate her: “…and you didn’t even know you would be here, two weeks ago…”.

“This will be very fun to skate this season”, Alex Shibutani told Marina Zueva while heading for the Kiss and Cry after the short dance, and I couldn’t agree more: my eyes were glued to Maia and Alex from the very first seconds of their routine, and my ears were equally happy to hear such an inspired blend of Frank Sinatra’s “That’s life” and various songs by Jay Z. A collective work when it comes to choreography – Hokuto Konishi, Aye Hasegawa, Randi Strong and others – this intriguing, eye-catching blues-hip hop short dance will be one of the highlights of the season, we are ready to bet.

…as we were impressed by a short dance coming from (seemingly) the same direction: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue skating to blues (“Feeling Good” by Nina Simone) and a hip hop medley consisting in tunes so, so famous at their time: “Can’t Touch This” by MC Hammer, “Push It” by Salt-N-Pepa, “Ice, Ice Baby” by Vanilla Ice, “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix-a-Lot, “Apache (Jump On It)” by Sugarhill Gang, “Turn Down for What” by DJ Snake & Lil Jon. The result? A travel through history of music, and a hugely entertaining short dance, performed with character and charisma.

Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau skating to music from the movie “Cinema Paradiso” was definitely the highlight of the pairs’ free skate in Chicago, and we love the freshness these two have brought to this particular discipline. Is it as if they live in each one of their stories, and their joy while skating is obvious; not to mention purely contagious.

Remember: Sergei Voronov won the bronze medal at 2014 Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, and then he had a terrible season following: he was sixth at 2016 Russian Championships and didn’t travel either to Europeans, or Worlds. Some might have predicted, right there, the end of his competitive career, but Sergei came back in full force this season, skating a breathtaking long program in Chicago, to “Exogenesis: Symphony. Part III” by Muse, and proving he still has what it takes for a champion, and for winning the crowd. We at Inside Skating were impressed – and so were some of his fellow skaters. Ashley Wagner wrote on twitter: “Beautiful performance from Sergei! One of my favorite Russian men!”

And then this followed: Adam Rippon embodying a bird, in his brand new long program, choreographed by Benji Schwimmer to “Arrival of the Birds” by The Cinematic Orchestra and “O (Fly On)” by Coldplay. It was a beautiful, white, serene free skate, with Adam literally flying on the ice of Sears Centre Arena – and it will definitely remain as one of the finest moments of this year’s edition of Skate America.

Some performances are made to enter the books – and Shoma Uno’s tango in Chicago was clearly one of those. A gorgeous quad flip – checked. An equally great quad toe – checked. A quad toe-double toe – checked. But as technically brilliant this program was, it was the intensity of it – Shoma fully entering the character of the music – that set the routine apart from everything else. True, the music is dark, difficult to portray – but this genuinely talented young man owned it, made it his. “Skate America, you have witnessed something huge”, we wrote on twitter afterwards, and we stand by our words. How could we not? Ashley Wagner: “This kid. Such a star”. Tarah Kayne: “Shoma’s FS is the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen. #gem”

And just when you thought nothing could move you to the moon and back, Jason Brown took the ice – and for the next 4 minutes and a half, all eyes (in the arena and in front of the TV) were glued to his presence. And not because of the quad – the first one he ever landed in competition – but due to the amazing qualities of his free skate; that moved everyone to tears – have you seen the lady standing at the boards? Well, she was crying when Jason left the ice – that good, that impressive, that emotional he was, while skating to music from the soundtrack of the movie “The Piano”. And no, “skating” isn’t the right verb here: Jason’s long program was just like liquid flowing, from the first second to the very end – and the piano, a wonderful companion. Take my word for it: the beauty of this free skate is almost undescribable. And we’ll rise an imaginary hat to both Jason and Rohene Ward, the choreographer of the piece.

In their bubble of love – their free dance is set to “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” performed by Bootstraps, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” performed by Ingrid Michaelson, and “Earned It” by Bootstraps – Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were a joy to the eyes in Chicago. Simple as that. And we at Inside Skating are so appreciative of this team (insert hearts, many of those).

There’s a certain glow surrounding Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani this season. They don’t look vulnerable anymore, or subject to whatever ranking – but free, and sure, and confident, more like “you can’t stop us now”, “we know we’re good”. It’s in their looks at the beginning of their “Evolution” free dance – a natural continuance of their long program last season –, it’s in Maia’s smile at the end of the routine. No shadow of a doubt: they wear their World silver medal with pride, Maia and Alex, and the international confirmation of their efforts turned them into a brand new ice dance team. One that’s not afraid to experiment, to search for new ways of expression – but mostly one that’s in control; and (so very) aware of its potential.

Selection by Florentina Tone
Photos by Wilma Alberti (homepage – Jason Brown at 2016 Lombardia Trophy) and Getty Images