Saturday, July 19, 2014

Philadelphia Summer Championships Debuts New Name, Programs, and Lyrics: Recap part 1

(Photos taken on my I-phone).

You don't often think of figure skating in July, but for elite figure skaters and coaches, the summer months are a crucial time to debut new programs and get pre-season feedback. Every July, for the last few years, my sister, Devon, and I have traveled to the Philadelphia Summer Championships to see skaters of all levels and disciplines debut their new programs.

(I'm on the left, Devon is on the right).
Ice Works Skating Club in Aston,Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia, plays host to the annual event, which ran from July 15-19. This year the event debuted its new name (it was formerly called the Liberty Summer Competition), and skaters' music featured lyrics for the first time.

There's something quite wonderful about attending a skating event in the dead of summer; sweating-out temperatures bordering the 90s, and then stepping into a refreshing, ice-cold rink. It's equally as wonderful to be enveloped with the warmth of a summer afternoon or evening after hours of sitting on cold metal benches. The other great thing about the summer competition is the laid-back atmosphere. We'll often see well-known and legendary coaches and choreographers at the event, drawing little to no attention. (Probably because most of the people at these kinds of events are skaters, coaches, and skating parents). In contrast, if you attend a competition such as, say, Skate America or the Nationals, famous skaters and coaches are swarmed with fans seeking autographs. The first year Devon and I attended Philadelphia Summer Competition, we entered the building and practically bumped into Paul Wylie, who was walking out of the rink as we were walking in. We didn't ask him for an autograph, or even say hello, really. We just smiled, exchanged knowing glances with each other, and moved on, privately thrilled. Only at a summer competition :)

In years past, Devon and and I have seen skaters, who at the time, were up-and-coming, and now are stars in their own right: Ashley Wagner, Patrick Chan, Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, Marisa Castelli and Simon Schnapir, and Ross Miner. We've also seen skaters who have since retired, or whose star is still rising, such as Armin Mahbanoozadeh, Wesley Campbell, Stephen Carriere, Agnes Zawadski, Yasmine Siraj, Samantha Cesario, Ashley Cain, and Keegan Messing.

This year's event didn't feature some of the same skaters that I've grown accustomed to seeing and look forward to every year: i.e., Cessario and Messing, but I was pleased to hear of Ross Miner's appearance, as I haven't seen him at this event in a few years.

--Start Tangent-- Miner had a rough season last year, so it's good to see him healthy and off to an early start debuting his new programs. After placing on the National podium for three consecutive years, even finishing second the year before the Olympics, he slipped to 7th last year after sustaining an ankle injury. Even though Miner wasn't up to his championship form at Nationals in Boston, he still delivered one of the most emotionally-rousing and memorable freeskates to Michael W. Smith's "Glory," in tribute to the victims in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing. I was in attendance at Nationals and will not soon forget Miner's "Boston Strong" performance. Below is a screenshot from the NBC telecast in January of Miner performing a spread eagle. I'm in the audience, bottom left, wearing black with a pink scarf.

--End tangent--

I arrived at the Philadelphia Summer Competition on the evening of Thursday, July 17, to watch the senior men's short program. As in years past, as soon as I entered the building, I immediately had skating "celebrity sightings." The first people I saw in the lobby were Mark Mitchell (4x U.S. medalist in the late '80s and early '90s) and Ross Miner, who is coached by Mitchell. On my way to my seat, I also saw Elaine Zayak, 1982 World Champion, Jeff DiGregorio, former coach of Tara Lipinski, and Mark Ladwig, top-10 finisher at the 2010 Olympics with Amanda Evora.

The participants in the men's short program were:

Savary, Emmanuel University of Delaware FSC
Miner, Ross The Skating Club of Boston
Belley, Christophe Foreign skater
Dion, Charles Champions Training Center (CTC)
Tondreau-Alin, Nicolas Foreign skater
Aiken, Alexander First Coast FSC
Atanassov, Manol Foreign skater
Ma, Jimmy The Skating Club of New York
Bychenko, Oleksii Israel Ice Skating Federation

I arrived a little late, so I missed a few skaters. The first skater I saw was Manol Atanassov, representing the Bulgarian Skating Federation. Atanassov, 22, is the 2012 Bulgarian National Champion. Skating to "Carmina Burana," Atanassov wore all black, a minimal costume that appropriately placed all the attention on the strong and powerful music. He landed a triple axel and a triple-toe, triple-toe Acombination. I wrote in my notes that he seemed to have a good flow across the ice. His score was 41.52.

(Photo Courtesy of

The next skater was Charles Dion, 22, representing Canada. I've seen Dion at this event in the past. He's easily recognizable as he skates with his glasses. Dion landed a triple flip but fell on the triple toe at the end of the combination. He doubled his triple lutz. Certain parts of his music seemed a little synthetic and he missed the music at the end. Overall though, he's a pleasant skater. As a viewer, you want him to do well, but he needs to make himself stand out a little more as a performer. Dion scored a 48.74.

(Photo Courtesy of

Alexander Aiken, 23, representing the U.S., was up next. Aiken used to be coached by Paul Wylie in North Carolina, but now trains in Jacksonville, Florida. Mary Scotvold, former choreographer to Nancy Kerrigan and Paul Wylie, was at the boards. Aiken was the first skater that night (that I heard) to use lyrics. His music was "The Best is Yet to Come," by what sounded like, Michael Bublé. Selecting music with lyrics is new this season, and Alex's program was a good example of how lyrics can be used effectively, especially when the person singing the lyrics has such a terrific voice! The vibe of the program was jazzy, smooth, and cool. Aiken landed a nice triple axel, a good triple lutz, but under-rotated the triple toe on the end of the combination and landed on two feet. He later fell on a triple flip. (I jotted in my notes, "The best was not yet to come"!) While the jumps Aiken landed appeared to have more height and security than the previous skaters, his overall skating skills need improvement and polishing. (When he skated, I heard a distinctive crunching sound on the ice that sounded like walking through snow. I didn't notice that with other skaters. I'm no skating technician, but that tells me something about edge quality). His ending spin combination was also a bit rocky--his edges didn't seem secure. The program was reasonably enjoyable--I like the music, concept, and the tone; it has potential. I didn't quite catch the reading of his score, but I think it was 59 something...

(Photo Courtesy of

Next up, Christophe Belley of Canada. Belley appears very tall and lanky. His jumps were off: single axel, triple lutz, awkward landing and close to the boards, single flip-double toe loop (hand down). I wasn't sure of the music was, but I wrote "techno jungle" in my notes. He seemed to have a choreographic concept and the choreography was interesting. I liked the image he painted on the ice and liked the concept of his program the best so far. I can see potential in him, but he needs more confidence and power on his jumps. His score was 43.05.

(Photo Courtesy of

Nicolas Tondreau-Alin of Canada: Skated to a tango that was definitely "Plushenko-esque." Not sure what the
music was, but Plushenko has used it, for sure! He landed a quad off the top: swish! Beautifully done! The Canadian contingent (which was quite large at this event), let out a huge roar. As often happens when skaters land a gorgeous quad,there's an error on a much easier element that follows: he nearly slipped and fell on a flying spin. Tondreau-Alin landed a great triple toe-triple toe, and showed commitment to the choreography. He actually showed facial expression, and though he slightly missed his music at the end, he was my favorite so far, and drew a big reaction from the crowd. His score was a 60.99.

(Photo courtesy of

Ross Miner, 23, representing the Skating Club of Boston:
Skating to the same short program as last year, "The Way We Were" by Marvin Hamlisch. Wearing a costume reminiscent of Robert Redford's character in the movie of the same name. Miner landed a nice triple flip, albeit a little scratchy, off the top of the program. The next element was a triple axel, which resulted in a fall. Next was a triple lutz--landed well, but then he stumbled out the following triple toe loop. As he was skating, I couldn't help but thinking that this was a pleasant program (and Miner is a very likable and genuine skater), but the whole choreographic concept--from the music to the sweater vest--to quote the great Dick Button (whose birthday was yesterday!) doesn't "dare you to look away." You could, in theory, if watching this on TV, get up from the couch, get a glass of water, sit back down, and not have missed much. I like the program, I do, but it needs to be more compelling. I'd like to see Miner skate to something with a little more force, tension, and drama. I liked the ending sequence--the program seemed to effectively build with good choreographic elements of a spread eagle, a split, and a jump-over kick at the end. His score was a 70.15, which put him in first up to that point, which I didn't really understand given his technical errors. However, I'm sure it was on the strength of his components. You can't deny Miner's skating skills and his presence on the ice.

(Photo Courtesy of

Emmanuel Savory,16, representing the University of Delaware Figure Skating Club. Savary, who is credited as the 2009 U.S. Men's Intermediate Junior Champion on his Web site , skated to very jazzy, "busy" music that I didn't think he seemed connected to. In my notes I wrote, "Does he even like this music?" He landed a triple flip with 2 hands down, a double axel, and fell on a triple loop attempt. Despite problems on the jumps, I liked watching Savary. He's tall and lean and paints a nice picture on the ice. He didn't seem to have a lot of choreographic commitment, but maybe that will develop in time. He's very young, and I read he's coming back from injury. I was very surprised to see him perform a Bielman spin at the end! His score was a 41.18.

(Photo Courtesy of

The last skater of the night was Oleksii Bychenko, 26, representing the Israel Ice Skating Federation. I recognized Bychenko from the Olympics, where he finished 21st. He also finished 15th at this year's World Championships. Skating in all black with black gloves (a very effective costume choice, if you ask me), Bychenko opened with a triple axel, and then landed a nice quadruple toe loop! He also went on to land a good triple-triple combination, though I couldn't catch if it was a triple-flip-triple toe or a triple-toe-triple toe combination. I loved Bychenko's musical selection to the music of Verdi, one of the few purely classical, and effective, pieces I heard that night. I'm not sure of the name of the piece, but Victor Petrenko skated to it in the 1994 Olympics, and I could vividly picture Petrenko's flamboyant arm movements. It was a wonderful piece of music and really added a great deal to the overall effect of Bychenko's program. His overall speed and command was the greatest of the night. His overall skating could be improved with better posture and flow--and he had a couple of slip-ups on spins--but overall, he deserved his score of 70.74, and first place overall!

(Photo Courtesy of

My favorites of the night were Nicolas, Oleksii, Ross, and Christophe. It was a fun event and I wished there were more skaters to watch. I missed not seeing Keegan Messing compete this year.

Be sure to check out Part 2 of the Philadelphia Summer Championship post to read about the senior men's freeskate!

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