Skating Off-Season News Round Up: MK Aerial Figure Skating Challenge and the Club Competition Season Gets Underway

Broadmoor Open with its annual jumping contest and Chesapeake Open are the first significant club events of the summer.

The biggest news of this weekend actually needed its own post, which the retirements of Jeremy Abbott and Yao Bin made official. With the latter also came a considerable amount of Chinese news, most significantly Zijun Li’s leaving coach Alexei Mishin and returning to China.

Come the weekend, however, most eyes were on Colorado Springs, where the club competitions season was beginning with the Broadmoor Open. Except it wasn’t even that they were paying attention to, but the MK Aerial Figure Skating Challenge, which takes place alongside it.  A three-year old event, it is a pure jumping competition, where skaters don’t do programs, only jumps. It gets a good deal of attention, and even had free livestreaming, though that ended up having sound issues. (There was a livestream for the Broadmoor Open, too, but viewers had to pay for it.)

This year the Aerial Challenge had three competitions. Friday there were individual competitions for both men and ladies. Each had them skate three rounds, with the top five advancing to the second, and the top three duking it out in the final. But much more hyped was the team event the next day, which contained far more of the sport’s top names, divided into three teams, each of which had six singles skaters and one pairs team. Most of the rounds involved each skater allowed a single jumping pass, with each skater allowed one retry per competition.

The men spent two rounds doing largely difficult triple axel combinations before Max Aaron, Alexei Krasnozhon, and Jordan Moeller broke out back to back quadruple jumps in the final round. Moeller missed both of his and had used up his retry already, so it came down to the rising star from juniors and the 2103 National Champion, who both ended up using their own do-overs. Krasnozhon, the former, went for the harder pair of jumps, holding on to a quad salchow and not quite managing it with a very underrotated quad loop. Aaron fell on his second attempt at the quad salchow, but his second quad toe loop was the best-looking jump of the round, and that helped him win.

As the jumps being done by elite skaters get more and more difficult, there has been a common phenomenon of the youngest skaters doing much harder ones than the older ones, especially in the ladies. This ladies competition certainly reflected it. None of the bigger names even made it out of the first round. The top three consisted of three girls who are all new to the junior level. After two rounds of mostly triple-triples, they were required to go for a triple axel or a quad in the final, two things most ladies still can’t do. None of the three truly pulled their jump off either, but Audrey Shin, ninth in Novice at Nationals last year, managed to avoid falling down, and the other two didn’t, so she won.

Two of the team captains, Ryan Bradley and Jeremy Abbott, were now both officially retired former National Champions, and their two teams, Bradley’s Brawlers and Abbott’s All-Stars, spent much of the event’s second half neck and neck. Before the final round, each team got one perfect score. Bradley’s got theirs courtesy Max Aaron, who did another beautiful quad toe for his first-round jump. Abbott’s got theirs from their pairs team, Alexa Scimeca Knierim & Chris Knierim, with their graceful throw quadruple salchow. When both rounds closed out with the team captains doing a backflip, third team captain, Timothy Dolensky, who was seventh at Nationals last year, did the best of them in the first and got Dolensky Dynamos a perfect score too, but they still lagged behind throughout.

The final backflips from all three men, which required them to do them “with a variation,” were all doozies, as they combined them with jumps, which is ridiculously hard, and they all got perfect scores. That resulted in the Brawlers beating the All-Stars by two points, mostly because they had a little more consistency. Though it’s kind of a pity Abbott couldn’t make any gains for his team on Bradley’s, given his combination of two backflips and then a triple toe might have been the hardest thing anyone did on the ice that week:

His team might have come in last, but Timothy Dolensky still had a good week. The Broadmoor Open is actually his second club competition of the summer, though at the first he did only his free skate; here, he did both programs in the combined event. All three competitive programs he’s done so far he’s gone for the quad salchow and fallen on it, and he had some other mistakes too. But he still won both segments, and his free skate was still one of the best of the event, to the point he got a special trophy in recognition of that.

Having a similarly good month was ladies winner Bradie Tennell, who stood up on her triple lutz-triple toe on both programs for her second well-skated club competition in a row. Both these skaters are vying for the open host spots at Skate America, and they’ve gotten off to a good start. The ladies spot is especially wide open. Dolensky’s win might have been helped by Alexei Krasnozhon, who tailed him close in the short program, not doing the free skate. He also won the smaller short-program only event, where he actually skated slightly better.

The ice dance club competition season pretty much began this week too, though that wasn’t in Colorado. Instead, some of the U.S.’s top ice dancers (and some that merely train here) gathered in West Laurel, Maryland. Some of them were competing in the Chesapeake Open. Unfortunately, as of this morning we don’t have all that much information of what went down, mostly scoring sheets posted to Facebook by ice-dance.com, which don’t tell us much. The biggest scoring sheet up so far is for the junior free dance, which taunts us with the knowledge that Junior World bronze medalists Christine Carriera & Anthony Ponomarenko made a season debut, and we don’t even know what they skated too. Hopefully we’ll find out sometime this week.

Although the highest-ranked skaters who went to Maryland didn’t go to compete. U.S. Figure Skating also held a “National Dance Camp” in which they observed the progress and/or programs of some of the top teams, including both Maia & Alex Shibutani and Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue. No real news out of that so far, and we rarely learn exactly what was said behind closed doors, but it’s good to know both teams already have their programs that far developed.

Vincent Zhou was actually supposed to participate in the Aerial Challenge’s team event, but he ultimately pulled out and did no competing this week. Instead, this year his free skate will be the subject of IceNetwork’s Creating the Program series. The first of multiple articles that will take us through the choreographic process went up, which also revealed his music. His choice, Craig Armstrong’s score to Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, like all popular Romeo & Juliet scores, is on the overused side. But if they looked around and truly thought it best for him anyway, you can’t fault such a decision, and the logic they express in the article is sound enough.

Continuing to be more creative in their music announcements were Marie-Jade Lauriault & Romain le Gac, who announced their free dance was to Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust” on Facebook. Not the most common Queen song for skating, though it’s certainly found use before even so.

We learned all the way back in January what Ashley Wagner was skating too. But this week, we learned that here, too, we’re going to get a glimpse into the creative process.

If the program has even a moderate amount of melancholia, as this clip suggests, it’s not going to be easy for Wagner to pull off. Seeing how she and Shae-Lynn Bourne approach something she’s struggled with might just be fascinating indeed. And if she does pull it off, this might just become the definitive La La Land program for years to come.

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