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    Pj Kwong

    About Pj Kwong

    With more than 25 years of coaching experience, Pj Kwong is one of Canada's best known figure skating experts. She has worked with CBC Sports as a commentator and analyst since 2007.

Figure Skating

Pj Kwong - Monday Oct. 21, 2013 14:46

Skate America signals strong start to Olympic season

1st Grand Prix event of season doesn't disappoint

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In winning Skate America, Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov showed why a gold medal is within their reach at the Sochi Olympics. (Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

If you were looking for ordinary performances by the skaters competing at Skate America in Detroit over the weekend, you were looking in the wrong place.

Olympic champion hopefuls Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, from Russia, were anything but ordinary. Their presence and command of their on-ice elements is second to none. On the way to taking the pairs title at Skate America, they earned the highest possible grade (Level 4) on their elements and achieved a world record high score of 83.05 for their short program. They went on to post new record scores in the free (154.66) and overall total points (237.71) — all this in the first Grand Prix of the year.

Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch took the silver in Detroit. They also started off their competition in an extraordinary way by earning 71.51 points for their short program. It was the first time they had ever scored more than 70 points. They also followed their short program up with a solid free skate.

A year ago, Tatsuki Machida of Japan won the Cup of China Grand Prix men’s event. I remembered his name looking at the entry list for Skate America but not much more. What a difference a year can make in a skater’s life. 

Machida signalled his arrival with a shot across the bow in the men’s event that included an effortless quad toe/triple toe combination and superior quality in the other jumps, spins and choreography. He followed it up in the free with another first place performance and his second Grand Prix title. Machida has also made room in my head as a man to take seriously if he makes it out of Japan to the men’s team in Sochi.

From a sentimental perspective, I cannot tell you how wonderful it was to see Mao Asada take the women’s title in Detroit. The two-time world champion and 2010 Olympic silver medallist has gone through a lot over the last couple of seasons, including the death of her mother and a technical overhaul of her trademark jumps that weakened her. Asada is back and better than ever. Her skating is somehow bigger; she fills the rink with grace, speed, and once again solid technical elements. 

Honourable mentions in the ‘not ordinary’ category go to American champion Ashley Wagner, who continues to dazzle with solid technical elements and an outstanding way of engaging the audience. In the same event, I was looking forward to seeing 14-year-old 2013 Junior World champion Elena Radionova. The young Russian didn’t disappoint in her first senior Grand Prix event, taking the bronze medal with poise and steely resolve worthy of someone very much her senior.

American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White clearly demonstrated in Detroit why they have two world titles and an Olympic silver medal to their credit, among many other accomplishments. The only title that has eluded them so far is the Olympic one. The programs that they have put together this year capitalize on what they do very well: skate with effortless speed and enormous technical ability. Both programs are a treat to watch. I really love how their Scheherazade free dance for this season moves across the ice with some extraordinary lift elements.

In an Olympic season, being able to compete to the best of the skaters’ abilities from start to finish in the Grand Prix events is the key to working out the kinks. From what I could tell, many of the skaters in Detroit over the weekend are already showing signs of Olympic readiness.

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