Ice Network

Hicks steals the show with powerhouse 'Evita'

Gold struggles with jumps, finishes second; Cesario secures bronze
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Courtney Hicks, who claimed the pewter at the 2013 U.S. Championships, got her 2013-14 campaign off to a promising start, surging from third to first place to top the ladies podium. She finished with 171.88 total points. -Jay Adeff

She skated to Evita, but there was no crying for Courtney Hicks.

Moving at breakneck speed and attacking her jumps at every turn, the California teen performed with fire and determination that would have made the real Mrs. Peron proud. Six clean triple jumps helped her overcome a 3.69-point deficit after the short program to win gold at the 2013 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in her senior international debut.

"This is one of my favorite programs that I've ever done," Hicks said. "I think I just went out and enjoyed skating it and had a lot of fun."

The 17-year-old opened with a thunderbolt: a huge triple flip-triple toe combination that banked more than 10 points, followed by a sky-high triple Salchow.

Her nemesis in Friday's short, the double Axel, gave her no grief; she reeled off two, the second in sequence with a triple loop. There were also two triple Lutzes in the second half of the program. The only jumping mistake was her doubling of an intended triple flip, and she earned a personal best 117.08 points for the free skate. Her total, 171.88 points, was also a new high.

Jumps and speed are Hicks' biggest assets. She showed a softer side in the program's slower section, particularly during an Ina Bauer transition into the triple loop-double Axel sequence.

"I tried to be a little bit more vulnerable almost but still keep the prestige of Evita and portray her character the best I could," she said. "I haven't seen the play or movie yet, but I know her story."

Hicks' coaches, Jere Michael and Alex Chang, are working to bring out their skater's (and Peron's) feminine side.

"We talk a lot about how Evita was a really powerful woman but also incredibly feminine and sweet," Michael said. "We're working with Courtney on how she can portray that, and she is really growing leaps and bounds."

"We tell her, 'This is going to be the most challenging part of the rest of your career, really pushing that second mark (program components) for presentation,'" he continued. "Of course, there is lots of work to do, but I think she has done a very good job."

Hicks' next event is uncertain. As the fourth-place finisher at the 2013 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, she has a bye to the 2014 U.S. Championships. She has not yet received a Grand Prix assignment, although she was named as an alternate to Skate America. Michael said there was a possibility of a second senior B, but that decision is up to U.S. Figure Skating's international selections committee.

Gracie Gold, who led after the short program, opened her free to Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty with an outstanding triple Lutz-triple toe, and then reduced several other jumps to doubles and singles.

There was lovely choreography created by Marina Zoueva, with Gold shining in a lyrical section near the end, including a triple Salchow, camel combination spin and delicate steps. The U.S. silver medalist earned 106.19 points, good for third in the segment, and placed second overall with 164.68 points.

"I sort of got out of my knees; I didn't take the deep breaths," Gold, 18, said. "In competition I get very stiff and I make myself nervous. The pressure never comes from anyone else; everyone is supportive.

"I know I can do all of the jumps. I did a triple-triple no sweat, and I was able to do the jumps at the end of the program at altitude; it's just in the middle I have to get back down and focus. Just because I [opened] with a triple-triple, that doesn't mean anything for the rest of the program."

After earning a disappointing score for her short program Friday, Samantha Cesario portrayed a defiant, unabashedly passionate Carmen in her free to the Bizet classic, choreographed by Inese Bucevica.

The 20-year-old New Yorker did not attempt her triple loop-triple loop combination; it cost her in the short, when the second jump was downgraded. She did two triple flip combinations, one in the second half, and four other triples to place second in the free and third overall with 157.29 points.

"It's a new program, and this was the first time out," Cesario said. "It wasn't perfectly clean -- there were still mistakes and there is a lot of room to grow -- but I'm happy I fought for everything."

Skating to a sophisticated tango choreographed by David Wilson, Agnes Zawadzki had an off night with her jumps. The U.S. bronze medalist doubled two intended triples and fell on a triple Lutz, although she did land triple toe and triple Salchow combinations. She placed fifth in the free and fourth overall with 151.27 points.

"It's back to the drawing board," said Zawadzki, whose next event is Cup of China in early November. "I'm going to talk with my coaches and strategize different things, discuss what works and what doesn't."

Former Canadian champion Amélie Lacoste skated a stylish program to, fittingly, selections from Amélie. She was fourth in the free and fifth overall with 147.88 points.