Ice Network

Philadelphia postcards: Cain is able but not willing

Vocals inspire Miner, Peng; Barabé's Quebec skaters show up in force
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Ashley Cain (here with father and coach Peter), who celebrates her 19th birthday July 22, was in Philadelphia to practice and gain feedback from judges. Her free, choreographed by Scott Brown, is to music from 'Evita.' -Klaus-Reinhold Kany

It's too late, pairs boys: Ashley Cain is off the market.

With the post-Olympics pairs partner trade in high gear this spring, the 2011 U.S. junior pairs champion (with Joshua Reagan) fended off a flurry of tryout invitations from U.S. and Canadian men. But these days, triple loop combinations -- not triple throws -- are the Texas skater's single-minded focus.

"It was really hard to turn them down, the opportunities are so great," said Cain, who turns 19 on Tuesday. "I knew all the good things that would come with pairs, but I'm fully committed to my plan."

"I'm focusing on making the Olympic team in 2018," she continued. "This season is the beginning of my path, and with getting two Grand Prix [assignments], I'm starting out strong. My plan is to improve each competition, each season."

Cain, who was at the Philadelphia Summer Championships (formerly called the Liberty Summer Competition) practicing and gaining feedback from officials, was invited to Rostelecom Cup last week. She will also compete at the Cup of China this fall.

After placing 12th at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, she got an early start on this season's programs, both choreographed by Scott Brown, and hit the competition trail hard. Originally slated to compete at Philly, she and her parents, Peter and Darlene Cain -- who double as her coaches -- reached the decision for her to withdraw.

"I did Skate Dallas, Broadmoor Open and Skate Milwaukee, so I needed a little bit of rest so I could get ready for (U.S. Figure Skating) Champs Camp in a few weeks," Cain said. "I also really needed to break in new boots."

Cain made some bold choices with her programs. In her short, set to the Mission: Impossible soundtrack, she sports a black unitard and plays up her sultry side.

"It's a little bit sexy but also sneaky, like I have a secret and I'm keeping it to myself," she said. "I'm playing with the audience and judges."

She and Brown are still putting finishing touches on her free skate to the Evita soundtrack, using vocals by Madonna.

"This is the 10th version of it, because we wanted the perfect cut with vocals," she said. "I start with the death announcement of Eva Perón and kind of go into this very intense beginning, with the church choir singing."

Another thing Cain hopes sets her apart is her triple loop combinations. She plans a triple Lutz-triple loop in her short and a double Axel-triple loop in her free.

"A lot of people are used to seeing toe [combinations]; I'm in a small group that does this," she said. "Loop is my favorite triple, so one day we decided to try it on the end of the Lutz, and the flip also."

"It's skating, not lip-syncing"

Lip-syncing may be OK for ballroom dancers and Britney Spears, but Mark Mitchell wants to keep it out of figure skating.

"Any of my kids who skate to lyrics, I don't want to see them out there lip-syncing to the song," Mitchell said. "It's a skating competition, not a lip-syncing contest. That's not what we aim for."

Mitchell and Peter Johansson, who train their skaters at the Skating Club of Boston, have embraced the use of vocal music, which the ISU began permitting for singles and pairs this season.

Their top skater, Ross Miner, debuted a program choreographed by Lori Nichol to Andrea Bocelli's version of "Romanza" in Philadelphia. With two triple-triple combinations, Miner won the free skate with 137.65 points.

His triple Axel was off-kilter and he didn't try a quad Salchow, but Miner, a three-time U.S. medalist, is encouraged by the feedback to Nichol's lyrical-yet-powerful choreography.

"This competition is all about getting out the first program [of the season]," the 23-year-old skater said. "Later, the quad will go in the beginning where the double Axel now is, and the [triple] flip I did in the short here will be a quad."

Miner, who resisted any urge to lip sync the romantic Italian ballad, thinks performing to vocals gives him a chance to stretch as a performer.

"I thought, 'There is all of this new music people haven't used for programs yet. This would be a really good opportunity to show how well packaged I am as a skater,'" he said. "If you can pull off the vocals and make it tasteful and well done, it's going to be good."

Miner kept last season's short, choreographed by Jamie Isley to "The Way We Were," and placed second in thet segment to Alexei Bychenko. The Israeli skater hit a quad toe, triple Axel and triple flip-triple toe to gain 70.74 points for his effort to the drinking song from La traviata.

"Skating in Sochi (where he placed 21st) has really motivated [Bychenko] to work harder," said Craig Maurizi, who coaches the skater in Hackensack, New Jersey. "He is also practicing a quad flip, but it was too soon to do it here. His goal is two quads in his free skate."

Vocal music seems to do the trick for another Mitchell and Johansson student, Rebecca Peng. The 2014 U.S. novice bronze medalist had the best junior ladies free skate, hitting six triples in her program to selections from Jekyll & Hyde. Her 104.78 points was by far the highest free skate score posted by any junior or senior lady.

"She's a shy girl, and [the lyrics] help her portray a character," Johansson said.

Peng's short, set to the popular "Papa, Can You Hear Me?" also features lyrics.

"I've really worked hard the last six months," the 14-year-old Peng said. "I could always jump. Now, I'm concentrating on performing more."

Contrecoeur conquers Philly

With overall entries down from prior years, Annie Barabé and her associate, Maximin Coia, bucked the trend by bringing 17 skaters to Philadelphia from their training site in Contrecoeur, Quebec. They went home with several wins, including senior ladies and junior pairs.

"I like [this event] because there are very good judges, and it's early in the season, so it pushes [the skaters]," Barabé said. "Even though they all get stressed out, they push and get their rears in gear. I wish other coaches, like in Colorado Springs, would come back."

Véronik Mallet, who will compete at Skate Canada this fall, won the senior ladies free with a re-vamped version of her Funny Girl program, earning 94.74 points. She landed three clean triples, including a triple flip combination, plus a fine double Axel.

"[David Wilson] re-did the whole thing two weeks ago," Barabé said. "She was nervous to do it here, so we kept the jumps more simple. Before, she was mostly worried about the jumps; now, she feels the music more."

Mallet didn't use any of Barbra Streisand's vocals, but that may change.

"I didn't think I would like [vocals] so much, but I do," Barabé said. "I would like to add some to [Mallet's] free, maybe not the whole program. I messaged David about it, and he thinks it might be hard to do, because it's a medley. We will see."

Mallet fell on a triple flip in her new short to music from the ballet Les Sylphides, also choreographed by Wilson. She placed second in that event to Florida skater Franchesca Chiera, who had a strong outing to the Italian ballad "Luna," including a triple flip-double toe and triple Lutz.

Chiera made a splash last season, jumping from the novice to senior ranks and winning the Eastern Sectional title with a top score. She was disappointed with her performances at the 2014 U.S. Championships, where she placed 17th.

"She was a little bit down on herself after nationals," said Artem Torgashev, who coaches Chiera in Coral Springs. "Then, after February, she was working hard, but she was not included in the [U.S. Figure Skating] ISP (International Selection Pool), so she was down again. She didn't skate well at the Atlanta Open in June, but since then, she's really worked."

Now the 16-year-old thinks she's back on track.

"I had a little bump in the road, but with the support of my coaches and my mom, I was able to overcome that and prepare for [Philadelphia]," she said. "I took a week off (after the Atlanta Open) and gradually re-grouped."

Chiera's short was choreographed by another of her coaches, Ilona Melnichenko (Torgashev's wife). The decision to use vocals was easy.

"We had a warm-up CD with that song, and finally we thought, 'OK, we like this -- let's try it,'" Torgashev said. "It's Italian. No one knows what he's singing, so it's good music."

 "I think it's about the moon," Chiera said. "It's different, and I like it."

Chiera's goal this season is to get her triple-triples -- including a triple flip-triple toe and triple Lutz-triple toe --consistent.

"We're playing around with both," she said. "Whichever one comes first, I'll take it."

Chiera's training partner, Andrew Torgashev -- her coaches' 13-year-old son -- dominated the junior men's events in Philadelphia, winning both the short program and free skate on the strength of his excellent skating skills and quality spins.

"I really wasn't expecting so much of myself," Andrew said. "I've really taken into account how Patrick Chan and Yuzuru Hanyu skate, their finesse."

Other junior men standouts: Peter and Darlene Cain's student Aleksei Krasnozhon, who landed a triple Lutz-triple loop and triple Lutz-triple toe to place second in the free with 112.94 points; and Tony Lu, a pupil of Viktor Petrenko, who landed a strong triple Axel in his short.