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Gilles wins free skate at Liberty Open

Reigning U.S. junior champ hits five different triples to win senior ladies group A

Alexe Gilles turned in a commanding performance at Liberty.
Alexe Gilles turned in a commanding performance at Liberty. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/19/2008) - There's a new U.S. senior lady in town, and her name is Alexe Gilles.

The tall (5'7"), blonde skater turned heads at Liberty with her lively program to music she described as "African Bongos." She executed five different triple jumps, everything except an Axel.

Gilles (Broadmoor SC) put her height to good use, flowing through Catarina Lindgren's sophisticated choreography with speed and power. She hit two opening combinations -- a triple flip-double toe, and a triple Lutz-double toe -- as well as a triple loop; triple toe; and a triple Salchow-double toe-double loop combo. Her only major mistake was popping a second intended triple Lutz into a single.

Her superb early-season effort earned 94.79 points, nearly 10 notches higher than the second-place finisher.

The 16-year-old, who will be a junior at Cheyenne High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., this fall, hopes to add a triple-triple combination to the routine later this year.

"Alexe can do a triple-triple, but it's not quite ready to put in a program yet," her coach, Tom Zakrajsek, said.

"I'm getting it more consistent," Gilles added. "It will be either a triple toe-triple toe, or a triple flip-triple toe. I mostly work on those two."

Gilles comes from a skating family. Her older brother, Todd, is an ice dancer; he and partner Jane Summersett were sixth at the 2008 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Alexe's twin Piper -- also a dancer -- recently formed a new partnership with Zach Donohue.

"I think the program was great for early in the season," Gilles said. "It was better than at the Broadmoor Open a few weeks ago. I love the music; it helps me relax a little more."

"We went to [international judge] Jack Greenwood's skating camp in Waterloo [Ontario], and everyone there remarked on how good she looked for so early in the season," Zakrajsek added.

Gilles, who has passed her senior tests, will compete in the senior category at the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Her first major event this fall is the Mexico City Junior Grand Prix.

U.S. bronze medalist Ashley Wagner, who won the group's short program event with a stunning program to music from the motion picture soundtrack Somewhere in Time, did not compete a free skate at Liberty.

"Her long is still coming together," Wagner's coach, Priscilla Hill, said of her pupil's free skate to music from the ballet "Spartacus." "She's being monitored at the DuPage Open in a few weeks."

Becky Bereswill (Houston FSC) placed second in the group with 85.32 points.

The slender skater performed an elegant program to Puccini's "Nessun Dorma," highlighted by strong double Axel and triple loop jumps as well as a Level 4 spiral sequence.

Brittney Rizo (SC of Boston) was third with 82.11 points.

Performing to "Carmen Fantasie," based on various themes from the classic Bizet opera, she executed an impressive triple toe-double toe-double loop combination (worth 7.80 points) as well as strong triple Salchow and triple toe loop jumps.

"I was hoping for more," Rizo said. "I wanted a [triple] loop and triple flip, but I didn't get them done. But for this early in the season it was pretty good."

Fourth place went to Joelle Forte (SC of New York), who had a solid free to selections from Puccini's "Madame Butterfly" opera. The 22-year-old Fordham University student opened with a triple Lutz-double toe combo, followed by a triple toe and triple Salchow. She earned 80.35 points.

"For so early in the season, it was absolutely great," Elaine Zayak, who coaches Forte with Dmitri Gromov, said. "She did the [triple] Lutz."

"I wanted to do a triple loop and a second triple toe, but I'm happy overall," Forte added.

Zayak, who won the world title in 1982, spoke about how she coaches Forte, who could be classified as an "older" competitor in a sea of teenagers.

"When I came back [to eligible competition] at age 28, I did it for myself," she said of her famous 1994 comeback. "When you coach adults, you give them the tools they need and they do it for themselves. Joelle is her own person."