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Tanovich, Chau grab U.S junior pair title

Swan Lake program brings crowd to their feet

Tracy Tanovich and Michael Chau skated an elegant program on their way to the junior pair title at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Tracy Tanovich and Michael Chau skated an elegant program on their way to the junior pair title at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships. (Paul Harvath)

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By Mickey Brown, special to icenetwork.com
(01/23/2009) - Friday was a much better day for Michael Chau than Wednesday was.

Chau, pulling double duty at the 2009 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships, placed 12th in the junior men's short program and slipped to the ice on a death spiral in the junior pairs short program on Wednesday, a mishap that left him and Tracy Tanovich in third place.

A seventh-place finish in the junior men's free skate early Friday afternoon lifted Chau's spirits, and he rode that momentum into the junior pairs free skate, in which he and Tanovich captivated the crowd at Cleveland's Quicken Loans Arena, winning the segment and pulling up to win the gold medal.

"It's the best performance we've had all year, and it's something we should be proud of," Chau said. "We've been battling the long program throughout the year. We held it together, especially her, with me not being 100 percent."

Chau wasn't injured, but he admitted to being tired from his action earlier in the day.

The pair really connected with the audience throughout their Swan Lake program, which included two throw triples. She put her hands on the ice on the landing of their throw triple Salchow and was a little unsteady on the landing of their throw triple loop, but she managed to stay upright on both.

"We had a little bobble on the throw triple Sal, but we recovered from there," Tanovich said. "Our side-by-side jumps [Lutz, double flip-double loop in sequence] were smooth and easy. We were a little nervous in the beginning, but we overcame that."

As the program reached its conclusion, the fans in the Q rose to their feet and gave the Florida-based pair a standing ovation.

"I was surprised. I didn't know the audience enjoyed the program so much," Tanovich said. "It was a nice feeling, because I was pleased with myself and pleased that everyone else liked it, too."

Chau could recall only one other time when the team was given a standing 'O,' that being after their free skate at the 2007 U.S. Championships in Spokane, Wash., where they won the novice title.

"We had a baby one, a few random people. I think they were parents," Chau joked.

Tanovich and Chau's triumph continues what has thus far been a dream week for the Southwest Florida Figure Skating Club and coaches Jim Peterson and Lyndon Johnston, who also mentor novice pairs silver medalists Haven Denney and Daniel Raad and senior pairs short program leaders Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett.

Finishing a close second were short program leaders Brynn Carman and Chris Knierim, the 2008 U.S. novice champions. Using their City Slickers free skate for the third year in a row, the pair had hit every one of their elements until he popped his double flip just before their finishing pairs spin. That mistake proved costly, as they lost the title by 0.58 points.

Despite the mistake, the pair is pleased with how much it's progressed since last season.

"Our speed and our overall skating his improved a lot, as has the connection between us," Carman said. "It shows."

Last year's novice bronze medalists, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir, were second heading into the free skate, but she fell on the second part of their double Salchow-double toe combination, popped her Lutz and also hit the ice on their throw triple Salchow.

"It wasn't my best day. I had mistakes on elements that I never have problems with, that are second nature to me," Castelli. "I got nervous after [I fell on the toe]. It got to me a little bit because it's nationals."

Britney Simpson and Nathan Miller placed fourth overall.