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Cesario's stunning 'Black Swan' wins the day

Cesario bests impressive performance by Wang; Keiser edges Popova

Saying she is "like the swan," Samantha Cesario sold her character to the judges.
Saying she is "like the swan," Samantha Cesario sold her character to the judges. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(07/16/2011) - Samantha Cesario, forced to withdraw from the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships with a back injury, made a resounding return to competition Saturday with a stunning program set to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake.

"I'm really drawn to the music; I guess I'm kind of like the swan -- aggressive and attacking," Cesario said.

The graceful New Yorker opened with a triple Lutz-double toe combination, followed by two triple flips, a triple Salchow and a second triple Lutz. She received "e" calls for improper take-off edges on the Lutzes.

The performance built to a sweeping spread eagle into double Axel, and then closed with an effective Level 4 combination spin.

Cesario earned 106.31 points, besting second-place finisher Angela Wang by more than 11 points.

"I'm really pleased," the skater said. "I haven't had much training time due to my injury."

The program, choreographed by former Latvian ice dancer Inese Bucevica, walks a tightrope between portraying the unbalanced Natalie Portman character in Black Swan, and Odile, the black swan in the classic ballet.

"I didn't want to go all the way with it; that would have been too dark," Cesario said. "It was kind of a balance."

"My last words to her were, 'Keep the program going from beginning to end,' and she did it," Cesario's coach, Mary Lynn Gelderman, said. "No part of the program lost the effect. I'm thrilled she is starting off the season with a fully realized program."

Cesario, who injured her back shortly before the 2011 U.S. Championships, spent eight weeks in a hard cast brace and was not able to jump for weeks after the cast was removed. After debuting her short program at the Colonial Open, her back pain returned, and she visited a spine specialist, who diagnosed an arthritic facet joint. A cortisone shot administered at the end of May enabled her to begin training full run-throughs.

"Because Samantha was off ice and couldn't jump, we spent a lot of time thinking about the program," Gelderman said. "We tried to incorporate some old-style skating, like the beautiful big spiral and the spread eagle into double Axel."

Cesario, a recent graduate of Oceanside High School, designs her own costumes and has been accepted into New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. She has deferred admission for one year in order to concentrate on her skating.

The runner up to Cesario, Wang, skated with good speed to music from Othello. She opened with a solid triple flip-double toe combination, followed by a fine triple Lutz-double toe, a Level 4 flying camel spin and a triple loop. She fell on her second triple Lutz and stepped out of a double Axel late in the program.

"My choreographer, Stewart Sturgeon, chose the music last season but I didn't feel connected to it," Wang, who turns 15 on Jul. 30, said. "This year I love it and really want to skate to it."

Like Leah Keiser, who won the other senior ladies group, Wang did not qualify for the 2011 U.S. Championships due to a disappointing performance at her sectionals.

"I had a back injury and was taking ibuprofen, and it just didn't work out," she said. "Last season I peaked a little too soon."

Wang, who trains in Colorado Springs with Christy Krall and Eddie Shipstad, skates two sessions a day with world champion Patrick Chan.

"I'm always looking at his edges," she said. "He is nice and encouraging. He's just really good."

Keiser edges Popova in senior ladies group A free
Leah Keiser, so impressive in winning her group's short program on Friday, performed a challenging free skate to music from Dr. Zhivago and won the group A free skate.

The 13-year-old fell on the back end of her opening double Axel-triple toe loop combination, but quickly recovered with a triple Lutz-double toe and triple loop. Although she fell on a triple flip, she closed strongly with a solid triple Lutz and fine layback to Biellmann spin, and earned 93.79 points.

"I'm happy with the way it turned out," Keiser said. "There's a lot of work to be done, but it's early in the season.

"[The opening fall] was a silly mistake. That move is new this year and it's been pretty consistent."

Keiser, who lives in Orange County, Calif., is coached by Frank Carroll in Lake Arrowhead and also trains three days per week under Christa Fassi at Toyota Sports Center. Her programs are choreographed by Lori Nichol.

"I'm so happy to be working with such a high-level choreographer," Keiser said. "It's great to absorb all of her knowledge.

"I've been working really hard to improve the quality of my jumps and my skating in general."

Keiser had disappointing Pacific Coast Sectional performances last season and did not qualify for the 2011 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Still, she hopes her summer competitions impress U.S. Skating officials enough to be considered for a Junior Grand Prix assignment.

"Absolutely, she should be there," Ron Ludington, who has worked with Keiser here in the absence of Carroll, said. "She is a talent. She has a great awareness of her body and tremendous discipline."

Former Ukrainian champion Natalia Popova, who missed most of last season due to injury, had an impressive free which included a triple flip, triple loop-double toe combination, triple toe and two triple Salchows, one in combination with double toe. She earned 90.34 points.

"I was competing in Graz [Austria] last November and hurt my ankle halfway through my free skate," Popova said. "I finished the program, but it took me out of nationals, Europeans and worlds. Those are the kinds of things you just have to overcome.

"I'm glad I got the triple flip out here. It hasn't been as consistent in competition, so landing it here is good for my confidence."

Popova, whose parents live in Canada, trains in Hackensack, N.J., and is coached by Viktor and Nina Petrenko, and Galina Zmievskaya. Until recently, former Russian champion Ksenia Makarova was part of the group.

"She moved to Moscow, and I miss her, but there are some advantages," Popova said. "Now, the attention is more on me and I have no room to relax."

Colorado Springs-based skater Lauren Dinh, who is coached by Damon Allen, placed third with 66.97 points. She popped a few intended triples into singles, but landed a solid triple Lutz and triple Salchow.