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Savchenko, Szolkowy win Skate America title

Zhangs complete successful return; Denney, Coughlin fourth

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy soared back from a fifth-place short-program score.
Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy soared back from a fifth-place short-program score. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/23/2011) - Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy shrugged off a crash-landing on a throw triple Axel on Saturday to win the free skate en route to another Skate America title.

The German world champions are now three for three at this event, having previously won Skate America crowns in 2008 and 2010.

"I hope you missed us [Saturday]," the 32-year-old Szolkowy said. "Today our performance was quite okay; we tried to skate just like in practice. I hope we showed that [Saturday] was the result of trying something new, and we are still good."

Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, the 2006 Olympic silver medalists, took silver in a successful return after a year away from competition. Canadian champions Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch skated two strong performances to win bronze.

Top U.S. pair Caydee Denney and John Coughlin placed fourth, missing out on a medal by just two points. Tiffany Vise and Don Baldwin were sixth, and Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker finished seventh.

The Germans champions, 3.40 points out of first after the short, more than made up the deficit with an innovative free skate that Szolkowy said fans would "either love or hate."

The brainchild of the winning coach and choreographer Ingo Steuer, the team's Pina free skate aims to interpret the work of the late German modern dance choreographer Pina Bausch.

Crammed full of intricate transitions in and out of elements, the pair's program increases the difficulty of challenging moves like the opening throw triple flip, side-by-side triple toes, double Axels and closing throw triple Salchow.

Steuer's concept is so ambitious that the team elected to complete just a double twist at Skate America because it is still working on perfecting a new entry to the element. It has also upped the ante with its lifts, adding a reverse lasso that has Savchenko twisting into unusual positions.

Pina, which will likely have a few edits in the competitions to come, earned 124.53 points, and the Germans ended with 183.98.

"We want to try new things and do something different every year," said the 27-year-old Savchenko. "We want to continue to develop.

"We've done all the other triple throws and now we want to show we can develop further. You're never too old."

Contrasting the Germans' innovation, Zhang and Zhang delivered a workman-like routine to the dramatic "Totentanz" that served up their strengths -- huge triple twist and throws, and powerful lifts -- with little embellishment.

The returning Chinese skaters, who missed last season due to Hao Zhang's hand, shoulder and knee injuries, earned 115.81 points for 178.66 overall.

"I think today's performance was quite good," Hao Zhang said through an interpreter. "We are pretty pleased, because we have been training only a short time and this is only our third run-through of the program."

Moore-Towers and Moscovitch, fourth after the short, climbed to third place with a solid routine marred only by Moscovitch's flawed landing on a triple Salchow. They placed second in the free and ended with 117.83 points.

"I find competing with such established teams here pushes us to grow even further," Moore-Towers said. "We're still developing; it's only our third year skating together."

In another pairs event, Denney and Coughlin's solid outing to "Nessun Dorma," including opening triple toes and two solid throw triples, might have put them on the podium. In this stellar field, however, a few mistakes such as Denney's singling of an intended double Axel and a death spiral that gained just Level 1 proved costly.

"We looked at some of our levels on the lifts and spins and we'll just go back home and work on that before NHK," Denney said.

"[Missing the double Axel] was a little [frustrating]. You always want to skate your best and it's something that I haven't been training that much back at home. I'll just go back and work a little bit harder on that and pay attention to the levels so that each competition gets better and better."

Vise and Baldwin laughed off repeated false starts with their music to deliver a smooth and entertaining program, landing side-by-side triple Salchows and toes. They ended with 155.42 points overall.

"There were a couple little mistakes, but they are easy fixes," Vise said. "This is the type of performance that we have been doing in practice, so it's nice to go out in competition and compete how we know we can."

Marley and Brubaker, sixth after a strong short, lost ground when Marley fell on two triple jumps as well as the throw triple Salchow.

"We didn't execute some of the technical elements the way we wanted to," Brubaker said.

"I think skating-wise, the transitions have improved a lot from a month ago at Champs Camp. Obviously, we want to nail everything and get plus threes, but it doesn't go like that all the time, and I think that in the midst of our mistakes we did some really nice things."