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Zhang takes gold at 2011 Ice Challenge

Poapst, Knierim win pairs; Kriengkrairut, Giulietti-Schmitt dance to victory

American ice dancers Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt topped the podium.
American ice dancers Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt topped the podium. (Lorrie Parker)

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By Renee Felton, special to icenetwork.com
(11/05/2011) - Team USA enjoyed a successful outing this week in Graz, Austria, taking gold in each discipline. With the addition of Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello's ice dancing silver, each of the five U.S. representatives came away with a medal.

Ladies

In her second outing of the season, Team USA's Caroline Zhang earned the gold medal. She previously finished sixth at 2011 Hilton HHonors Skate America. She totaled 152.72 points to edge silver medalist Natalia Popova of Ukraine and bronze medalist Linnea Mellgren of Sweden.

Zhang performed a flawless short program to "Rushing of the Wings." The highlight of the skate was the opening triple flip-double toe combination. Her program component score of 23.43 was nearly two points higher than that of any other competitor. Her short program score of 52.82 gave her a five-point cushion entering the free skate.

Popova won the free skate, as she was the only skater to break the 100-point mark for the segment. The 18-year-old was also the silver medalist at this event a year ago, and she started her season with a second-place showing at 2011 Cup of Nice last weekend.

Mellgren's outing in Graz was her third of the season. She opened the year by finishing seventh at Finlandia Trophy and rebounded this week from a 17th-place finish at Cup of Nice. Mellgren was solid at Ice Challenge, placing third in both segments of competition to secure the medal.

Men's

American Stephen Carriere was the only skater to earn at least 200 points as he easily won the Ice Challenge title with a total of 215.20 points. He was joined on the podium by Misha Ge of Uzbekistan and Viktor Pfeifer of Austria.

Carriere carried a six-point lead into the free skate after a short program that featured a flawless triple Axel. Netting 10.50 of 71.96 total points for the short, the jump earned a rare 2.00 GOE. Carriere's "Swan Lake" free skate featured a quad toe and triple Lutz-double toe-double toe combination. He earned 143.24 points to win the segment by over 10 points.

Ge, the 2011 Uzbekistan national champion, rallied from an eighth-place showing last week at Cup of Nice to total 199.12 points and earn the silver medal.

Pfeifer moved into medal contention after placing fourth in the short program. The highlight of his free skate was a triple Salchow-triple toe combination in the second half of the program worth 10.03 points. His final score was 188.87 points.

Pairs

Andrea Poapst and Chris Knierim, the 2011 U.S. junior silver medalists, won gold in their international debut and earned 143.14 total points. Despite suffering three falls in their Swan Lake-themed free skate, the team's program components score of 49.77 was the highest in the competition by over three points. They edged eventual silver medalists Mari Vartmann and Aaron Van Cleave of Germany by just .04 points in the free, and totaled 91.42 points. Poapst and Knierim were the only team to break the 50-point mark in the short program, earning 51.72 points.

"We are very happy to have won at our first senior international," Poapst and Knierim said. "Although we had some mistakes here, we are looking forward to going home and making adjustments as we prepare for the U.S. Championships."

Vartmann and Van Cleave, who are now in their second season together, are the 2011 German silver medalists. They were kept off the podium at both Nebelhorn (8th) and Cup of Nice (6th) before winning silver here. The highlight of their free skate, set to music from The Island, was the program-opening side-by-side triple toe-double toe combinations.

Bronze went to Israel's Danielle Montalbano and Evgeni Krasnopolsky, who improved on a seventh-place finish at this event a year ago.

Ice dancing

Team USA topped the podium in Graz with Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt taking gold, followed by Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello in second.

In advance of their first Grand Prix assignment of the season next week at NHK Trophy, Kriengkrairut and Giulietti-Schmitt edged their teammates in the free dance to take the title. The 2009 Ice Challenge silver medalists performed a "Walking in the Sand" free that featured a midline step sequence worth 8.00 points (1.50 GOE) and a Level 4 spin. They earned 86.19 points for the segment and 138.07 overall.

Cannuscio and Lorello, who placed seventh at Skate America to open the season a few weeks ago, earned their first career international senior medals in Graz with a total score of 134.88 points.

Ukraine's Siobhan Heekin-Canedy and Dmitri Dun started the season with a seventh-place showing at 2011 Cup of Nice last week and earned the bronze medal here. The newly formed team's free dance, skated to the music of Richard Cocciante, featured a Level 4 rotational lift worth 9.00 points. They earned 121.44 points for the week.