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McCorkell, Song triumph in ladies, men's prelims

British skater channels Witt to win; 2010 junior silver medalist improves on Four Continents

Jenna McCorkell of Great Britain earned a season's best 95.63 points to qualify for the short program.
Jenna McCorkell of Great Britain earned a season's best 95.63 points to qualify for the short program. (Getty Images)

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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to icenetwork.com
(03/27/2012) - What a day it was in Nice, France. While all the qualified skaters practiced in the practice rink, the preliminary round took the whole day in the main rink. Thirty-three ladies skated from 10:30 a.m. to 4:00 pm, then 28 men took the ice beginning at 5:00 p.m. until past 10:00 p.m. on Tuesday night.

"This reminds me of the old days, when we had to judge compulsory figures," a judge said laughingly after the ladies event.

Jenna McCorkell, the 2012 British champion, won the field in the ladies. Nan Song, who won the silver medal at 2011 Trophée Bompard, won in the men's.

"I am pleased I could show almost all I can do," a radiating McCorkell said after the day was over.

McCorkell landed the full array of triples except the Salchow, which she doubled. She skated to the song Katarina Witt helped make popular in 1994, "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

"I loved it back then." she said. "Also, I skated to this music when I was 11. I had it choreographed by Lorna Brown, who also had choreographed it back then."

Elena Glebova, from Estonia, skated to Aram Khatchaturian's Spartacus. She had some difficulty on her triple Lutz, but altogether her technical elements were nearly as strong as McCorkell's (49.32 to 42.58 for McCorkell).

Sonia Lafuente, from Spain, also skated all her elements to take third place.

"It went much better than I expected," she said. "My warmup wasn't the best."

Lafuente could not qualify last year because she fell on her triple loop. This time, she landed a clean triple loop-double toe combination.

"This year I will try to be in the final", she promised. "I would love to end in the first 18, really, so that I do not need to qualify next year."

One of the most energetic skaters in this preliminary round was Italian Valentina Marchei, whose program to a "Big Bad Voodoo Daddy" medley was an instant hit with the audience.

"I noticed that the audience responded so well when I did the step sequence," she said.

She opened her program with a beautiful triple Lutz-double toe combination, but doubled her planned triple flip, and her triple Salchow was under-rotated.

"I must confess that I went for the easier version," she said. "I need to save some energy for the final."

Marchei also got the highest component score of the field (47.71).

Also to be mentioned is Russian prodigy Polina Korobeynikova, who qualified for the third spot on the Russian team. Korobeynikova, who won the 2011 Junior Grand Prix Final bronze medal, was the only one to include a triple-triple combination -- a triple flip to triple toe -- which brought her 9.50 points. That sole element made up more than one fourth of her total element score, as she subsequently doubled her Lutz and flip, and her fourth combination was not taken into account (a double Axel to double toe). She finished seventh, but third on her component mark behind Marchei and McCorkell.

"I wanted to show all the elements, and I was not planning a down version of the program," she said.

Viktoria Volchkova, her coach, could not be there because of her newborn baby.

The men's competition was rather strong. Song, from China, won the round by more than two points over Sergei Voronov of Russia (130.75 to 128.47).

Song opened with a quad toe, followed by a quad toe sequence, but he fell on both attempts. He nonetheless got all the credit for both and quickly recomposed and landed two beautiful triple Axels, one of which was in combination.

"Considering my condition right now, I think it was pretty good," Song commented afterward. "I was sick with a fever at Four Continents, and it took me a long time to recover."

Voronov got the highest element score of the day, thanks to a triple Axel-double toe to double loop in the second half of his program (12.76 points). He landed two solid triple Axels and only doubled his planned triple flip.

"The audience is very supportive to the skaters," Voronov said afterward.

Voronov nonetheless confessed that his return to the international level after one and a half seasons off had been tough for him.

"I consider each event as a competition with myself," he said, "with all the injuries I have."

Maciej Cieplucha, from Poland, who trains in the U.S. with Scott Davis and Jeff Langdon, took third place. Cieplucha landed neither quad nor triple Axels, but his technical elements were still the second best overall. He landed two triple Lutz in combination, one with a triple toe and the other with a double toe-double loop.

Cieplucha later told the story of his late arrival in Nice.

"I lost my passport and arrived here only yesterday, so I still have a jet lag. Maybe I should always come just one day before competing, seeing how things went today."

Misha Ge, from Uzbekistan, took fourth place. His opening triple Axel was downgraded but, as he put it, "It was still the best try of the season, so there was some progress."

Much attention was given to French-born Kim Lucine, who skates for Monaco.

"Skating here, so close to home (Monaco is just a half hour away from Nice) put a lot of pressure on me," he said. "Also, Prince Albert was in attendance, so it was very important for me to skate well and qualify."

Lucine finished fifth and qualified easily, even claiming the third-best component score of the field.

The 12 best-ranked ladies and men will now advance to the short program, scheduled Thursday (ladies) and Friday (men's). Yet the qualification process will not be over, as only the first 24 from each category will make the free skate.