For U.S. dancers and Canadian pair, comeback season starts well

SALT LAKE CITY - Kirsten Moore-Towers suffered a severe concussion in Aug. 2016 in a practice collision with her pairs partner, Michael Marinaro.

It would eventually knock the Canadian team out of the previous Grand Prix season.

"It was the day that changed my life, for the better," she said Friday. "I learned a lot about myself and my partnership."

Moore-Towers learned it wasn't a good idea to keep to herself how badly she felt for a month, a month where she vomited every day and often suffered from blurry vision. Or to compete two days after the accident happened.

"I wasn't being completely honest with my partner or my coaches," said Moore-Towers, a 2014 Olympian with previous partner Dylan Moscovitch. "I was stupid for so long. It was the season before the Olympics. The one where you set yourself up for a run. I needed to be out there."

They made it back for the Canadian Figure Skating Championships, finishing third. But Skate Canada gave the third 2017 world team spot to Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau, who missed the Canadian nationals with an injury after having qualified for the Grand Prix Final.

"Of course it was difficult," Moore-Towers said. "We wanted to be there (worlds). We respected the decision and (vowed) to do more to prove we belong there this season."

"There" this season means, of course, the Olympics. Moore-Towers and Marinaro, whose partnership started after the Sochi Winter Games, began to build their case with a pairs victory over Americans Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim on Friday night at the 2017 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic.

The Canadians had 188.76 points to 186.08 for the Knierims. Chelsea Liu and Brian Johnson of the U.S. were third with 181.40.

The Knierims won a free skate fraught with teams making major errors. Theirs included her singling planned side-by-side triple jumps and a bad landing on a throw triple.

They had begun the program like gangbusters, with a huge triple twist and equally big throw triple salchow on which her landing was rock solid. Then came the jump snafu.

"I'm not one for popping to a single," Alexa said, laughing. "Usually, it's an awkward fall. "The throw salchow was so good I wanted to keep it going. Maybe I lost focus a little bit."

Chris Knierim was pleased they wound up with the best component marks in this competition, especially after shuffling their program twice in the last three weeks.

"We did feel a little unprepared," he said.

First, they ditched a "Chaplin" free skate for a revised version of the "Ghost" program they used last year. When that didn't work, they fell back on the original version, with some minor changes. The hard part, he said, was the muscle memory for that program had disappeared almost as soon as last season ended, so they were relearning it in barely a week.

Their components score in Salt Lake City was still a long way from those of the top teams in the world. And pairs competition reached a new level of excellence at last year's worlds, where they finished 10th amidst a depth of strong performances that likely was the best in history.

"With the elements we have (including a quad twist to be used later in the season), when we hit them, we can keep up with the rest of the world," Chris said.

"Components are where U.S. teams lack."

Hubbell, Donohue open season in style

One split-second mistake at the most untimely moment became the final impression ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue left at the conclusion of last season.

His fall on the entry to a twizzle likely cost them a chance at becoming surprise medalists at the World Figure Skating Championships. Given the level of competition both nationally and globally in the discipline, who knows if there will be room at the top in the future?

A moment like that could haunt a person.

"It didn't take me too long to get over it," Donohue said. "But I will always have it in mind. It's something you don't want to repeat. What I find funniest is when I was falling and giving away a medal, someone (in the arena) was going to the bathroom and someone else was buying popcorn. So, it's not that huge a deal in the span of life."

What the couple took away from worlds, where they were third in the short dance, was a sense that being in medal contention was not a fluke.

"We still proved a point," he said. "We showed the world we belonged. While (the fall) was devastating in the moment and probably for a couple weeks afterward, it comes with the territory, and, it gives you a little extra drive for the new season."

Hubbell and Donohue opened their new campaign with a strong short dance performance Friday to take a commanding lead in Salt Lake City.

They earned a mark of 71.15, more than 11 points ahead of runners-up Kana Muramoto and Chris Reed of Japan, and nearly 15 points clear of third-place finishers Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker of the U.S., whose skate brought back memories of their previous competitive performance: a disastrous free dance at last season's U.S. Championships.

"We're very happy starting off so strong," Donohue said. "September is a hard place to be at such a good point."

Hubbell was surprised at the levels given to their lift (3) and twizzle (2), since both were lower than she expected.

"We left points on the table," she said, "so to start with 71 is a very good place for us."

For Hawayek and Baker -- the 2014 world junior champions -- one big mistake (her slip, scored as a fall) led to another in the next element, synchronized twizzles that went badly out of unison.

"I think it was just a lack of focus," Hawayek said. "We were really feeling the energy in the program. One of our goals this season was to perform every second, to the last second, and I think going into it I just put a little more energy into it than necessary."

(This article originally appeared on icenetwork.)