Kavaguti, Smirnov take Skate America pairs short
HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (AP) It has been quite a year for Gracie Gold.
She won her first U.S. championship, collected a team bronze medal at the Sochi Olympics and even got to bake cookies with Taylor Swift.
Her performance at Skate America on Saturday? Well, that had a few hiccups.
Gold took third in the short program with 60.81 points, behind Russians Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (67.41) and Elena Radionova (65.57) due, in part, to some mistakes on her triple toe landing and a spin.
''It wasn't my best performance, but I am still very happy with it,'' Gold said. ''It is tough to skate last after two wonderful competitors. In a competition like this, I can't give any points away and make mistakes like I did on my spin and the small error on the triple toe landing. I'm going to have to really fight in the long program to move up in the ranks.''
Tuktamysheva grabbed the women's lead after Yuka Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia took the pairs short program. The free skates are Sunday.
Japan's Tatsuki Machida was a runaway winner in the men's competition with a score of 269.09, while Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates took the ice dance with 171.03 points.
Machida, the winner at Skate America last year in Detroit, dominated in the short program on Friday and was solid again in the free skate. Chicago-area product Jason Brown (234.17) was a distant second, while Canada's Nam Nguyen (232.24) jumped from seventh to third. Four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott fell from second in the short program to fifth.
Machida felt his performance tailed off a bit toward the end.
Brown, who's from Highland Park, fell attempting his second triple axel. There were a few flaws after that, but he was all smiles afterward. Fans showered the ice with stuffed animals and toilet paper, all of which will be donated to the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana.
''I did fall, but it's all part of that growing experience and there's so much more to grow,'' Brown said. ''I was really just going through that checklist. I had a few slips after that, but I was fighting through the whole thing and I wasn't gonna let that stop me.''
For Gold, a few mistakes were costly. And when she fell off on a spin that drew a reaction from her coach and choreographer.
''Missing a combination spin in a short program, point-wise, is very unfortunate,'' she said. ''But emotionally, it's more kind of funny embarrassing - a little bit embarrassing - to do such a good program and then (mess up) on such a little thing. It's just a camel spin. Camel spins, I feel, are way harder than people give them credit for, and if you take them for granted like I did, you wind up missing your last element box.''
She promised: ''I will be doing fabulous spins tomorrow.''
Those mistakes aside, Gold was happy overall with her performance. She also enjoyed skating in familiar territory.
Gold lived in Illinois and trained in the Chicago suburbs before moving to Los Angeles to train with coach Frank Carroll. But it was Tuktamysheva taking the lead.
A few years ago, Tuktamysheva looked as if she might be on her way to becoming one of the top skaters.
She struggled in recent years adjusting to growth spurts. But at 17, Tuktamysheva is in position to win her fourth competition this year.
''Today I am very happy that I was able to cope with my nervousness and I was happy that I could show a good performance,'' she said.
In the pairs, it was a strong start for Kavaguti and Smirnov. They took fourth at the 2010 Olympics, but were non-qualifiers for Sochi this year with Smirnov recovering from knee surgery.
They scored 69.16 points, with China's Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang second (62.38) and Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier (61.08) third.
Kavaguti and Smirnov are glad to be back competing after Smirnov was sidelined. He was injured in a fall at a competition in St. Petersburg, Russia, a year ago, but he's back after having surgery in Germany and going through more than six months of recovery.
Recently, there was another big event in his life. His wife gave birth to a boy less than two weeks ago, and while he and Kavaguti awaited their score, the camera caught Smirnov cradling his arms as if he was holding a baby.
In the dance, Chock stumbled at one point, but the rest of the routine was good enough that she and Bates hung on after taking the lead in Friday's short program. The brother-sister combo of Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani (160.33) were second and Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin (143.87) were third.