Surprise! Skyliners on Top After Short Program, Jazz Fourth

by Mickey Brown
Photo by Paul Harvath

2007 U.S. Synchronized Team Skating Championships Results, Photos, Video and News

(2/22/2007) - There is an unexpected leader at the top of the junior standings after the short program at the 2007 U.S. Synchronized Team Skating Championships, but the biggest surprise may be a team that's currently on the outside looking in.

The Skyliners (SC of New York) hold a slim 56.54-56.47 lead over the Colonials (Colonial FSC), while the Hockettes (Ann Arbor FSC) occupy third place with a score of 55.10.

The reigning World junior bronze medalist Chicago Jazz (Chicago FSC) hit a few snags in their short program and are in fourth place, nearly two points behind the leaders.

The Skyliners have never so much as finished in the top three at any previous U.S. Championships, and they finished sixth last year, more than 25 points out of the top spot.

But they broke free of the past with their “Proud Mary” program Thursday afternoon at the World Arena.

Head coach Josh Babb got the idea for the music while driving to work one day. Greg T, a DJ for the radio station Z100 in New York City, was doing a spoof of it on his morning show.

“It's very catchy, and I've always admired Tina Turner. I love all of her work,” Babb said. “It's high energy, it's good for the kids, and I though they could pull it off.”

And pull it off they did, although they didn't start out well, as they had a fall on their warm-up block.

But they rallied to put out a fast, clean skate that no one else could match.

“(The fall) shook them a little bit,” Babb said. “They were a little tight at the beginning, but they worked into it great.”

In a virtual tie with the Skyliners are the Colonials, who are used to being in this position. One position with which they are unfamiliar is that of a team going to the World Challenge Cup for Juniors, something they will be doing this year for the first time ever.

“It wasn't our dream to go to junior Worlds. It was more like, ‘One of these days we'd like to accomplish that.' Done,” head coach Merita Mullen said. “Now, for this championship, they're just skating for the love of doing it.”

Indeed, they skated their “Celtic Tiger” program loose and free, and that is not a coincidence.

“What we decided to do (this year) is just work harder than we ever thought we could work. We expanded our budget to buy extra ice. We did a lot more off-ice interval training to get ready for altitude. We have a plan,” Mullen said. “Our PT, Jane Gruber, has kept the kids in shape, so we're not huffing and puffing.”

Attempting to move up from last year's third-place finish at last year's U.S. Championships, the Hockettes are off to an OK start. They certainly aren't holding anything back, as their short program is as risqué as they come. Sporting black leather mini-skirts, a ton of eye makeup and wild hair, their program to the Black Eyed Peas' “Pump It” is a departure from the usual fare.

“We started working with a dance instructor this year. I showed her videos from the different countries we compete against when we go overseas. We saw each country skating to music that has its own flavor,” head coach Erin Donovan said. “Hip-hop's such an American thing. Also, for this age group, it's something they could really relate to.”

The Hockettes did receive a one-point deduction for a fall during their parallel lines, but Donovan was almost pleased about it.

“It was because they were pushing themselves to go faster and do better,” Donovan said. “I'm proud of them for taking that initiative and that challenge.”

Having finished either first or second each of the last six years, it's a bit jarring to look at the standings to see the Jazz fourth, but head coach Lisa Darken said that's where they deserve to be.

“It wasn't their best day. They expected better from themselves,” she said.

Darken said the team had been performing its “Imagine” program consistently well, but today it simply wasn't there.

“They just weren't smooth enough,” she said.

The Jazz still are easily within reach of the medal stand, and they've already accomplished one of their major goals this year: winning the 2007 World Junior Challenge Cup Qualifier. There, they posted a short program score of 61.23.

“Our expectations were to try to outdo or maintain our scores at the challenge qualifier, and to get all their calls,” Darken said. “Obviously, they didn't reach their goals.”

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