China’s Peng and Jin Maintain Lead to Win 1st Grand Prix Gold at 2019 Skate America

Cheng Peng and Yang Jin of China perform their Free Skate at 2019 Skate America.
Photo © Robin Ritoss

China’s Cheng Peng and Yang Jin maintained their overnight lead to win their first Grand Prix gold as a team at 2019 Skate America on Saturday afternoon in Las Vegas, Nevada. Russia’s Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin pocketed the silver, while USA’s Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier rose from fourth to capture the bronze.

Peng and Chen had a bit of rough start when both doubled their side-by-side triple Salchows, but managed to land triple toe-double toes, and a brilliant triple twist. Unfortunately, Peng took a hard fall on the throw triple loop, but recovered to land a throw triple Salchow in their routine to music from the Cloud Atlas soundtrack. The rest of the program was clean and the 2019Four Continents bronze medalists earned many high positive grades of execution (GOE) for their lifts, earning a score of 128.16 for first in free skate and overall (200.89).

“We’ve won several silver medals and we’ve been longing for a gold medal,” said Peng. “We put in a lot of effort and this gold medal is like a new starting point for us and will push us further. Hopefully we’ll win many more gold medals.”

Pavliuchenko and Khodykin finished third in their free skate to music from the Tron Legacy soundtrack, slightly improving their personal best with a score of 125.73. The team from Moscow received an edge call on their opening triple flips, but the triple toe-double toe-double toes were good. Pavliuchenko went down on the throw triple flip, but the throw triple loop was was huge. Their triple twist was graded a level 4, as was the three lifts and pair combination spin. With a total score of 196.98, the 2018-19 Grand Prix finalists managed to hold onto the second spot on the podium.

“It was a good skate, but not our best as I had one big mistake,” Pavliuchenko said.

“We made a step forward in our skating and in our technical elements,” Khodykin added.

Denney and Frazier showed a secure triple twist in the opening of their routine to music from Lion King Returns soundtrack, following up with a throw triple loop and side-by-side triple Salchows. The team struggled on their double Axel combination and the throw triple Salchow was two-footed, but the lifts were excellent and garnered a level 4, as did the forward inside death spiral. The 2019 U.S. silver medalists finished second in the free skate with a new personal best of 127.52, and with a total score of 192.70, easily rose from fourth to third overall.

“Our goal for this program was to be very proactive and mindful of what we were doing and not let anything get taken away from us,” explained Denney. “That’s how bad we want it. We want it so bad and we’re going to fight for everything and not let anything go, so I think we did that today and that’s why we got very emotional during the end of the program.”

It’s been a long series of ups and downs for the former U.S. champions.

“Coming back from injury, we worked so hard at home,” said Denny. “Little moments like this…we wanted to not take anything for granted, and we were really happy we were able to perform like we train at home.”

“A lot of credit [for the lifts] goes to John Zimmerman,” said Frazier. “He’s an artist when it comes to creating new, innovative things when it comes to lifts and transitional skating. Last season, when we started back with him, it was just a building year. We kept the programs more basic to try and get the confidence up. We had a lot more to improve, but that’s what we did. This year, we really opened that door of creativity.”

The 26-year-old admitted to be stubborn during the summer, but finally “bought into everything” and now enjoys and is grateful for what Zimmerman has brought to the table.

“This is just the beginning,” said Frazier. “We really want to bring everything we’ve got, and we know that this is confidence for us. Not just technical for us, but to show that we can bring innovate things to our program without stressing so much about technical. And now we can build from here, and this has been a tough process emotionally. Out there was the first time I felt like we got to the end. It was a fight. We left points on the table, of course, and I’m sure we’re going to go back. But I haven’t felt like that in a long time and I think it was because we worked hard. We know we have so much to bring to our team. It’s not about winning or losing, we just want to show everyone what our potential is. This was the first baby step into building our foundation, so I’m very pleased and happy.”

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SOURCE: Golden Skate, Paula Slater