Punsalan and Swallow’s tango was tangy enough for perfection.
Three-time champion ice dancers Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow strengthened their lead at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships by winning the original dance. Their tango, to “Tanquera,” received two 6.0s for presentation, the first perfect marks in the event.
“I was very surprised,” Swallow said. “It goes by so fast and everything is so together. It was a real interesting experience. You always dream of 6.0s. Liz and I both kind of stared and wondered, ‘Is it a 5.0?’
“It’s an achievement you work for your entire career.”
The 6.0s were the first ever given in original dance at nationals; in 1984, Judy Blumberg and Michael Siebert--the last dancers to win four U.S. crowns--earned a 6.0 in the original set pattern, which has been replaced by the original dance.
Their other marks were nearly as good. For presentation, they earned seven 5.9s along with the two 6.0s. For technical merit, they got five 5.9s and four 5.8s.
“Our artistic impression and expression especially is something we’ve been concentrating on all year,” Swallow said. “It’s something that we focused in on that is going to make us competitive with our world competitors.
“We’ve been hammering away at that passion day-in and day-out.”
The married couple from Pontiac, Mich., led a Detroit Skating Club sweep of the top three spots heading into today’s free dance, worth 50% of the total score. In second place were Eve Chalom and Mathew Gates, followed by Kate Robinson and Peter Breen.
All three are coached by Elizabeth Coates and Igor Shpilband. Coates competed in two world championships for Great Britain and came to Detroit in 1992. Shpilband, a Russian, began teaching in Detroit in 1990 after working on tour with Torvill and Dean.
“The level of ice dance is higher than it’s ever been,” Shpilband said.
“It’s been a long process to get couples up to this level; it does not happen overnight. This as probably as close as we’ve been [to the top Europeans], but we still need to work on it.”
Punsalan and Swallow’s tango was dramatic, with clear changes in mood. It was difficult technically, but entertaining to watch.
“We sort of thought of it as a story of two people who already have a past,” Punsalan said. “We try to make it known to the audience that something was going on before this. Maybe this is just another rendezvous, or something could happen.”
What happened was perfection.
Later Wednesday, the senior pairs event began with the short program. Jenni Meno and Todd Sand are seeking their fourth straight U.S. championship.
Matt Savoie of Peoria, Ill., won the junior men’s short program, worth one-third of the overall score. He was the only skater to successfully complete a triple lutz Wednesday.
That event ends Friday.