by Doris Spicer Pulaski
Meryl Davis & Charlie White, USA, accomplished something special at the Four Continents Championships. The team from Canton, MI, not only won their third Four Continents Championship, they earned a lifetime personal best score for a Free Dance performance, scoring 112.68 points, to pass Canada’s Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, who led after the Short Dance, for the victory, with a total score of 187.36 points. Technically, the Americans were excellent, achieving their first level four for their Diagonal Step Sequence for this season. All their elements were very sharp; the sequential twizzles lightning quick and in perfect unison, and the speed and fluidity in the lift transitions remarkable. White's display of strength, completing three of the program's five lifts in the last 30 seconds of the program without an apparent loss of speed or power, was an amazing feat.
Achieving a new personal best score is surely one way to improve, but the team's goal this year has been to improve their emotional performance. Their program this season, set to "Notre Dame de Paris" by Richard Cocciante, and choreographed by Marina Zoueva and Oleg Epstein, was the perfect vehicle. Skating first in the final group, Davis & White enthralled the audience, drawing them into the story and sufferings of Esmeralda the Gypsy and Quasimodo the hunchback, and won a standing ovation that went on until the scores were read.
Only two weeks ago, the 2011 World Champions had won their fifth U.S. National Ice Dance Championships, an event that they still find very stressful and tiring, as White's comment reveals, “It was a really emotional skate," commented White. "We gave it everything we had, literally, and that’s all we can ask of ourselves. It’s difficult coming off nationals, so to be able to go out and perform the way we did is a monument to our preparation, and I’m really proud."
Davis agreed, "We would like to show our best skating yet. Charlie and I have been talking a lot this week about growth and improvement. That’s always what we look back to … how we can improve, how we can continue to grow throughout the season. We’re in a great place but the sky’s the limit.”
Virtue & Moir also earned a season's best score of 109.20 in the Free Dance, and a personal best total score of 184.32 points at the 2013 Four Continents Championships, but it was not without controversy. The first two minutes and forty seconds of their program went very well. The 2012 World Champions drew the audience into the story of the “Carmen Suite" by Rodion Shchedrin right from their opening moves. First Moir, as Don Jose, is entranced by Carmen, and seduced into her world. Their opening lift, sequential twizzles, and pair spin were beautifully done, and were all judged level four elements. Their circular step sequence was only level three, but earned high grades of execution.
Then suddenly, at the musical crescendo where their combination lift, the highest point scoring element of their program, belongs, Virtue did not jump into a handstand on Moir's knee while he performed a spread eagle in a Straight Line Lift, followed by her transitioning to a position lying across his shoulders for a Rotational Lift. Instead, the two skated around for a bit, talking. Then Moir went over to the referee, and the partners went to the boards where their coach Marina Zoueva awaited. Virtue drank some water, and the dancers went out and resumed their program from the point before the lift was to be done, again performing all their remaining elements very well, although their diagonal step sequence only earned level three. Their resulting score was not enough to overtake Davis & White, and the five-time Canadian National Champions finished in second place overall.
Tessa Virtue explained what had happened to them at the post-Free Dance Press Conference, "I just had some cramp in my legs to deal with. I’m glad we collected ourselves and kept pushing through the program."
Scott Moir felt, that on balance, the 2013 Four Continents Championships were a good experience, “Tessa and I feel like as a team we have a lot of positive things this week, especially in our short dance. In the free dance, we were able to execute a lot of the elements that we’ve been struggling with in practice and a little bit at the National Championships. Obviously there are a couple of things we want to work on going into the World Championships. We know what we have to do, luckily.”
The procedure that was followed for the interruption due to Virtue's leg cramp was entirely according to ISU rules as described in "SPECIAL REGULATIONS & TECHNICAL RULES SINGLE & PAIR SKATING and ICE DANCE 2012, as accepted by the 54th Ordinary Congress June 2012," Rule 638.3, but the situation has provoked a great deal of discussion, particularly because a similar situation occurred when Alex Shibutani suffered at leg spasm during the Free Dance at the 2012 Rostelecom Cup. Fans, skaters, and coaches alike are discussing what the correct procedures and penalty should be for a program interruption in a future version of the rules.
Some observers wonder whether the Canadians should have been allowed by the referee to restart the program before the lift, or whether the lift should have been treated as an aborted element, and the team should have had to restart after the place in the music where the lift would normally go, which is the point where Virtue & Moir signaled the referee that they were stopping. The point at which a restart is granted is entirely at the discretion of the referee at this time, and some wonder whether the entire technical panel should be involved in the decision, and whether a doctor should verify a medical condition.
Other critics have felt that any interruption, even for a medical reason, should necessitate a penalty in the score. It is probable that the ISU will review the rules and penalties for interruptions of programs at the next ISU Congress.
After the drama with Virtue & Moir's dance, there were still three teams left to skate, all with a plausible chance for the third place on the podium. All three teams achieved season's best scores, and finished within three points of each other overall, but Madison Chock & Evan Bates of the United States won the bronze medal with a total score of 160.42 points, due to the lead they had built up in the Short Dance, despite placing fifth in the Free Dance. The couple, who have only been a team for less than two years, earned a personal best score of 94.98 in the Free Dance, almost five points higher than their previous best score.
The 2013 U.S. National Silver Medalists skated to the soundtrack from "Doctor Zhivago" by Maurice Jarre, choreographed by their coach, Igor Shpilband.
Since Shpilband was not at this event, since he was in Oberstdorf, Germany, with Isabelle Tobias & Deividas Stagniunas at the 2013 Bavarian Open, the relatively new team was supported in the Kiss and Cry by Canadian coach Aaron Lowe. The team did not seem fazed by the lack of their coach They performed an emotional, lyrical program, punctuated by very novel lifts, including a beautiful serpentine lift, formed by two curved lifts with opposing curves, a final choreographic stationary lift in which Bates spins on one foot while Chock is supported his free leg, like a child on a swing, and a unique variation on a pair spin where Chock is pulled from a shoot the duck position by Bates into the second half of the spin. Chock & Bates lost quite a few technical points. The team earned a level two for their Diagonal Step Sequence, a level three for their sequential twizzles, and a level three for their circular step sequence, yet were able to claim the bronze medal.
Bates commented on the need for further improvement in their programs, “As the season has progressed, we have gotten stronger and stronger. Worlds is the culmination of the full season and all of our hard work. Our goal is to have the best two performances we have had all season and carry that momentum into the Olympic year."
Alex Shibutani & Maia Shibutani, also of the United States, earned fourth place in both the Free Dance and the competition with a score of 96.71 points, and a total of 159.97 points overall, just half a point overall behind Chock & Bates. The Shibutanis outscored the bronze medal team by nearly two points in the Free Dance, but it was not enough to overcome the lead Chock & Bates had built up in the Short Dance.
The Shibutanis, who were the World Bronze Medalists in 2011, have had a difficult season, but the effects of their injuries seem to be fading. The eighteen-year-old and twenty-one-year-old performed a season's best free dance here, but still have some technical improvements to make as they prepare for the 2013 World Championships. The Shibutanis had only a level two on their Diagonal Step Sequence, a level three on their Circular Step Sequence, and a level three Rotational Lift. In general, their lifts, although designed to be level 4, are less complex and unique than those of the other top teams, and they and their coaching team should look to upgrade them . At the 2013 U.S. National Championships, the Shibutanis suffered two penalties for overlong lifts; here they cut their final rotational lift a bit short of a full six rotations and lost the level for the lift.
The Shibutanis’ dance to the soundtrack of "Memoirs of a Geisha" by John Williams is a fluid, subtle dance, highlighted by the team's outstanding basic skating skills; the students of Marina Zoueva have made big improvements in their program since the 2013 U.S. Nationals, and are sure to make more improvements prior to competing at the 2013 World Championships.
Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier of Canada finished third in the Free Dance, with an outstanding score of 97.61, improving on their personal best by almost fifteen points, but due to a sub-par, fifth-place performance in the Short Dance, were only able to capture the fifth place overall, with a total score of 157.83 points. The 2013 Canadian Silver Medalists received level four for every element except their Midline Step Sequence, which earned level three. Gilles & Poirier had the difficult job of skating immediately after Virtue & Moir finished their free dance, but the two twenty-one-year-olds, if anything, seemed energized by the pressure, and skated an exuberant free dance to "The Gulag Orchestra" by Zach Condon, "I Don't Think About You Anymore, But I Don't Think About You Any Less" by Hungry Ghosts, and "Nicoleta" by Fanfare Ciocaril with commitment and attack, highlighted by the clever choreography of Carol Lane, Juris Razguliaevs, and Christopher Dean.
Nicole Orford & Thomas Williams, the 2013 Canadian Bronze Medalists, who are in their first year of competition at the senior level, finished in sixth place overall, and were in sixth place in the Free Dance. The team from Calgary, AB, earned 85.40 points in the Free Dance and 139.10 overall, to improve their personal best scores by over five points. The students of Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe received level four for everything except their step sequences, earning level two for their Diagonal Step Sequence and level three for their Circular Step Sequence, and received positive grades of execution for every element. Their program, performed to "High Society Overture" from the musical "High Society" and "Now You Have Jazz” by Bing Cosby and Louis Armstrong, was a more traditional ballroom piece, performed in an appropriately light-hearted manner. Their opening circular step sequence was particularly smooth, with clear edges and smooth flow. Their final rotational lift, where Williams suddenly breaks into a spin on one foot during the lift, was perfectly lovely, and a real highlight of the performance.
Chris & Cathy Reed, a brother-sister team from Kalamazoo, MI, who skate for Japan, slipped from sixth place in the Short Dance to seventh place overall with a seventh place finish in the Free Dance. The team scored 77.07 points in the Free Dance and 131.04 points overall. The performance began really well for the five-time Japanese Champions, who skated to an audience-pleasing routine, choreographed by Igor Shpilband and Alexei Gorshkov, to an arrangement of songs by the Beatles, including “Golden Slumbers,” “Carry that Weight”, and “The End.” However, Cathy Reed tripped and fell during their Diagonal Step Sequence, which dropped its value to level one, and the twenty-five-year-old Cathy Reed and twenty-three-year-old Chris Reed incurred a one point penalty as well. Their coach, Galit Chait Moracci, reassured them that on balance, apart from the fall, it was a good performance. For one thing, they succeeded in doing their sequential twizzles for level four and positive grade of execution, a goal that has often escaped them in the past. The Reeds will be competing at the 2013 World Championships; they achieved the minimum TES score required recently at the 2012 NRW Trophy, where they finished second overall.
Unless Danielle O'Brien & Gregory Merriman, the 2013 Four Continents Championships eighth place finishers, who skate for Australia, can achieve the minimum TES score in the Short Dance, they will not be able to compete in the 2013 World Championships. The team came heart-breakingly close to the required TES of 29.00 points at the 2013 Mentor Nestle Nesquick Cup, where they earned a Short Dance TES of 28.50, and won the bronze medal. The team has had the minimum score in the Free Dance for some time, but the Short Dance score has eluded them.
O’Brien & Merriman were unable to achieve their Short Dance goal here in Osaka, Japan, either. However, they were able to perform their Free Dance, a pleasing circus routine to “Thunder and Blazes,” “Goofus,” “Complainte de la Butte” by Rufus Wainwright, and to “The Southerner,” very well, scoring a personal best score of 77.07 points, and a total score of 123.88. The students of Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova earned positive grades of execution for all their elements, five of which earned a level four. Their step sequences were both level three, a milestone that shows how much real progress the team has made this season. The only negative point about the duo’s performance was that their Curved Lift was judged to be only level one, although it has been verified as level four at previous competitions this season. The six-time Australian Champions achieved personal bests in the Short Dance and in Total Score, as well as in the Free Dance.
The current Chinese National Champions, Xiaoyang Yu & Chen Wang, who are coached by Hongyan Xi, performed to “The House of Dancing Water” by Benoit Jutras. The pair finished in ninth place in the Free Dance, with a score of 65.65 points, and in ninth place overall with a total score of 108.82 points. Their placement was an improvement on their eleventh place finish in the Short Dance. Unfortunately, Yu & Wang have not yet received the minimum TES for either the Short Dance or the Free Dance, nor has any other Chinese team this year. It is likely that there will be no Chinese ice dance team at the 2013 World Championships. The team performed their routine well; unfortunately, their speed and the difficulty of their elements are not at the level needed to qualify.
The team from Uzbekhistan, Anna Nagornyuk & Viktor Kovalenko, placed in the tenth spot here, with 63.70 points in the Free Dance, and 107.02 points overall. The team has not currently qualified for the 2013 World Championships, but will be competing at the 2013 World Junior Championships where they will have another opportunity to earn the TES scores needed for the senior event. The team skates to “Levy Me Voy” by Jasmin Levy, and to Flamenco selections. Kovalenko stumbled out of his sequential twizzles during the second of three sets, which only earned level three. The young team did not regroup well after Kovalenko’s errorl, and had difficulty with a rotational lift and step sequence, both of which also only earned level one. One problem that the young team has to deal with is that the senior program has one additional lift, and is longer than the junior program. It is clear that the students of Svetlana Alexeeva, and Olga Riabinina had to adjust the program to the senior requirements, and that the result is not yet as finished a product as it might be.
Emi Hirai & Marien De La Asuncion finished in eleventh place,with a Free Dance score of 60.84 and a total score of 105.56 points. Hirai & De La Asuncion, who both are coached by Muriel Zazoui, Olivier Schoenfelder, and Rie Arikawa in Lyon, France, competes for Japan. De La Asuncion is a French citizen, while Hirai is a citizen of Japan. The team was formed this season after Hirai broke up with her previous partner, Taiyo Mizutani,. The 2013 Four Continents Championship is the pair’s first competition for ISU ranking points. Hirai & De La Asuncion are the current Japanese Bronze Medalists, and have not yet achieved the required minimum TES score to compete at the 2013 World Championships. Their program, to “Solace” by Vanessa Mae and “Tango de los exilados” by Walter Taieb and Vanessa Mae, showed the inexperience of a very newly paired team. De La Asuncion stumbled during their sequential twizzle sequence, which as a results was ruled a level one. Both their step sequences were level one as well.
Bryna Oi & Taiyo Mizutani, the current Japanese Silver Medalists, finished in twelfth place. Mizutani and his new partner finished behind his former partner Emi Hirai and her new partner, Marien De La Asuncion. Oi & Mizutani teamed up this season. This is the team’s first appearance at the Four Continents Championships. Their program to “Siente mi amor” by Robert Rodriguez and “Scott and Fran's Paso Doble” by David Hirschfelder earned them 55.90 points for the Free Dance and 89.80 points overall. The pair received no credit at all for the sequential twizzles and a one point penalty because Mizutani fell at the beginning of the first set. Their step sequences were both only level one. Bryna Oi is from the Boston, MA, metropolitan area and is an American citizen. Pilar Maekawa Moreno & Leonardo Maekawa Moreno, who compete for Mexico and train in Vancouver, BC, finished in the thirteenth and last place overall with a total of 85.02 points. The team skated well here, achieving a personal best in the Free Dance of 55.02 points. The siblings who are coached by Matt Willis, skated to "Ein Wiener Waltzer” and “Corrente,” both by Karl Jenkins, and made no major errors, but they have not yet achieved the skill levels to earn the minimum TES scores required to compete at the 2013 World Championships.
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