by Tatiana Flade
The Ice Dance competition at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan, was one of the closest in the recent years with the top three teams being separated by just a few hundredths of a point. Italy’s Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte came out on top and were rewarded once again for consistent performances. Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje of Canada captured the silver medal and Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat of France earned the bronze. Top favorites Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov of Russia had to settle for fourth place after a serious error in the short dance.
Olympic Champions Meryl Davis & Charlie White and Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir had dominated the discipline over the past Olympic cycle. With both gone the competition was much more open and all the teams that used to fight for bronze suddenly had a chance to take the gold. While the battle between Davis & White and Virtue & Moir was always exciting it is good for the sport that it is not clear from the beginning that gold and silver is just between two couples but that four to five teams can make the podium and even win.
Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte of Italy danced to a narrow lead over Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje and Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat of France in the Short Dance. The Canadians trailed the Italians by just 0.50 points and the French were 1.50 points behind
The Italians shone in their interpretation of “42nd Street” and “Lullaby of Broadway” and their elements were at high level: the fast twizzles, the first Finnstep pattern and the lift were graded a level four, the other elements a level three. The European Champions earned 69.70 points, just below their seasons best.”We're really happy especially because it's the last time we're dancing this dance and we were able to pull out the best performance of the year; also score wise. It couldn't have happened at a better time than at the world championships and we're really going to miss this program," Cappellini said. This program was really their forte and suited them well.
Funny enough, Weaver & Poje had also chosen “42nd Street” for their Quickstep and Foxtrot. The Canadians collected a level four for the twizzles and curve lift while the Finnstep sequences and the side by side footwork garnered a level three. This was worth 69.20 points. “I feel like we’ve worked so hard this season. Obviously it is showing in the results today. In our free dance, I feel that it is our secret weapon. So wherever the chips fall we are going to put out a strong free dance tomorrow and let everything else take care of itself,” Weaver explained.
Pechalat & Bourzat originally had said all season that they plan to retire right after the Olympic Games in Sochi, no matter what the result there would be. But once they knew that the top two teams were not coming, they realized that they had a chance of winning a world title. As it turned out, they ruined their chances in the Short Dance. Their program to “Roxy", “Sing Sing Sing” and “Mein Herr” was characteristic and the two elements were graded a level four, but the French lost precious points on the second Finnstep pattern and the twizzles that got a level three (that is one point les in the base value already than a level four). The two-time European Champions scored 68.20 points. “We are not a 100 percent happy with this performance. We skated much better at the Olympics. We had two little mistakes and hopefully we’ll skate stronger tomorrow," Pechalat said. “We thought to end our career in Japan is a good idea because we want to get a beautiful medal before leaving. We did not get a medal in Sochi," she added.
Madison Chock & Evan Bates (USA) delivered a technically strong performance to “Hollywood", “There Is No Business Like Show Business” and “Annie Get Your Gun” with four level-four elements (including the Finnstep) and got the highest technical score. They came fourth with 67.11 points.
“I think I had the most fun today. Today, our goal was just to skate it well because it was a great program for us," Bates said. Chock still quite critical: “We had a lot of fun skating but our elements weren’t as solid as they could be," she commented. The Americas also were asked about the absence of Davis & White: “We really miss them and it’s going to be a long time for somebody to rack up those titles like they did. We hope that we will be the next ones to do that. I think that this is just a good opportunity for us to progress like we have been. We love these programs and we just want to show them to the best of our ability. With this being our final competition (of this season), this is our chance and we really want to use it," Madison noted.
Olympic bronze medalists Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov of Russia came in as the heavy favorites and they looked like they are on their way to the very top in their short dance to “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen” and “Sixteen Tons," with an excellent Finnstep and side-by-side footwork until they bumped into each other in the twizzle sequence and Nikita missed the second set of twizzles completely. That mistake was a killer, because it cost them five to six points minimum (considering they mostly have a level four sometimes a level three on the twizzles). They finished fifth with 65.67 points.
“I was confident, we skated with a lot of energy, it was the last short dance of the season. In the Finnstep we felt like we should get each keypoint, we did it on autopilot already. Even the twizzle, we started it well. Even if we did sometimes make a mistake in the twizzle, it was never like that,” Katsalapov told the press.
One might wonder if the rumors about their possible split had affected them, but Katsalapov denied it. “A lot of things went through our minds. We have our goal and we prepared for the world championship, what does is matter what happens around us? We came here to fight for a medal. We came here, we have a tight schedule, we get up, we train, we don’t have time to think about that," Nikita explained.
The skaters and their coach Nikolai Morozov declined to comment on the rumor the couple will split after worlds, which makes it look like there is something to it. If there wasn’t why don’t they just say that it is not true? So various rumors for the reason why they might split up were around: one was that Ilinykh ended a prior personal relationship on a bad note, another story was that Katsalapov fell in love with another skater who he would like to compete with, and yet another story said that Ilinykh wants to start a family with a hockey player.
Honestly, it would be such a shame if Ilinykh & Katsalapov are to split up, they are one of the most talented teams out there, they have the technical ability and charisma to spare, they are beautiful to watch and have “World and Olympic Champions” written all over them if they continue to work as hard as they did leading up to Sochi.
Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani (USA) finished sixth with 63.55 points. Their Michael Buble medley was solid, it is this kind of music and style that suits them well. "We were so excited about our last short of the season was going to be in Japan. It’s been a great season for us so far. We were so proud of the short program at the Olympics but I think performance wise, we even topped that. This program has grown since the beginning of the year. It has really been one of our favorite programs and I think that really showed," Maia shared.
Nelli Zhiganshina & Alexander Gazsi of Germany placed seventh with a well received program to “Le Jazz Hot”. Three element merited a level four and the German Champions scored 62.27 points. As our score has proven I think this was the best short ever. Our goal is to stay near as possible to the top 5 and we want to skate for the Japanese audience. When I was walking outside today, people recognized me and called my name, this kind of thing usually does not happen in other country. I like it that the fans know about the good skaters," Gazsi said.
Nelli’s younger brother Ruslan Zhiganshin and his partner Victoria Sinitsina, who compete for Russia, delivered a dynamic short dance to come eighth with 62.11 points. They had the same levels as the Germans and their technical score was a tad higher, but their component score a bit lower. "It was a good performance and we like the scores. It is tough season for us, the ninth competition, we never did as many. All our practices were at the practice rink and I think we were more focused when we went out to skate in the main rink for the first time, because the ice is a little bit different," Sinitsina said.
Great Britain’s Penny Coomes & Nicholas Buckland lost points as one Finnstep pattern and the side by side circular step sequence garnered only a level two. The European bronze medalists sat in ninth (61.21 points). “We are sad that this is the last short (of the season). There was lots of hard work (for this season) because we have had a disappointing worlds last year so we kind of used that disappointment for ourselves in the training this year. We love our material and we just practiced and worked hard and it’s paid off," Coomes stated.
Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier came in as substitutes for Virtue & Moir and finished tenth in the short dance. They earned 59.42 points. The Four Continents silver medalists only got one level four, for the lift. “The program has some sticky spots here and there but I think it’s overall improved a lot in the last two months, since the Four Continents we had a lot of time to expand the programs and let them grow a lot. I think we are really happy about that we are going to put the mistakes behind us and look for a very good performance tomorrow," Poirier pointed out.
Thirty-two couples competed the short dance and 20 qualified for the free dance. Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev of Russia had to withdraw following the morning practice as he sustained a groin injury. “This morning in practice, when we skated to our music and went into the lift, Dima suffered an injury to his groin. I hope it is not too serious. In order not to risk further injury, we decided not to compete. We could not have skated with full power. We will heal the injury and get ready for the next quadrennial," Bobrova, who celebrated her 24th birthday that day, explained.
The top three were unchanged in the free dance,
but they were as close as it gets. Cappellini &
Lanotte ranked fourth in the free dance
segment but held on to the gold by just 0.02 points over Weaver &
Poje. The Canadians
finished third in the free dance. Pechalat &
Had all couples skated clean in both short and free dance the result probably would have been the ranking of the free dance.
Cappellini & Lanotte’s dance to “Barber of Seville” was nice but a bit conservative. The European Champions made no mistake and collected a level four for the twizzles, the lifts and the spin to post a personal best of 105.73 points. Their total score added up to 175.41 points. “We have no words, we are shocked. We had to work so much to block out the pressure of being first in the short dance," Cappellini commented. “It was such a long season. We were at the end of our energy and we turned to each other for strength. We were already happy with the way we performed, the rest doesn’t matter as we always say," she noted.
Weaver & Poje turned in a characteristic and passionate Tango to “Maria de Buenos Aires”. Their lifts were a highlight as usual. They had a level four for everything except the step sequences and posted a personal best with 106.21 points. They accumulated 175.41 points. “It hasn’t sunken in yet. I can’t even believe that we skated that way let alone achieve a podium finish at this year’s worlds. It’s so emotional and I think it’s just opening a new door for our future," Weaver said. “We’ve learned that it doesn’t pay off to hold back. Skating last was difficult but we were prepared for it. We took one step at a time one moment at a time and that was how we were able to make it to the end the way we did. We are up against such strong teams that I knew if I got too attached to a position it could be gone in a second," she added.
Interesting enough, Pechalat & Bourzat had the technically strongest performance with the “Petit Prince”. They did not hold back either and gave everything they had, knowing that this was their last competitive performance and they had nothing really to lose. The French collected a level four for six out of seven elements and earned a personal best of 107.17 points. They totaled 175.37 points. “It was the last time we are skating in a competition. Before we went on the ice, our coach told us to skate from our heart. I think that that was what we did tonight; we finally managed to get emotional, we didn't think about anything else but what we have to do. It was a good place to do it here in Japan and in front of this audience," Bourzat told the press. When a reporter asked in the press conference if they might continue competing after all since they came so close to a world title, Nathalie just said “no way”. Fabian wants to go into coaching and starts as an assistant of Igor Shpilband. Nathalie is checking different options but would like to stay involved in the sport possibly as a judge or technical specialist.
Ilinykh & Katsalapov made the unfortunate short dance forgotten with their intense “Swan Lake” free dance and this time they made no mistake. They pulled up from fifth to fourth place with 174.38 points. “We feel good, it was really a good performance I think the best one. For the last program of this season we are glad," she said. Obviously the question about their future came up again, but the answer was vague. “First of all we need to relax a little because we were so tired. We need to have a couple of weeks of vacation and afterwards talk with the coach. It was really hard until the world championships after all," Ilinykh answered.
Madison Chock & Evan Bates (USA) also skated very well to “Les Miserables” to finish fifth (167.59 points). “We're so excited through this performance. Everything we've done this year has led up to the Olympics and Worlds. We couldn't be happier to be in Tokyo and put out two great skates to finish it off," Chock noted.
Their teammates Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani came sixth (158.57 points). They gave a solid performance to a Michael Jackson Medley. The siblings are very popular in Japan because of their Japanese ancestry.” We feel like putting out two solid programs helps us, we got better as we continue forward and we like this program so much. It has really pushed us and we worked so much on it so showing this for the fantastic crowd was great. The next season started today right away. After the Olympics we felt so much stronger we were motivated we have a great team and coaches around us so I know we will have something great in the next years," Maia said. “I know we left a strong impression this week," her brother agreed. “Coming after the Olympic Games it’s been a long season for everyone but especially was for everyone visible we attacked, we used the opportunity to show up. People can look forward to us for the coming years.” It will be interesting to see if they will be able to become number one in the USA.
Victoria Sinitsina & Ruslan Zhiganshin of Russia had chosen a dramatic theme with “Norma” for their free dance. Their midline step sequence was a level two, but everything else was level four and three. They scored 155.35 points to finish seventh in their debut at Worlds. It was a nice performance, but we had to work. It was the last skate of the season and we wanted to show our very best. “This season was a 100 percent successful. We debuted at three very important competitions, at the European and World Championships and obviously at the Olympic Games. It was a very important experience for us. Here we were probably even more ready, we’ve worked a lot on the elements, especially in the short dance and we tried to make the free dance more powerful to make it look a bit different. I think it (7th) is a very good result for us," Zhiganshin told the press.
Canada’s Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier moved up
from 10th to 8th with their interesting
“Hitchcock” free dance (153.86 points). Penny Coomes &