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The Ice Dance Revolution

by Tatiana Flade





If someone had told Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at the beginning of the season that they would become European and World Champions, the French probably just would have laughed. But this is exactly what happened to the couple that finished 13th at Worlds one year ago and it is a little revolution. With the French that had originally just planned to make the top ten at Worlds, the best program, the most innovative concept and the best skating quality won. Apparently it didn’t matter that they weren’t as established yet as the North Americans or the defending champions Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte and that they are only 19 und 20 years old.

Maybe it was another advantage that except for the American John Millier (and the Italian referee Rosella Ceccatini) only judges were on the free dance panel that didn’t have top team or didn’t have any team in the competition. The other judges came from Slovak Republic, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Lithuania, Australia, Hungary and Poland. It was a similar picture in the short dance with judges from Israel, Poland, Switerland, Germany, Azerbaijan, Slovak Republic, Japan, Czech Republic and Hungary. The Technical Panel consisted of American Linda Leaver (Technical Controler) and the Technical Specialists Sergei Ponomarenko (Russia, but he lives in the USA) as well as Canadian Rock Lemay.

There were no major surprises in the short dance, because Madison Chock &  Evan Bates took the lead ahead of Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje, so that everything looked like a duel between the North American dancers that had occupied the top two spots at the Grand Prix Final.

Chock & Bates even earned a level four for all elements and had an advantage of two points ahead of the Canadians. Cappellini & Lanotte collected a level four for four out of five elements, including the important Paso Doble parts. Who had a closer look could see that the judges already liked

Papadakis & Cizeron, because the French had the highest component score. Their Flamenco and Paso Doble was harmonious, but also the interpretation of Don Quixote by Chock & Bates and the characteristic Flamenco of Maia and Alex Shibutani were excellent.

Weaver & Poje seemed to hold back a little and lost about two points for a level two in their Paso Doble. Elena Ilinykh &  Ruslan Zhiganshin had bad luck and drew an early starting number, four, out of 30 teams. It is not easy to perform a passionate Carmen around 10 in the morning, but the Russians had good levels and made it into the last warm up group for the free dance.

Papadakis & Cizeron had hoped for more in the short dance. They got two level threes for the Paso Doble and also a level three for the side by side footwork and were ranked fourth. However, the European Champions did not give up, because they knew they can catch up with the free dance. Their free dance to the Adagio from Concerto No. 23 by Mozart was breathtaking and the dancers seemed to float over the ice. The applause erupted as soon as the last note of Mozart’s soft music trailed off and actually everybody felt that nobody was going to top this. The French not only had the highest components again, but received also the best technical score (six times level four) so that they won the free dance with an advantage of 5.47 points and also won overall.

“We are still very young, and we feel like we are going to be so much the favorites right now, not so much for the medals, but for ourselves. I think that’s what we’ve always done. We want to improve, we want to get better at what we do and what we love to do. I think that is what makes us strong, because we don’t run after medals, we just want to have fun”, Cizeron explained. “After being fourth after the short dance I think we were maybe a little bit disappointed so it gave us a lot of strength.  We wanted to fight a lot”, Papadakis added.

Chock & Bates and also Weaver & Poje hadn’t expected to be overrun by the French in that way. Weaver & Poje skated first in the final group to a modern version of "Four Seasons” and looked more cautious than at the Four Continents Championships. Additionally their free dance was like Chock & Bates’ “An American in Paris” rather conservative. It was nice, but not really captivating. Kaitlyn was unable to hold back her tears when she saw that the Americans were ahead. The students of Igor Shpilband had some more momentum in their performance, but Madison wobbled on the twizzles early into the program. “I had a bobble on my twizzle but after that, I was like, ‘Nope, I want this too badly and I’m going to fight my tail off to get it. Our goal this season was to medal at worlds. We’ve accomplished that. Now we will up our goals for next year and come back fighting”, Chock commented.  “Maddie and I are really thrilled to have won a silver medal here at the World Championships. The season as a whole has been a massive success for us. This week especially was the icing on the cake. I think we learned a lot by entering today with the lead and having to skate under pressure. Every time that we do that I think we are a little bit more comfortable with it and hopefully will be in similar scenarios in the future and maybe skate a little bit better. But today we are very proud of ourselves”, added Bates.

For Weaver & Poje it was especially tough as they had only lost narrowly last year to Cappellini & Lanotte and had dominated this season by winning the Grand Prix Final and Four Continents Championships.

“Andrew and I felt great in our free dance, it was the strongest that we performed our Four Seasons program and we got off the ice thinking that we gave everything that we could and that’s the ultimate goal and that’s what we trained for. Unfortunately the marks didn’t add up in our favour.  But we are not going to mark of the season as a loss. We had an incredible year. One of many first, not only in places, but in experiences and it’s only building momentum for the next season and hopefully more after”, Weaver shared. Poje agreed: “We are very happy with the progress we’ve made this season and with what we accomplished this season. We’re going to try to continue that and try to work on every little detail, every little nuance of our programs, just try to build as team, be stronger, come in with more aggression next year.”

Cappellini & Lanotte fight back

Cappellini & Lanotte finished a difficult season with a good free dance to "Danse Macabre“ and fourth place. The Italians are motivated to continue. “The last twelve months have been difficult for us, but we did realize we love the sport and we wanted to keep going. If anybody had asked us last year if we go for another (Olympic) cycle we definitely would have said no. We were so drained. It was clearly an exceptional season for us. We needed to figure out why we would continue skating. It wasn’t from one day to the other that we realized it is our life, we have a passion for what we do and we don’t want to quit, because we are World Champions. It is our dream, we are finally at the top among the best skaters. We want to enjoy it as long as it lasts. It is an opportunity to us to really live this experience instead of chasing after a particular medal. Of course everybody tries to win, it is a competition, but we want to really take in what being at the top of the sport means”, Cappellini shared.

The Shibutanis put out a strong but somewhat conservative Waltz and moved up one spot to fifth.

"It was our best free dance of the season. This program has changed and developed so much. To be able to put it out at its highest potential is so exciting for us”, Maia said. “We felt the energy all the way to the end. Our progress was definitely recognized and we competed a lot of times this season. This was our eighth competition of the season and we feel that we progressed through every event. We are looking forward to going back to the drawing board and coming up with amazing stuff for next year”, her brother continued.

The often quirky Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier had played it a little more safe this season with their more romantic program to "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes“ and other music that goes into this direction, but overall they convinced with good performances. “We were so pleased with our performance today, we were really focusing, we just enjoy our performance ,not try too hard, trust our training and let it happen, and I think it really happened today. We are just sort of let go and let the program do itself, so it is really a genuine performance and we had such a great reaction from the audience and it was really helpful”, commented Gilles.

Russia loses third dance spot

Performing to “Secret Garden” and “Anthony and Cleopatra”, Ilinykh stumbled on the twizzles and an extended lift cost another point so that the Russians slipped from fifth to seventh. With Ksenia Monko & Kirill Khaliavin in eighth and Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin in ninth place this means that Russia lost their third dance spot for next year.”I didn’t expect that. Maybe it was a loss of focus. Skating in the last warm up group was nerve-wrecking (this said by an ice dancer that competed for and won a medal at the Olympic Games) and we really wanted to go out and show our very best. We were well prepared and we were full of emotions. So the mistake came on an element where I didn’t think it could happen”, Elena told the press.

However, Ilinykh &  Zhiganshin are still a new team and had to take the leading role in Russia right away. The Russian Figure Skating Federation was very unlucky, not only two of their top teams split up and changed partners, but also Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev were out due to injuries and it is uncertain if they ever will come back.

With their “Sarabande” free dance, Monko & Khaliavin improved compared to the European Championships, but there wasn’t much more they could have done in their debut at Worlds. “We performed perfectly and skated clean. We prepared a long time to be here (in the Worlds) It’s a big pleasure for us to be here”, Khaliavin noted.

European bronze medalists Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin maybe could have done a bit better, but she fell on the side by side footwork in the short dance. The free dance to “Eleanor Rigby” went very well and they moved up five spots, but not enough. “We finally got everything we’ve worked for all season, all the levels”, Bukin said. “We have mixed feelings (about our first Worlds). It is a shame about the short dance. We prepared so much for this event and then we didn’t fully use our chance. We’ve experienced so many things this season, we went to our first European and World Championships, there were so many emotions and now we are a little tired. Overall we had a great season”, he concluded.

Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue made an error in the short dance (he) on the twizzles and looked a bit heavy, but were still proud of themselves to come back with a solid free dance to songs from “The Great Gatsby” soundtrack. “We’re both proud of ourselves for ending the season on a good note after the mistake we had in short dance. It hasn’t been the best circumstances for us in the last few years but we ended on a strong note. We’re excited to keep going for the next three years”, Hubbell offered. She needed three stitches in her right leg following an accident in the morning practice. “We were in our program with the music and right at the end, I was a little too close to Zach and it was one of those things where I got the back of his blade into my shin. It was deeper than we initially thought. The doctor looked at it and decided I needed a few stitches. It’s not too bad. It’s one of those things that gets your adrenaline pumping. It wasn’t the easiest performance, I felt a little bit shaky but I think we fought through”, she explained. The U.S. bronze medalists finished 10th.