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2018 Grand Prix, Helsinki, Ice Dance

by Klaus-Reinhold Kany


(5 November 2018)  The Ice Dance competition of the Helsinki Grand Prix had a good level, and nobody skated poorly. The Technical Panel was relatively severe with their levels in the Rhythm Dance and less strict in the free dance. For the first time two sons of Olympic ice dance gold medalists competed against each other. Ivan Bukin’s father Andrei had been world silver medalist in the same rink in 1983 with Natalia Bestemianova. They crowned their career with four world titles between 1985 and 1988 and an Olympic Gold medal in 1988. Anthony Ponomarenko’s parents Sergei Ponomarenko and Marina Klimova won bronze, silver and gold at the three Olympic Games of 1984, 1988 and 1992 and moved to the USA in the later 90ies to become coaches in California. Anthony was born in 2001 there.

Alexandra Stepanova (23) & Ivan Bukin (25) were not allowed to compete at the Olympic Games of 2018, although they had never been banned for doping or other reasons. The IOC never published why Bukin was "not invited“ to the Games. But they won a bronze medal at Europeans and were seventh at Worlds 2018. In Helsinki, they won with 200.09 points, earning their first gold medal at their tenth Grand Prix, after having taken the lead in the Rhythm Dance. The five required elements in the Rhythm dance had two levels 4 and three levels 3. They presented them excellently and got mainly GOEs of +3, the curve lift even one +5. Unique is their first part of the twizzle sequence in sit position. Dancing to the Paso Doble “Malaguena,“ the “Tango" Suite Part III“ by Al Di Meola and another Tango called “Carmen's Story“ and sung by Edith Piaf, they had components of around 9.0. Bukin later explained, “The Tango Romantica is a very difficult dance. But we really like this dance, it is full of elements and it blends in harmoniously with the program. So for us, the Tango Romantica is very interesting.” Stepanova added, “The coaches were pleased, the audience also approved and we’re also pretty pleased.”

Their free dance to the sultry Blues "Am I the One“ by Californian singer Beth Hart (published in 1996 for the first time) was a highlight because they interpreted it in an excellent way, full of passion, and had components with an average of 9.2. GOEs of +4 dominated, but there were several +5 for two choreographic elements. The levels were excellent, five times level 4 and level 3 for the two step sequences.

“This is the first time we have taken first place in the Grand Prix, so this is a step forward for us.” Stepanova commented. “We’re really proud of this result and we hope it will push us further. Our coaches were extremely pleased that all the work we’ve put in paid off."

Charlčne Guignard & Marco Fabbri  from Milan in Italy won another silver medal two weeks after silver at Skate America, this time with 196.29 points, and probably qualified for the Grand Prix Final for the first time in their career. The beginning of their Rhythm Dance (to three Tangos) was quite stressful because the organizers played the wrong music. The Italians skated last and the music people played the first music of the next competition. It took some time to find the correct music, but the couple has a lot of experience and did not seem too nervous. When the right music came it was a bit slower than usual, which they felt only later, and they therefore got a time deduction. Without this deduction they would have won the Rhythm Dance.

Their twizzle sequence (level 4) was outstanding, the two Tango sequences had a level 4 and a level 2, the unique stationary lift (in which one arm of her stands upside down on his skates) also excellent and the components were around 9.0. Fabbri said, "We are very happy with our performance. It was much better than at Skate America. At Skate America, we did some small mistakes. We just had a small problem with the music at the beginning and then we felt that the music was slower and we got a time violation. We don’t know what happened tonight. The Tango Romantica is one of the most beautiful dances that have been created for us. We were very excited to hear that we will skate to the Tango Romantica this season and we never had the opportunity to do Tango before.”

Their free dance to the soundtrack of "La La Land" had a good speed and a lot of intricate steps. Therefore they had excellent levels and mostly GOEs of +3 and +4, for five different elements even a few +5. Guignard fell on a linking step, but she was back in the music within two or three seconds and this mistake therefore did not cost very much. Fabbri later said, “Even though we didn’t have a lot of time since Skate America we still made some improvements as the segment score proved. Unfortunately, there was a really stupid mistake that we weren’t expecting. But it was not in an element and we are still very happy. It is a great feeling to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. We got our first medal at Skate America, now this second medal and the ticket to the Final. This really motivates us.” Their coaches Barbara Fusar Poli and Stefano Caruso were very busy in Helsinki because they had three couples to coach.

A U.S. team also had a first because former Junior World Champions Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter won their first Grand Prix medal and finished third with 176,66 points after being fourth at Skate America. In the short dance, their levels were relatively high (twice 4, twice 3 and one 2) and their components around 8.2. They danced to the Waltz “Desde el Alma” and the Tango “Quejumbroso”. “We’re really excited to be here,” Carpenter commented. “We both had a great time with the Rhythm Dance tonight.” McNamara added, “We personally really love the Tango Romantica. We think it’s one of the most fun dances. It’s a difficult dance because of how intricate it is, but it makes a lot of fun to incorporate it into the program.”

In the free dance, mainly to modern music by Yann Tiersen, their levels were excellent and their component around 8.1, but they did not show many emotions. Later Carpenter said, “Having two Grand Prix this season was a great opportunity for us and we’re really proud to take home the bronze from this one.”

Sara Hurtado & Kirill Khaliavin from Spain, twelfth at the Olympic Games after Khaliavin received Spanish citizenship very quickly, came fourth with 172.09 points. Their Rhythm Dance to the two Tangos “I Have Seen that Face Before“ by Kovacs and the Libertango by Astor Piazzolla lacked a bit of emotion although Hurtado has a Spanish temper. But their free dance to Pink Floyd “Grat Gig in the Sky“ and two other modern pieces had more emotions and more speed and therefore they were third in this part. The levels were very high and GOEs of +3 were more frequent than +2 or others.

Christina Carreira (18) & Anthony Ponomarenko (17) from the school of Igor Shpilband in Michigan gave a good senior Grand Prix debut, finishing fifth with 167.28 points, after winning a bronze and a silver medal at the Junior World Championships 2017 and 2018 for the USA. They used the Tango “Jalousie“ by Jakob Gade and the Tango “Yo Soy Maria“ by Astor Piazzolla for their Rhythm Dance. The Tango sections got the levels 2 and 3, their twizzle sequence was not in perfect harmony (she got a level 3 and he a level 4), the diagonal step sequence a level 3 and the rotational lift a level 4. Their components were around 7.7. In their free dance they used two music adaptations of modern composer Tokio Myers, the first ones started with a Debussy piece. Carreira’s Twizzles were not clean, but the rest of the program was very good. The elements had mainly GOEs of +3.

Canadian citizen Carreira has lived and competed with Ponomarenko in and for the USA for five years, has other problems now, Her first petition as “Alien of extraordinary ability“, which is the first step to become a U.S. citizen, was denied after being filed by her lawyer soon after her 18th birthday. She does not need U.S. citizenship now, but at the latest if she qualifies for the Olympic Games in 2022. It did not help her to mention all her medals and titles for the USA. The decision stated that she did not win all these awards alone, but only as a member of a team and therefore did not have an extraordinary ability. The fact that Ponomarenko would not have had any of these medals alone or without Carreira did not play a role in this decision which somebody must have taken who has no idea of ice dancing. Immigrants seem no longer welcome in the heated discussion in the USA although all Americans except the First Nations citizens are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. The lawyer now sues the immigration authorities, which will take a long time and will be very costly. In Helsinki, Carreira said she is not allowed to give any comment on her matter, which is understandable.

The Finnish couple of Juulia Turkkila & Matthias Versluis, single skaters until two years ago, took a very good development and placed sixth, winning 160.62 points. Turkkila has a good presentation, their elements were mainly good, the rotational lifts even excellent and very speedy. Especially their classical free dance to Mozart’s 20th Piano Concerto a bit in the style of Papadakis and Cizeron’s Mozart program of 2015 (who used the 23rd Piano Concerto) was very well presented.

Betina Popova & Sergey Mozgov finished seventh, earning 157.56 points. They showed many emotions and a lot of fire, but not all steps and elements were clean.

Jasmine Tessari & Francesco Fioretti from Italy ended eighth with 153.89 points. They do not have a very elegant style, but their "Hymn to Love“ in the free dance had more fire than the programs of the two German couples behind them.

Shari Koch & Christian Nuchtern from Germany, third at Nationals, skated at their first Grand Prix and are ninth with 143.62 points. In their opinion the Rhythm Dance was clean, but only one of the eight key points in the Tango sections was rewarded. In their free dance to "Notre Dame de Paris,“ they underlined their good presentation, but the program was a bit slow. They were alternates fort he Czech couple of Cortney Mansourova and Michal Ceska who had split in spring, but not told their federation until August.

The other German couple of Katharina Muller & Tim Dieck, second at Nationals, did not skate as well as at Skate America and therefore ended up tenth and last with 143.59 points. They had come as alternates for Madison Chock and Evan Bates whose programs were not ready after her knee surgery in springtime.