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2021 World Championships, Pairs Free Skate

by George Rossano and Liz Leamy

Mishina and Galliamov Capture World Pair Crown

© International Skating Union (ISU)

Anastasia Mishina & Aleksandr Galliamov, the 2019 World Junior Champions, claimed gold in the pair competition, pulling up from third in the short to first overall with their sensational and inspired free skate program to Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and ‘We Are the Champions,’ a program that was inspirational with its artistic message of pain, strength and hope to a world.

Wearing striking red and black outfits, this dynamic duo skated with a powerful presence right from the outset of their program, as they executed side-by-side triple Salchow- Euler-triple Salchow with visible command and confidence.

The two then went on to reel off a soaring throw triple Lutz, triple toe loops from cool-looking lunge entries and a throw triple loop, among other memorable elements.

Their program, which was designed by Alexander Zhulin (Olympic ice dancer and choreographer responsible for Maia and Alex Shibutani’s 2016 World Championship career-breakthrough ‘Fix You’ silver medal winning free dance), was compelling from start to finish, as almost every single one of their elements and connecting steps match the different inflections and moods of their music. For example, when Freddie Mercury, the legendary Queen lead singer, belted out the lyrics,

‘Goodbye everybody , I’ve gotta leave you all behind to face the truth,’  the team did a stunning right forward inside death spiral taken from a death spiral-like entry that fit the narrative in moving fashion.

Halfway through their program, the team continued to drive their message of hope and strength when their music changed to ‘We Are the Champions,’ Mercury’s celebrated anthem of courage that he resolutely sang six years prior to his passing in 1985 when he performed the Live Aid benefit in London, a time when he had just learned he had been afflicted with the HIV infection, AIDS, and was beginning the fight for his life.

In this portion of the program, Mishina & Galliamov transmitted the music’s powerful narrative through their extraordinary skills and choreography, crafting compelling shapes and movements while expressing emotions ranging from pain and confusion to strength and courage, which was incredible.

Upon finishing their program, a happy Mishina & Galliamov looked surprised and thrilled as they sat in the kiss and cry area learning they had been awarded the highest scores of the competition, a 151.80 for a 227.59 total.

“We were really surprised to come first. I don’t know what to say at the moment, we don’t understand it yet,” said Mishina. “After every element we were less nervous and every element made us happier.”

Galliamov agreed.

“It happened so fast and you didn’t process what happened and only when the time passes, you understand what happens,” said Galliamov. “It’s really nice and it was a great job done. All that hard work paid off.”

The team trains with the iconic pair coach, Irina Moskvina and her colleague, Artur Minchuk in St. Petersburg.

The team skated a clean program with good speed, energy and power.  All their leveled elements were called level 4 and their average component score was 9.11.

“We were really surprised to become first, I don’t know what to say at the moment we don’t understand it yet,” said Mishina. “ First of all thanks to everyone who supported us. May be we didn’t have a lot of audience on the ice, but we know a lot of people watched the translation and we felt their support. … After every element we were less nervous and it was closed to the end so every element made us more happy. [To celebrate] we’ll go to sleep!

Galliamov said of their season, “Indeed it was a tough season, we entered it smoothly, there were hardships and problems. The season began later than usually, we had corona, it postponed the beginning of the season but we did not take that into a consideration and slowly slowly we started peaking. We were talking to the foreign skaters and indeed we were discussing how many competitions we had, and some were saying it’s my 2nd competition [or] it’s my 3rd.  For us it was a bit less than 10.  Some had even 11 competitions. So we were laughing we had almost as many competitions as the usual season.”

Wenjing Sui & Cong Han, the two-time World champions and 2018 Olympic silver medalists from China scored second with 148.09 points in the free skate to net a 225.71 total, designating this as their fifth World Championship medal.

© International Skating Union (ISU

Skating to ‘Rain in Your Black Eyes’ by Ezio Bosso, their program, designed by Lori Nichol, was engaging and dynamic.

Sui & Cong, second in the short, executed a massive split triple twist, throw triple Salchow and throw triple flip, as well as soaring level four lifts.  The landings on their side-by-side triple toe loop-double toe loop-double toe loop and triple Salchows were a bit shaky, however, which affected their technical scores, and probably cost them the gold medal.

The amiable and accomplished team, who had worked through some serious injuries last year, appeared to be quite pleased with their outcome in this competition.

“We did what we can do right now. We only practiced on the ice for two months after the recovery (from the injury) and we’re glad we can compete in a rather good level. However, we’re not our best yet, 70 to 80 percent of our best selves, I would say,” said Sui. “We did think we achieved a huge accomplishment within only two months.”

Sui also said the team looks forward to going home after the competition.

“We missed our country very much,” said Sui. “We want to go back to China and have sleep for a few days.”

The team gave a strong performance despite the their jump combination called with a quarter under for the triple toe loop and a downgrade for the last of two double toe loops (Sui), and a downgrade on triple Salchow (Sui).

It’s our first competition this season and after the short program we just needed to prepare for the second day,” said Han.  “There was not a lot of pressure it made us to improve in the long program. For today we felt the result is normal for us. We just skated on ice only 8 weeks. To get the silver medal after eight weeks I think is a very valuable experience for us. This is a good step. Eight weeks made more difference on the ice and make us a lot to change in the practice and living and everything. It’s special for us. … This year is our recovery year -we just want to make our bodies healthy so we can participate in the Winter Olympic Games. It’s very important this year for my surgery. I think everyone knows I’m not the tallest pair skating man but I can make different things. Actually I just want to improve figure skating in pair skating, let more and more people learn pairs even though they are not tall -they can be different. I hope that they can be successful in the future.”

Aleksandra Boikova & Dmitri Kozlovskii, who were the first-place finishers in the short program, clinched bronze with a 137.47 in the free skate, designating their total score a 217.63.

Skating to dramatic James Bond-themed music, the talented Russian team executed a huge split triple twist, triple Salchows, a big throw triple loop and level four lifts, but had a step out on the landing of their throw triple flip and fall on the triple toe loops (Boikova), which dropped them in the overall standing.

Still, this pair was sound, proficient and memorable and brought a wonderful dimension of excellence to this whole exciting competition.

“It’s our first World medal,” said Kozlovskii. “Of course, we wanted more, aimed for more. We were ready, but the ice is slippery. I want to congratulate all who skated here today. It’s a challenge for every athlete.”

Later Boikova said “ We want to have a little rest and then talk to the coaches about the plans for the next season or this season.  …  We didn’t have any pressure or more motivation, we tried to concentrate on our work and tried to do our best but it happened.  We were not surprised about our score.  We didn’t do our best so we were not surprised or happy. Ok, we are happy to be third it’s our first medal in the Worlds Championship, that is fine.”

Alexa Knierim & Brandon Frazier of the U.S. placed seventh, holding onto that same position following the short program.

This duo, who train in Irvine, California and are the reigning U.S. champions, scored a 127.43 for a 192.10 total.

Knierim & Frazier reeled off a splendid split triple twist, high throw triple flip and level four lifts, among other notable elements.

The team, however, dealt with some slight issues on their side-by-side triple toe loops and throw triple loop, which weighed on their technical score.

“We did some really good things today that we’ve been trying to build on throughout the season,” said Frazier. “We had a couple of mistakes that we don’t normally make. They were minor and we just need to keep working. I’m proud of us and proud of the fight we showed out there. This is our first international as a team and we just need to keep working.”

Their performance had a rough start, with errors on three of the four first elements, with a step out on triple toe loop (Knierim), two footing throw triple loop and an under call and two footed landing on triple Salchow (Knierim).  The team, to their credit, did ot fall apart.  They settled down after those problems and skated the rest of the program cleanly with energy and passion.

Said Knierim, “I felt like I let down the team. I made too many mistakes. I've never been more prepared for an event in my whole skating career. The throw loop is one of our better elements and this week it's been off. I didn't really feel like the Alexa that I am when I compete and, when the music started, I felt like during the whole program I was trying to find myself."

Added Frazier, “There were a couple of things that were a little shakier than normal but overall, I'm happy with how we handled ourselves. It has been a long season -- a lot of work for us to build and get out quickly -- but I am beyond proud of our first season together. We showed a lot of fight and determination and we did a lot of good things out there. … Everything needs to continue to grow naturally -- the skating, the elements, the technical, the performance side. We will get back and start making a list of things to do and what we want to keep striving for.”

Ashley Cain-Gribble & Timothy LeDuc, the 2019 U.S. gold medalists who were sixth in the short program in this event, finished ninth overall with a 185.31 total.

 In their free skate, for which they earned a 120.37, Cain-Gribble & LeDuc executed a big split triple twist, throw triple Lutz, throw triple Salchow and other memorable elements, but faced some challenges on their side-by-side jumps, like so many of the teams in this event.

“We’re a little disappointed with a few things that happened today,” said Cain-Gribble. “But we’re also encouraged by a few things that we did today. We really love this program, so we wanted to hit it a little bit stronger to showcase what we do well. We’re not going to back down. We’re always going to be pushing ourselves as a team so that we can find the right mix that will help us get to the top.”

On their jumps, LeDuc doubled the triple loop and on triple Salchows cain-Gribble doubled the jump and stepped out.  Otherwise they skated clean with energy and passion.

“We are a bit disappointed with some of the things today, “ said Leduc.  “At the same time very proud of some of the things today. We really love that program so we wanted to do what we do well. We did some of these things today, but missed some of those elements, in particular the triple loop on my part. We will always be pushing ourselves as a team trying to find the way to get to the top”

Next season the team plans to work with Nina Mozer in Russia.  Cain-Gribble explained, “Nina always lived in Russia full time so hopefully next season if we are able to travel to the different countries we should be able to train with her. We will be trying to put together two really strong programs, continue to push the levels, make us stronger and just come strong overall. We plan to have two new programs.”