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2021 World Championships: Pairs Short Program

by Liz Leamy and George Rossano

Boikova and Kozlovskii Prevail in Pairs Short Competition

Aleksandra Boikova & Dmitri Kozlovskii, the 2020 Russian European champions, clinched first in the World Championship pairs short program, earning the highest segment score (80.16) for their clean, fluid and poignant program to ‘Merry Go Round of Life’ from the ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ soundtrack.

© International Skating Union (ISU)

Wearing regal blue costumes, Boikova & Kozlovkii flew across the ice, appearing as if they were dancing on the floor of a European ballroom as they reeled off a soaring throw triple flip, solid side-by-side triple Salchows, a breathtaking forward inside death spiral and upside-down stag lift that covered the entire rink length, among other things.

This duo, who placed sixth at the 2019 World Championships, earned a 36.72 component score for their Bolshoi-like style of beautiful extensions, carriage and lines.

For these two amiable athletes, it’s all about doing their best.

“We feel great. It’s the first day of the figure skating comeback into the big world,” said Kozlovskii, who, along with his partner, trains in St. Petersburg with the legendary pairs coach, Tamara Moskvina and her colleague, Artur Minchuk. “After the quarantine, we are very proud and happy to be part of this story and part of this renaissance of figure skating.”

According to Boikova, the duo is dedicated to transmitting a powerful and positive message through their skating and programs, especially this particular one.

“We’re really happy with this music,” said Boikova, in regard to the team’s decision to use this piece. “We try to message our love and happiness [This music, for us, is like a] light and message that everything will be good.”

The ballroom style adopted in their program is a departure from the past.  Commenting on their choice Kozlovskii said, “The ballroom dance - we don’t want to project one style, we are developing in different styles - we skated to very different music – to ‘Dark Eyes,’ to a very classical piece with ‘The Nutcracker’ and now to ‘Howl’s Moving Castle.’ Those are different programs, we are developing throughout our career and we are not repeating ourselves. … We wanted to feel some kind of an additional stream of positive emotions, to breathe some new energy into our amazing program we already had”

Boikova added, “We are really happy to have changed the music. We are trying to message our love happiness and hope. It’s the light message for everyone that everything will be all right. Soon. It was actually quite funny how we found the music. I found it while watching something in our fan group in Instagram, I showed it to the coaches, they liked it as well and together we decided to try it.

Wenjing Sui & Cong Han of China, the two-time World champions in 2017 and 2019 and 2018 Olympic silver medalists, scored the event’s second-highest marks (7.62) for their dramatic rendition of Eddy Louis’s ‘Blues for Klook.’

In this program, Sui & Han performed a massive throw triple flip and split triple twist, among other notable elements.

Sui, however, stepped out on the landing of a side-by-side triple toe loop, which slightly reduced the duo’s technical marks.  Still, Sui & Han skated strong enough to come up near the top of the leaderboard and ought to fair well in the free skate segment of this competition.

“We did manage to perform very well,” said Han, who trains, along with Sui, under the guise of the 2010 Olympic pair gold medalist and three-time World champion, Hongbo Zhou and his colleague, Jinlin Guan, in Beijing. “I think all of this year’s hard training laid a really good foundation for us and this time is the first time we can do international competitions for the season.”

Said Sui, “I think we did pretty well. Though we made a little mistake, we are happy that we finished our first program this year in a rather good way. I hope we can finish our long program successfully and do our best tomorrow.”

Han had hip surgery in April 2020 and consequently the team had reduced training time and missed Cup of China.  On preparing for this season Han said, “Because I had a surgery, our main goal this year was to recover from the injury. Next year will be the Olympics, and that’s our biggest goal. This competition is challenging for us. We like our ways of training, and it’s been moved to the right track gradually. As you can see from the competition, our physical condition is getting better and better. So for us, this competition is to show the best side of ourselves.”

He added, “Because of my injury, we didn’t have much time to do the choreography. And there were many moves I was not able to do during the choreography. Thus we chose a piece (their 2017 Worlds SP music "Blues for Klook) that we wanted to perform the most from programs all these years.

Anastasia Mishina & Aleksandr Galliamov, the 2019 World Junior titlists, were third with a 75.79 segment score.

This team, competing for their first time ever at a World Championships, knocked out a huge split triple twist, a throw triple Lutz, side-by-side triple Salchows and other standout elements.

Although the two lost slight unison during their side-by-side spins, their program to Cesar Pugni’s ‘Esmeralda’ by Cesar by Alexander Goldstein was stellar throughout.

“We were not thinking about the results, so we don’t know whether it’s a surprise or not - we were just not thinking about it,” said Mishina, who, with Galliamov, also train with Tamara Moskvina and Artur Minchuk in St. Petersburg, like their teammates who were the first-place finishers in this skate-off.

“We are very happy to compete at such a major event and we were really looking forward to it,” said Galliamov. “We are very happy it is taking place, even under these circumstances.”

Mishina added, “We are happy to be here, I was afraid the competition would not happen, we are happy to be here, competing, meeting all the pair top skaters, our friends, so it’s really a good feeling to be back here.”

For Galliamov & Mishina, skating in Stockholm means a lot more to them than only competing.  “We are thrilled performing at such a high level competition.  We’ve waited for it for so long, we are thrilled it takes place even in this format. We understand it and we are grateful to the audience who are watching us behind the screens so thank you all so much for your support.  We will try to keep making you happy with our long program.  We are happy with our result today.”

The two U.S. teams, meanwhile, had a strong showing in this competition, with both winding up in the top 10.

Ashley Cain-Gribble & Timothy LeDuc, the 2019 U.S. champions, were sixth, earning a 64.94 for their compelling interpretation to Bishop Briggs’ ‘Never Tear Us Apart.’

The dynamic duo, who train in Euless, Texas with her dad and mom, Peter and Darlene Cain as well as Nina Mozer, are making their second consecutive Worlds appearance, as late replacements for Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, who withdrew from the competition for personal reasons unrelated to COVID-19.

The team reeled off a lightning-quick split triple twist, super-high throw triple Lutz and synchronized pair spins, among other elements.  Cain-Gribble missed her side-by-side triple Salchow, however, which caused a slight reduction in their technical score.

Still, the two were electric and ought to be good to put out a rock-solid free skate in the free skate segment of this competition.

"We've done so many clean short programs at home so that even when the mistake happened (fall on side-by-side triple Salchow), I was able to let my training kick in,” Cain-Gribble said.

Describing the positives of their performance LeDuc said, “To be able to come back (from the fall) and nail something, like Ashley's throw.  Also we really liked our levels and have been working really hard to make them consistent. We still view all this as building up to next year so we really wanted to train the programs so that if we did get called we would be ready to go and, if not, we had put all that work already into next season. We're going to take that strong energy into the free skate; we've trained so hard for this, we're so grateful to be here and we want to seize this opportunity.”

Alexa Scimeca-Knierim & Brandon Frazier, the 2021 U.S. titlists, placed seventh for their firecracker program to Tommee Profitt’s ‘In the End,’ for which they earned a 64.67.

Scimeca-Knierim & Frazier, who only started skating together last year, train in Irvine, California with Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, the three-time World medalists and three-time U.S. champions and executed a beautiful throw triple loop, stunning split triple twist and other exceptional movements.  Frazier, however, doubled a planned triple toe loop, yet the overall quality of this program was still outstanding, something that was clearly reflected in their marks.

“It’s very exciting to be back amongst all of the other international athletes,” said Scimeca-Knierim. “This is our first competition like this as a pair, so we’re just learning as we go and enjoying it together.”

On doubling the toe loop, Frazier remarked, “It was just a fluke. Obviously it was frustrating. We're happy for all the stuff we're working on and I know I can do this no problem, so we're just going to refresh, focus in, and get it done tomorrow.”

Scimeca Knierim added, “I couldn't be more proud of Brandon skating out there with me today. I know he made an unusual mistake on the toe loop. He held himself so strong (after the jump mistake) and for the rest of the program he gave it as if he nailed his jump.”  She further said, “I'm enjoying this experience very much. It's been a little bit of a learning curve here overseas and not traveling for so long, jet lag is feeling unusual, and quarantining here a bit little different than it feels back at home. We're still learning together and understanding each other without actually saying anything.”

The two U.S. teams currently have a combined placement of 13.  If this holds up in the long, the U.S. would earn three spots in pairs for next season, the first time in many years.