by Alexandra Stevenson
For Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, the fourth Junior Grand Prix (JGP) in Montreal, which began on Friday (September 23), is just one more step on their coronation route though they are much too modest to say so. As last season’s runners-up to the US’s Morgan Matthews & Igor Zavozin in the world junior championship and JGP Final, they are the clear heirs apparent for those titles.
Virtue & Moir, the ’04 Canadian junior champions who were fourth nationally at senior level earlier this year, gave sensational performances in Andorra, September 8-11, beginning with a precise Austrian Waltz, exactly on the beat and with an excellent Waltz interpretation. They built on that lead in the original and soared to victory with a free that included component marks that rocketed into the 8’s.
Their winning score of 180.11 was 12.05 points ahead of that gained by Natalia Mikhailova & Arkadi Sergeev who won the first JGP in Bratislava, Slovakia, September 1-4. And it was 17.01 ahead of Anastasia Gorshkova & Ilia Tkachenko’s score gained when winning the Tallinn Cup in Estonia September 15-18.
Both those couples are from Moscow. Earlier this year, Mikhailova & Sergeev finished fifth and Gorshkova & Tkachenko won the bronze medals in the world junior championships in Kitchener, Ontario.
Skaters compete in a maximum of two of the eight JGP events, which are held over eight successive weeks in different countries. Only one is on the North American continent. Last year it was in Long Beach, CA. The plan calls for it to be in Mexico next year. Placings determine who qualifies for the eight slots available for the Final, which will be in Ostrava in the Czech Republic November 24-27. Unlike the Senior series, there is no seeding which means that some competitions are of a higher standard than others.
The top American skaters so far are Meryl Davis & Charlie White who were second to Virtue & Moir in Andorra scoring 171.21. That was well ahead of the gold medalists at the other JGP’s. Mikhailova & Sergeev’s winning Bratislava score was 3.15 lower than Davis & White’s and Davis & White scored 8.11 over Gorshkova & Tkachenko’s winning Estonia score.
However, despite the fact that they might have won if they had been entered in either of those two events, White said he enjoyed the experience of competing with Virtue and Moir, with whom they train.
White & Davis are in their fourth season competing in this series. After winning in US national silver medal in 04 at junior level and two bronze medals in the ’04 JGP, he suffered an injury which took him our for most of last season. Earlier this year he and Davis moved to Canton, Michigan to train with Igor Shpilband, alongside Virtue & Moir.
The only top level juniors to have completed two assignments so far are Canadians Allie Hann-McCurdy & Michael Coreno. In Estonia, Hann-McCurdy gained the silver medal establishing second place in the compulsory and original and remaining there although they won the free dance. They finished 3.28 marks behind Gorshkova & Tkachenko. Earlier, Hann-McCurdy & Coreno finished fourth, in Bratislava.
A point system decides who gets into the final. A win is worth 15 points, second gets 13, third 11 and fourth 9. This leads to a lot of ties in overall standings which are broken by the actual scores gained. Also, a silver and a fourth place is deemed better than two bronzes although both parties would have 22. For Hann-McCurdy & Coreno, it will be a nail biting experience as they wait until the last JGP is completed in Okaya City in Japan October 20-23 to discover whether they have made the final.
Davis & White are currently lying fifth behind Hann-McCurdy & Coreno (who are only ahead because they have points from two events) and the 3 couples who have won gold. They are ahead of the other silver medalists, Anna Capellini & Luca LaNotte from Italy who were second in Bratislava, because they scored 4.74 marks more than Capellini & LaNotte. Capellini & Lanotte competed in the last world junior championships with previous partners. Capellini & Matteo Zanni were fourth in the compulsory in that event but had to withdraw after the original. His flu pulled them down to seventh at that stage and made him too weak to continue. Lanotte and Camilla Pistorello finished ninth.
The bronze medalists in the three events which have taken place, lie seventh, eighth and ninth with 11 points. Taking seventh by virtue of the score tie breaker, are Trina Pratt & Todd Gilles from Colorado Springs, who gained 161.79 marks. Pratt & Gilles were only fourth in the Westminster Waltz in Bratislava but their original was ranked second best and had the highest technical score.
Pratt & Gilles, who were eighth in the world junior championships, got into last year’s final by winning bronze medals in their two events. They hope to get a medal of a different hue in their second JGP, in Zagreb, Croatia, October 3-6.
Grethe Grünberg & Kristian Rand became the first Estonians ever to win an ISU medal when they claimed the bronze in their home country. Their marks of 150.03 give them a current eighth place standing. They have competed in the world junior championships twice, finishing 15th in the ’05 event. Though they are coached by his mother, their training is now supervised by - who else – Igor Shpilband.
With 128.69, in ninth place, are the bronze medalists from the Andorran competition, Ksenia Antonova & Roman Mylnikov, from Moscow, who were supposed to compete.
Other Canadian and American positions: Lying 14th with seven points are Kaitlyn Weaver & Charles Clavey, who train in Newington, Connecticut. They were fifth (sixth in the Austrian Waltz, seventh in the Original and fifth in the Free Dance) in Andorra. Their next JGP is in Zagreb with Pratt & Gilles.
Fifteenth with five points from a sixth place in Bratislava are Canada’s Andrea Chong & Spencer Barnes. Lying sixteenth from a sixth place (7-6-6) in Estonia but with only 125.61 marks to Chong & Barnes’ 129.20 are the US’s Mauri Gustafson & Logan Giulietti-Schmitt.
Jane Summersett & Elliott Pennington are 19th with a seventh place (6-9-8) in Estonia out of 15, the largest field so far. There were 14 couples in Bratislava and 10 plus one withdrawal in Andorra. Eleven couples are entered in Montreal.
Twentieth are Canada’s extremely promising Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier, who are only 14 & 13. They were seventh (7-5-7) in Andorra. Canada’s Joanna Lenko & Mitchelle Islam lie 24th. They were ninth in Tallinn.
Another example of the scoring difference involves Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates, who are only 21st in overall standing. They were eighth in Bratislava. However, their score, 125.96, would have put them above the Russians, Polina Jakobs & Alexander Baidukov, whose 125.42 allowed them to claim fourth in the Andorran JGP and 11th place overall. Samuelson & Bates will compete again in Sofia, Bulgaria next week (September 29-October 2) along with Davis & White.
MONTREAL - THE COMPETITON
Constructed in 1962, the 3,570 seat Maurice Richard Arena lies conveniently by the metro stop Viau. (It contains a permanent multi-media exhibition dedicated to the legendary Montreal Canadiens player Maurice "the Rocket" Richard and is home to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s the Montreal Rocket.) This reporter remembers with great sadness watching Naomi Nari Nam skating with wonderful promise to a silver medal here in 1999 before injury stunted her singles career.
The Opening Ceremony was surprisingly short – merely a couple of speeches. Plans for a parade with small children carrying the flags around the ice came to naught after some last minute misunderstanding about timing of practices.
The first day comprised men’s short, compulsory dance and pairs’ short attended by a guestimate of 173 people who included 23 enthusiastic children attending Skate Canada’s Development Camp for pre-novice and novice national medalists. In addition to a variety of off-ice classes including nutrition, the invitees to the camp were grilled by Louis Stong and Bernie Ford on what they thought of the performances, and made to analyze them so they would learn by example and also by other people’s errors. For most it was a very inspirational three days.
The compulsory was the Paso Doble, invented by Britons, Daphne Wallis and Reg Wilkie in the age of the dinosaurs in 1938 before the First World War on the Westminster Ice Rink in London which faded into oblivion soon after this period.
From the manual: The Paso Doble is a dramatic and powerful Spanish dance requiring good body control and precise footwork. It can be expressed in terms of it's origins from the music of bull fighting or in Flamenco style. The overall pattern of the Paso Doble is approximately elliptical, distorted here and there by outward bulges. The opening progressive is on a curve but the next few steps are rather straight. The change of edge produces an outward bulge followed by steps 12 to 25 which form a curve. The cross rolls cause a deviation in the pattern and there is a final bulge before the restart of the dance.
Among the judges were Charlie Cyr from the US and Karen Butcher from Canada. The Assistant Technical Specialist was Marika Humphreys-Baranov who is only just out of her own competitive career in which she won the British championship with three different partners including her now husband.
Virtue, who was 16 on May 17, & Moir, 18 on September 2, drew to skate second of the ten couples from seven countries. They have been skating together since 1997 and their experience shows in many ways including how closely they skate together and their how perfect is their unison. However, though they were undisputedly in the lead, their performance could have been more aggressive. Their classy costumes could not be faulted, subdued and elegant yet conveying the full Spanish ambience emanating from a tempestuous fiesta at the bull ring. Virtue’s neckline design was particularly appealing with a single winding flower stem climbing up a nude netting.
Asked how their Austrian Waltz in Andorra, where they received their highest marks ever for a compulsory, stood up to their Paso tonight, Virtue said, "It’s such a different dance. It’s too difficult to compare the intricacy and intimacy of the waltz. The Paso is much different but we both enjoy the Paso attitude. It’s a fun dance for us."
Do they have a favorite compulsory? "I like them all. They’re all so totally different," she said. They do not yet know what the compulsory will be in the JGP Final.
And how did Andorra compare to skating in their own country? Were there more spectators there? "No, it was about the same," said Moir. "It’s a very pretty country, very charming, with mountains. It’s such a small community so some of the numbers (of audience) we got there were pretty surprising."
"In Canada, we have more relatives and friends cheering for us," said Virtue. Moir added, "The people of Andorra really wanted to have the event so it was nice for them to have it."
The three sequences of the Paso are each divided into two sections so and the judges give a total of six grades with the base value of each section increasing as the dance progresses. Virtue & Moir received no minus Grade of Execution (GOE) and one judge even went as far as to give them a plus 2 GOE for all but the second section of their first sequence and the first section of their second sequence.
That totaled 17.74 which, when added to their component score of 15.56 gave them a total of 33.30
Skating eighth, Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitriy Soloviev gained second place with a sterling performance that captured the spirit of the dance with strong, decisive and powerful stroking. They are trained in Moscow by Svetlana Alexeeva. However, six of the 54 GOE’s give by the nine judges were minus ones.
The Russian’s technical score was 16.28 and the total of the component marks, which are given in compulsory dance for four categories, was 13.37. That gave them a total of 29.65, 3.65 behind the Canadians.
Bobrova, who is 15, said they had only been skating together for five weeks but I think she may have meant five months. Because of that they have no ranking within Russia and do not, as yet, have a second JGP. Soloviev is 16. They said the Paso is their favorite dance but they have not had time to work on other dances. They performed in extremely elaborate costumes with her knee length skirt festooned with black fringing and extensive embroidery on his outfit.
Lying in third place, 3.16 marks behind the Russians, are the Germans who had drawn to skate seventh. Tanja Kolbe, who turned 15 on September 7, & Paul Boll, who will be 18 on November 13 were delighted with their scores. When they heard the result, he pumped his arm into the air. "We skated our best," he said with a smile. "Last year was not so good with the compulsories. Now we have shown what we can do."
This is their second JGP and they are doing far better than in Estonia where they finished eighth. They were born and live in Berlin where they are coached by Hendryk Schamberger, a man who seems to be a workaholic. In addition to his duties as a skating coach, he is a doctor and does commentary on skating for television.
Another surprise was the fourth place of Elizabeth Miosi & Dmitry Ponomarev, who had drawn to skate last. She turned 17 on September 9 and he was 20 on June 16. They were absolutely delighted with their position in their first international.
She was born in Seoul, South Korea, and he in Moscow. He sat out last season but made sure all the papers were filed correctly and his release was obtained from the Russian Federation. He explained, "It was a long, long wait." They are coached in Ashburn, Virginia by Matthews & Zavozin’s coaches Elena Garanina and Val Spiridinov who are also Zavozin’s mother and step-father.
Most couples wore red and black but Miosi & Ponomarev choose only black. When asked why, Miosi revealed, "This is one of our back-ups." He added, "Usually everyone is skating in the same type of costume. We wanted to stand out." And they did. Is the Paso their best dance? He replied, "We couldn’t say this is but it’s alright."
Garanina was a top level competitor for the Soviet Union with Zavozin’s father. "I liked the Paso very much," she said. "I liked the character of the dance. But when we skated we did several compulsories at each competition, and we also did more patterns of each dance." Miosi and Ponomarev said they were very content with the current situation of just doing one.
Skating immediately before Miosi and Ponomarev were Kimmerly Lauten & James "Augie" Hill who lie fifth. Augie, which is the name Hill is always known by, is a shortened form of August. He was 20 on August 28 while his partner was 16 on February 17.
Asked to rate their Paso on a scale of ten, Hill said it was a seven and a half. "We felt good. We didn’t do anything bad but we just didn’t do it good enough." They began skating together in June ’04 and were the bronze medal winners in the ’05 US Junior championships. They train at the Dr. Pepper StarCenter in Plano, Texas with Warren Maxwell and his wife, Olivia.
Augie is one of four siblings who made sure there was at least one member of the Hill family at US nationals for the past decade! He followed his two older sisters on to the ice. They got as far as national junior dance. Katy was Ben Agosto’s partner prior to his teaming up with Tanith Belbin. His younger brother also skated at nationals at novice level in ’04.
They will be going to JGP in Gdansk, Poland, October 13-16, where the compulsory is the Quickstep.
Lying sixth are Mylčne Lamoureux, who will 19 on October 31, & Michael Mee, who was 20 on May 11. Unfortunately the couple who are Canada’s fourth ranked juniors, drew to skate third immediately following Virtue & Moir. Their performance paled by comparison. "We’ve skated against them before," said Mee, "so we’ve had that experience before."
They made an error but Mee said, "We have to comeback for the original." They, and Shawn Winter who coaches them at two Clubs de Patinage Artistique in the Montreal area (Pierrefonds and Ste.-Julie) denied that it was pressure which got to them. Winter said, "I think it was a pretty good performance and we hope for better tomorrow."
Their result here will determine whether they get a second JGP. Asked if they had to choose a compulsory, what would it be, they immediately said the Westminster Waltz. "That’s their best dance," Winter explained.
Lying seventh after having drawn to skate first are Scarlett Rouzet & Lionel Rumi of France. The answer to the obvious question is – Yes, her mother named her after the character in Gone With the Wind. They are a new pairing and have only skated together for three months. They have both had previous partners. She was sixth in the ’05 French junior championships with Benoit Richaud while he was second in that event with Elodie Brouiller.
Rouzet, who was 16 on February 17, & Rumi, who turned 19 on August 12, live in Lyon (site of the ’06 European championships) and are trained by Muriel Boucher Zazoui who guided Marina Anissina & Gwendal Peizerat to the ’02 Olympic gold. Helping with their training are Romain Haguenauer and Benjamin Delmas.
Alice Graham & Andrew Poje, who skated fourth and are lying eighth, are the number three Canadian junior couple. They are trained by Paul Macintosh and Igor Tchiniaev at the Kitchener-Waterloo Skating Club. (Did somebody not shake the balls up enough or whatever they used for the draw? All three Canadian couples skated one after another with the two US skaters taking the last two slots.)
Graham doesn’t have a favorite compulsory. "I like them all. There’s a lot of different dances. It’s good to have variation." Both are 18. Graham is slightly older. Her birthday is January 22 and Poje’s is February 25. They have skated together since 2004.
Lying ninth after skating fifth are the Ukrainians, Anastasiya Vykhodtseva & Alexei Shumski, who are only 14. (He turns 15 next week.) They are from Kiev and trained by Shumski’s father, Alexander Tumanovsky. When told his pupils are so young to be skating internationally, Tumanovsky confided, "It is important to get them training in dance, early." Shumski has been dancing for six years but he and Vykhodtseva only partnered up six months ago.
Lying last are Olivia Lalatka, who was 15 on July 16, & Gabor Balint, who will be 16 on October 3. They are from Budapest and were obviously very upset at their scores. This is their second international season. They finished 21st last season in the world junior championships. They are coached by Ilona Berecz Vedres.
Virtue & Moir will skate the original on Saturday sixth, first on after the second warm-up group.