by Alexandra Stevenson
The mild, falling-leaves weather deteriorated today to cold light rain as the 17th Finlandia Trophy got underway with the Men's Short Program Friday evening here in Espoo at the sparkling new Barona Areena. With Olympic ice dance gold medalist Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir sidelined with his neck muscle pull, Johnny Weir, now 28 and making his comeback after over two-and-a-half year’s absence from competition, appeared to be the main focus of North American interest.
But he lies only fourth, one place behind his teammate, Ricky Dornbush. Javier Fernandez of Spain and Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan, who train together with Brian Orser in Toronto, lie first and second.
Weir was actually smiling as he left the Kiss ’n Cry area. “It’s over, thank God,” he admitted. His plunge back into the competitive arena, came two years and eight months after he walked away from the sport, stung and disappointed from placing sixth in the Vancouver Olympic Games. It took much determination and soul-searching to step back in. “Everybody said it would never happen. They didn’t believe me. They thought I was only saying I would, that I was just looking for publicity.”
His showing, in the initial round of the Finlandia Trophy was certainly not, at least technically, top level, but it was an effort which came from the heart and is only a first step. It was very apparent, he was extremely relieved to be off the ice. The pressure was enormous. He said, “It feels so good to get that over. I was nervous, incredibly nervous, more than I’ve ever been before. I was literally shaking. I forgot everything Galina (coach Zmievskaya) has ever told me."
"With the new system you have to think of many things and my mind just went completely blank. It was certainly not a great performance but I think the public appreciated it. The quad wasn’t SO bad considering I’ve never done one in competition before. I’m always very focused, but my legs were so stiff, they just wouldn’t work. This has definitely been the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’m proud I kept going and I did what I came to do. So many people just dismissed me saying it was a publicity ploy and never believed I’d go through with it, the comeback.”
1.SP 80.77 (42.03+38.74) Javier Fernandez, Spain, performed fourth, to “Zorro”, choreographed by David Wilson. The 21-year-old has placed 35th, 30th, 19th, 12th, 10th, & 9th in the past six world championships. He is competing in this event for the first time. Dressed in black with red sleeves, he opened with a magnificent quad toe loop, which earned 11.63 points. That was followed by an outside spread eagle into a great triple Axel, which was so good one judge awarded +3, the maximum Grade of Execution.
His first spin, a flying upright, was the maximum Level 4 with +0.25 added. His next jumping element, a triple Lutz, was joined to a double instead of the planned triple toe but received the extra 10% for being in the second half. That was followed by a Level 3 change foot sit spin which received only a minimal +0.08 over its base value. His straight lines steps were +0.83 Level 3. However, the final move a combination spin was only Level 1 with +0.12.
Fernandez said, “For a first competition of the season, I think I did a great job. We use each competition to find the mistakes and then work to correct them. Look out for tomorrow. The plan is to do two quads while playing Charlie Chaplin.”
The day before, Friday, he had some nasty falls trying his quad Salchow. “No, I didn’t get any bruises. I did hit the boards hard a couple of times but I’m used to that. Falling is a part of skating, particularly in practice. We don’t think anything about it. It’s bad if you fall in competition, because it uses up so much more energy than if it goes right. It makes it much tougher to finish the routine. But they are always part of practice. It really helps to train with someone else (Hanyu) of the same standard. He pushes me. He’s a great person and a great worker.”
2. 75.57 (37.97+38.60 -1); Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan, drew to skate second. Dressed in a sparkly black top and black pants, he performed to a very blue-sy version of “Parisienne Walkways” by Gary Moore, choreographed by Jeff Buttle. Hanyu, who turns 18 on December 7, opened with a quad toe loop jump, but it got an arrow for slight under-rotation and he fell on it. Both his triple Axel and combination of triple Lutz to triple toe were set after the halfway point. His first and final spins were the maximum Level 4 with +0.67 and +0.33 added Grades of Execution. His step sequence was Level 3 with +0.92. The 2012 world and Japanese bronze medalist is competing in this event for the first time.
3. 71.19 (35.56+35.63); Ricky Dornbush, USA, who turned 21 on August 27, skated last in the first group of five skaters to U2's "With or Without You”. The 2011 US national silver medalist, was ninth in his first world championship, in Moscow. But this past season, he had a disastrous time, due to a boot problem.
Appearing in an elbow length red top and black pants, his first element, meant as a quad toe, turned into a bad triple toe. “I had done a beautiful one in the warm-up so that as disappointing. However, he kept himself together and did a +1.50 triple Axel. Then he had a dilemma. “With the quad turning into a triple, I could not repeat that in the combination. I learned that earlier this season in a small competition. There, I lost all the points for the element when I repeated the triple toe with my triple Lutz.”
Coach Tammy Gambill said, “I was proud that he remembered that. It was a shame about not doing the quad, but at least this time we got credit for the combination (of triple Lutz to double toe).” Two of his spins were Level 4. The flying camel was Level 3 as were his straight line steps. All four of these elements received significant plus Grade of Execution.
He was very positive when asked about competing with Weir. “I remember at my first nationals (when he was 14, and placed eighth at Junior level). That was when Johnny won his first Senior title. He won it three times and I just followed his career with awe.
“I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I’m doing a Film Noir medley with Harlem Nocturne. I plan to do two quads and, on two of my three jumps in a combination, I plan to do a “Rippon”, putting both arms over my head.”
4. 69.03 (31.94+37.09); Johnny Weir, USA, skated 10th of the 15 competitors from 10 countries. That was last in the second warm-up group. His music, entitled, “Poker Face”, was personally presented to him by Lady GaGa. He was appropriately dressed for such an elite composition. The outfit screamed, “This is the star.” It wasn’t outrageous, but it needed a very strong personality to carry it off. It was black with a deep but thin shining silver, V-shaped insert down the front. The unique focal points were the feathers sticking out from his epaulets.
Weir carries himself with beautiful posture, and projects an almost palpable presence, which takes great nerve. His guest experiences around the world with various audiences, which are often spiked with stars from the entertainment world, have enabled him to develop a veneer of “specialness”. As ever his effortless flow over the ice was in a class by itself, just superb. But the elements were definitely not.
He stepped out of his opening move, the quad toe, and received a double arrow, meaning it was under-rotated. But the following triple Axel gained its full base value. His first spin, the flying camel received the maximum Level 4 with +0.50. His triple Lutz to double toe had a slight deduction, -0.12. The straight line steps were Level 3 with +0.67, despite a slight trip during the element. The final two spins were both Level 3 with +0.20 and +0.67. His element score was fifth best and his components third best.
He previously skated in the Finlandia Trophy nine years ago, in October 2003. In that event, Weir led after the Short Program but was overtaken by Roumania’s Gheorge Chiper. (Chiper, an eight-time national champion, settled in Switzerland where he is an instructor. He married his coach, Sandra Schar.) That silver was not Weir’s first international medal. In 2001, he won the world junior title, beating 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek in the Qualifying Round, and in both the Short and Long programs.
5. 69.01 (38.50+31.51 -1); Zhan Bush is the Russian Junior champion, who was fifth in his last senior nationals. The 19-year-old is trained in St. Petersburg by Alexei Mishin. He was a disappointing 8th in this event last year. Skating 7th, performing to the soundtrack of “Water for Elephants”, he had a bad fall, flat on his face, on his first element, his quad toe. However, he still earned 7.30 points for this move (less the one point off for the fall).
He recovered well. His triple Axel was a good +0.50, and the following flying camel spin earned Level 3 with +0.50. The quad was meant to be his combination, so he had to add a triple toe to his triple Lutz but stepped out of the second jump, losing 1.17. The following combination sit spin was Level 3 with -0.35. But the straight line steps were Level 3 with +0.50 and his final spin was the maximum Level 4 with +0.42.
6. 61.32 (30.15+32.17 -1); Misha Ge, 21, has represented Uzbekistan in the past two world championships, placing 30th in 2011 and 19th last March. His mother’s roots are in Uzbekistan but he was born in Moscow. His parents, who are skating instructors, moved to Beijing when he was 10 and he has also spent time in Hong Kong and Taiwan. In mid-2009, he moved to California, and took lessons from Frank Carroll. He performed to a Flamenco, “Vulerias Magna Mafa”, by Thomas Espana.
His initial move, the triple flip to triple toe earned +0.23 over its base value of 9.40, but he fell on his second element, an under-rotated triple Axel. His triple Lutz was not perfect and he got -0.23 removed from the base value. The other four elements received at least their base value but although his combination spin was Level 4, his combination camel was Level 3 and the flying sit and his steps were only Level 2.
7.57.30 (26.16+31.14); Adrian Schultheiss, Sweden, 24, was his country’s champion in 2006 but has also been runner-up four times. He is from skating’s most famous Swedish city, Gothenberg. He was 15th in the 2010 Olympics. He drew to skate his routine, set to DubseEpic Symph by Robot Boys; Jenova Project by Datsk; and Beta by Robot Boys, 13th. Schultheiss lost most of last season with various injuries. He is still feeling some pain from a foot injury in Stockholm last April.
His performance was “early season”. He was saddled with an “e” (wrong edge take-off) for his triple flip to double toe and had -0.17 removed from his double Axel. Two of his spins were Level 1.
8. 56.81 (28.43+28.38) Virtanen Valtter, Finland, is a medical student studying in Garmisch Partenkirchen in Germany. He drew to skate 14th. He is competing for the seventh straight year in this event. The now 25-year-old’s best placing was 8th in 2007. In 2006, 2007 & 2009 he was runner-up for the national title. In 2011, he placed 33rd in the European championship. He skated to “Ain’t No Sunshine” by DMX and “Harlem Nocturne” by Michael Lington.
His opening triple Lutz to double toe had -0.70 removed, but all the other elements received positives, including the triple loop and double Axel. His three spins and the steps earned Level 3.
9.54.14 (24.30+30.84 -1); Kento Nakamura, Japan, will turn 21 on October 16. He drew to skate 9th immediately preceding Weir. Nakamura was the 2010 Japanese junior champion who placed eighth this past season in his debut in the Japanese senior championship. Performing to “Vizir” from the album, Gypsy Fashion, he opened with his combination but fell on the first jump, a triple Lutz. The triple Axel which followed was a good +1.33. But he received no points at all for his flying camel and although his other two spins gained Level 3 and Level 4 and his steps were Level 3, he singled his flip, which got an “e” for wrong edge take-off.
10. 53.59 (24.59+29.00) Maciej Cieplucha, Poland, trains in Calgary, Alberta with Scott Davis and Jeff Langdon. The 24-year-old is from Lodz and has been his country’s champion twice in the past three seasons. In 2011 he was the runner-up. He drew to skate 11th which was first on after the ice resurfacing, and performed a blues number choreographed by Mark Pillay. Last year, he won bronze in this event.
He opened with a +0.47 triple Lutz to triple toe, +0.42 double Axel and Level 3 +0.12 flying camel, but then did only a flawed double loop and got no points at all for his sit spin.
11. 52.71 (25.69+27.02) Matthias Versluis, Finland, 18, performed eighth, to two pieces by Bajofond, “Infiltrado” and “Grand Guignol”. He was the 2011 Finnish Junior champion and 21st in the World Junior championship. He was born in Switzerland but is based in Helsinki and trains there, but he spent the summer at the Detroit Skating Club. He was second in the Finnish Senior championship last season. He got negative GoEs for four of his seven elements and the flying camel was only level 1.
12. 47.40 (21.77+26.63 -1); Mikael Redin, 23, is the French-born 2011 Swiss champion, but he was only third this past season. His only world senior championship performance, in 2009, saw him place 42nd. He performed 12th, to the music, “Immortal” by Evanescence. He fell on his triple toe loop, which was the second jump of his triple flip combination and singled his planned triple Lutz. However, one spin was Level 4 and the other two, along with the steps, gained Level 3.
13. 43.79 (19.62+25.17 -1) Julian Lagus, Finland, will turn 19 on November 19, drew to skate last, and performed an interesting “Dance of a Marionette” by Stephan Dudash which was choreographed by Kelly Johnson. His costume, which had a yellow and white striped top, was a pleasant change from all the majority of black outfits. However, he stepped out of his triple Salchow and couldn’t do the second jump of the combination and fell on his triple Lutz.
He trains in Finland but spent the summer in Orillia, Canada. He was fifth in the last Finnish Senior championships and runner-up for the Junior title. Don’t pick a quarrel with this young man. He also trains in Thai Boxing and rides BMX bikes.
14. 41.53 (19.36+22.17) Viktor Zubik, who third up, was 4th in the last two Finnish championships. Skating to “Hallelujah” an instrumental piece by Leonard Cohen, Zubik, doubled his first jump, meant to be a triple flip but completed the second jump of the combination, a triple toe loop. He also doubled his planned triple loop. Zubik, who will turn 19 on October, was born in Estonia, but moved to Finland. He competed in the Junior Grand Prix in Lake Placid at the beginning of this season, placing 14th. He appeared in a white top with black gloves and pants. Zubik reduced the difficulty of his planned elements, doubling the flip to triple toe, and doubling his loop. His change foot sit spin was only Level 1 and the three other elements which received Levels were awarded only Level 2.
15. 38.20 (16.63+21.57) Samuel Koppel, Estonia, 17, drew to skate first, gaining the honor of opening the event. He was runner-up for his country’s title in 2009 and 2012. He lives in the capital, Tallinn. Performing to “Mack, the Knife” by J. Williams, he made a tentative start, landing his triple Salchow with a double three turn before getting airborne for only a double toe instead of the planned triple. He got -1.17 off his triple loop because of a jackknifed landing. The double Axel was clean and earned its base value but he got no points at all for two of his spins.
Following the Men's event on Friday evening, for the first time in the 17-year-history of the Finlandia Trophy, there was a Synchronized Skating contest. Four Finnish teams, Rockettes; Paradise; Marigold IceUnity; and Revolutions, all top Finnish senior level competitors, were challenged by Russia’s Team Unique. “Synchro is actually more popular than regular figure skating,” one of the officials here explained. We incorporated this contest into this event with the hope of getting more audience members and I think we did.
Although this correspondent has seen many synchro teams perform over the years, she has never attended a competition in this discipline before. It was very entertaining, and she was amazed at the variety that was shown by the teams. The Rockettes, who had won the world title several times were coming off an upsetting last season in which they finished only fourth in the world championship (with the US third) earlier this year. They are now aggressively approaching this new season in which their world championships will be held at the Boston University rink at the beginning of April.
The Opening Ceremony was a very comprehensive including not only skaters, but gymnasts from the city of Espoo. This is a modern city which prides itself on its know-how, research and development. It is home to the campus of Aalto University and many high technology corporations. The top politicians claim it is a unique place where science, culture and nature all coexist in harmony. It is internationally famous as a hub of know-how, research and development.
The City of Espoo explained they want to draw attention to the important Espoo’s “themes”: science, arts and finances. It sees this competition as a great innovative platform for implementing and combining these elements. A press release reads, “With the help of the School of Arts, Design and Architecture at Aalto University and its Innovation Research Centre, CKIR, the goal is to produce a fresh new kind of a sports event that will not only cater for the athletes and the audience but the partners and other stakeholders as well.