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2013 Grand Prix Final, Ice Dance

by Alexandra Stevenson

Exciting Battle of the Blades: Meryl & Charlie Win by a Sliver

1.  Overall 191.35; 1.SD 77.66 (38.93+38.73); 1.FD 113.69 (55.29+58.40) Meryl Davis & Charlie White, USA.

2.  Overall 190.00; 2.SD 77.59 (39.08+38.51); 2. FD 112.41 (54.56+57.85) Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, Canada.

In the red, white and blue corner, fighting for gold, we have the Olympic silver medalists, and current and 2011 world champions, Meryl Davis & Charlie White, both aged 26. Their opponents, in the Maple Leaf corner, are the defending Olympic gold medalists and twice world champions, the slightly younger, Tessa Virtue, 24, & Scott Moir, 26. You know them! You love them! You argue about them! Competitors - Get ready to roll and rumble. Come out punching! Ooops – wrong sport!

If ever there were committed, close rivals, it’s this foursome. The outcome is always totally unforeseeable. One failed twizzle and you’re out for the count. The current system puts a priority on inventing difficult moves and the tension competitors feel in competition has mounted as competitors try moves they have not completely mastered, gambling on success. No one wins by playing safe anymore. It’s far harder to present a beautiful routine, when you are constantly striving for difficulty, for that elusive Level 4, that must be done with a +3 Grade of Execution.

People have been getting into heated arguments on the relative merits of Davis & White v. Virtue & Moir since before the last Olympics. Remarkably, the two couples have trained together at the Canton “Arctic Ice” rink in Michigan for many years with the same coaches. Who will succeed in Sochi? This time it was Davis & White but by only 1.35. What a great time for ice dancing!

Davis said, “I think that we are very fortunate to train alongside each other. We’ve tried very much over the years to just focus on ourselves. I think that having such a talent alongside of you, that Tessa (Virtue) & Scott (Moir) show every day in training and in competition, does nothing but push the four of us to work harder, harder than we ever knew we could, both in the privacy of our practice rink or here in competition.

“Something that is really nice about the four of us is that not only do we come to the rink every day to top each other and other ice dancers, but the four of us feel we are just trying to be the best we can be, and push ourselves to new heights. It makes us want to be a better team, getting up early, and it does nothing but help us. But, as cheesy as it sounds, we try to focus on our own skating. The four of us really just make ourselves push each other to new heights that we didn’t know we could reach.”

They are very similar. Both have been ice dancing with each other since they were children. The partners are so good, that when Russian President Vladimir Putin turned up for this event last year in Sochi, where he has a secondary home, it wasn’t his own country’s top pair, Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov, he came to see, who were performing later in the evening, it was the North American ice dancers. He only stayed for that dance short program, although the pairs short was later that evening.

The American judge here in Fukuoka was Shawn Rettstatt and the Canadian Jodi Abbott. Amazingly, the “toe-tapping” judge, Yuri Balkov, who Canadian television showed surreptitiously communicating with his neighbor by tapping his foot, during the 1999 world ice dance world championships in Helsinki and was subsequently banned for a short time, is still around and was representing the Ukraine here in Fukuoka. The other judges were from China, France, Germany, Italy, Japan & Russia. But, unlike the pre-2005 system, in which you saw which judges gave which marks, there is no opportunity to boo them (or congratulate them).

Davis & White skated a Quickstep between two Foxtrots set to vocal music from “My Fair Lady”, starting with, “I Could Have Danced All Night”. They won the Short Dance by a sliver, just 0.07, with the Canadians getting the edge on the elements mark by 0.15 and the Americans gaining a marginal 0.22 on the components. Although that meant they were starting out practically tied, there was a huge psychological benefit because the skaters perform their Free in the order in which they finished the Short Dance.

Both couples received all Level 4s for their all five elements in the Short Dance. Of the five component scores each of the nine judges punch into their computer, Davis & White received 16 of the maximum +3 Grade of Execution while Virtue & Moir gained “only” 15. But, Davis & White were also given two +1s for their twizzles, while the Canadians were given only one “+1” which, strangely, was for their rotational lift which earned +3 from six of that judge’s colleagues.

Virtue had on a sophisticated black dress. Moir was in suspenders and a bow tie, while Davis was in a subdued pink gown while White wore black tails.

Davis said, “Our performance definitely felt like a season’s best in terms of performance and technically. But there’s a lot of room for growth in this program still, which we are really excited about. It definitely feels like the best we have put out this season and it’s nice to see that on the scoreboard as well.”

Her partner agreed. “Meryl and I were really happy with today’s skate. There was a little bit of extra nerves on the bigger stage against the good ole Canadian rivals over here, who we knew would put down a good score. It was hard to block out a score like that before you skate. But we settled in quickly. Technically, we are really happy with all 4s. (To achieve that) has involved a lot of hard work. We feel like there is room to grow still so that’s exciting. Overall, we are pleased with our performance.”

Both couples had no discernable fault. All five of their elements were superb. In their final element, a rotational lift, Davis, with seemingly no effort at all, eases Davis up to shoulder height and twirls her while she adopts a split position, from where she looks like a Queen graciously acknowledging her subjects.

Davis said, “We love, love, love Japan. It’s one of our favorite places to be let alone. Fukuoka is one of the places in Japan we haven’t visited before. We’re always excited to see new places. The enthusiasm of the Japanese audience is like other places we have experienced in Japan.” Although no international has been held previously in this city, it does host ice shows.

Virtue & Moir skated to an evocative vocal by Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald: a Foxtrot, “Dream a Little Dream”, a Quickstep to “Muscat Ramble” and back to Foxtrot, set to “I’m in Heaven”. They, too, got a new personal best score.

Moir said, “Tessa and I are extremely happy with our skate tonight. We’ve been training really well at home and we wanted to skate just as well here. I found myself coming into this week really excited to compete with Meryl and Charlie. We both skated well and this narrow margin will be exciting for the fans and, hopefully, make even more people interested in experienced in Japan.

“We had a great skate. We've been training so well and working so hard all season. We did our technical elements really well at this event. We'll need to come out with more speed and more emotion heading into the Games and hopefully that can put us on top.”

His partner agreed: “We're right on track. Our approaches are bang on. It's a process. We still have two more months to train before the Games and we need to trust that process that it will get us where we need to go.”

Davis & White’s Free is set to Rimsky Korsakov’s spellbinding Scheherazade which they performed at break-neck speed. Every move was dazzling and they received all Level 4s, apart from their second element, the circular steps, which was Level 3, and, of course, the choreographed lift, which is extremely short and has only a Level 1. When he reached the end, White more or less collapsed onto one knee.

But that fit in with the story. He is playing the jaded King who takes a new woman each night and has her beheaded the following morning. Davis is a Princess who fascinates the jaded royal and puts off her fate by weaving complex tales that reach a cliff-hanging point as dawn comes up. He wants to hear the end, so he postpones her execution till the following day. After 1,000 days he admits he is beaten and marries her and fires the executioner.

They gained a record score in the Free Dance with 113.69 points which added up to 191.35 points overall, which was another highest score. This is their fifth consecutive Grand Prix Final title. They were third in their first Sr. Final after placing second in the Junior GP Final in 2006. Davis said, “Charlie and I feel really good. We are feeling like we are continuing the growth that we really initiated at Skate America this year. We are feeling really positive and gearing up to work harder than ever going into Sochi.”

Virtue & Moir also tell a tale in their routine, the story of their own lives from innocent childhood, when he, like his current rival, was also playing ice hockey. (Moir still likes to get on hockey skates, but not White. An injury in a match forced him to sit out a skating season. Davis made him promised there would be no more hockey. He does, however, keep up his interest in that sport.)

Virtue & Moir’s music for their Free is by the Russian composers Glazunov and Skriabin. It is very ethereal. They earned Level 4 for all but their last element, the Diagonal steps which received Level 3. (And, of course, the choreographed lift which only has Level 1.) They scored a personal best of 112.41 points. Overall, they accumulated 190.00 points, which is a personal best as well.

Davis and White earned only +2 and +3 in their GoEs, from the nine judges, each punching in an award for each element on a scale of -3 (for a fall) up to +3 for magnificent. But one judge gave Virtue & Moir got a +1, which is still better than 0, given for a move which is satisfactory in every aspect.

Moir said, “We had an extremely amazing week. We skated as well as we have been training. For an athlete, that’s what you want for your performance. We really felt like today we connected and we brought the audience into our performance. This is a stepping stone for us for the Olympic Games.”

White said, “This has been the most demanding programs we’ve ever done. That comes with a price.”

3.  Overall 169.11; 5.SD 66.63 (+); FD 102.48 (49.86+52.62); Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat, France, said, “We weren’t nervous. We will be ending our career very soon, so we thought it was time for us to enjoy skating – it is our passion. The Olympics are so rare, so we want to do our utmost there. It was the best skate of the season for us.

Her partner explained, “We’ve been through so many different trainers. I think we take from them what we want. With our current coach, we improved our lifts and step sequence. We are where we wanted to be. We had our best Free performance of the season so far. We had nothing to lose after the Short Program from yesterday, (in which they did a Foxtrot, Quickstep and Charleston) and were ranked fifth best. “So we just tried to enjoy and take pleasure in what we were doing.”

4.  Overall 166.72; 3.SD 68.90 (+); 4.FD 97.82 (47.08+51.74 -1) Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev, Russia, were third in the last World Championship in Canada, and were third in Fukuoka in the Short Dance. They performed with her as Marilyn Monroe to a Quickstep, “Diamonds are a Girl’s Best Friend”,by Jule Styne; a slow foxtrot to “I Will Wait For You” by Michel Legrand; and a Quickstep to “Swing, Swing, Swing My Baby”.

Bobrova, who is 23 said, “I think we skated better today than we did at Cup of Russia. I was able to skate smoothly and calmly so it felt very nice. We will skate our free dance with a very different emotion so we hope to focus and do our best tomorrow.” But they dropped a place to a place to fourth.

She said, “It’s too bad that Dmitri tripped over. We will do our best from now on. We made enough mistakes in many competitions so I think that period’s over. The program is unique and we would like to make the program as a play. We don’t want just the elements, we want to make the program artistic. Soloviev, 24, said, “I don’t know why I fell down. (He was very close to the barrier and that might have affected him.) I just don’t know. You never know what will happen.”

5.  Overall 165.04; 4.SD 67.68 (34.40+33.68); 5.FD 97.36 (45.51+51.85) Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje, who are both 26, were within striking distance of the podium after their fourth place in the SP, but they dropped to fifth after their Free. Five of their elements were Level 4 but they received only Level 2 for both the footwork elements, and their twizzles were Level 3.

They were 12th in the last Olympic Games and have been fifth, fourth & fifth in the last three world championships. Both are 26. Weaver is American from Texas, born in Houston. But she left the United States to seek a partner in Canada in her mid-teens, and now has a Canadian passport. “Being spoken about as on the same team as Scott and Tessa is an extreme honor for us,” Weaver said, after their very authentic Free Skate Tango set to music by the famed Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. They now train at the Detroit SC in Michigan with Pasquale Camerlengo and Angelica Krylova.

They are thrilled to be on the same teams with Virtue & Moir. “We’ve grown up with them. It feels like that for the past six years that we’ve been on the international circuit. Every time we get to share the ice with them I feel like we get stronger because they’re everything we strive to be.”

6.  Overall 156.58; 6.SD 61.57 (29.86+33.71 -2 for an illegal element movement); FD 95.01 (44.72+50.29); Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte, Italy, had a fall in practice in Fukuoka but before the competition had started, the result of a hold going wrong. The 26-year-old Cappellini hit her head on the ice. She was taken to the hospital and immediately had a whole series of tests, which, fortunately, turned out to be negative.

“The duo, which now trains in Novi with Igor Shpilband, skated their SD to a Quickstep to “42nd Street”, with a central section to a Foxtrot, “Lullaby of Broadway”. They performed their Free to Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville”. They had no negative GoEs and even got one of the maximum +3 for their twizzles in the Free, which they did as their first element, and earned the maximum Level 4, which they also received for their long lift and one the two short lifts.

They were awarded Level 3 for the short lifts, a Curve. Both sets of steps were Level 2. He is 28. She said, “Today, I was scared of the lift that I fell on and it complicated my whole day, thinking of where I should place my foot. But, when it went right, I was really relieved afterwards. We have the Italian nationals in 10 days and then the European Championships. Her partner added, “We don’t understand why we got certain levels. We competed in competitions where we were given higher Levels. We didn’t do mistakes and we just want to know why so we can improve.”

Ice Dance’s top two competitive couples, Meryl Davis & Charlie White and Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir are looking forward to the Team Trophy, a new event in the Winter Olympics, now that the ten countries which can field teams have been announced. The first part will be skated the day before the Opening Ceremony.

Davis said, “After the U.S. championships, assuming we get the opportunity to choose whether we skate in the team event in one or both of the Short and Free Dance divisions, we have agreed we would like to do both. That will be tiring but it’s an opportunity we are excited about. Anytime you are given the opportunity to compete, I think is very exciting.” Her partner, Charlie White agreed.

Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, Canadians who were runners-up to Davis & White in the last world championship and in the recent Grand Prix Final, think the same way. He explained, “We are extremely thrilled about the opportunity to do both sections if that will be beneficial to Canada. It’s a very exciting prospect.”

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