by Klaus-Reinhold Kany
(8 December 2017) The level of the senior short dance competition at the ISU Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, Japan, was extremely high. Only in ice dance competitions this season are many components marks of 10 are given, not only to one but several couples; and the other couples are not far from 10. Like last year, three of the six dance teams are from the USA. For the first time during this season, the French and the Canadian top couple, both from the same dance school in Montreal, are competing against each other, therefore a close race could be expected for the short dance and overall.
Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron from France danced to a Samba, the required Rhumba and another Samba by Ed Sheeran songs in extreme perfection and high speed. Four elements had a level 4, only the non touch midline step sequence had a level 3. The big majority of their GOEs for all their elements were +3. The components had an average of 9.8, 12 of the 45 being a perfect 10.0 (seven for performance, four for interpretation and one for composition). No component was lower than 9.5.
“It was a really, really good performance, the best of the season,“ Papadakis said. "When we got off the ice we said we’ll be happy, because we did the best we could have done. In China we were very focused and very clean and did not ‘live’ the program so much. In France it was the opposite, the program was lively, but we didn’t focus so much on the levels. Here now everything came together. We were focused on our steps and at the same time we got very much into the performance, To have achieved our personal best here gives us confidence and this was our goal.” Cizeron added, "It feels good, I like being first. But we know we have to be very focused for the free dance, because the points are really close.”
The 2017 World Champions Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir are currently second with 81.53 points, so it was a close decision between one and two. They danced to a Samba, a Rhumba and a Cha Cha in very high speed and excellent interpretation. They had the same levels as the French team, but slightly lower GOEs. 11 of their 45 components were 10.0 and the average was around 9.7. No component was lower than 9.5, like for the French.
Virtue commented, "The plan is to peak in February, we are on track. We are pleased with our performance, it is a step up from the Grand Prix circuit and we’re looking to build up. With the free dance we tackled a few changes, we flew right from Osaka to Toronto to work with David Wilson, went back and adjusted some of the parts that creatively needed revisiting to tell the story. Some minor changes in the transitions but a big focus on both footworks. The circle and diagonal both fall on the big music and it's important that it's reflected in our choreography. There's always pressure, whether we're defending or chasing a title again. This is a fresh season and we know that we have to be our best. With the Olympics, everyone is coming out strong.“
Moir added, "At this stage at our career we're trying to enjoy it every time we take the ice. Part of that is focusing just on us but we like to bring the crowd in and we can feel the energy. That is a big reason why we came back, to enjoy that with the crowd. Hopefully we can have another great skate tomorrow and build a confidence going into the Olympics. We had a bit of a low after the NHK so making changes and building back up was exciting. It had to happen quick but we did a good job managing that. We want to defend but we know how deep this field is and we are honored to be in this group of skaters. This is what we train for this is what we love, we can't wait to get back out on the ice Saturday.“
Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani from Canton, Michigan, are in third position, winning 78.09 points. Their rhythms were a Mambo, a Cha Cha and a Samba. All music pieces are traditional Latin pieces which have existed for decades. The Rhumba had only a level 2, the other four elements a level 4 and their components had an average of 9.3 with two 9.75 as highest ones.
Alex Shibutani said, "It was OK. I’m beating myself up over the mistake on the twizzle. That’s a mistake that I never make. I thought the performance was really strong, but overall we made a lot of good progress since Skate America. If we had done the twizzles the way that we’re capable of doing them, the score would be even better.“ The jury did not deduct much for this mistake on the twizzle, which was hardly visible, because most GOEs were +2 and it had a level 4. Maia Shibutani added, "We’re so proud of the work we’ve put into this program and the concept that we’ve created. Our programs are dynamic, energetic and entertaining so it’s something that we’ve worked really hard on.“
The three other teams are very closely together with a difference of less than a point. The U.S. dancers Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, who also train in Montreal, are on fourth position with 74.81 points. Two elements had a level 4, the three step sequences a level 3 and their components were around 9.1. They skated to a Rhumba and two Sambas.
Hubbell later commented, "We are happy with our performance today. I think that we could get the energy and we did this twizzle sequence and the crowd here in Japan is fantastic. The community of skating fans is so supportive and it's awesome. We didn't catch what we missed in our levels but looking forward the end of the week to have the opportunity to skate again in front of this amazing crowd. Zachary and I always loved the Latin music in general, specifically Rhumba which we wanted to make the highlight of the program so that's why in the middle there is only part that has lyrics. This is the part which we feel the audience connects the most with.“
Madison Chock & Evan Bates from Novi, Michigan are currently fifth with 74.36 points. Their music pieces are a Salsa, a Rhumba and a Samba. Three elements had a level 4, among them a spectacular curve lift which was rewarded with eight GOEs of +3, the other two a level 3. Their components had an average of 9.1, with one 10.0 for Composition from the South Korean judge.
Chock said, "It felt a little tough out there today but we still connected and had a good skate and still enjoyed myself.“ Bates added: "The Japanese audience is incredible when you are skating, you can focus because they are respectable quiet at the right moments and they know the exact moment when to clap and to cheer on and encourage. It’s just a treat to skate here.“
Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte from Italy are on sixth place with 74.24 points. Their rhythms were a Cha Cha and two Sambas. The three step sequences had a level 3, the two other elements a level 4 and their components were around 9.1. Lanotte explained, "It was surely the best performance in this season. But we want to boost our score a little bit higher like 75 to 80. We just didn’t get to the levels this time.“
Cappellini added, "We always would love to come back to Japan even we were just here a few weeks ago at NHK Trophy. We wanted to be at GPF more than anything to be in Japan. This is the best country to skate in.“