by Klaus-Reinhold Kany
(9 December 2018) The Senior Free Dance at the 2018 Grand Prix Final in Vancouver had an excellent level. Nobody fell or made other serious mistakes and all couples were well prepared. World silver medalists Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue from the USA, who train in Montreal, Quebec, won the gold medal with 205.35 points. After Skate America and Canada, they have changed a lot in their free dance to the 1990ies soundtrack of Romeo and Juliet. This was very obvious because the whole impression was more dynamic, more innovative, just better, although they had the lowest basic level of all six teams for their elements. They got some GOEs of +5 for five of their elements, and the big majority were GOEs of +4 because everything was excellent. Their stationary lift at the beginning was risky, the combination lift very difficult and the twizzle sequence fast. Their components were around 9.5, with many 9.75 as highest ones, especially for performance.
Donohue explained: “Revamping our free dance was stressful. I spent the time from as the short dance finished to this morning’s practice, kind of in my head freaking out a little bit. Luckily I’ve got a rock of a partner who was able to bring me back to reality but it’s both stressful and kind of invigorating. There’s a part of you that kind of just needs to just let go and go for it because you have nothing to rely upon. There’s also the adrenaline of it being such a big event that makes you want to fight for everything. The program feels more complete. We’re really telling the story we were trying to tell before.”
Hubbell added: “We thought of it as the trailer to the movie; it sums up the tragedy of the story at the beginning to really suck the audience in and then once they are really fully absorbed, we tell them the love story that was behind the tragedy. Going into this event, Zach and I had a goal to put 100% into our performance and not be afraid of losing some technical levels and that’s what we did in both programs and that’s exactly what happened. We lost some technical but the performance really carried us to be able to achieve our first title and we’re incredibly grateful to each other for that commitment.”
Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov from Russia, a couple on the ice and in private life since 2014, confirmed their huge progress since last season and won the silver medal with 201.37 points. They danced very expressively and in a balletic way to Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Air” and the “Preludium and Allegro” by Fritz Kreisler in the style of Bach. They also got some GOEs of +5 for five different elements. Their twizzle sequence at the beginning was stellar (five GOEs of +5), everything else very impressive as well, a very little slip was hardly visible. Their components had an average of 9.3.
Katsalapov commented: “We are very glad at the way we are progressing throughout the season and this competition went very well for us. You have no idea how amazing it feels when you have been preparing all day and walking into it, and performing in front of the audience for those four minutes and in the last ten seconds, feeling that emotional high from the performance. It is great when you have had a clean skate, and you simply try to give everything you’ve got to get to the end. We want to give to the audience all those emotions that we feel during the performance. That was our season’s best, and we believe that we had a strong start of the season, so we’re looking forward to continuing that trend. Next stop is Russian Nationals. We want to prove that we’re number one in the country.”
Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri from Milan in Italy finished third, winning 198.65 points. Their free dance to the soundtrack of La La Land was less dramatic than the two top dances, but more entertaining. They had excellent levels and their elements got mainly GOEs of +3 and +4. Their components were around 9.0.
“For us, it's been an emotional competition”, Fabbri commented. “It was the first opportunity we had to fight for such an important result, so we didn't know how we would manage the stress and pressure on us, but we are very happy. I think we performed our best. The goal is to continue improving and to continue showing that we are really there - we’re one of the top competing couples showing it.”
Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin from Russia came fourth with 196.72 points, lower than they had hoped. They performed a very sultry and sexy blues to “Am I the One” by Beth Hart. They did not show their twizzle sequence in sit position any more, but he performed it only briefly in the choreo twizzling movement in which they had three GPOS of +5. All other elements were very good, only the main twizzles not in perfect harmony. Their components were around 9.1. Stepanova said: “We don’t understand by ourselves what happening. Everyone is trying their best, not just us. It means we have to skate much better than everyone. I think yes, we hoped to be a few steps higher. The level of skating was fairly high, such a small mistake shouldn’t have affected the scores, so we still trying to understand. The audience accepted us today from the first move, it was incredibly pleasant.”
Tiffani Zagorski & Jonathan Guerreiro from Russia placed fifth with 184.37 points. They skated to the “Blues for Klook” which has been used many times before. All their elements were good or very good and had mainly GOEs of +3 and +2. Their components were around 8.5. “Today when I was skating, I did a few little mistakes, because I was not able to practice the free dance program due to the fact that I was sick”, Zagorski explained. “We skated well and we’re not the last couple in the competition, so we’re happy about that.”
U.S. dancers Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker, who train in the Montreal ice dance school, ended up sixth with 184.04 points, very close to the fifth position and were fifth in the free dance. They skated to the “Trampoline Theme” by The Irrepressibles. Most of their GOEs were +3 and their components around 8.6.
Hawayek said: “I think every time we perform this program it’s getting stronger and stronger. I think being our first time at the Grand Prix Final, we were just really looking to put on a performance that we felt like represented our deservingness of being here and I think we did that tonight. And I think that the scores and the levels and everything will come as the season goes on. I think very strongly. I think we’ve proven to ourselves and proven to our federation that we’ve consistently competed well this season.”