By Marcia Burchstead
Cohen is the first woman that Tarasova has coached. Her renowned record in coaching is unsurpassed. Her students have won Olympic gold medals in three of the four disciplines, Pairs (Rodnina & Zaitsev), Ice Dance (Bestemianova & Bukin, Klimova & Ponomarenko, Grischuk & Platov) and Men (Ilia Kulik and Alexei Yagudin). Tarasova sported a coachs credential that said "USA" and when asked about it she shrugged it off as unimportant saying, "I am coach, it does not matter where the talent comes from." She called Cohens fall in the footwork, "a mental lapse." "You have to concentrate for the entire program," she added sternly. Cohen called the fall, "a silly mistake, it will remind me to keep in focus." "My footwork has made tremendous improvement but it still has a long way to go," she added.
The other top contenders faltered with technical errors and less than stellar presentation. Fumie Suguri, the reigning world bronze medallist from Japan skating to Larghetto from Piano Concerto No. 2 in F Minor by Chopin, looked rusty in comparison to Cohen. Her combination of triple Lutz/double toe loop was secure but she fell out of the triple flip and put a hand to the ice. The spiral sequence was especially weak and the layback had an ugly free leg position. Her lack of preparation was apparent and she attributed it to the time spent touring in exhibitions this summer instead of concentrating on training. "My artistic was not very good today," acknowledged Suguri. "I need more practice."
Viktoria Volchkova of Russia also made a number of life transitions this summer switching coaches, which necessitated a move to the United States. Now training in Chicago with Oleg Vasillev it remains to be seen if the legendary pairs skater can improve her technical weaknesses and pedestrian and coltish presentation style. Her spider web costume, a day late for Halloween, does nothing to flatter her physique. While jumps have always been her forte she faltered and fell coming out of the triple flip. She opened straight into a double Axel a la Surya Bonaly, which gave it the appearance of less than correct technique. Her spins and footwork are unexceptional and she needs to add poise and polish if she hopes to contend against Cohen. "I made a stupid technical mistake on the flip, it wont happen again," Volchkova assured the media. "The flip is usually a solid jump for me."
Once again the judging left many puzzled, skaters with pedantic presentation and unexceptional technique were placed over more refined and sophisticated ones. Jennifer Kirk drew to skate second and had a long wait before the marks for Anne Sophie Calvez were announced. She opened with her combination but fell on the Lutz and did not attempt the second jump. There was no fly on the camel but rather a step-over into the spin. The lyrical program skated to music from The Princess Diaries soundtrack appears problematic as it is laid out in such a manner that any miscue on the combination carries over to the subsequent elements causing her to rush them.
Skating aficionados were expecting better from Finnish champion Susanna Poykio. Her recent victory at the Finlandia Trophy and break through season in 2001 with a sixth place at the European championships gave rise to speculation about her as a contender for a medal here. However she pooped her Lutz into a double and put turns between it and the double toe loop. She fell on the triple flip failing to complete the rotations. Simple footwork and badly positioned spins contrasted with Kirk and she appeared technically weaker and lacked speed. She trains summers with former Danish champion Henrik Walentin in Los Angeles.
Skating to Raymonda Michelle Currie stumbled out of Lutz then fell and did not attempt the second jump. Her layback spin traveled and the spiral sequence was of mediocre quality leaving her marginally ahead of Poykio
Zuzana Babiakova was dull at best and her fourth placement from the judges was highly questionable. Using a scratchy recording of Acropolis by Yanni, she did complete the jumps but simple choreography, weak spins and footwork made the program forgettable. She was thrilled with her performance but scores in the low 5s seemed overly liberal. She is 24 and the mother of a 2-year-old son.
Annie Bellemare, who with Babiakova finished tenth and eleventh respectively just a week ago at Skate America, may have completed the elements but it was not pretty. She broke at the waist with a jarring landing of the triple flip and barely eked out a double toe loop in her combination. Her flying camel spin had no stretch and the free leg drooped. Again generous marks in the low 5s placed her in fifth when it could have been legitimately argued that Kirk and Robinson deserved the fourth and fifth places.
The always elegantly attired and coiffed four-time Canadian champion Jennifer Robinson, who married figure skating coach Shane Dennison in September, didnt get any gifts from the judging panel. Her black dress with illusion fabric gave the appearance of a strapless gown. She skated to Symphonie Moderne by Max Steiner and Lori Nichol choreographed the program. Robinson opened with the spiral sequence and to be more effective she could have held some of the positions longer. She chose to put the combination jump late in the program to increase the difficulty but the Lutz was telegraphed and she had a break at the waist on the landing causing her to lose momentum going into the circular footwork sequence. Her free leg in the layback was not nicely positioned but her arm movements were of balletic quality. In a generous gesture she brought all the flower girls onto the bench with her in the Kiss and Cry area so that they would be seen on the Canadian television broadcast.
Coach Michelle Leigh said Robinsons combination has been strong in practice. "We put the combination in later to get extra credit from the judges," Leigh explained but the move seemed to earn deductions rather than higher marks.
It will be difficult for Kirk to move up to the medal podium and after dropping to fourth place last week she will need to head back to Detroit and reassess her programs and address her technical flaws. Suguri and Volchkova will also need to improve their consistency and presentation if they hope to make progress in the international rankings.
As expected Sasha Cohen won the free skate and with it her first Grand Prix event title although again the program was not error-free. Considering her technical abilities and presentation skills it seems surprising that it has taken her so long to win a major championship but consistency with her jumps has always proven her undoing. The result might have been otherwise had the field included a healthy Sarah Hughes.
Skating to Piano Concerto #2 by Rachmaninov, she had an ambitious program planned chock full of difficulty but failed to deliver. She added double toe loops to her opening (F)Lutz and the flip jumps. Strangely the second (F)Lutz is put in the program right after the Lutz combination. Five of the first six elements in the program are jumps with only a flying camel spin inserted after the third jump. Whether this is being done to test her stamina or she intends to keep the program front-end loaded remains to be seen. It appeared she rushed the intended triple toe loop/triple Salchow combination and after falling on the toe loop skipped the second jump altogether. A later solo triple Salchow was popped open. However these errors were more than offset by her strong spins, intricate footwork and overall presentation. The straight-line sequence was choreographed in a typical Russian fashion with running steps and emphasis on the toe picks but very effective. A nicely positioned spin combination and headless blur spin completed the program and once again she received a thunderous standing ovation from the audience. The range for her technical merit scores was 5.3-5.7 but the presentation range was solidly between 5.7-5.8.
Fumie Suguri and Viktoria Volchkova were able to maintain their placing from the short program as well, mostly through the efforts of the judges rather than the programs they delivered, to finish second and third and, as expected, Zuzana Babiakova and Annie Bellemare dropped down while the two Jennifers, Robinson and Kirk moved up.
Robinson was especially impressive landing a triple Salchow/triple loop combination albeit a bit cheated but wonderful. This was the first time she has landed the triple/triple in competition. She will turn 26 next month and Michelle Kwan should take notice that upping the technical ante can still be achieved. She drew to skate second in the first flight and tied Volchkova for third place in the free skate to finish in fourth overall but had she skated in the second group she probably and deservedly should have placed at least third for a podium spot. Her music was Suite Populaire Espagnola for Violin and Piano and she interpreted the choreography done by Lori Nichol well. Her only major problem was a hand down on the landing of the triple loop likely caused by the slow entry into the jump. Coach Michelle Leigh while pleased with Robinsons skate was extremely disappointed that it did not stand up with the judges for a medal.
Susanna Poykio needs to add more power to her skating and refine her style but appears capable of contending for a top ten spot at worlds. Her Lutz needs to get consistent as she kept doubling it here.
Skating to Rhapsody by Maurice Ravel, Michelle Currie wore a stunning one shoulder turquoise dress that complemented her fair coloring. In all she landed six triples with a Lutz in combination but later fell out and put her hand down on a solo triple Lutz.
Anne Sophie Calvez had a rough outing with a hard fall landing on her side on the triple Salchow attempt near the end of her program. An earlier fall on a triple Lutz combined with popping two loop jumps and a Lutz and stepping out of the flip put her in last place.
Kirk was much stronger in the free skate landing five triples with a fall on the triple loop. Surprisingly she did not attempt a triple/triple combination nor have one planned. The cut of music from the soundtrack of the Abba musical Mamma Mia should be more dramatic and lively to give the program added highlights and she needs a vibrant colored outfit because the white washes out her fair complexion.
Babiakovas program is laid out with six jumps including four triples before any other elements are included. She did manage all of them except for an omitted triple toe loop planned in combination. She later popped a loop into a double and then improvised inserting a clean triple loop in place of a Lutz but omitted another triple toe loop. The program needs more balance between the jumps, spins and footwork. She chose Incantation, a Peruvian influenced flute piece for her music. She does need to rethink the hairstyle, as the ponytail with part in the middle does nothing to flatter her face.
Suguri was rewarded with reputation marks from the judging panel, as the program presented was average at best. Four triples including two nice, clean Lutzs were offset by a popped toe loop that came down on two feet and a doubled loop with leg wrap. A very simple step sequence and absence of polished spin elements confirmed her lack of competition preparation.
Bellemare apparently forgot the program layout, as it appeared she skated around the ice surface trying to remember what came next. She stepped out of three triple jump attempts, touched her hand down on one and omitted another. This lowered her technical content as she could only be given credit for one clean triple which dropped her to seventh place overall. Former Canadian champion Josee Chouinard choreographed the program.
Volchkova skating to the overly utilized music of Air and Four Seasons as performed by Vanessa Mae begs the question, is choreographer Alexander Zhulin that limited in his musical repertoire? Difficulties with jumps caused her to ad-lib but when trying to make up for a mistake it is usually better just to go on with the program as planned and practiced. She gets wonderful spring on her triple Lutz but as in the short program the flip eluded her. She fell on the first attempt and sought to do a second in place of a solo triple Lutz and was only able to demonstrate a double. She stepped out of a double Axel and doubled a loop also with a step out. Only three clean triples and average spirals and presentation did not justify her third places marks. Her athleticism begs for a make over of costuming and choreography to reflect and show off her natural style.
Cohen called her title, "a bittersweet victory," emphasizing it was not the skate she wanted. "The second half of my program will need a lot more practice," she added. "When I first came to Tatiana (Tarasova) I was not up to her physical requirements of multiple run throughs of my programs. Its a totally new regime but one designed to get me to the top," Cohen continued. She acknowledged that the victory would have been, "more special," had the field of entries been stronger but, "it would also be more difficult to win against (Sarah) Hughes or (Irina) Slutskaya."
Suguri talked about her second place finish saying, "Im surprised that I finished second despite the mistakes in my program. I was nervous tonight and my practice did not go good this morning."
Volchkova also acknowledged that nerves crept into her program, "The first couple of jumps went well but then I couldnt feel my leg muscles and I felt tired in the middle of the program." Her coach, Oleg Vasiliev, gently but adamantly admonished her for not attempting to answer in English during the press conference. "You live in America now and you must speak English," he told her. In truth her command of the language is quite good and her hesitancy is probably due in part to shyness.
Volchkova also was skating with a minor injury after she collided with Kirk during the practice session earlier in the day. Vasiliev said both women were skating backwards and Volchkova had injured her tailbone.
Asked about the level of technical difficulty Cohen said, "We better all get in shape by worlds." Suguri said, "Internationally the senior ladies are doing the minimum but we balance it with the artistic." "Everyone is doing what they are capable of," Volchkova replied to the question. "If there are technical mistakes we need to improve our concentration."
The medallists were also asked about including triple Axels or quadruple jumps into their programs. Suguri said, "I need to fix my double Axel before I can work on a triple Axel," but also admitted that it will become necessary to have the triple Axel or a quad given the depth of the younger skaters coming up in Japan. Cohen said she would resume training her quad Salchow after she finishes her Grand Prix events and hopes to have it ready for U.S. Nationals. Volchkova hedged by saying she might try a triple Axel later in the season or put if off till next year.
2002 Skate Canada Ladies Medalists
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