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Grand Prix Final a Great Success

 by Sonia Bianchetti


(19 December 2014)  The Grand Prix Final took place in Barcelona, Spain from December 10 to 14. I had never attended a Grand Prix Final before, nor I had been in Barcelona. I must say it was definitely a great week. Barcelona is a wonderful city and the Spanish people very friendly and full of life.

Both the Junior and the Senior events were very interesting, with some outstanding programs. The Junior event, in my opinion, was the most interesting because it offered a very encouraging picture of what figure skating will look like in the next few years.

From a spectator’s point of view, the advantage of such an event is that only the six best skaters in the world, in each category, have qualified, and this is the most attractive thing one can look for.

However, in my opinion, there is an aspect that should be considered and revised in the ISU rules.

At present, there is no limit to the number of competitors of the same country. In the Junior events, Russia conquered 50% of the spots, with two ladies, four pairs, four dance couples and only one man. No other European country was represented. Asia got seven spots, of which five were from Japan. Canada got four and the U.S. only one place, in pair skating.

More or less the same comments apply to the senior event, where Russia definitely dominated with four ladies, two men, two pairs and one dance couple, for a total of nine spots. Only two other European countries, Spain in men and France in dance, were represented. Asia got six spots, three men from Japan and three pairs from China. Canada got only one pair and one dance team and the U.S. two ladies and two dance couples.

This debacle for Europe and North America is cause for concern.

Now, it is true that all these competitors have earned the right to participate, and fully deserved the medals. The skaters and their federations can only be congratulated for this achievement, but on the other hand, this decreases the interest of the event itself because in some cases it looks more like a national competition in Russia or Japan, which is not good for the sport nor for the interests of television.

In my modest opinion, not more than two competitors of the same country should be allowed in the final, thus allowing more Members to participate. Any sport where only a couple of countries dominate loses the public’s interest. Not only does the product not sell, but this also discourages the skaters from continuing if they do not see any future. This can be resolved in two ways, either by leaving to the concerned Members the right to select the skaters they prefer among those who qualified, or limiting the number of skaters that each Member can enter in the various Grand Prix events.

The junior final as a whole was a very interesting competition. Russia won a total of eight medals out of twelve, of which two were in the ladies, three in ice dancing, two in the pairs and one in the men. Two medals went to Japan and one to Canada.

I especially appreciated the Ladies’ event. The skating was amazingly good both in the short and the free programs, with very few minor errors. I definitely enjoyed watching so many really promising young girls.

In the Men’s event, Shoma Uno from Japan gave an outstanding performance, both from a technical and an artistic point of view. He executed a quad toe loop and seven more triples, all of the highest quality. But what impressed me more is the way he skates on deep long edges, with great flexibility. A very talented young skater with great promise for the future.

For the senior events, the arena was filled up with an enthusiastic and very supportive public. Russia won four medals, the U.S. and Canada two each, while China, Japan, France and Spain each got one.

In Pairs, the gold medal went Megan Duhamel/Eric Radford of Canada. Skating to a Muse medley, they performed a wonderful program which included an excellent quad throw Salchow and a throw triple Lutz, beautiful and original lifts as well as a side-by-side triple Lutz, triple toe loop/double toe loop/double toe loop and difficult lifts and spins. Their skating is very elegant, in perfect unison and very appealing.

The silver medal went to Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov from Russia, World and Olympic silver medalists. Skating to “Notre Dame de Paris”, they performed a flawless and very engaging program, perfectly expressing and interpreting their beautiful music. Their program was highlighted by well-executed twist and throw jumps, original lifts, beautiful step sequences and spins.

Winners of the bronze medal were Wenjing Sui/Cong Han, although they placed only 5th in the free. Performing to “Francesca da Rimini” by Tchaikovsky, they executed difficult elements including a quad twist lift, but their program is weak from an artistic point of view; while it does fit the music, it does not transmit any kind of emotion.

The Ladies’ event was very attractive. Sadly, Gracie Gold of the U.S. had to withdraw because of injury. The best wishes for a quick recovery, Gracie!

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Russia, won the gold medal. She placed first both in the short and the free. Skating to the Oriental music pieces “Batwannis Beek” by the REG Project and “Sandstorm” by La Bionda, she performed a flawless program with good speed and elegance. She perfectly executed seven triples, including a triple toe loop/triple toe loop combination. Her jumps are technically very good and she also has beautiful spins and step sequences. In both her programs, she skated to the music, interpreting and expressing it very well. Really a beautiful young lady.

The silver medal went to the two-time and reigning World Junior Champion Elena Radionova, 15 years old. Skating to “Piano Concerto No. 3” and “Trio Elegiaque No. 2” by Sergei Rachmaninov, she executed a difficult and clean program which opened with a triple Lutz/triple toe loop combination, followed by an incredible collection of perfect triple jumps and combinations and a wonderful final layback spin. But her program, although it was well executed and flawless, was missing any kind of emotion or feeling for the music. The movements of her arms were just mechanical and did not fit to the music at all. But this was not reflected in her Program Components at all.

Ashley Wagner, USA, moved up from 6th place in the short to 3rd place in the final. Her free program, performed to the sound track of “Moulin Rouge,” was flawless and very well skated. It included three triple jumps, one double Axel and two jump combinations, of which one was triple flip/triple toe loop. Ashely is a beautiful lady on the ice. Very elegant, mature, expressive, appealing and very pleasant to watch. Unfortunately, in my opinion, all these qualities have not been fairly reflected in the Program Components marks, in which she was undermarked if compared with Elena Radionova, for instance.

The dance event was also very beautiful and enjoyable.

Performing to the “Four Seasons” by Vivaldi arranged by Richter, Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje of Canada, world silver medalists, placed first. They skated a very beautiful and appealing program with intricate footwork and impressive lifts.

In second place we had Madison Chock/Evan Bates from the U.S. They delivered a strong and very attractive performance to “An American in Paris” by George Gershwin, which was much appreciated by the public.

The 2013 World Junior silver medalists Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron, France, won the bronze medal. They danced to the Adagio from Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23. The couple have gone from outsiders to favorites since their splendid victories at the Cup of China in Shanghai and the Bompard Trophy in Bordeaux. They displayed incredibly long and deep edges and they perfectly interpreted and expressed their music with their bodies, as if there were a perfect melding of their emotions. Their free dance included complicated step sequences and original lifts and spins. I particularly appreciated their beautiful music and elegant skating, with a lot of class.

The Men’s event, as usual, was very exciting and full of surprises.

Yuzuru Hanyu, the Olympic champion from Japan, was first both in the short and the free program. He executed a quadruple Salchow and a quadruple toe loop as well as seven triples, including a rare triple Axel-half loop-triple Salchow combination, as well as beautiful spins. His only mistake was a fall on the triple Lutz at the end of the program. His jumps are of the highest technical quality, properly started and landed, without any visible effort. Impressive were also his step sequences, especially, in my opinion, his choreo sequence filled with original and beautiful moves. Skating to marvellous music from “The Phantom of the Opera“, he was invincible in combining speed, athleticism and elegance. His skating is very soft and graceful and filled with passion. He surely is a natural talent.

Javier Fernandez of Spain moved up from 5th place in the short to 2nd place in the final. Probably because of the immense pressure and the emotion of skating for the first time in front of his home public, Javier completely messed up the short program. Luckily, he was able to recover from the shock, and in the free skating, he presented a splendid performance. Skating to “The Barber of Seville” by Rossini, he opened his free program with a big quadruple toe loop followed by a quadruple Salchow/triple toe loop combination, a huge triple Axel and another quadruple Salchow not perfectly landed, plus three more triples and beautiful spins and fantastic step sequences. His technique is great and the height and length of his jumps is unbelievable. But what is even more impressive for me is the way he skates: he moves, he enjoys his skating, reaching the heart of the audience, which thanked him with a standing ovation. He really lives the music and his skating is a perfect melding of technique and art, which is what used to make our sport unique and that unfortunately we too seldom see now. Spain can be proud of its champion, and Javier can be proud of his fans and his country.

Sergei Voronov from Russia claimed the bronze medal. Skating to “This is a Man’s World” and “Come Together”, after a shaky landing on the quadruple toe loop, he executed correctly seven more triples. On the whole, it was a good program, even if his body movements are a bit stiff and not that attractive or communicative.

The Grand Prix Final is now over. Figure skating continues to give me a lot of joy and I was very happy to meet so many wonderful friends and share my passion with them. I would also like to congratulate the Spanish federation for having organized such an important and successful event. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.