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Thoughts on the 2016 Grand Prix Final

 by Sonia Bianchetti


 

(19 December 2016)  The Grand Prix Final took place in Marseille, France, from December 7 to 11 in the Palais de la Glace et de la Glisse. The arena was filled with Japanese fans who came to Marseille to see and support their idol, Yuzuru Hanyu. Rather than in France, I felt like I was in Tokyo!

I definitely had a great time and enjoyed a very friendly atmosphere. Both the junior and the senior events were very interesting, with some outstanding programs.

The junior event was very interesting. A bit disappointing, in my opinion, was the men’s event because of the many mistakes and lack of “skating.” Also concerning was the lack of participants from most European countries and the US in the ladies and pairs. Canada has disappeared as well! For the fourth year in a row, only two countries earned spots in the Ladies event: Russia and Japan. In Men, Russia qualified four skaters; in pairs, dominated and qualified five couples; in ice dancing, two. Ice dancing was the only event where the USA gained three spots.

Russia won a total of seven medals out of twelve, of which two were in the Ladies, one in Ice Dancing, two in the Pairs and two in the Men. Two medals went to the US, one to Japan, one to Korea and one to Czech Republic.

Since the junior skaters represent the future of our sport, I think that the ISU governing bodies should take into serious consideration the reasons why so many countries have practically disappeared from the scene.

Dance

The dance event was very fascinating and appealing and the skating level of all the couples very high.

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) won the gold medal followed by Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron of France while Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) picked up the bronze.

Performing to “Pilgrims on a long journey” and “Latch”, Virtue and Moir performed an excellent program, skated perfectly to their music with fluidity and speed, flying across the ice in perfect unison on deep edges. They were very strong in the technical elements, with beautiful and innovative lifts. Another fantastic program which was rewarded by the judges with seven 10.0 marks in their Program Components.

Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (France) put out an excellent performance to dance to “Stillness”, “Oddudua”, and “Happiness Does Not Wait,” that was highlighted by smooth step sequences and beautiful lifts. 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. They got a standing ovation.

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani (USA), skating to a dance named “ Evolution”, produced smooth footwork and impressive lifts. 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.

Pairs

The pairs event was a bit disappointing with many mistakes and falls.

Evgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov of Russia struck gold. China’s Xiaoyu Yu/Hao Zhang earned the silver medal and the bronze went to Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford of Canada.

Eugenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov, skating to “Music is My First Love” by John Miles, opened their program with a fantastic quadruple twist, but Vladimir landed forward on the side by side triple Salchow. The throw triple Salchow as well as the throw triple loop were very good, while in the jump combination there were a few errors. The rest of the program was flawless and the lifts were excellent and original. In spite of a few errors, the program was still lovely and fascinating.

Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao, skating to “Cavatina: Larghetto amoroso” by Emil von Sauer, opened their free program with a terrific triple twist and their throw triple Salchow and loop were gorgeous. Their jump combination was not perfect because Yu under-rotated the triple toe loop and landed the double toe loop on two feet. Their first two lifts had great speed and flow and the music suits them very well and emphasizes their strengths. Unfortunately, at the end of their program, Yu fell at the conclusion of the pair combination spin.

The reigning world champions, Meagan Duhamel/ Eric Radford, made several costly mistakes and therefore finished only third. Their free program music was the famous Edith Piaf song “Non, je ne regrette rien,” sung by Patricia Kaas. After a very good triple twist, Meagan doubled the side by side Lutz. Then they risked the quad throw Salchow, which Duhamel landed with a touch down of her hand, but she did not fall. The reverse lasso lift was excellent, but then Duhamel messed up the jump combination. The other elements were good, the lifts had an excellent quality. Their free program, set to a modern French song, is undoubtedly a very sophisticated program. Beautiful is their new spiral entrance into their throw triple Lutz, and the ending of the Axel lasso lift is wonderful. In spite of a few errors, their skating was very elegant and very appealing.

Men

The senior Men’s event, which I expected would be the most exciting one, turned out to be a disaster. It was just distressing for me to see these marvelous and talented skaters fall apart during their free programs. I am afraid I do not have the proper words to describe my feelings, but I had tears in my eyes. Luckily, at least the two younger skaters, Shoma Uno and Nathan Chen, offered two excellent performances and helped my morale.

Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan, placed 1st in the short and 3rd in the free. His victory is due to his high lead in the short program and also to some help from his rivals. Skating to “Hope and Legacy” by Joe Hisaishi, he started off well, executing a beautiful quad loop, followed by a quad Salchow, but fell on his quad Salchow/triple toe loop combination, and singled the triple Lutz. The other jumps, including a quad toe loop and two triple Axels were well executed and 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. His skating is very soft and graceful and filled with passion.

Nathan Chen (USA), won the silver medal. Skating to “Polovtsian Dances” by Alexander Borodin, he perfectly executed all his jumps, including a quad Lutz/triple toe loop combination, followed by a quad Flip, a quad toe loop and another quad toe loop/double toe loop/double loop combination, plus four more triples, including a triple Axel. He jumps without any visible effort and his technique is excellent. His skating is very soft and he moves well on the ice. He got the highest free skating score. Definitely a fantastic and promising young skater.

The bronze medal went to Shoma Uno (Japan). Skating to “Buenos Aires Hora Cero” and “Balada Para un Loco” by Astor Piazzolla, Shoma gave an outstanding performance, both from a technical and an artistic point of view. He perfectly executed a quad flip and a quad toe loop/double toe loop combination, while he stumbled on the quad toe loop. All his triples are of the highest quality. But what impressed me more is the way he skates on deep long edges, with great flexibility. He really flows on the ice and transmits his joy of skating. A very talented young skater and a great promise for the future.

Ladies

The Ladies’ event was really marvelous and I would like to congratulate the skaters, their coaches and choreographers for the beautiful choices in the music. It made the competition really enjoyable and appealing to the public, which is most important to attract the audience again to our beautiful sport.

Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia, the reigning European and World champion, struck gold in the Ladies event. Japan’s Satoko Miyahara won the silver medal and Anna Pogorilaya of Russia took the bronze, her first Grand Prix Final medal.

Evgenia Medvedeva skated a beautiful program to music from the “Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close” soundtrack, entertaining the audience all the time. Medvedeva stumbled on her opening triple flip but then executed six triples, including a triple flip-triple toe loop and a triple Salchow-triple toe loop. All her jumps were perfectly landed and she also had beautiful spins and steps sequences. Her program is very well choreographed and perfectly suitable for her. She moves well on the ice and she skates to the music, interpreting and expressing it in a brilliant and impressive way. She moves with the speed and the elegance of a Lady! Really a very beautiful and promising young skater.

Performing to “The Planets” by Gustav Holst, Satoko Miyahara, the 2015 World silver medalist, executed a flawless program which included six clean triples and excellent spins and footwork. Only a triple flip was under-rotated. Her program is very beautiful and she is flying on the ice at incredible speed. Another promising young Lady.

Anna Pogorilaya, the 2016 World bronze medalist, performed a flawless program to “The Modigliani Suite” and “Memorial”. It included a triple Lutz-triple toe loop and a triple Lutz-half loop-triple Salchow combination as well as three more triple jumps. Her program is very well choreographed and she expresses the music with elegant movements of her arms and of her body. She is now a beautiful young promising Lady.

I enjoyed watching this marvelous event but, although figure skating continues to attract me, I must admit that, except in very rare cases, I miss what made our sport so special: the art, the creativity, the interpretation and the expression of the music, the capability of the skaters to transfer their joy and inner feelings to the public. And the reason for this, as I have said many times, is that the programs are much too demanding and the number of requirements and details imposed by the rules have become excessive by far. During the programs, the skaters are mostly running from one jump to the next in a rotational nightmare and, very often, from one fall to another. The one who can do the most quads is the best free skater in the world. But is he really the best skater?

There is so much more to pay attention to in skating. Just to make an example: is it correct, for instance, that a marvelous skater like Jason Brown has no chance to reach the podium because the quads elude him? He is such a great performer, it is such a pleasure to watch him and he is loved by all skating fans. Into what has the ISU turned our sport?

The judging system clearly rewards too much the difficulties, compared to the beauty and the artistic part of the program. There should be more attention paid to the quality of the skating, to fluidity, to flow and glide on deep edges and the ability of the skater to express their feelings and their passion for the music.

The solution, in my opinion, is very simple and would take only a few minutes for the ISU leaders to change the balance between the Technical Score and the Program Components score. Today, the Program Component scores do not even represent the percentage foreseen by the Rules, 50% of the total score, especially for the men and pairs, because the points gained in the technical part exceed by far the ones you can get in the Program Components, even if the skater were to receive 10s from all the judges.

So to make our sport beautiful and appealing again, my suggestion would be to increase the value of the Program Components score to 60% of the total score, at least for the free program. This simple modification would open the way to the podium also to the many "artists" all over the world and would make our wonderful sport appealing and popular again.

Let's be optimistic and trust the new ISU leadership.