The Grand Prix Final 2011

by Sonia Bianchetti Garbato

The Grand Prix Final was held in Québec City from December 8 to 10, 2011.  As expected, it was really a fantastic and very exciting event, the best I can remember in many years.

The Grand Prix Final this year was particularly interesting because it included both the junior and senior finals, thus giving the opportunity to the junior skaters to perform with the top world skaters and to the audience and the spectators to watch the present champions as well as those of the future. And, from what we have seen, there are some really promising stars on the horizon.

Junior Ladies

The Junior Ladies event was a sweep of Russian skaters. Julia Lipnitskaia was first, joined on the podium by silver medalist Polina Shelepen and bronze medalist Polina Korobeinikova.

All three girls, respectively 13, 16 and 15 years old, gave strong performances executing double Axels, all triple jumps and triple/triple jump combinations, plus very good spins. In spite of their youth, they have good programs, are elegant and very pleasant to watch. All three are very promising and really represent the re-birth of Russian skating.

Junior Pairs

The Junior Pairs event was remarkable as well.

Wenjing Sui/Cong Han of China won the gold medal. Skating to a flamenco, they executed a fantastic throw quadruple Salchow that was only slightly two-footed and a throw triple flip, and tried a quadruple twist which, however, was downgraded. They had also very beautiful spins and lifts.

The silver medal went to Katherine Bobak/Ian Beharry of Canada. Skating to "Spartacus," they had a clean performance that included a triple twist, a double Axel-double Axel sequence and a throw triple loop. Their program is very beautiful, skated well to the music, and they are very elegant on the ice.

The bronze went to Britney Simpson/Matthew Blackmer of the USA.

Junior Men

The Junior Men’s gold medal went to Jason Brown of the USA, 17 years old, followed by China's Han Yan, 15 years, and American Joshua Farris,16.

Brown's program to "Flow Like Water" by James Newton Howard included seven triple jumps and fast, well-centered spins. I was impressed by the beauty and the elegance of his skating. A very promising young man.

Han Yan, who was first in the free skate, executed a fantastic triple Axel, a perfect quadruple toe loop and six triples in his program set to "Zigeunerweisen." His jumps are technically very good, high, long with soft landings on well-bent knees. He really flies over the ice. Another real young talent.

Joshua Farris, who was leading after the short program, started strong into his new program to Sergei Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 3 with a triple Axel and a triple toe-triple toe but later missed the second triple Axel and fell in the footwork.

Junior Dance

In Junior Ice Dancing, all three medals went to Russia with Victoria Sinitsina/Ruslan Zhiganshin winning gold, Anna Yanovskaia/Sergei Mozgov silver, and Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin bronze. Another sweep by Russia in a junior event.

Senior Ladies

The Senior Ladies event was missing two-time world champion Mao Asada of Japan, who had to leave Québec City before the start of the competition because her mother was seriously ill. Kyoko Asada unfortunately passed away in Nagoya before Mao could say good bye to her. I would like to express to Mao all my sympathy for the loss of her beloved mother.

Carolina Kostner of Italy placed first, giving stellar performances in both the short and the free programs which were also the only clean ones of the event.

Dressed in an unconventional sparkling silver costume, Carolina skated an almost flawless free program to Mozart's Concerto No. 23 (her only mistake was a hand down on her triple flip). Every movement of her body, head, and hands was perfectly in line with her superb music, creating a great harmony between the elements she was performing and the music. Just magic. The perfect melding of sport with art.

Akiko Suzuki of Japan won the silver. Skating to "Die Fledermaus," Akiko executed more difficult triples than Kostner, including two triple Lutzes, but also had some errors on three jump landings. She is a beautiful and elegant skater.

Alena Leonova of Russia placed third. She executed a triple toe-triple toe combination and three other triple jumps, but fell on the triple Lutz. In my opinion, her program needs to be improved from an artistic point of view. Too much movement of her arms up and down without any meaning at all.

Elizaveta Tuktamisheva of Russia, who is only 14, bounced back from a short program full of errors to fourth place, placing second in her free program. Elizaveta is technically very strong but still lacks in presentation and expression, which is understandable in view of her junior age. A very promising and talented young girl.

Senior Men

The most exciting event was for sure the men’s free skating. All the competitors decided to include in their programs at least a quadruple jump, but few could execute it without relatively important errors. Javier Fernandez of Spain was the only one who did execute two splendid quads, toe loop and Salchow. Almost inconceivable until a few years ago for a Spanish skater! What I especially appreciated in this event was the clear intent of all the competitors to perform programs artistically conceived and not just focused on technical elements. What counts in figure skating is to communicate emotions and the joy of skating. And they succeeded!

Patrick Chan of Canada placed first in both short and free. Performing to "Concerto de Aranjuez," Patrick struggled to control the landings of his two quadruple toe loop attempts and also fell on a triple Lutz, but still got enough points to win the free skating over Takahashi. There is no doubt that Patrick is a fantastic skater. The way he moves his body, the depth of his edges, his natural elegance and class are surely unique; still, yesterday he was not as convincing as usual, he seemed to me unable to reach the heart of the audience, he left me cold. To me, he was overmarked once again.

Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, gave a superb performance skated to "Blues for Klook". The 2010 world champion delivered the most solid jumping performance of the day. His only error was touching down with the hand after two-footing the landing of his quadruple toe loop, but then he perfectly executed eight triples, including two triple Axels. The whole program was just superb. He is inside his music; he lives it and transmits his own feelings and emotions with each movement and through fabulous steps and step sequences. Thanks, Daisuke!

Third place went to Javier Fernandez of Spain. This is a historic result because Javier is the first Spaniard to qualify for the Grand Prix Final and he brings home the bronze medal! In his free program he executed two of the best quadruple jumps, a toe loop and a Salchow, ever executed. Unfortunately, the landings of three other jumps were shaky.

But his program is intense, skated with great Latin passion to a very beautiful medley of Verdi operas. The skating of Fernandez, the way he moves his body and uses his arms, reminds me very much of Brian Orser, his present coach. During Brian’s competitive career, I often had the honour and the pleasure of acting as the referee in international competitions and championships, including the Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, where Brian was competing. He was a marvellous skater and one of my favourites. Now, watching Javier, I cannot refrain from comparing him with Brian.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan finished fourth, but was third in the free skating. Yuzuru, who is only 17, is a real talent and a very promising young skater. He is technically excellent, very flexible, and the way he glides on the ice is marvellous.

Senior Pairs

The Senior Pair skating event was also very exciting and of a very high level.

Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy of Germany placed first.

Skating to "Pina," they started off with a gorgeous throw triple flip, followed by a triple toe-triple toe combination, a fantastic triple twist, and difficult and original lifts and spins. Their skating was very elegant and intense and from one competition to another, their interpretation and expression of this difficult music is definitely improving.

The silver medal went to Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov of Russia. They performed a dramatic program to the "Black Swan," which included a fantastic triple twist, triple Salchow, triple toe-double toe and three very beautiful and difficult lifts. The program is very well choreographed and their interpretation of the music very intense and appealing. Really wonderful and pleasant to watch.

The bronze medal went to Yoko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov of Russia. They opened their program to "Clair de Lune" with a solid triple toe loop followed by an excellent triple twist and throw triple Salchow, but she singled the second jump in the double Axel-double Axel sequence. Their interpretation of the "Clair de Lune" is very emotional and expressive.

Senior Dance

The dance event closed the 2011 Grand Prix Final with the unforgettable performances of Davis/White and Virtue/Moir.

Meryl Davis/Charlie White of the USA placed first in both the short and the free dance.

Their program skated to "Die Fledermaus" waltz by Strauss brought the audience to Vienna in the 1800s. The music is very beautiful and their interpretation just fantastic. The program is of a very high technical level, with beautiful lifts executed at unbelievable speed exactly on the music. And their skating on deep edges is like a dream to me. They literally fly on the ice, transmitting deep, memorable emotion. This program is simply breathtaking; it is one for the ages. At the end of their program, I had tears in my eyes!

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir of Canada placed second with another outstanding performance.

They entertained the crowd as Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire set to the soundtrack from the 1957 movie Funny Face. Their movements and choreography were styled to reflect the golden age of musicals. An extraordinary program of a very high technical level skated with class and elegance, totally different from that of Meryl and Charlie but equally attractive and appealing. With their class and elegance, both in the choreography of their programs and their sober costumes, they have set a new trend in ice dancing worldwide.

Nathalie Pechalat/Fabian Bourzat of France took the bronze medal with an Egyptian-themed dance which featured innovative lifts and difficult steps.

The next important event will be the World Championships, which will be held in Nice at the end of March. To all the skaters, the best wishes for a very successful New Year.

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