by Alexandra Stevenson
Samuel Koppel, EST
Javier Raya, ESP
Jasmine Costa, EST
Ira Vannut, BEL
Volodenkova & Vakunov, BLR
Virtue & Moir, CAN
(4 October 2012) (Revised following withdrawal of Virtue & Moir)
The 2012 Finlandia Trophy is set to open this weekend with competitors in Ladies, Men's and Ice Dance events.
There is no pairs event in this competition which is being held for the 14th time in the new Barona Areena (the Finnish language contains lots of extra vowels). For the first time, a Synchronized Event has been added. The location, Espoo, is the second largest city in Finland to Helsinki but is immediately adjacent to the capital.
The stars of this event surely would have been Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, the Canadian Olympic ice dance gold medallists. But the day before competition was to begin they withdrew from the competition. That leaves the limelight largely to the always entertaining Johnny Weir.
The favorite for the Men's event has to be the 17-year-old Yazuru Hanyu, who, in his first World Championship in 2012, gained the bronze medal, even though he was ranked only third in Japan. In March 2011, he escaped from the ice surface as the rocking destroyed his rink in Sendai, when the earthquake hit Japan. Astonishingly, even though he lost much training time, he went on to earn gold in the 2011 Nebelhorn Trophy and then waltz off with bronze in Nice. He is accompanied by a teammate, Kento Nakamara, the 2011 Japanese Junior Champion, who will turn 21 on October 16.
Even Weir’s appeal as a fashionista, colorful television celebrity, author and sometimes controversial star, which has long outlasted his expected “fifteen minutes of fame”, cannot top a story like Hanyu’s.
Still, the 205th instalment of his TV show, Be Good Johnny Weir, aired earlier this week, and in September he was part of the show in Japan starring Stephane Lambiel and Miki Ando. His tweets are followed avidly by his intensely loyal fans.
Many of Weir’s supporters, including some who believe he should have been an Olympic Champion, are in the entertainment world. In his two appearances in the Winter Games, he placed fifth (in 2006) and sixth in (2010), with the latter his last ISU competition. The three-time U.S. Champion (2004-2006) had a best placing of third in World Championship competition in 2008.
The 28-year-old, who initially earned skating fame by winning the World Junior Championships in 2001, is undoubtedly a gay icon, having married Victor Voronov at the end of last year and adopted a hyphenated last name of Weir-Voronov. Voronov, a lawyer, claims he did not even know who Weir was when they were first introduced. This will be the first time Voronov has ever attended a skating competition.
A recent private run-through of Weir’s long program showed he still oozes personality on the ice. His flow over the ice is as sure, swift and sound-less as ever but will he be able to cut it technically? He has been training hard in Hackensack with 1992 Olympic champion, Viktor Petrenko.
Among Weir’s main opposition is probably his teammate, “Ricky” Dornbush, a 5’8”, 21-year-old from Riverside, California. Dornbush was the 2011 U.S. National silver medallist and 9th in the 2011 World Championship. However, he was only a shocking 13th in the 2012 nationals and repeated that low placing a very short time later in the Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs. It turned out that one of his skating boots had somehow been exposed to a massive blast of heat (maybe the California sun) and had warped causing the problems.
Coach Tammy Gambill said, "The right blade (his landing foot) was twisted and the boot broken down, so the more he skated on them, the worse it got. He just kept thinking he was going crazy. But once this was discovered, things started falling back into place and he got his confidence back."
Dornbush will present his Short Program to U2's "With or Without You," created by Vancouver choreographer Mark Pillay. His free was set by Cindy Stuart to a medley of "Rooftops" by Danny Elfman; “The Wild Ones” by Lou Busch, and the evocative “Harlem Nocturne," by Earle Hagen and Dick Rogers. He explained, “My new free has a very sort of noir-ish, gangster feel to it. It is character driven, but definitely more subtle than last season’s western routine.”
Those looking to edge the Americans from the podium include Javier Fernandez of Spain, a 21-year-old who created a sensation when he nearly upset world champion Patrick Chan in last season’s Skate Canada Grand Prix. Fernandez had competed six times in Worlds with a best placing of 9th last March. Zhan Bush, the current Russian Junior Champion, is back to redeem himself after an 8th place finish in this event last year. Also in the mix is Misha Ge, the now Californian 20-year-old who represents Uzbekistan, which is in his mother’s ancestry. Ge has been in the past two World Championships improving from 30th to 19th.
Entering this minor league event last season proved to be a successful first step on the comeback trail for the Canadian Olympic Champions Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir. They won the 2010 world title but lost it the following year to their U.S. training mates, Meryl Davis & Charlie White, due to a lack of training because of a reoccurrence of Virtue’s shin pain and subsequent second round of operations.
But, after their win in Finland last year, they finished their season recapturing their position at the top of the podium in worlds in Nice in March. They want to repeat this proven path leading up to, what they hope, will be their third world title at the John Labatt Centre in their home area, London, Ontario. Moir confided, “We love skating in that venue. It can’t be more pressure than skating in Vancouver at the Olympics.”
The couples' competition plans for this season, however, have been temporarily derailed with an injury to Moir, which caused the couple to withdraw from the competition the day before competitive events were to begin. Thursday, Skate Canada announced after the withdrawal that Moir has "a slight muscle strain in his neck."
"It is disappointing not to go to Finland, but this early in the season we feel it was better to be cautious and careful. We have a long season ahead of us, and just don’t want to risk aggravating things by travelling and competing this weekend," said Moir.
The two will miss returning to Finlandia for a second time. “We had such a great summer of training, and we were really excited to debut our two new programs in Finland,” said Virtue. “We had such a positive experience last year and were really looking forward to returning. The fans, our friends and the Finnish Figure Skating Association were so supportive of us that we couldn’t wait to go back.”
“Our bags were packed, and it was literally just four hours before our scheduled flight that we made the decision,” explained Virtue. “However, injuries are part of being an athlete. We understand that, and we feel fortunate that Scott now has the time to recover 100%. We will be back training hard to show off our programs at Skate Canada International in Windsor in just a few weeks.”
With Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir out, the Russian couple, Elena Bobrova & Dmitriev Soloviev, who have been runners-up for the European title for the past two years, and placed eighth, sixth and seventh in the last three World Championships are in line for gold. Their strongest challenge should come from Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte, Italy, who have risen over the past six years from their debut in the 2007 World Championship where they placed 13th to a sixth place finish last March at the 2012 Championships.
The U.S. will be represented by Madison Hubbell & Zach Donahue, who last season won their first international together in the Nebelhorn Trophy and earned tenth place in the 2012 World Championship. The field comprises 13 couples from 11 countries.
Twelve entries from nine countries will compete in the Ladies event in which the U.S. will be represented by Mirai Nagasu. The 2007 U.S. Junior and 2008 U.S. Senior champion has had a great deal of up and down experience. She was 4th in the Olympic Games in Vancouver but this past season, she was only 7th nationally.
In 2008, Nagasu became the youngest woman since Tara Lipinski in 1997 to win the U.S. Senior Ladies title. She remains the second youngest ever. This season her routine have been choreographed by Susan Austin. Her Short Program is to Benny Goodman’s “Downhill Special”. The Free uses Camille Saint Saens’ Opus 78 Symphony No.3 in C Minor.
The host country’s hopes for a medal lie with their always graceful women, including Kiira Korpi. Korpi, who turned 24 on September 26, is the 2009, 2011 & 2012 Finnish champion, and twice Olympic representative, finished 16th in Torino and 11th in Vancouver.
She is a very good example of how a very graceful performer can be side-lined by the stress incurred from landing triple jumps. She made her World Championship debut in 2006 (placing 10th) but went down to 14th the following year. She was back up to 9th I 2008 but missed the 2009 season and placed only 19th in 2010. In 2011, she finished 9th but did not compete in last season’s World.
Definitely in the mix, is the Russian and World Junior Champion, Julia Lipnitskaya, who turned 14 on June 5. North American fans will remember her stunning acrobatic performance when winning the Junior Grand Prix in Quebec City late last year. Born in Ekaterinburg, she moved to Moscow when her early skating skills began to develop.