Let’s start with that: close your eyes for a couple of seconds – and think about the biggest moments of this year’s edition of the Worlds. What do you see? I see (and almost hear) Yuzuru Hanyu’s roar before the step sequence in his Chopin short program, and then again, I hear him yelling once the routine has ended, relieved, exhaling pressure – an image that will make for a great front page in the Japanese newspapers a day later. I see Ashley Wagner laughing hysterically, bottom on the ice, at the end of her glorious Samba – definitely the best short program she’s ever skated, and a wonderful display of emotions in front of the home crowd. I hear the quietness and the piano, I see the serenity on Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron’s faces while they’re building their home: the beauty and simplicity of their free dance this season will not be easily forgotten. I can almost feel the intensity in Wenjing Sui and Cong Han’s flamenco routine: the daring movements, the staccato of the music, their commitment – they owned the dance from the first second till the very end. And I’m ecstatic all over again remembering, in the tiniest details, the perfect program of Javier Fernández, who’s now two-time World champion: the Spaniard had the skate of his life in Boston and, at the end of it, his hands on his face in disbelief, I felt like standing up and shouting “Olé!” for this wonderful man who continues to make history for his country.
And I’ll remember the lavender butterflies in Mao Asada’s emotional, exquisite free skate – her arms in the air, the subtlety, the openness, the aura, the complete abandonment to the music – and the bitter disappointment of not seeing all of those translated into her Components score. Is it as if, after an year off the competitive arena, the judges in Boston decided to treat Mao once again like a beginner (or maybe like a retiree…?); and this is wrong for all the reasons in the world.
With all of these in mind – and with the promise there’s so much more where these came from – let’s consider 2016 Worlds in retrospect. And do allow us to initiate a particular way of looking at the disciplines: elaborate scenes, episodes (you’ll recognize them when reading…) and, among them, like rain drops into the big ocean of the competition, bits and pieces, images, feelings, nuances. Eight events, like eight paintings, with their gilded frames made of emotions.
And, yes, there’s one more thing you need to know: this edition of the Worlds will enter history due to the fact that 3 out of the 4 champions from 2015 Worlds defended their titles in Boston – Javier Fernández, dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, pairs skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford – and Russia managed to retain its gold in the ladies’ event, through the 16-year-old Evgenia Medvedeva.
by Florentina Tone
Victoria Sinitsina, skating to Tchaikovsky, in her hazy, white dress, is the embodiment of a swan, really. * Federica Testa is a convincing Morticia Addams, or what? “Oceni harasho”, says Tatiana Tarasova while commentating for a Russian television, and I feel like saying the exact same thing at the end of the Slovaks’ short dance. * Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen are literally flying across the ice while skating their short dance to “Never Tear Us Apart” by INXS – is it just me, or the music suits them beautifully? * The Shpilband touch is so, so visible in Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland’s short dance; technically, they’re in a different league right now, and the scores (68.23 points, a Seasons Best) do nothing but prove it.
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and their “Hallelujah”: their progress this season, in terms of performance, interpretation, is truly remarkable. I didn’t know they had this in them – Montreal really does them good. * In her orange, ballroom dance dress, Alexandra Stepanova resembles a colored bubble of soap, and their short dance, to Waltz and Foxtrot from the soundtrack of “The Stunt Man”, la pièce de resistence of their programs this season. * I can’t resist being amazed by the quality of skate and the twizzles, wow-twizzles, of Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri. * Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani’s short dance to “Coppélia” in just three words: lightness, smoothness, joy.
Straight from the ballroom dance floor: Madison Chock, Evan Bates and the warm voices of Andrea Bocelli and Il Divo, now that’s a match made in Heaven. * Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje: “Pure Elegance”, say the fans, “Pure Elegance”, we agree. And I’ll definitely miss this jewel of a short dance, to, maybe, the most famous Waltz of all times (“The Blue Danube” by Johann Strauss II). * Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte: this last group of dancers is so good, that I’ll give them all a standing ovation. And the Italians’ choice of music, Waltz and Polka from “The Merry Widow” by Franz Lehár, probably my favorite short dance music this season.
Piper Gilles, Paul Poirier – and the scores that almost made their hearts stop with excitement – the photo below will speak for itself. Add here Piper’s message when seeing, later that day, their “hilarious faces” in the Kiss and Cry: “No words can really describe this moment other than HOLY MOLY”. The scores making them (literally) yell? Well, “hardly anything”: 70.70 points, a Seasons Best, and the highest they have ever scored in their career so far. Their success formula at the end of the season? Taking out the classical music in their short dance (“Six German Dances” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and “Air Pour Les Sauvages” by Jean-Philippe Rameau) and staying in the character of the Beatles routine, adding to “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” bits of two other famous pieces, “Norwegian Wood” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da”. And what a difference that made!
I knew they’d change something in their short dance – Piper herself wrote a suggestive message on twitter during Junior Worlds in Debrecen (“Also beware of our new Short dance coming your way in Boston”) – but I didn’t know what it was. Well, it turned out they kept the pacificatory message of the dance (and the colorful costumes), and only enhanced it to make it even more credible. The judges loved it, I loved it – the moment it ended I wanted to see it again – and, finally, their freshness, their originality paid off.
Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron: visually stunning. Her golden necklace from the Europeans transferred itself to Guillaume’s embroidered cuffs in Boston – the first pose of their program is to die for. And their short dance altogether, to “Charms” (from the movie “W.E.”) by Abel Korzeniowski and to a March (to fit the Waltz) by Karl Hugo, is truly highlighting their skills, their musicality. I’ll only say that: there’s no one like them in the ice dancing world right now.
Misha Ge: a beautiful, blue skate, to one of Rachmaninov’s finest – Piano Concerto no. 2. * Boyang Jin: he does have what it takes for a tango; the music with character seems to suit him so very well. And his neck becomes a swan neck, and one of his allies, when he elevates in the air, looking for the perfect twirl and, so, the perfect jump. * In terms of performance and feeling for the music, Shoma Uno is already there, in the Big League. In the first Senior Worlds of his career, the 17-year-old Japanese has proved intensity, focus, incredible depth of edge – and he somehow manages to stay relaxed when some of his elements fail him (have you seen his smile when turning the 3-3 combination into a 3-2 one?). Of course, things will look different in the free – but let’s not anticipate.
The mistake on the quad Salchow really doesn’t take anything away from Javier Fernandéz’s “Malagueña”: the Spaniard sells the program brilliantly, with flair and feel for the music, and the scores are matching the performance: 98.52 points. Looking at his student, Brian Orser says with a smile: “A couple of years ago, 98 was…” I haven’t heard the sequel, but “unattainable” or “hard to get” might have been some of Brian’s options to end the sentence. * Skating to “Mack the Knife” by Michael Bublé, and holding the edge like no other, Patrick Chan is a joy to the eyes. “Being away for 2 Worlds, this feels like my first one”, he’ll say later on, in the press conference. And he’s putting himself “through this kind of stress” once again because of the way a performance makes him feel, because of “the sheer joy of that performance”.
After Yuzuru Hanyu’s short program, Brian Orser will proudly say in the Kiss and Cry, his eyes glittering: “Look, 1 and 2. Nice”. His students will remain there at the end of this particular segment of the men’s event. * The down-to-earth young man that Javier Fernández is – his words in the press conference: “There’s so many good skaters in this competition”, “Today I didn’t remember I was defending the World title, that I needed to defend something. That wasn’t in my mind”, “Hopefully, in the free skating I’ll keep more concentrated. Yuzuru is already like 10 points ahead, and I just want to skate the best that I can”.
Adam Rippon – and his redeeming skate at 2016 Worlds. A while ago, during the Grand Prix circuit, Adam said in all sincerity, in an interview for Inside Skating: “This season I want to be the U.S. National Champion and I really want to have my best skates at World Championships in Boston. Boston was the place where I failed to qualify for the Olympics and I wanna go back and have some of my best skates there. […] I wanna have revenge”. And he did, he masterfully did that in his short program at 2016 Worlds and, two days later, in the free. His composure while skating to Queen’s “Who Wants to Live Forever”, his glowing face at the end of the routine were absolutely priceless – as it was coach Rafael Arutyunyan’s reaction behind the boards, joyfully punching Derrick Delmore sitting next to him when Adam hit his final pose. Arutyunyan’s (victorious) clenched fist was again to be seen when Adam’s scores were announced (85.72 points, a Seasons Best) and it’ll make a career at this edition of the Worlds, really, with both Adam Rippon and Ashley Wagner skating lights-out in Boston.
Yuzuru Hanyu: commitment to the fingertips. The random drops of sweat on Yuzuru Hanyu’s face while waiting for Chopin’s music to start, his trembling eyelashes – these (new) cameras almost give you the impression you could even enter someone’s mind if you wanted. And I can’t help thinking those tiny, sparkling drops, quintessence of focus, effort, concentration, are a perfect match to Yuzuru’s precious stones on his white-and-blue shirt; and the importance, the luck-bearing capacity of those stones. (Johnny Weir’s words immediately come to mind – he designed Yuzuru’s costume for his free skate in the Olympic season: “Japanese culture and people are very different from what I’m used to, and for every rhinestone, for every color, he needed people to sign off, and everyone had to be sure that it was perfect, it was good and it was lucky”).
But the quietness, tranquility of this first part of the program, a jewel in itself, is just apparent – and Yuzuru’s roar before his final step sequence, and then again, at the end of the routine, speaks volumes of his state of mind while taking the ice. He’ll explain it later, in the press conference: “I was really nervous tonight, but the quality of nerves was different [than during other competitions]. My practice yesterday did not go very well and I faced multiple obstacles in my training leading up to this event”. He’ll even say he is “aware of the expectations” of his standings, and all those different feelings made him show his emotions so strong.
To me, the contrast between the serenity of the program and Yuzuru’s nervousness while skating it made for an unbelievably emotional performance, and his face at the end, relieved and (literally) exhaling pressure, one of the strongest images of these Worlds; and, of course, a wonderful front page photo in the Japanese newspapers the next day.
HIP HIP CHIN CHIN
Zijun Li: what a wonderful skate, to “Clair de Lune” and “La Polka de Paris” – and her arms, delicate feathers. *Alaine Chartrand and “Pina” are truly a great match – and I wish she would keep this SP and do justice to the music and brilliant choreography; she hasn’t yet skated the program to its full potential. * So Youn Park skating to “Black Orpheus”: she grabs your attentions and runs away with it. * Elizabet Tursynbaeva’s short program to “I Got Rhythm” is a marvel and I’m sold. Love the choreo, love the character: she can skate to so much more than soft music. I feel the PCS don’t reflect her (and David Wilson’s) work though – she does not have a juniorish skating anymore, as the scores would let you think.
She is a fighter Evgenia Medvedeva, she really is: she can pull together a routine even if things are not working according to plans; and she does that effortlessly, without the audience even noticing her changing the layout of the program. Add here beauty, calmness, consistency. Can you believe she’s only 16 and last season was skating in Juniors? I can’t. * Elena Radionova mumbling the words of Lara Fabian’s “Je t’aime”. The freedom. The arms. The openness. * Rika Hongo capturing the audience with her seemingly Amazonian routine. Can’t thank Akiko Suzuki enough for choreographing this piece for Rika.
An image that is worth a thousand words: coach Mie Hamada vigorously shakes Satoko Miyahara’s arms, to get her muscles moving and give her strength. And attitude, and character – she needs that for her “Firedance” routine. And she’ll be all of the above on the ice, in the actual performance, breathing confidence in her red dress with (newly incorporated) shades of black. * Gracie Gold: finally skating (and selling) that tango to what it really deserves. When hitting the final pose, a standing ovation for the 2016 U.S. National Champion follows and a score that has Gold in contention for gold (76.43 points). * Anna Pogorilaya and her “Bolero for Violin and Orchestra”: powerful, unleashed skate. She is a force of nature, Anna Pogorilaya, when she pulls everything right. And that short program had everything: attack, spark, confidence – the Russian lady owned the music and took everyone in her journey. At the end of a lights-out event (the ladies brought their A game in Boston), she was second.
Mirai Nagasu exorcising her Boston-demons; and the teary eyes of everyone watching. You all know how Mirai’s previous experience in TD Garden arena in Boston ended: with a bronze medal at 2014 U.S. Nationals and her not making the team for the Olympics in Sochi. It was hard for Mirai to digest USFSA’s decision back then – and it was equally hard to try to come to better terms with this particular arena, when she only entered the World competition to replace Polina Edmunds 5 days before the actual event. “I want to make new memories”, Mirai said on the first day of Worlds – and she did just that, skating an emotional short program, to “Demons” by Imagine Dragons, and I believe everyone watching had in mind those particular demons, from 2014. I’ll be honest with you: I was looking for a handkerchief at the end of her skate: she did fight her demons, Mirai Nagasu, and did that with courage, in front of an audience who admired her efforts.
Mao Asada: there’s no one like her, really. And I’m not talking about her dyeing and curling her hair, or putting on a red lipstick for her playful, coquettish short program to “Bei Mir Bistu Shen”. I’m talking about Mao Asada as a gift for the skating world and the skating fans altogether, about her coming back to the competitive arena because she missed “the sense of fulfillment and joy” she used to have after her best skates in competition. Us too, Mao. Us too. And the truth is I love this young lady to the moon and back, and my emotions during her performances are second to none. The triple Axel not quite round, the struggle to hold the Loop – well, these are all details. The quality of her skating is what sets her apart, the music flowing through her arms, her fingertips, as if music itself found in Mao its best interpreter. Simply put, there are some people born to be figure skaters – and Mao Asada is clearly one of them. I’d love to see that reflected in her Components scores.
The Samba of the Championships and a young lady thoroughly enjoying her time on the ice. Literally on the ice. One of the biggest moments of these Worlds, if not indeed the quintessence of this particular event, was Ashley Wagner’s Samba, the outburst of enthusiasm and energy, her not sparing any effort to make this performance plausible, her hysterical laugh at the end, her falling on her back, bottom on the ice, while continuing to laugh.
I felt like rewatching this program the moment it ended – and such a glorious skate deserved a prize of its own. Ashley was ready, she was prepared, she was confident, exactly like she wanted to be for this edition of the Worlds, and for her best short program ever she was awarded her highest score ever: 73.16 points. Rafael Arutyuntyan clenched his fist again – talking about iconic images of the Championships… – and I’m not even going to bring up Marissa Castelli’s little black dress, that dress for success. I’ll only quote Adam Rippon (from twitter): “Marissa Castelli, can I wear your dress too?”
Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte’s free dance: ludic, funny, lightsome – and the Italians skated in Boston as if they had nothing to lose. Expansiveness, beautiful energy, and scores to match their performance: 112.07 points (and 182.72 overall), the highest they have ever scored; when seeing the marks, Luca looks (literally) shocked. * After Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov’s free dance, to Andrea Bocelli’s “Io Ci Saro”, skater Joshua Santillan writes on twitter: “Sinitsina is a gift from God”. * Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier’s Saudade free dance is like a box of small treasures – I’ll give them a prize for constantly pushing the boundaries. Lots of details and nuances, the peculiarity of the music – at times, they remind me of a couple that I used to love some years ago: Germany’s Kati Winkler and René Lohse.
The intensity, drive in Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ dance to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 2 – and the almost-kiss, as the leit-motif of their routine. At the press conference after the event, the two seem thrilled to finally having done justice to this program, at the and of a truly challenging season, with the free dance itself being the biggest challenge. “The music is so demanding”, says Evan, adding: “It took us a lot of time to build the drama, and craft the work”. It was worth it though: the Americans finished the Worlds with a bronze medal, and will perform their program once again at 2016 Team Challenge Cup in Spokane (April 22-24).
The dance of the butterfly caught in the storm – (still) one of my favorite programs. To tell you the truth, I’m at a point where I’d wish Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland keep this free dance for the rest of their competitive career; I just can’t get enough of it. The music, the choreo, the sureness, their fresh, out-of-the box elements – all these make for a great routine, one thoroughly deserving 104.94 points in Boston (the first time they scored over 100 points in their career). And I remember Nick’s words in an interview for Inside Skating a while ago, about them constantly trying “to use our size difference as an advantage to make our lifts as spectacular as possible. I think it’s very important to play to your strengths […]”. Technically, they have grown enormously – and it’s so nice to see them having confidence in themselves and their programs. The 7th place in Boston, their best result at Worlds so far, now that’s an extra boost.
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue: I’m such a fan of these two this season. The Americans skated in Boston the best free dance of their career, powerful, controlled, intense, to “Adagio for Tron” by Daft Punk, and, at the end of it, I felt like standing up and raising an imaginary hat to them and their (new) team of coaches. Because them moving to Montreal turned out to be a great decision: they were good before, but now they’re brilliant. Seeing the scores – 108.37 points for their FD and 176.81 overall – Zach puts his hands on his head in disbelief, Madison yells with excitement, while Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon share a kiss and a hug. The scores are breathtakingly huge, that’s true, but the program was breathtakingly impressive.
Bitter Worlds for Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. The truth is the Canadians skated their hearts out in Boston, and their 5th place overall, like in 2011, like in 2013, must have been really hard to digest. While waiting for the scores (110.18 points for their FD and 182.01 overall), Kaitlyn tells Andrew, as they look into each other’s eyes: “It doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter”. But the look on Pasquale and Angelika’s faces says it all: they are worried for their students. And so am I. At Icedesk, 2014 Olympic gold medalist Charlie White looks for an explanation, and offers personal suggestions: “The Canadians are at their best when they are emotionally raw. The pinnacle of their career was in France, when they skated to «Je suis malade» [2012 Worlds in Nice – n.ed.]. Kaitlyn literally cried there for the last 30 seconds of the dance…”. They should go back to this, to “raw emotions”, he says – and I somehow agree.
Shhhh, the magic is happening in front of our eyes: Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron repeat as World Champions. At 20 and 21. Say what? We’re lucky to have them skate, and choose ice dancing a while ago – they could have decided to do ballet, contemporary dance, acting, anything, really; that talented they are. Watching them glide, you almost feel like asking yourself: on the ice, in the air, where are they now? And there’s the softness of their skating, the serenity on their faces, the overall atmosphere of their dance: they have each other and they’re happy. No better metaphor for their togetherness than that wonderful rotational lift, as if it were a carousel, with Gabriella letting herself carried away by Guillaume’s arms, her eyes closed, a mild smile on her face. And those seconds, those incredible seconds towards the end of the performance, when you can only hear the piano and the sound of their skates. I can not praise enough the musical choice for their free dance – “To Build A Home” by The Cinematic Orchestra and “Rain, In Your Black Eyes” by the amazingly talented Italian composer Ezio Bosso –, one that embraces beautifully their liquid style of skating.
And I loved their reaction, hands on their hearts, when seeing the scores: 118.17 points for their FD and 194.46 in total. They have just shattered the World record for the free dance, previously owned by Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and, the way I see it, it won’t take long to reach 120 points, nor 200. “Ain’t nothing but the real thing, baby”, a song plays in the arena, while the French are still on the podium. And with two incredible seasons behind, there’s already an air of curiosity, anticipation as regards their future programs. How will they be? How much will they improve till the Olympics? Will we see the best version of themselves two years from now, in PyeongChang?
Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani: their free dance is the embodiment of their journey. One of my personal joys this season was to see these two finally skating to their full potential, finally having a program embracing their style – and, finally, seeing their talent rewarded. And the truth is their free dance, to “Fix You” by Coldplay, choreographed by Peter Tchernyshev, was the perfect vehicle for them, and their story: to me, it’s about them keep going, through their skating, through their career. They carry each other, and the music, the audience carried them both all throughout the season.
“We had an interesting journey”, Maia said in the press conference after the event, then added: “Our career has definitely been unique, but I wouldn’t change anything. We never thought of having such a gap in between medals”. Remember, in 2011, when they were only 17 and 20 respectively, they were taking the World bronze in Moscow. Five years later, they’re taking the silver, at the end of a glorious season: Maia and Alex are the 2016 U.S. National Champions and 2016 Four Continents Champions. And it was, it really was a privilege to watch them grow all these years – and the roar of the audience, the standing ovation were the perfect ending to the ice dancing event in Boston.
…and to me, it all started last season in Barcelona, at the 2014 Grand Prix Final: 4th in the standings, they would skate a marvel of an exhibition routine, to “O(Fly On)” by Coldplay, choreographed by Peter Tchernyshev. A revelation for everyone watching, and one of the magical moments of the gala, that program led them to their free dance this season. And again, Barcelona, at the 2015 Grand Prix Final, was a wonderful host, giving them the purest, most authentic standing ovation in the ice dancing event. Trust my words, I was there. And then there’s that: the silver in Boston. What a way to end the season.
Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch’s short program to “Since I’ve Been Loving You” by Led Zeppellin: great twist, gorgeous throw, and the entrance into the death spiral, (literally) to die for. I’ve been waiting for these two to glue since the moment they announced they’d form a pair – and now they did, and I (enthusiastically) look forward to the rest of their career. * Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro’s SP, joyful and fun – and Etta James’ voice, a perfect vehicle for them and their skating. * Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise: wonderful emotions while skating to “Magnificat” by Mina. I just love their musical choice for this SP. * Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov’s laughter in the Kiss and Cry just before their scores are announced: they somehow know, and Robin Szolkowy knows it too, they’ll be behind Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot in this particular segment of the pairs event.
Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès: selling that program, to “I Put A Spell on You” by Joss Stone. The sexiness, the flirtatious looks, the staccato of the music – that’s the best I’ve seen them skate. And Marius Siudek alongside them in the Kiss and Cry, that’s surely a plus. * Another spell, another voice (Annie Lennox), another diva: Ksenia Stolbova and her one million dollar look. Embodying a femme fatale, a conqueror, now that’s a role that suits her great – and a very convincing/intriguing short program altogether from Ksenia and Fedor. * Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford giving absolutely everything on the ice while performing to “Your Song”, sang by Ewan McGregor. The best short program they skated all season – and a score to match their performance (78.18 points) and have them in second place at the end of the day. “The crowd was amazing”, Meagan would say in the press conference. True words: the audience responded enthusiastically to their skate.
Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot debuting at Worlds, what a moment! You know, Aliona had skated in 10 World Championships before – and won 8 medals in the process – but that doesn’t take anything away from the beauty of the moment of her entering the ice with Bruno in their first season as a team. The joy on her face, the joy on his face were almost tangible, and their musical choice – “Créature de Siam”: playful, lightsome – was a great vehicle for their emotions. And that twist, of my! I could go get something from the fridge until Aliona decided to come back from the sky. There’s a quad twist there somewhere – and we could see it no later than next season.
Until then, there’s quality in everything they do, and even dance holds (refreshing to see those in a pairs event), there’s class – and there’s the score (74.22 points) that has them in 4th place after the short.
Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov – is it just me, or an air of the Olympics has just crept in the arena? It’s wonderful to have them back on the ice, now as Mr and Mrs Trankov, and their strengths are still there, even after an year off: the quality of their skating, the twist, the details, them selling the Bollywood routine and sweeping everyone into their story. At the end of the day, they’ll be third and, in the press conference, Maxim would express his disappointment with (some parts of) the scores: “Level 3 for our twist, that was a big surprise for us”. And then, analysing: “This is our first Worlds in three years and it feels a little bit like the first time”. Towards the end of the conference, he’ll come to better terms with the intermediate result, “It’s ok to be third in our first Worlds since 2013. We’ll see what comes tomorrow because in 2011 we finished second” – in the meantime, he had drawn many parallels between their first Worlds together, in 2011, and the event in Boston.
He’ll talk about Sochi (“Sochi was the reason why we started to skate together. In Sochi we won two golds, everything was like a big celebration to us”), about them coming back in the game (“For me it is the pleasure to skate with more couples. Because before we only competed for the gold with one pair, the Germans”), about their different thoughts at the moment (“Now we’re not only thinking about the Olympic gold”, “We just try to enjoy our skating”, “We’re thinking about a baby”), and he’ll even praise a specific pair, the one winning the short program segment in Boston, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han: “I really like the Chinese, they have big chances in Korea. They are amazing in technique and have a very good choreography”.
Wenjing Sui and Cong Han’s flamenco program: my highlight. No, I need capital letters for that: MY HIGHLIGHT. Or was it the highlight of the entire Worlds? And how can I not be under their spell, as everyone else in Boston or watching this marvel of a performance in front of a TV/computer screen? This program screams perfection – and not only because it’s technically brilliant (as a matter of fact, there’s still room to grow, if they decide to add a quad twist in the mix). No, them being flawless technically it’s just a part of their greatness. The other one, the most important one, is them. Their presence, their connection, their controlling to the fingertips everything they do on the ice. And, of course, there’s Wenjing Sui and her star quality. Her arched back, her arms in the air, her hair having a life of its own during the dance. We all know flamenco is about intensity, looks, defined posture, moving to the staccato of the music – and she could be a great flamenco dancer starting tomorrow if she decides to leave skating; that good she is. I’ll even say that: the boldness, the head movements, to me, she’s the female version of Daisuke Takahashi.
And this program choreographed by Lori Nichol is golden, without any shadow of a doubt; and I’d really love to see them skate to something similar in the Olympic season, because it really plays to their strengths. It got them 80.85 points at the Worlds, the second pair in the history of the discipline to score over 80 points (still holding the four highest World scores are Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov). The step sequence gives you goosebumps, but the entire program was (masterfully) choreographed to say: don’t dare look the other way! And I didn’t, I couldn’t. My eyes were glued. And my hands holding the pen could only write that: one of the biggest moments of these Worlds has just happened.
“Skating chemistry, and then marriage”: the funniest press conference at Worlds. Later that day, during the press conference, a journalist asks Wenjing Sui and Cong Han about their “chemistry”, about them being so convincing while skating. With the question translated from English to Chinese, Wenjing answers in a heartbeat, with a smile: “There isn’t any chemistry…” She refers to the absence of romantic chemistry – they’d been asked more than once during the Grand Prix circuit if they were dating. And they aren’t. The question, of course, inquired on their formula to look so good together on the ice, and Cong Han tried to explain that during the meeting with the press: “We started to train with Hongbo Zhao, and we decided to follow what he said. We improved our edge work, we also have some off-ice training, and we’ve been taking dancing classes to improve our interpretation”.
And then he’ll talk about their work during training, about Wenjing’s injury in her foot, about them missing the Olympics in Sochi because of that, about their future (“Since 2014, we have made two plans: a plan for 4 year, and a plan for 8 years”). To this recap of their career so far, Wenjing Sui will only add, with a grin, and to everyone’s amusement: “He talks too much everyday, he’s just like my father…”. “I’m the team leader”, he says laughing, as if he were a chieftain. And they both explain the so-called chemistry comes from the fact they love the music and they’re trying to interpret it as good as possible. With the same journalist who asked the question in the first place defining he was not talking about “romantic chemistry” between them, but, in fact, “skating chemistry”, Maxim Trankov feels like intervening – and he does just that, his eyes glittering: “Be careful. First is skating chemistry, then marriage. It was the same for us”.
“OH, THAT WAS FUN!”
Deniss Vasiljevs: a bold, courageous, fresh routine to “Adagio for Tron” by Daft Punk – I’m a fan of his skating skills, speed across the ice, novelty. * A wow-skate from Mikhail Kolyada in his debut at Worlds. “Davai!”, people from the audience shout at the beginning of his program, but he remains focused and steps up to the challenge. And I’m relieved: finally a Russian young man who can deliver. Not to mention he’s hugely charismatic. A 4th place in the end – and congratulations are in order, for both him and his coach, Valentina Chebotareva (these were her first Worlds too).
Boyang Jin takes the bronze in Boston and becomes the first Chinese man to medal at Worlds (in an individual event). And remember: he is the first skater to ever land a quadruple Lutz-triple Toeloop combination in international competition, the first skater to have landed four quadruple jumps in a free skate and six quads in a competition, and the record holder of scoring the most amount of points on one element (4Lutz-3Toe). Did I mention this is his first season in Seniors? In the press conference after the free skate in Boston, shoulder to shoulder to Javier Fernández and Yuzuru Hanyu, he’ll say simply: “I love to try, I love to challenge. And I need to learn a lot from them”.
Patrick Chan disintegrating during his free skate in Boston, just like that patch of ice becoming water, somewhere near the boards, was a sequence of images difficult to digest. He just can’t pass the puddle, the existence of it anyway, he hits the boards while exiting his 4-3 combination – all and all, he looks upset; terribly upset. His program is a masterpiece – there’s Four Continents to prove it – but the first Worlds after the Olympics in Sochi turn out to be a frustrating experience. He finishes the event on the 5th place; he only finished outside the podium in 2008, when he was 9th.
Looking at his previous accomplishments this season, and his perfect skates culminating with breaking the World records more than once, one could easily say Yuzuru Hanyu was ready – and not only ready, but powerful, prepared – to recapture his World crown. And so it was, until the day of his free skate, when the extra-terrestrial Yuzuru Hanyu turned into human. It was hard to see him struggle, fighting for his jumps – and then looking baffled in the Kiss and Cry. The efforts, the commitment were still there, and so he’ll get 184.61 points for his free skate and 295.17 overall, but looking at the scores he knows that he has left the door wide open. “It’s alright”, Brian Orser says in encouragement, but the truth is the perfectionist of a skater that Yuzuru is will see this as a failure. Later on, during the press conference, he’ll talk little, and not be asked too many questions – it is as if people in the press room understood his pain and let him grieve, not prying into his failure. As last season, he’ll have conflicted thoughts, emotions: “I can’t explain my feelings. I really fought in my long. I’m really tired and I’m really happy for Javi’s program, and I’m really sorry for my long. I want to do it again”. The fighting spirit is alive.
Shoma Uno: you bet “nessun dorma” at the time of his skate – 4th after the short program, the 17-year-old Japanese is fighting for a place on the podium. Still, without even realizing, he’s carrying an extra weight on his shoulders: accompanying Yuzuru, he’s trying to recapture Japan’s three Worlds spots in the men’s event. Before taking the ice for his performance to Puccini’s “Turandot”, he powerfully squeezes the hands of his coach, Mihoko Higuchi. He manages to hold the landing of his first quad, and then he ends up on the ice, in the middle of the routine, while attempting the second one. In the Kiss and Cry, the young Japanese is a statue of sadness. He cries, tears going down his face, and in the leaders room, Yuzuru and Javier seem to be doing the exact same thing, as we will see in a Japanese recording a day later. He is upset, the 2015 GPF bronze medalist – but these are his first Worlds and he should take them as a learning experience. He gets 173.51 points for his free skate (and 264.25 in total) – “I’ve never seen someone with 173 points so upset”, the British Eurosport commentator says – and he’ll finish on the 7th place. Japan’s three spots for 2016 Worlds are granted. Later on, at Icedesk, former competitive skater Michael Weiss will praise Shoma’s capacity to land two more triple Axels, one in combination, after the fall: “This kid has a ton of guts!”, while dancer Tanith White will allude to Shoma sobbing in the Kiss and Cry: “I really wanted to give him a hug…”
Adam, take these wings and learn to fly… You were only waiting for this moment to arise. Looking at this particular edition of the Worlds, I see Adam’s glowing face, his smile to his ears, the relief, the excitement. In (maybe) the best season of his career, he skated not one, but two lights-out routines, and finished the fourth Worlds of his career on the 6th place, exactly like in 2010. But what a difference six years make, what a completely changed man he is, mature and consistent, in peace with himself and his career so far. The serenity on his face, him skating for his pleasure, for the audience’s pleasure, I wish I had seen more of this throughout the years. You can’t resist to this new Adam, and he thoroughly deserves the two wonderful standing ovations he received in Boston.
When his scores appear on the jumbotron (178.72 points for the free skate, and 264.44 overall), and that wonderful line is heard in the arena: “Adam is currently in the first place”, Adam yells with excitement, “Yeeees!”, and Max Aaron comes rushing from the leaders room to congratulate and hug him. And then you hear him saying to Rafael Arutyunyan, when camera moves to the following competitor: “That was better than last time we were here”. Last time they were here, at 2014 U.S. Nationals, Adam finished the event on the 8th place and, consequently, failed to qualify for the Olympics. Boston 2016 is a completely different story.
Now that’s a performance worthy of a World Champion: Javier Fernández wins in style. Let me put this here, so my eyes (and his eyes) would believe it: starting April 1, 2016, the Spaniard is a four-time European champion (2013-2016) and two-time World champion (2015, 2016); and how is this for a skater coming from a country with no tradition at all in figure skating, where football is (still) the king of sports? The truth is Javier Fernández owes only to himself and his family what he is today – adding here, of course, the huge impact Brian Orser and his team have on his skating; and the constant (yet beautiful) rivalry with teammate Yuzuru Hanyu. These two push each other through their limits, aiming foremost to stay competitive with one another, and then with the rest.
In Boston, those particular efforts (Javier adding a second quad in the short program, a second triple Axel in the long) paid off and, at the end of a foot-perfect routine, breathing enthusiasm and building crescendo throughout the 4 minutes and a half, Javier Fernández found himself with his hands on his head, trying to process what had just happened: he had skated the best long program of his life. And the details of the triumph are particularly important, as he’ll emphasize in just a couple of minutes, in the winner’s interview: “To repeat as World Champion is not easy, these past few months were tough. But to perform here to Frank Sinatra was unbelievable”.
And you should have seen this: when Javier hit the final pose of his routine, behind the boards an enthusiastic David Wilson literally jumped with joy, hugging a smiling Brian Orser – Wilson has choreographed the routine, to music from the movie “Guys and Dolls”. What a great choice for Javier, one of the most entertaining programs he has had so far, embracing his style, his character, and taking the audience in his journey – “Luck Be A Lady Tonight”, I felt like mumbling more than once throughout his skate. And the details, the nuances – Fernández rolling the dice, snubbing out an imaginary cigarette with the top of his skate – oh my, I was sold.
Waiting for the scores, Brian Orser would describe the overall feeling of that skate in just a couple of words: “Oh, that was fun!” And the scores did nothing but prove how big that performance was: 216.41 points – and 314.93 overall. And a golden night altogether for this wonderful young man making history for Spain.
…and then there’s Javier in the press conference after the free skate: “If someone had told me that I would win not two Worlds in a row, but 4 Europeans in a row, I would have told him: You are out of your mind”.
LIVING THE DREAM
Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès: a highly ambitious long program to “Romeo and Juliet”. * Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro: another take on Romeo and Juliet. The North American take vs the European one, it’s nice to see them back to back. * Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang are skating to “Les Pêcheurs de Perles” by Georges Bizet, and I like her. She’s fierce and fearless, and has wonderful musicality. * Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim – and the opposite faces of the same routine: that gorgeous quad twist and the struggle that follows. To me, they cannot own this music, that powerful it is. “I’m sorry”, she keeps repeating in the Kiss and Cry, and then you hear her explanation: “I kept slipping…”.
Fedor Klimov and Ksenia Stolbova, aka the man and his shadow: I’m very fond of this intriguing, dark program, who embraces them perfectly. The throws are amazing, and so is the overall atmosphere of the routine. * Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch skating to Rachmaninov – and what a beautiful, elegant skate. The music really puts her in the spotlight, and her Russian legacy – the softness, the elegance, the gliding – is so visible in this long program. She is golden, she really is, and this partnership now looks more promising than ever. * With their very demanding program, to some of Chopin’s finest, including the famous “Etude Révolutionnaire”, Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov will finish the second Worlds of their career on the 5th place, one step higher than last season.
Wenjing Sui and Cong Han and their glorious quad twist – and not-so-glorious (in Boston, at least) quad Salchow. The free skate to “Samson and Delilah” didn’t have the power, the presence of their short, but still, the potential is all there. And we think too, as Maxim Trankov does, that this team has a huge shot at gold in PyeongChang. Once again, they took silver at Worlds – and they’ll surely return next season hungry for more. And she’s a fighter and a perfectionist: in the Kiss and Cry, she keeps shrugging her shoulders, as if she were rotating a jump. In the press conference, Cong Han will draw the conclusion of their fifth Worlds: “We left many regrets in this competition. We thought too much… We will definitely train harder when we come back to China”.
Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov will surely want to leave this competition behind: third after the short program, they ended up on the 6th place, the lowest placement in their four Worlds together. But in spite of the inaccuracies, their free skate, to the soundtrack of the movie “Dracula”, had character and intensity, and a certain “je ne sais quoi” that distinguished the performance from the rest. “Deseati mesta” [10th place], Maxim says, upset and disappointed, in the Kiss and Cry; and, with all the disappointment, he doesn’t forget to say: “Stéphane, Happy Birthday! Sorry for that”. Their friend, Stéphane Lambiel, turned 31 on the exact day of their free skate in Boston (April 2); they’ll meet in Geneva, at Ice Legends (April 22nd). * The truth is, looking at their results at the Worlds, the comeback in the competitive arena was difficult for everyone attempting it: Tatiana and Maxim (6th), Patrick Chan (5th), Mao Asada (7th).
Meagan Duhamel screaming from the top of her lungs at the end of a flawless performance in Boston. No, wait, she started to scream seconds before the program ended, a joyful, enthusiastic scream, while Eric tried to keep his composure – there were a lift and a death spiral still to be performed. “I can’t keep anything in me”, she’ll explain later, in the press conference. And the truth is she had all the reasons in the world to let her enthusiasm fly: their free program, to Adele’s “Hometown Glory”, was the best they skated whole season. “Frustration after frustration, after frustration”, she described their season – and then there’s that: a technically brilliant skate in Boston, and a set of huge and thoroughly deserved scores: 153.81 points and 231.99 overall. “We’re so happy and so proud to come here and deliver the performance we were working for”, she’ll say in the press conference. And then: “Eric is always the calm in my storm. But he is as excited as I am”.
As for Eric, he addressed their strengths and the efforts made by everyone out there to grow, to improve: “It’s exciting to see a progression in the sports, that’s what sport is all about. We’ll continue to work on the quad Lutz. All these things are an opportunity for the skaters to set themselves apart. If it weren’t for the Lutzes last season, we might have not been here today”.
“Thank you, Aliona, for wanting to continue – and wanting to continue with me”, an emotional Bruno Massot told Aliona Savchenko in the press conference after the pairs free skate, and I’m sure everyone in the press room was a little emotional looking at them. Aliona and Bruno won bronze in their first Worlds together – now that’s a statement for the seasons to come – and they didn’t even plan that prior to coming to Boston. Bruno: “We are really happy to be here and get a medal. This was not our objective, our objective was to have two good performances”.
As for Aliona, her eyes sparkling, she’s happy with living the dream – and her dream is to continue to skate. “After all that it happened, I just live my dream, and these emotions came out. I am happy I can continue. […] It was really hard to skate after them [Meagan and Eric]. But we had nothing to lose, and we tried to do our best”.
And with Eric Radford and Aliona Savchenko sitting at the same table – the table of medalists – I can’t help thinking about this imaginary circle closing itself in front of our eyes. Because, according to Aliona’s words a while ago, in an interview for Inside Skating, it was Eric that made her think about whether she wanted to continue to skate: “I started to think about continuing to skate at the Grand Prix in China [in 2013]; and, during this time, Eric Radford asked me: «What will you do after the Olympics? Will you keep skating?». After this question, I thought even more – and got the answer: I will continue; I’m still too young to stop skating in competition, but I’ll continue maybe with a different partner”. And there you have them, a couple of years later.
The roar of the audience when Mirai Nagasu hits the final pose of her long program – she did erase the bad memories, she really did; and I imagine even Gatsby would be happy with that skate. She’ll finish the second Worlds of her career on the 10th place. * Oh, Rika Hongo, your enthusiasm is contagious; and your “Riverdance” is a marvel. * Gabrielle Daleman: such a joy to see her skate – and do that beautifully – to a song that I love: “Maria de Buenos Aires”. * Elena Radionova skating to “Titanic”: a fighter she is, and a survivor; she holds on to all of her jumps.
Satoko Miyahara: consistency is one of her biggest allies. Add here a true feel for the music, the emotions, the joy and the piano: “Un Sospiro” by Franz Liszt proved a wonderful choice for her and her skating skills. My only question mark? Her Components. 66.35 points (the 7th of the night) clearly don’t reflect her performance. * Anna Pogorilaya: skating the best when it most counts. She is a powerhouse, Anna – and her free skate to “Sheherazade” by Rimsky-Korsakov does nothing but prove it. She’s pumped, focused, and her fierceness, intensity bring her the first medal at Worlds, a bronze, in her third (consecutive) participation in the event. She will hold to her enthusiasm in the press conference too: “I’m truly boiling inside. This is an incredible moment for me”.
Frank Carroll’s words of encouragement to Gracie Gold before his student takes the ice for her “Firebird” free skate – she was leading the ball after the short: “This program is beautiful, and it’s you”. Gracie herself tries to ease her mind: “One [element] at the time”. Well, she flip-flops right from the start, barely holding the triple toe at the end of her opening combination – and the energy is almost gone. Prior to the ladies’ free skate, I did have this particular thought on my mind: “I want her and Ashley do good – otherwise the U.S. media will eat them alive”. Unfortunately, Gracie can’t hold the pressure – and her chances for a medal are gone; and I’m left to wonder: why are her Components higher than Mao’s? (69.85 vs 69.30) * Anna Pogorilaya apologizing to Ashley Wagner at the end of the press conference – on the spur of the moment, during the medals ceremony, the bronze medalist forgot to congratulate Ashley; the two ladies hug now and share a smile.
Mao Asada: too bad the Program Components Scores couldn’t keep up with such a glorious performance. A carousel of emotions, that was to me Mao’s free skate in Boston, in the 9th Worlds of her career. That performance, that subtle, yet powerful performance, with Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” embracing Mao beautifully, taking her under its (musical) wings, was by far the most touching, heartwarming moment of this edition of the World Championships – one that will stay in my mind for many years to come. “Thank you, Mao. Just like in Sochi!”, a teary Tatiana Tarasova said at the end of the routine, as I was literally crying in front of a computer screen, a little after 4 a.m. What is there to cry about, you ask? Well, everything: her magic, aura, her dissolving into the music; but, above all, the pure joy of her comeback – and skate like that, the gratitude of having her in the competitive arena for as long as she decides to; following Worlds, Mao expressed her wish to compete towards 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang.
And now the backside: in spite of being one of the biggest moments of the ladies’ free skate, the Program Components Scores failed to express that – and Mao Asada remained, from the judges’ point of view, in the range of 8-s (8.54 for Skating Skills; 8.39 for Transition/Linking Footwork; 8.79 for Performance/Execution; 8.64 for Choreography/Composition; and 8.96 for Interpretation). With these scores in mind, rewatch Mao’s free skate – the performance will speak for itself. Blame it on Mao’s year off, on her being treated as a beginner (or like a retiree), on the so-called “corridor” of scores (she was not in the final group, but in the one before that) – but the truth is the Components Scores didn’t do justice to a magnificent skate, and that clearly takes away from an event otherwise impeccably put together.
…and then rewind to the end of her skate in Boston – her beautiful, relieved smile, her arms and knees on the ice while catching her breath, with everyone in the arena on their feet. She’s done it again: felt the “fulfillment and joy” after a good skate in competition. And for a lady winning almost everything that is out there, this might be the biggest reward of all.
A wow-skate from Evgenia Medvedeva to end her stellar season. Looking at Evgenia’s journey in her first season in Seniors (you read that right), I can only say that: she’s the real deal, she is. Of course, there are still lessons to be learned, maturity to be gained, but she’s already good, and consistent – and, as usual this season, she skated a perfect routine in Boston, one scoring 150.10 points (and bringing down the ladies’ highest free skate score: Yuna Kim, 150.06 points, 2010 Olympics in Vancouver) and 223.86 overall. And I have a feeling she doesn’t yet comprehend how big is what she did this season. In the press conference after the free skate, she’ll say simply: “I haven’t entirely processed what that moment is for me”.
Of course, we’re all waiting for next season’s confirmation, but up to this point there’s no doubt about it: Evgenia Medvedeva has an authentic star quality, modesty, humbleness included. And gratitude to her fans: “The arena, the fans really helped. I’m thankful to those traveling to Boston. This was the biggest audience I have ever faced”.
Ashley Wagner gets her long-awaited World medal, with a performance that brings the house down. No end of the Championships in Boston like this one: Ashley embodying Satine (from Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge!), selling the story and delivering, probably, one of her best free skates ever. The roar in the arena was undescribable, and I had too my share of (relieved) screaming in front of the computer screen: she’s finally nailed it, Ashley, got her World medal and made new (and happier) memories in Boston. In the Kiss and Cry, coach Arutyunyan is anxious: “Give us something!”. And they do: 142.23 points, 215.39 overall – and a silver medal at 2016 Worlds. There were, of course, some underrotations in the process, but the Components Scores, the highest of the night (73.78 points), proved to be Ashley’s biggest allies and made her clinch the silver. In her direct duel with Anna Pogorilaya, Ashley’s artistry made the difference: with only 0.82 of a point between them after the short, Ashley’s advance on Components (5.67 points) beat Anna’s advance on TES (3.15 points). “I’m a performer first, and then a technician”, she’ll say later that day. “That helps me to be a well-rounded skater”
In the press conference after the free skate, Ashley still can’t believe she’s holding that World medal in her hands: “Here I am, the silver medalist in the entire world, it’s insane”. More importantly, she won that silver “to something that I did, not something others didn’t do”. And then the gratitude, appreciation, putting things into context and looking at the bigger picture: “I left this rink on really bad terms. Because of 2014, I’m sitting here today”.
…asked to comment on the U.S. drought at Worlds finally ending, she’ll smile instead and show her medal: “That’s the end of a drought, right there”.