2017 Worlds: a journey through the highlights (and the shadows) of the pairs event

At the end of day one at 2017 Worlds, no less than 11 pairs, out of the 28 performing in Hartwall Arena, had scored minimum 70 points – an indicator speaking mountains of the competition level, and showing just how much the couples in Helsinki wanted to already book their tickets to PyeongChang. 16 pairs advanced to the free skating – and this is a visual recap of the whole event. The highs, the lows – and mostly pictures, emotions, spontaneous reactions, as our fingers “recorded” them, whether by writing or pressing the shutter button. A story by Florentina Tone and Natasha Ponarina.

We’ll start with them – a pair that didn’t even exist, in this form, anyway, at last Worlds: Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang of China. A hauntingly beautiful skate from them – softness, quality, purity of movement – and a score to match the performance: 75.23 points. My fingers write for themselves, they’re autonomous: I just love them. I do. And the photos do justice to one of my favorite programs of the night. If you want to attend one of these events, then get your tickets at seatgeek codes.

Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (4)

And then the happiness, enthusiasm of Tae Ok Ryom and Ju Sik Kim in the Kiss and Cry – the skaters from People’s Republic of Korea put the best leg forward in the first Worlds of their career. * The disappointment of Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier: their short program went terribly wrong, and they look vulnerable, disintegrated. * Natalia Zabijako and Alexander Enbert: a beautiful routine to a beautiful piece of music; and they are a beautifully matched pair. Too much “beautiful”? I agree. But I can’t help it. They’re good now (74.26 points for their SP) and they’re gonna be even better in the years to come. * A hats off routine from Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek: they brought it, their short program to “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes, and they sold it. And the score speaks for itself: 71.04 points. In the Kiss and Cry, you can hear an enthusiastic Valentina: “I haven’t scored 70 points even when I competed in singles!”

Watching Liubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch, I remember one of Natasha’s amused remarks during the pairs practice, two days before: “There’s a Russian lady in almost every pair”. And this lady in particular is extremely talented – and, pairing with Dylan, she brought the qualities of Russian skating with her. Such a beautiful, elegant posture on the ice, and their short program, one of my favorites this season. 73.14 points for them – and my fingers write again by themselves: “We might reach 90 by the end of the night”. They’re kidding, of course, my fingers – but the level of this segment of the pairs event at 2017 Worlds is just incredible. * Such a good call from Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau to return to their short program from last season: “Monde Inversé” suits them wonderful, and I do have a soft spot for them, and the breath of fresh air they bring to pairs skating.

Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès enter the ice for their short program – and they look like a million dollars. No wonder: they skate to music from the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey”, and a banner in the audience says it all: “Vanessa, you are the hottest skater with this suit”. Unfortunately, the program lacks the spark we saw at Europeans: she lands terribly wrong after the twist, and falls – and that’s a scary fall, that instills precaution to the entire program. They seem to be on auto-pilot for the rest of the routine, caught in a bubble of disappointment – but they still hit all remaining elements and they’ll be pleased to eventually find themselves in the top 10 at the end of the night, with 70.10 points.

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

A soft, beautiful skate from the Knierims, now husband and wife, Chris and Alexa: she looks like a feather while performing to “Come What May”, from the movie “Moulin Rouge!”. They’re happy in the Kiss and Cry, you sense it – and how could they not to? They just came back to Worlds with a routine that is worth 72.17 points, after a year involving Alexa’s surgery and rehabilitation. * And when Nicole della Monica and Matteo Guarise nail their “Carmina Burana” short program, you know there’s something special about these Worlds: the energy of the competition that offers direct tickets to PyeongChang made everyone dream big, and show the best versions of themselves (70.08 points for the Italians’ SP).

My fingers are becoming autonomous again: Daisuke Takahashi, you’d better be in the arena, ’cause there’s some “Blues for Klook” in the waiting. Five years after a memorable performance to this piece of music (Takahashi in Nice, at 2012 Worlds), Wenjing Sui and Cong Han enter another Worlds arena, ready to make some history of their own. And they do just that, breathing confidence through every pore, and showing Lori Nichol, the choreographer of the piece, they can be cool. Cool and sexy. And as soon as they hit the ending pose of their routine, the cheers go through the roof – and I’m literally running from the media tribune to the mixed zone, just in time to see the scores on a TV screen (81.23 points) and get some fresh reactions from the two. They look thrilled, Wenjing and Cong – and deservedly so; Wenjing had been through Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell prior to be competitive again at Worlds preceding PyeongChang. She’ll say smilingly: „I definitely enjoy it, because last year has been very hard, you know. But I’m lucky with my partner – we help each other and work together. I want to enjoy it everyday, and we definitely enjoy this competition. And I enjoy all the cheers for us – it’s really beautiful, it’s really cool for us, and I hope tomorrow we can do everything well”.

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (4)

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (5)

Final group of skaters take the ice for their warm-up. This is it, fingers say. Time of truth has come.

Pairs final group SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki

Opening the ball are Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, and their flying triple twist that gets an amazed, appreciative “Aaah!” from the audience. They skate to “That Man” by Caro Emerald, Aliona and Bruno, and they let themselves carried away with the joyful rhythm of the piece. Still, one or two things don’t go as planned, especially when it comes to their ace up in the sleeve: the throw triple Axel. Aliona looks like she’s about to cry while waiting for the scores (79.84 points) – that stubborn, that ambitious she is – and she’ll be the biggest critique of herself in the mixed zone: “I am not too satisfied. I did mistakes on both the solo jump and the throw. But after a difficult season with a list of breaks due to different injuries, we didn’t have a perfect preparation. I also felt tired today with this quite early practice and late competition”. Harsh as she was on herself, Aliona needs to know that was a very enjoyable routine – one that the audience absolutely loved.

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (4)

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (5)

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov’s “Clair de Lune” was supposed to be calm, lyrical, serene. And it was just that for a couple of seconds, before turning into a nightmare skate for the Russians, one that almost jeopardized their place in the free skating the following day. With Ksenia landing on Fedor’s shoulder, he fell after the twist, and then she fell after the throw, and barely landed her triple Toeloop. In between their mistakes, they tried to keep the story going, but Debussy’s magic wasn’t really there.

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

„Come on, girl!”, Dimie Cat’s voice is heard in Hartwall Arena – and so, so appropriately: Evgenia Tarasova needed to fight the pain through her short program, but you could barely see it during the performance – that good, that convincing she was. But the truth is that Evgenia skated with stitches under her knee, and minutes before the actual performance they didn’t know if they’d enter the ice for their routine or not. Vladimir will explain in the press conference later on: „We had an accident in the morning [during practice]. Evgenia fell in the step sequence, I fell on her and cut her leg, and she has ten stitches under her knee, so it was a big question whether we’d skate. But in the end we skated, and it was heroic of Evgenia”. It was indeed. And looking back at their performances (and their score: 79.37 points), no signs of stitches there. A glorious routine, skated with joy and brilliance – and maybe the best short program, composition and music wise, they had in their career.

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (4)

When Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford freeze in the opening pose of their short program, the camera looks for a smiling lady in the audience. It’s Meagan’s grandmother, who is Finnish – Meagan’s grandparents from her mother side emigrated from Finland to Canada in the 1950’s. And so this was a special trip to Helsinki for all members of family coming to Worlds, but it all started with a scare: Eric’s (bruised) hip, which caused a lot of uncertainty during the practice sessions, some changes into the program, and an overall air of precaution. They had good energy though in their short program – and finished the night on the 7th place, with 72.67 points.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

Photos from the small medals ceremony after the short program – and the press conference. It’s almost midnight on the first day of Worlds, and you can see that on all faces in the room.

Small medal ceremony pairs SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Small medal ceremony pairs SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Small medal ceremony pairs SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

Small medal ceremony pairs SP 2017 Worlds Helsinki (4)

Pairs press conf SP Evgenia Vladimir 2017 Worlds

Day 2 of the pairs event: the photo-stories

When did this ever happen? Due to their unexpected chain of mistakes in the short program, Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov feature group 1 of competitors during pairs free skating in Hartwall Arena. But you see in a matter of seconds this is going to be a different kind of performance, a truly convincing one, setting the standard high for the three groups to come. Actually, Ksenia and Fedor will be in the lead for another 2 hours, finishing the night on the 3rd place, and 5th overall.

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (4)

At 19:43, Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès look at each other and head for the center of ice; she wears two stripes of black tape on her back – additional pieces to her all-black costume, remainders of the previous day’s fall. For them too, the long program is a time for redemption. And although the French can’t replicate the magic from the Europeans, Vanessa and Morgan fight till the end; and their strategy includes, as in Ostrava, going for the throw quadruple Salchow (one of the two pairs to try that in Helsinki); they’ll finish this year’s edition of the Worlds on the 8th place.

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (4)

Marie-France Dubreuil accompanies Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau at the boards – the Canadians are ready to take the ice; and for the next minutes, I’m so impressed with these two, skating to music from the movie “Cinema Paradiso” (and the reason why I kept mumbling for days: “My paradise is youuu…”). The truth is they have a wonderful softness in their moves, Julianne and Charlie, and this program, choreographed by Marie-France and David Wilson, has been a great vehicle for them this season. To my left, a large group of supporters, led by Patrice Lauzon, rise to their feet at the end of the program; the Canadian pair will finish the overall event on the 11th place.

What is there to be said, except for that: Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek make for a terrific pair. And their James Bond long program only highlights their qualities – they’re on fire all throughout the 4 minutes and 30 seconds, a routine that keeps building and building… until the moment Valentina blows away the gun smoke from a barrel; all imaginary, of course. People in the audience shout “Bravi!!!”, and they surely have reasons to be proud of. In the mixed zone, she’ll say just that: “I feel relieved and tired. We got the Italian record for short, long and overall. If (the standings) stay like this, the Italian team will get two spots for the Olympics next year, a dream come true”. A dream indeed: Valentina and Ondrej will finish on the 9th place, qualifying two spots for next year’s Olympics.

While Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim are on the ice – a beautiful composition to music from “Ghost The Musical” – Meagan Duhamel jumps up and down behind the boards; she and Eric Radford, World champions en titre, are next to take the ice. And they also take the risks, attempting the throw quadruple Salchow. A fall here, some glitches here and there, but they keep fighting, carried away by Patricia Kaas’ powerful, amazing voice. Meagan will burst into crying in the end – a cry of relief, perhaps: these Worlds have not been as they wished – and in the mixed zone you could feel her disappointment (they’ll be 7th at the end of the night, and 7th overall): “We know that it was the best long we’ve performed in competition this season, our coaches know that, our team knows that and we’ll take that with us. We were left a bit puzzled about our low scores, we lost (points) on most of our levels and we really have no idea why”.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

Meagan Duhamel end of FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki

Liubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch seem to have a ritual of their own prior to taking the ice for their routine: hand in hand, they look at each other, feet moving incessantly – and then they hug and say encouraging words. And you can sense their wonderful connection in their skate: performing to “When You Say You Love Me”, choreo by David Wilson and Sandra Bezic, they take you with them in their story and, in the end, you’ll be their fan. ’Cause seen live, they’re even more impressive – they’re beautiful, and elegant, and this program suits them like a glove, highlighting their fortes. And she’s brave, Liubov, that’s a sure thing – have you seen the entrance in the death spiral, or the lifts? – and their pairing, maybe one of the best ideas in pairs skating in recent years. They’ll finish their third Worlds on the 6th place.

Liubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Liubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Liubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

Liubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (4)

Final group is on the ice, and we’re in for a treat. That I can bet. Plus: I don’t know what hour is, but, then again, who cares?

Final group on the ice 2017 Worlds Helsinki

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov’s performance doesn’t equal the one at Europeans, in January, but they put a good fight – especially considering Evgenia’s accident in practice, a day before. They open with the quad twist (one of the three pairs to do that in Helsinki), and the program keeps on building, following the rhythm (“Music” by John Miles). At the end, they’re exhausted, but also happy and relieved. And Vladimir will verbalize that in the press conference later on: “We skated well, and we are very happy that we have the bronze medal today. It’s great for us, and it was really hard and difficult to be here and save our place after the short. Skating was very painful for Evgenia, and I am very happy that we could go out and do our program”. And that: they’re young and ambitious, Evgenia and Vladimir, and next year they’ll surely be contenders for gold in PyeongChang.

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (4)

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (5)

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (6)

When Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang take the ice, my fingers move on their own again: I expect to be amazed. And I am: her arms in the air, the piano – I’m completely sold with the gentleness, the softness of their presence. And, yes, I could watch them all day, since I truly love the quality of their skating. Hats off to Lori Nichol as well, for choosing the wonderful third movement of Emil von Sauer’s Piano Concerto No. 1: Cavatina (Larghetto amoroso). Hao patting Xiaoyu on her shoulder, to wake her up, at the end of the routine? Priceless. And all good news are summarized by him in the mixed zone minutes after the performance: “I think this was a very good performance for our first World Championships. We’ve only been together in our partnership for 11 months and we didn’t think we could make 4th place. Our coaching team gave us a lot of help. [On next season’s early plans] Next week we will fly to Toronto for choreography with Lori Nichol. Then we will go back to China, take a rest, and start getting ready for the Olympic season”.

Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

Xiaoyu Yu and Hao Zhang FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (4)

It’s 21:44 and I have goosebumps: Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot have skated a jewel of a free skate in Hartwall Arena, and I’m on my feet in the media tribune. ‘Cause you need to put exclamation marks to such a program – the usual appreciative words are simply not enough. “Merci! Danke schön!”, a lady to my left screams in both languages, and I know I will remember for a long time Aliona’s euphoric face when she landed the throw triple Axel, and her tiny, happy, relieved fist in the air, at the and of those 4 minutes and 30 seconds of magic. And because judges needed to put a score tag to this performance, they offered 150.46 points to Aliona and Bruno, the highest Component Score (75.98 points) and five perfect 10s. And I do ask myself: can it get any better than this?

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (4)

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (5)

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (6)

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (7)

Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (8)

Aliona Savchenko after FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki

Well, it can (get better). And we have Kiira Korpi’s reaction to prove it – Kiira is near the ice, along Laura Lepisto, commentating the pairs event for a Finnish TV. And I have my own reaction to prove it as well: I’m happy, grateful, emotional at the end of Wenjing Sui and Cong Han’s free skate, to “Bridge Over Troubled Water”. I’m so incredibly moved by these two – and it all started in Nice, five years ago, in the French arena hosting Worlds back then. They were 9th that year, Wenjing and Cong, skating a “Country Dance” and a flamenco, in only their second senior Worlds (Aliona was taking her 4th gold, alongside Robin Szolkowy). Years have passed, and they matured, and I haven’t stopped being their fan. And this particular fan was thrilled with joy at the end of their gold-winning performance in Helsinki. And the fingers wrote: These two are the future. And the future is now. 150.83 points, a season’s best – and the gauntlet has been thrown. How long till PyeongChang?

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (3)

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (4)

Wenjing Sui and Cong Han FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (5)

Kiira Korpi reaction to Wenjing Sui and Cong Han FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Kiira Korpi reaction to Wenjing Sui and Cong Han FS 2017 Worlds Helsinki (2)

…and a spot on reaction from Gabriella Papadakis on twitter: “I have so much respect for all the pair skaters right now. This category grew to be my favorite this year. I’m still in awe”.

And so were we.

The actual end of this photo-marathon? A couple of joyful glimpses from the medal ceremony.

Medal ceremony pairs 2017 Worlds Helsinki (1)

Ready to be lifted?

Ready to be lifted?

Cong Han, up in the air - with the help of Bruno and Vladimir and to the great amusement of the ladies

Cong Han, up in the air – with the help of Bruno and Vladimir and to the great amusement of the ladies

High-five with the fans

High-five with the fans

Happy, smiling Evgenia

Happy, smiling Evgenia

The medalists posing for the photographers at 2017 Worlds

Wenjing and Cong posing for the photographers at 2017 Worlds

Aliona and Bruno posing for the photographers at 2017 Worlds

Evgenia and Vladimir posing for the photographers at 2017 Worlds

The golden pair of 2017 Worlds in Helsinki

The golden pair of 2017 Worlds in Helsinki

FURTHER READING

Do you know that competitions have a life even before they start? (a photo-story)

Wenjing Sui, Cong Han – and a statement of love