The defending World champions won’t be in Saitama – and, except for Yuzuru Hanyu, the Olympic champions won’t be there either. Still, there’s a ton of reasons why you shouldn’t overlook this year’s edition of the Worlds. Take this one for example: you’ll get the see how the ice dancing event will look from now on, given the absence of the two couples that dominated the competition in the past four years – Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Meryl Davis and Charlie White; of course, at this point, we don’t know if the Americans gave up for good at competitive skating, as their fellow Canadians, or they are just taking a break and “dancing with the stars”. Reason number two: the men’s event will be a joy to watch, even in the absence of the silver Olympic medalist, the Canadian Patrick Chan; a huge amount of talent is to be displayed in Saitama Super Arena, starting of course with Team Japan (Yuzuru Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida, Takahiko Kozuka) and continuing with Javier Fernandez, Maxim Kovtun, Jeremy Abbott… In addition, in the pairs’ competition, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are surely looking for redemption, after their second (failed) attempt to win the Olympic gold.
And when it comes to the ladies, the figure skating discipline itself needs redemption. After the troubling outcome of the Olympic competition in Sochi, Russia, with Adelina Sotnikova winning the gold ahead of the South Korean Yuna Kim, in Saitama, Japan, it has to be a clean, undisputed result. And I for one look forward to a wonderful encounter between two of my personal favorites, Mao Asada and Carolina Kostner. Of course, I wouldn’t rule out Akiko Suzuki, Gracie Gold or Ashley Wagner – and I’m curious to see how Julia Lipnitskaia handles the pressure of her first edition of the Worlds, after the ecstasy&agony of the Olympic competition. One more reason, and definitely a good one: the Japanese crowd will be fabulous, I know that already – a breath of fresh air, of joy and enthusiasm after the hostility of the Olympic audience.
by Florentina Tone
One thing’s for sure: the reason why the French Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat gave up their initial plan to leave competitive skating after the Olympics – especially after the disappointing fourth place in Sochi – is because they strongly feel they have a good shot at winning the World crown in Saitama; and I do share their conviction. No doubt about it, the Russian Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov were on great form in Sochi, a month ago, winning the Olympic bronze, but I – as many other people – felt their scores skyrocketed due to home crowd advantage. In Saitama, Japan, the French and the Russians will be on neutral ground and I’m looking forward to a far more objective result.
Fighting for the gold in Saitama will also be the Italians. The European champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte peaked at the right time, at the Olympics – but their impeccable performances in Sochi weren’t as appreciated as you would have expected to by the judges. And I would definitely not rule out of court the Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. Their free program – alongside that of the French – is one of my personal favorites this season and I’d love to finally see them on the World podium; they have been for far too many times in its close proximity.
How NOT to prepare for the Olympics: a study case
And, of course, there’s still a couple to be taken into account for the podium in Saitama, at least considering their start of the season, when they were, supposedly, the Russian couple fighting for the Olympic bronze in Sochi: Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev.
But, if you ask me, their team of coaches and advisers failed to adequately prepare them for the Olympic battle and, from where I stand, the couple’s failure to reach the Olympic podium is actually their team’s failure. Let me tell you just this: instead of working on a routine and stick with it, Katia and Dmitri looked as if they were in a constant search for the perfect recipe for the Olympics. They appeared at the Russian test skates, in August last year, with an intricate program, performed on a wonderful, discrete piece of music – and I felt back then they really had a shot at fighting for a medal in Sochi; the routine suited perfectly their style of skating. But three months later, in November, they showed up at Cup of China with a totally different program, a mixture of Vivaldi and Mozart, with birds and drama – and a dramatic outfit to match the routine. Apparently someone had advised them to change the first one because it wasn’t “Olympic enough”.
At their second Grand Prix, the Rostelecom Cup, they changed the costumes once again – with simpler ones, 70’s style – but their program became even more dramatic: guns, shots, roaring – and, above all, a dramatic fall of Ekaterina. They stayed home for the 2014 Europeans to better prepare their Olympic performance, they haven’t skated the free program in the Team Event in Sochi – and, in the individual competition, Katia and Dmitri showed up with the last year’s program (“Man with a harmonica” and “Tosca”); and finished their second Olympics on the fifth place. How is that for a drama?
To me, their season was as dramatic as it could have been – and this indecision, these constant changes made them terrible harm in probably the most important season of their careers. And I don’t even want to mention the so-called curse of Mozart’s “Requiem”, a curse that I was talked about in Budapest by a friend; according to it, those skating the “Requiem” will be, sooner or later, struck by disaster. To me, Ekaterina, Dmitri and their team are the perfect example of how NOT to get ready for the Olympic event – but I do sympathize with them and I actually liked the couple from the first time I saw them skating live (at the Worlds in Torino, in 2010), which is why I wish them nothing but good luck in Saitama.
But even if we put aside the contenders for medals at the 2014 Worlds in Japan, the ice dancing event still looks wonderful; and I am sure I’ll be once again amazed by the powerful and emotional program of Sara Hurtado and Adria Diaz (Picasso and his muse, Dora Maar), by both of the Michael Jackson routines (skated by Penny Coomes&Nicholas Buckland and Maia Shibutani&Alex Shibutani), by the Pina performance of Julia Zlobina and Alexei Sitnikov (I loved them at the Olympics), by the fluidity and grace of Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam, the intriguing Hitchcock performance of Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, the intensity shown by Madison Chock and Evan Bates all throughout their free program on music from “Les Misérables” – and by the freshness of the French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.
Looking for perfect routines in Saitama
With so many mistakes during their Olympic free programs in Sochi, the men will surely try to perform impeccably in Saitama next week. After all, this is their final shot for redemption before the end of the season. And though he definitely deserved his Olympic gold (even with a flawed routine in Sochi), I’m pretty sure Yuzuru Hanyu will do everything in his power to skate perfectly this time, in front of his home crowd. And most certainly Javier Fernandez will not put a fourth combination of jumps at the end of his routine.
To me, especially in the absence of Patrick Chan and Denis Ten, silver and bronze in Sochi, the fight for the gold medal might be a closed affair between these two students of Brian Orser (as a matter of fact, Orser has a third skater too in Saitama: Nam Nguyen, the recent World Junior Champion from Sofia, Bulgaria).
But the battle for the podium will actually involve at least 10 skaters, including Hanyu and Fernandez; I’m thinking about Tatsuki Machida, Maxim Kovtun, Michal Brezina, Jeremy Abbott, Takahiko Kozuka, but I wouldn’t rule out Kevin Reynolds, Yan Han, Max Aaron, Tomas Verner… And I’m particularly interested in Peter Liebers’ performance at the Worlds, after a surprising 8th place at the Olympics in Sochi.
Will Aliona and Robin once again attempt the Triple Axel?
Everyone but Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov will be present in Saitama Super Arena in the pairs’ event – so I’m expecting one heck of a fight, in the attempt of winning the World crown. It would be a fifth one for Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy and a first one for any other couple – and I bet my money on the Germans. I’m sure that after the disappointing third place in Sochi, their second Olympic bronze, when they were actually hoping for the gold, Aliona and Robin will attempt to end their skating career on a higher note; and maybe even with an impeccable throw Triple Axel at the end of the routine. If nailed perfectly, the Axel would be the talk of the Worlds. It’s not that they need it in order to win – it will rather be a glorious finish to a wonderful skating career.
Of course, fighting for the gold will also be the Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov – the Olympic and European silver medals definitely gave them wings. Acting as the underdogs in Sochi, Ksenia and Fedor won the best medal of their career so far and they will surely put some pressure on the Germans in Saitama.
As for me, I’d love to see the Canadians Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch on the podium in Japan; I very much enjoyed both of their performances at the Olympics and this would be a good time to be awarded for their wonderful mixture of musicality and joyfulness. They bring a different air in the pairs’ event, fresh and innovative, at the confluence of pairs and ice dancing.
Trying to reach the podium will also be the Italians Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek, with their set of beautiful programs and spectacular lifts; and, of course, with Stefania’s gorgeous smile and Ondrej’ yellow pants. But the amount of talent on display in Saitama will be huge, considering the following teams too: Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (Canada), Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov (Russia), Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir (USA), Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres (France), but also the Chinese pairs, Peng Cheng and Hao Zhang and the young Sui Wenjing and Han Cong.
A thrilling competition in Saitama
A month after the controversial result in the ladies’ event in Sochi – actually, on March 21, the Korean Olympic Committee and Korean Skating Union filled an official complaint to ISU’s Disciplinary Commission on the judging at the Olympics –, I’m sure everyone in the figure skating world would have wanted to see the performance of Adelina Sotnikova at the Worlds in Saitama. After all, she was ninth last year in London, Canada – but she is, as this February, the 2014 Olympic champion; at least, the statistics will remember her this way. Well, in spite of this huge amount of curiosity when it comes to Adelina, it seems the 17-year-old Russian isn’t coming in Japan after all – and Russia will be represented in Saitama by Julia Lipnitskaia and Anna Pogorilaya.
As for the gold, I’m guessing Mao Asada and Carolina Kostner will fight tooth and nail in Saitama; of course, this might seem like a totally inappropriate choice of words when it comes to these beautiful, graceful ladies – but coming from a disastrous short program in Sochi, which sent her further away from the podium, Mao Asada will look for redemption in front of the home crowd in Japan. She definitely wants the gold – and if she delivers two strong routines (her free program in Sochi was nothing but spectacular) she might get her third World title. One thing is sure: she has the package to do that: a wonderful, serene and delicate short program and a powerful, determined free one.
No doubt about it, Mao has a strong opponent in Carolina Kostner. With her bronze medal in Sochi and with many people thinking she deserved better than that, the Italian enters the World competition with a great amount of confidence in herself and her programs. From 2012, when she won her first World title in Nice, until today, with an Olympic medal around her neck, Carolina seem to have reached an inner peace, an inner joy – and I truly love her big, bright smile while attempting her jumps. With this kind of “I love to skate” attitude, Carolina will definitely be on the podium in Saitama – and I’m already a great fan of both her programs. “Bolero” has been a personal favorite of mine since last season and “Ave Maria”… well, “Ave Maria” brought me to tears at the Europeans in January. Breathing every second of the program in Syma Sport Centre in Budapest, I wrote at the end of event: “This new short program of Carolina Kostner, skated on Ave Maria, might have very well been one of the most powerful live figure skating experiences of my life as a fan”. And I stick with that.
As for the American ladies, I want to see them fairly judged. I had this impression of them being underscored in Sochi, especially Gracie Gold, so this might prove a great opportunity to erase the shortcomings of the Olympics. I still have Lori Nichol’s remark in my mind, when seeing Gracie’s scores after the free program: “We are in Russia…”. The famous choreographer tried to be supportive – but, at the same time, she perfectly radiographed the Olympics in Sochi.
The following names will make the ladies’ event even greater: Akiko Suzuki, Valentina Marchei, Kaetlyn Osmond, Li Zijun, Kanako Murakami… Good luck all!