The 2014 World Figure Skating Championships


The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia provided everything from thrilling victories to controversy ridden results, personal triumphs to courageous comebacks. Competitive figure skating took center stage in our lives as we cheered on our favourites and nervously watched as the drama of competition unfolded before our very eyes. The excitement of it all was not to stop there. Some of the faces and names may have changed, but the continuing and ever changing storybook was remained full of icy stories to be told. The world's very best headed to Saitama, Japan, a city just north of Tokyo that is no stranger to the concept of coming together. Urawa-ku, Ōmiya-ku, Iwatsuki and Yono came together to form one city in 2005 and they've made it work, just like mens, ladies, pairs and ice dancing have united to form the World Championships, a competition thriving on cultural unity which has been around for over one hundred years. On the ultimate stage of many of these skater's careers, dreams are being achieved, personal goals are being met and sadly... dreams are being crushed daily as well. The whole 'thing' though is like the ultimate experience and learning curve and whether our favourite skaters end up with the hardware we wish they would have or not, they surely will grow from the experience and learn something about their own mettle. Please keep in mind with the coverage of Worlds on Skate Guard as always I'll post videos of some of the most standout performances. Many of them might be geoblocked in your country, and for that I apologize. Around the time of major competitions, videos go up every minute and come down and get geoblocked just as fast. If you're unable to watch videos in your country, I've got some great advice for you. Go to YouTube, and under your search settings you can select 'Upload Date'. If you type in keywords for the competition or skater you want to see, you can narrow it down to 'Today' or 'This Week' and usually find just what you're looking for in minutes! NOW... from the best to the rest, here are my thoughts on the World Figure Skating Championships we'll never forget:

THE PAIRS COMPETITION


Things weren't supposed to go the way they did in Sochi for Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy. 'Seasoned veterans' at thirty and thirty four, the four time World Champions knew that they faced a formidable challenge for the gold from Russians Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov at their third Olympics together and after delivering a faultless short program, the wind came out of their sails in the free skate and their bronze medal winning free skate was hardly indicative of what they were capable of. Redemption was surely in their mind when they decided to head to Saitama for a tenth and final trip to the World Figure Skating Championships. With their not so secret weapon (a throw triple axel) the topic of conversation for many, the Germans brought two very competitive programs to the table - a clean short program set to "The Pink Panther" (which revisited the music that won them their third World title in 2011) replete with a high throw triple flip, huge (almost too huge) triple twist and side-by-side triple toe-loops and a more classical free skate set to "The Nutcracker" which was really a much more traditional approach for this team that we usually see from them. Their free skate wasn't perfect, but it did feature yet another really huge throw triple flip, a side-by-side triple toe-loop into triple toe-loop sequence, challenging lifts and a throw triple salchow. Their only major error was more of an omission than anything when both skaters singled their planned side by side double axels. In the end, they didn't go for the throw triple axel after all in Saitama but their efforts were good enough to win both phases of the competition, a total score of 224.88 and a fifth and final World title. Although Robin has made it very clear that his competitive career as a pairs skater is over, there have been rumblings about Aliona continuing with a new partner - that would certainly be something! At any rate, both of them deserve a ton of respect for what they've accomplished in their long career together.


Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov looked sharp in their short program to "Surrender" by Jesse Cook, finishing third with a score of 76.15 and landing both their side-by-side triple toe-loops and a throw triple lutz in the process. With regard to their "Addams Family" free skate, as I've said before the complete lack of any big girl choreography in this program gets on my last gay nerve. Fedor looked more like Beetlejuice in his striped tux than Gomez Addams and I'm not sure who Ksenia was going for but it certainly wasn't Morticia... more along the lines of Juno The Case Worker from Beetlejuice or little Wednesday playing dressup. I know, I should tell you how I really feel right? That said, their skate in Sochi showed their consistency and future in skating and Saitama was another opportunity for them to shine. Shine they did, with side-by-side triple toe/double toe/double toe's and double axels and great attack on their lifts as well. Technically, they are a really strong team but I really would love to see more from them in terms of how they're presenting their skating. They just doesn't draw me in as a team like they could and I think that's directly related to the programs and choreography, not their talents as skaters. They finished the competition with a total score of 215.92 and earned the silver medal. The newly crowned Olympic and World Medallists were joined in Japan by teammates Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov and Julia Antipova and Nodari Maisuradze. Although they finished in seventh and eighth place, coaches like Nina Mozer and Artur Dmitriev working with these teams served as constant reminders that the Russian pairs teams come prepared and ready to bring it to EVERY competition. I don't think Russian dominance (or at very least, contention) in pairs skating is going anywhere and I think Stolbova and Klimov are names we'll be hearing quite often in coming years.


Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford came to Saitama as the reigning Canadian Champions and World Bronze Medallists and although their free skate in Sochi wasn't enough to move them up in the standings after the short and into medal contention, their AMAZING short program in the team event was a big factor in Canada's team winning silver medals. Meagan and Eric's "Tribute" short program is a complete STAR of a program in my eyes and they couldn't have dreamed of skating it any better in Saitama. They laid down a nice triple twist and followed that up with really nice side-by-side triple lutzes and a throw triple lutz to deliver the most technically difficult program in the Pairs Short and earn the highest TES score (77.01) and place them a mere two points back from the leaders, in striking distance of a World title. I am actually really quite curious as to why their PCS scores weren't also higher than Aliona and Robin's - if you compared both programs side by side, it's kind of a no brainer. You had a rather generic though well skated "Pink Panther" program against this - kind of a no brainer in my humble opinion. At least their scores were dangerously close to Savchenko and Szolkowy's. Their "Alice In Wonderland" free skate was an interesting choice after seeing them skating in the opening number of last year's "Stars On Ice" with the same theme and it was a program full of energy and attack. Technically, it was jam packed - they landed their side-by-side triple lutzes, another massive throw triple lutz and got a great throw triple loop in there as well. Unfortunately, Meagan missed her side-by-side triple salchow combination and that one mistake really put their chances of overtaking Savchenko and Szolkowy to rest unfortunately. Their overall score of 210.84 was enough to defend their spot on the podium and I could be more thrilled for these two! Team Meagan and Eric all the way!


Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch passed Duhamel and Radford in Sochi with two outstanding performances full of the big tricks and their consistency on the TES side of their skating coupled with good choreography really made them threats heading into the 2014 Saitama Worlds. In their Motley Crew short program, they landed a gorgeous throw triple loop but sat a little bit lower than they would have liked with a score of 69.31 but still in contention of moving up in the standings. I was a little dubious of their short program scoring, considering the only issue might have been a tight landing on Dylan's side-by-side triple toe-loop. For their free skate, Kirsten and Dylan went with a Fellini Medley, a traditional choice yet big, brassy music to complement their larger than life style on the ice. They again looked just so strong, owning the ice with a side-by-side triple toe into triple toe sequence, big throws (albeit the latter of the two with a small issue on the landing) and some of the hardest lifts in the business. Finishing third in the free skate, they moved up in the standings to finish the pairs event with a score of 205.52 and fourth place. They've been such stars this season and it was great to see them skate so well at Worlds again this year.


China proved that their was indeed a future to its stable of pairs skating greats and that future was now. Sitting in fourth and fifth place after the short program, Wenjing Sui and Cong Han and Cheng Peng and Hao Zhang both showed they could throw and twist with the best of them and the skating in between was there too - their PCS scores were competitive with the world's best and justifiably so. Sui and Han's free skate to "Kalinka" was definitely a program you can tell was designed with the Sochi audience in mind but it still had excitement in Japan and suited their youthful, athletic style. Peng and Zhang's free skating program, on the other hand, was skating to the traditional Chinese "Yellow River Concerto" and was a great vehicle for them skating on their home continent with many Chinese fans in the audience. Unfortunately, both teams made costly errors in their free skate on jumping passes and Peng and Zhang finished fifth and Sui and Han dropped to sixth. One thing's for sure though. Shen and Zhao's legacy of inspiring all of these great Chinese skaters to take up pairs skating is very much alive.

After really proving themselves in Sochi, U.S. Champions Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir were in my eyes past the 'paying their dues at their first Olympics' stage and ready to make a splash in Saitama if they skated like they were capable. They were originally to be joined by fellow U.S. Champions Caydee Denney and John Coughlin, whose third place finish at the 2014 U.S. Nationals in Boston cost them a trip to Sochi but offered them the silver lining of a chance at redemption at Worlds, but Denney and Coughlin were forced to withdraw due to injury and U.S. Silver Medallists Felicia Zhang and Nathan Bartholomay were sent instead. Both teams are just fabulous and well matched in my opinion, and I knew in my heart of hearts that they'd arrive prepared and ready to show what they were made of. Zhang and Bartholomay certainly didn't disappoint. Their short program again earned them a Personal Best (57.59) and qualified them for the free skate. Castelli and Shnapir muscled through their short program to finish in 11th. Their free skates weren't enough to earn either team spots in the top ten unfortunately but both teams should take pride in their efforts and accomplishments most definitely.

The third Canadian team, Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers of Saskatchewan, were NOT to be overlooked either. They have a wonderful connection on the ice, great throws and lifts and when they're on, they are right up there with the best. They weren't perfect in their Olympic debut, but their potential as a team positively radiated in Russia. Paige and Rudi (like Meagan and Eric) went with a Danny Elfman score in the free skate, "Oz The Great And Powerful", a sharp contrast from their more playful short program, where their score of 59.84 saw them in 12th place with a new Season's Best. Like the Americans, unfortunately, their free skate wasn't enough to move them into the top ten. I have a feeling that their best years are still yet to come.

THE MEN'S COMPETITION

There were a number of notable absences in the men's event. Reigning World Champion and Olympic Silver Medallist Patrick Chan opted not to compete, as did Olympic and World Medallist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan. Veteran competitors (and former World Champions) Evgeni Plushenko, Daisuke Takahashi and Brian Joubert weren't on the menu, nor was Olympic Bronze Medallist Jason Brown. Instead, four time U.S. Champion Jeremy Abbott would be joined in the mens event by 2013 U.S. Champion Max Aaron, who delivered a fine free skate in Boston to finish third this year. The field was wide open, right? Wrong sunshine. The newly crowned Olympic Gold Medallist Yuzuru Hanyu was on home soil with two very talented teammates in tow, Tatsuki Machida and Takahiko Kozuka. Javier Fernandez, Kevin Reynolds, Tomas Verner, Michal Brezina, Florent Amodio, Han Yan, Peter Liebers, Elladj Balde, 2014 World Junior Champion Nam Nguyen and a who's who of men's figure skating in 2014 were also all in attendance and ready to duke it out. Maxim Kovtun, the 2014 Russian Champion would also be there and ready to throw his hat in the ring. Kovtun was overlooked by the Russian Federation for an Olympic berth in favor of Plushenko, who withdrew from the singles event due to a pre-existing injury after leading his team to victory in the Team Event with two strong performances. Some of the world's very best were all in Saitama for a showdown... and they'd all packed their best triple/triples too. And as usual, it was DEFINITELY a numbers game when it came when it came to both floor exercises - I mean the short program and free skate. You would think I was watching gymnastics! I can't imagine why. There must be something in my throat. I LOVE ""IJS skating"!


How sweet it is to be loved by a home audience. Yuzuru Hanyu won the Grand Prix Final and Japanese Nationals earlier this season in front of legions of Japanese fans and in defeating favourite Patrick Chan at the Winter Olympics made history by becoming Japan's first men's gold medallist at the Winter Olympics in figure skating. His short program set to blues music by Gary Moore wasn't perfect however. A fall on his opening jump, the quad, cost him 1.00 on his TES score (46.74) but he rebounded well to land both of his jumping passes thereafter and deliver a really confident, well choreographed program full of speed and difficult transitions. I was a little bit confused as to why his TES score was still almost six points higher than Jeremy Abbott's, but that's just me. That said, his PCS score of 45.50 (the highest of the men) kept in him good stead and third place heading into the free skate. The nineteen year old from Sendai showed his victory in Sochi was no fluke, and we knew it wasn't anyway. Skating choreography that was 'wise beyond it years' in his free skate set to "Romeo And Juliet", Hanyu showed just why he's the talk from Tokyo to Toronto in figure skating circles right now. He opened his free skate with two quadruple jumps, landed two triple axels (one in combination) and an array of other triples to secure his spot on the top of podium. Hanyu's total score was 282.59 and it earned him Japan's first gold medal in men's skating at the World Championships in four years.


After the short program, Japan's Tatsuki Machida was the leader with a score of 98.21 and deservedly so. His program to Lee Holdredge's "East Of Eden" (music made famous in skating circles by the 'Kween' herself, Michelle Kwan) was technically outstanding and featured an EASY looking quad toe/triple toe combination and triple axel and his triple lutz beautifully punctuated a highlight in the music, as did his closing spin combination. There's something to be said for choosing big, sweeping music that makes audiences FEEL something and Machida really gave a lovely performance in the short. His free skate, "The Firebird", in that gorgeous feathered costume was every bit as exquisite. Like Hanyu, he opened with two awe inspiring quadruple jumps and backed that up with two triple axels (albeit one was a little off) and a smattering of other triples to boot. The iffy second triple axel coupled with a step out on a triple loop was enough to open the door for Hanyu but Machida should be thrilled with his performances in Saitama and first World medal! He was fantastic.


European Champion Javier Fernandez earned second place in the short program with his "Satan Takes A Holiday" program. Like Machida, he picked music well known to skating fans, his choice being an old Robin Cousins standard and gem. He got things started with a gorgeous quad salchow then moved on to perform an effortless triple axel. He landed a triple lutz in combination with an eeked out triple toe-loop to round out a program that had Brian Orser (his coach) written all over it, Orser's influence on Fernandez' skating obvious and certainly complimentary. For his free skate, Fernandez sought redemption on a barely missed medal in Sochi and used the music "Peter Gunn" and "Harlem Nocturne" as his vehicle. He wouldn't be perfect in his free skate, making some costly mistakes, but the judges were generous with PCS scores that bettered Jeremy Abbott's in all respects (yeah, not quite sure about that one) and it was enough to hang on to the bronze medal for the sensation from Spain.

Russia's Maxim Kovtun got by with a little help from his friends, turning a seventh place short program and fifth place free skate into a fourth place finish in Saitama. The eighteen year old from Moscow looked strong in his free skate set to Tchaikovsky's "Piano Concerto No. 1" and although he missed his opening quadruple salchow attempt, rebounded very strongly to land every single other jump in his program, including a quad toe and two triple axels. He certainly made a very strong case for why he should have been in Sochi for the Olympics in the first place, but no mind... he's a teenager and has years of success ahead of him.


At the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, four time U.S. Champion Jeremy Abbott headed to his second Olympics after having career best performances at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Boston. He certainly had that Olympic dream of a magical moment like every skater, but the unthinkable happened. He had the most horrific of falls in his short program in the men's event and looked destined for a stretcher, not a magical moment. After what seemed like an eternity, he got back up with a grimace of pain on his face and did the unbelievable: he kept going and he NAILED the rest of his program while in pain and bleeding under his costume. It didn't even seem possible. The next day, he took the ice for his free skate when many thought he wouldn't or couldn't and skated a gold medal winning performance if I ever saw one - the only magical skate of the men's free skate in my opinion - and had his redemption. As one fan beautifully wrote to Jeremy, "watching your long program was like watching someone stand up for something that is right even when they know they will lose. It was like watching someone jump in front of a bullet when they know they will die but they know it will protect someone else. It was gallant and dignified and superb." Jeremy's trip to Saitama would be the conclusion to a brilliant career and if he felt he had anything to prove, which he didn't have to prove, he proved it anyway. As usual, his skating spoke for itself. His short program to music from "Pina" saw him fall on his opening quad toe-loop (which was actually rotated and super close) and again bounce back with a huge triple lutz/triple toe and triple axel. He got a -1.00 deduction for the fall, but it was enough to sit Jeremy in 8th place heading into the free skate. Jeremy's free skate was a moment so special that it gave Mao Asada's comeback free skate at the Olympics (and his own comeback in Sochi) a run for their money. In his last eligible competition, he landed a quad toe, two triple axels, a triple flip, a triple lutz/triple toe/double toe, triple salchow and two double axels to give one of the most thrilling performances of his career at the most opportune time. What a moment and way to go out. Although he finished fourth in the free skate (and should have been in the top three ahead of Fernandez in my opinion), it was enough to move him up to fifth overall and his result, coupled with Max Aaron's top ten finish, would assure the U.S. three spots at next year's World Championships. Jeremy Abbott, THANK YOU for your wonderful skating! It's been a privilege to watch and cheer on your journey... and your final redemption will always stand out in MY mind as a constant reminder as to why we should never, ever give up.


Tomas Verner looked VERY sharp his "Duelling Banjos" short program, earning a score of 89.08 and a fourth place finish. His TES score was actually higher than the reigning Olympic Gold Medallist's but Hanyu had him beat in all aspects of the PCS score in the first segment of the men's competition. I'm not quite sure why. Hear me out. His program had one of the most musical and entertaining footwork sequences, connected so well in terms of transitions and choreographically was one of the best 'moments' of the entire men's competition. I was thrilled to see him have that moment and I loved the program from start to finish. Sadly, the free skate wouldn't be Verner's friend. In what would likely be his final Worlds performance, Verner's Piazzolla free skate completely unravelled and dropped him to tenth overall with a fifteenth place finish in the free. Really disappointing to see from him, as his short program was a reflection of just what he is indeed capable of when 'on'. His teammate, twenty three year old Michal Brezina, a favourite heading into the competition and an excellent skater to boot, buried himself in the standings with a flawed twenty third place short program and was forced to withdraw from the event due to injury. Get well soon Michal... I will be HAPPY to nurse to back to health, you handsome, handsome man!

2013 U.S. Champion Max Aaron's short program to Perez Prado's "Historia De Un Amor" really showcased the growth that his skating has shown since his 2013 U.S. title win. There's more to his skating than the jumps now and if he keeps landing quad salchow/triple toe combos like he did here in Sendai, his career will continue to be a success story. A step out on his triple axel in the short program kept him below his teammate Jeremy Abbott but still in the top ten and in the running. Max's free skate, set to the music of Georges Bizet again highlighted the strides he'd made in the 'in betweens' of his skating - the kind of qualities that reflect well in the scoring of 'PCS' under this judging system. Interestingly, it would be his PCS score that would be his best friend in the free skate, his monster sized jumps very much alluding him in the free skate. Max finished the men's event in eighth place, and coupled with Jeremy's fifth place finish, shared in the success of bringing U.S.A. home three men's spots for next year's World Championships.

Without Patrick Chan in the mix at the competition, Canada's medal hopes rested on the hopes of Kevin Reynolds' shoulders. A fifteenth place finish in the short program really dashed any medal hopes for Canada as Reynolds would receive lower PCS scores in that part of the men's competition that his Canadian teammate, World Junior Champion Nam Nguyen (making his senior world debut). That said, Reynolds, Nguyen and Elladj Balde all represented Canada very well in the men's event, qualifying for the free skate and a shot to fire back with a good skate. Reynolds made up some ground with a quad salchow and a free skate score of 146.99 but problems on other jumping passes in his program would keep him from moving up further. Nguyen was the star among the three men in the free skate, landing two triple axels and a smattering of other triples in his world debut and making a great statement about his coolness under pressure. Nam would earn the ninth highest free skate score (ahead of Reynolds) to finish twelth overall just under Kevin. Montreal's Elladj Balde landed his quad toe and two triple axels in his own World debut to move up to eighteenth place overall.

Jorik Hendrickx of Belgium came through with a very stylized free skate featuring a triple axel and triple lutz/triple toe combo to end the men's competition in seventeenth place and the animated and promising Misha Ge of Uzbekistan just missed the mark to qualify for the free skate after stepping out of his triple axel pass and falling on the back half of his triple flip/triple toe combination. All in all though, from the 'best' to 'the rest', this men's competition proved one thing: as long as quads and triple axels are involved, there's going to be excitement.

THE ICE DANCE COMPETITION


I want to preface anything I have to say about ice dancing by explaining that I do NOT have an ice dancing background nor am I an expert in evaluating it. I'm no huge fan of the IJS system either, as well explained in my coverage of skating events so far so the eyes I'm looking at the ice dancing with are assuredly different than someone who's really big on this system of judging. As I seem to have acquired a lot of new readers over Olympics and Worlds, many of whom are completely unfamiliar with my opinions or writing style, I just want to remind everyone that my opinions are my own and are as valid as anyone else's. No one has to be 'right', this blog and my opinions may not be for everyone and I generally don't EVER get into the recap game really. It is the Worlds after all, but my favourite kind of skating is artistic and interpretive skating. That's where my real passion lies. I know quite a bit about singles and pairs skating and have certainly studied and learned a fair share about the intricacies of ice dance over the years... things like the importance of knee bend, unison, edges, carriage, dance holds and speed in taking a program and making it a PROGRAM. A lot of people outside of the skating world have no concept of just how insanely difficult and physically demanding ice dancing really is and I hope maybe these Worlds might have changed a lot of casual viewers minds and perceptions about that.

Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev's withdrawal due to injury was unfortunate. I think more than anything my biggest issue with this team isn't with their skating itself, but with the programs this season. The Marilyn Monroe thing just didn't do it for me in the short dance and I just had this disconnect with their free dance to "La Tosca" arranged with Ennio Morricone's "Man With A Harmonica". I kind of see where Zhulin was going with these programs, but I just think as compared to the strength of their competition's material, it just fell flat to me this season. I want to see this team come back next season with a new fire and new programs. They're great skaters and are capable of great things. I wish them health and a bright future.

My new ice dancing crush is Finland's Ossi Kanervo, who unfortunately failed to qualify for the free dance with his partner Henna Lindholm. I learned through his ISU bio that he enjoys cycling, running, music, cars and squash. He can Finnstep over to my house anytime and listen to all the music and eat all the squash his heart desires, God love him.


Italy's Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte were the surprise leaders after the short dance with a class act of a program set to "42nd Street" and "Lullaby Of Broadway". The European Champions earned a score of 69.70 to keep them just tenths of a point ahead of the field, but their fast, secure footwork, great unison and speed and security all proved assets in the face of stiff competition. In the free dance, the Italians skated to Rossini's "The Barber Of Seville" and although it was a lovely effort, as compared to the French, Canadian, American (both), British, Canadian and Russian teams the program itself (though technically quite competitive with the others) just didn't make me feel anything and I think a big part of that was their music choice. That said, they skated it as well as they EVER could and have and they sure ended with a bang though, and should be very proud of their winning score of 175.43 (though lower than the Russians and French team in the free dance) and first World title. In a post skate interview, Cappellini said "we really are in shock right now". I am too. I just feel uncomfortable with this being the free dance that resulted in the World title but I don't want to discredit their victory or skating. They're great skaters. This just wasn't my cup of tea.


Absolutely as I anticipated, Canada's Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were simply magnificent. Their "42nd Street" tap dance inspired short dance choreographed by Toronto choreographer Geoffrey Tyler was authentic and true to the genre they were representing and full of complex and very MUSICAL steps. The carriage and edge quality was very reminiscent of Bourne and Kraatz and the spring and lightness in the footwork sequence with the Finnstep was delightful. Their short dance score of 69.20 kept them just tenths of a point behind the Italians and it was interesting to see both short dances set to the same score juxtaposed. In the free dance, the Canadians were again brilliant. They skated their program with conviction, finesse and a fabulous quality to their edges and footwork. Their step sequences were complex and lifts very strong, and with all these aspects coming together, it was no surprise the judges finally rewarded this team with a medal at Worlds. They placed third in the free dance to miss the gold medal by .02. It doesn't get any closer than that and I wouldn't have wanted to judge this competition, that's for sure. 175.41 and a silver medal is nothing to sneeze at and I applaud these two.


In likely their final competitive appearance together, France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat were absolutely sublime. I firmly didn't agree with the free dance result that kept this team off the podium at the Olympics and prayed that their brilliant Fosse short dance and innovative "Le Petit Prince" free dance would be fairly judged in Saitama. There's such conviction, imagination and complexity to their work. In a lot of ways, they've taken things from other French ice dance greats - teams like the Duchesnay's, Anissina and Peizerat and Delobel and Schoenfelder - and built upon those great explorative choreographic styles and creative lifts and footwork sequences and brought that to now, to 2014. With regard to their short dance, I've decided that I want to walk into a room to the loud announcement "BENNY GOODMAN! SING SING SING!" and proceed to drink shots and showcase some serious jazz hands. That program is full of such fun and it was great to see it one last time, even with the problems in the Finnstep that kept them in third with a score of 68.20. They rebounded in the free skate with a FLAWLESS, enthralling and intricate program that earned them a total score of 175.37 - a bronze medal, a new Season's Best for this team and a standing ovation from me. It kills me that this performance didn't win them a World title, and I have a feeling I'll look back at this season and this team years from now and shake my head and wonder why it never happened. My heart broke for Nathalie on the medal podium. This wasn't right.

The ice dance drama in Saitama started before the competition even did. Rumors swirled about a probable split between Russians Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia following this competition. Katsalapov addressed these rumors in an ITAR-TASS news agency article published on March 28: "What’s happening around us doesn’t matter for us at all. While we are here, the quality of our performing is the only concern. I just don't have time to care for other things." While their incredible speed and attention to detail shone in the Finnstep portion of their up tempo short dance to "Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen", "Sixteen Tons" and BENNY GOODMAN'S "SING SING SING!" but when disaster struck in the sequential twizzle section rumors continued to fly about everything from apathy to self sabotage. Whatever may be going be on off the ice with this team, it did appear to affect their on ice performance and that's unfortunate considering this event could have been a very real chance for them to win a World title had they skated with the same attack as in Sochi. A fifth place finish in the short dance and a score of 65.67 was an early Easter GIFT, as were PCS scores higher than Pechalat and Bourzat's. I watched their gravely dramatic "Swan Lake" free dance almost expecting 'something' to happen, but it was like an on switch was flipped and they looked every bit as focused as they did in Sochi out there, skating with attack and forcefulness throughout. They turned around whatever it was that went on earlier and skated lights out. What drama this story will hold going forward remains an unsolved mystery, but their skating in the free dance was delightful enough to earn them a total score of 147.38 and fourth place.

Who doesn't appreciate Madison Chock and Evan Bates and the ShibSibs? Both teams brought flair, excellent skating skills and confidence to the table in Saitama. Chock and Bates looked particularly sharp in their quickstep, foxtrot and charleston short dance that earned them a total score of 67.71 and the highest TES score (34.79) of ANY team in the short dance. This team has excelled under Igor Shpilband's tutelage and also improved quantitatively from the start of the season to now, in my opinion. In the free dances, Chock and Bates more hearty and precise "Les Miserables" free dance would prove a stark contrast to siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani's Michael Jackson inspired powerhouse effort. Chock and Bates' sweeping free dance was full of deep edges, good attack and speed throughout and they ended the competition with a Season's Best score of 167.59 and fifth place.
As always, Maia and Alex Shibutani's Michael Jackson free dance was full of fun, great unison and great basic technique and edges (the twizzles were fantastic!) - I never think they ever seem to get enough credit these days and it was nice to see them judged favorably here. The former World Bronze Medallists earned sixth place, a final score of 158.57 and a new Season's Best for their effort in Saitama. 


Let's talk about Canada's Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam and Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier. The two teams couldn't BE any more different (or fabulous) if they tried. Paul and Islam have that fresh faced take on ballroom appeal whereas you have Gilles and Poirier pushing the envelope much like Zhiganshina and Gaszi did with their brilliant zombie free dance last season with that dark, stark, demanding your attention Alfred Hitchcock free dance coupled with their playful Caro Emerald short dance. I think both teams bring wonderful qualities to the table and I also feel that they could have been scored with the same enthusiasm they brought to the ice. I really enjoyed Paul and Islam's Gershwin "Crazy For You" short dance. It earned them a score of 57.68 but more importantly than any score, it showcased their sureness and great skating skills coupled with great musicality and character. Their free dance, which had great holds, smoothness, quality twizzles and that wonderful one foot feature lift earned them a total score of 148.76. I have also decided that I want Alexandra's red dress and Islam's babies. Speaking of male ice dancers whose babies I'd totally have, Piper Gilles and the handsome Paul Poirier too earned a season's best score at these World Championships (91.33 in the free dance). Both teams, though different, bring great qualities to the ice and I hope they stick it out because the future is all theirs. Canadian ice dancers are where it's at, baby!

Thirty years ago Britons Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean won Olympic gold at the 1984 World Championships and thirty years later, they're still inspiring great British ice dancers. Rallying all their muster after a ninth place finish in the short dance, Great Britain's Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland also chose Michael Jackson as their medium in the free dance. They had clever lifts, footwork perfectly timed to the music (take their twizzle section for instance), great speed, spark and entertainment value and remained committed to what they were presenting throughout. They finished the competition with a final score of 153.66 just behind the Gilles and Poirier and ninth place.

Spanish Champions Sara Hurtado Martin and Adrian Diaz Bronchud were fabulous in the short dance but skated earlier in the competition and ended up in sixteenth place with a score of 55.06 heading into the free dance, which I thought was a few places too low based on their skating skills alone. The first of the twenty teams to skate their free dance, they chose "Surviving Picasso" as their free dance and skated it with carefree aplomb. The students of Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon created great shapes in their program - the straight line lift early in the program and spread eagle lift later on more than eclipsed a small issue with synchronicity in their twizzle sequence. Their programs consistently seem to highlight their strengths and capture people's attention and that's what makes a team people WANT to watch. Their free dance effort left them with 137.37 points and sixteenth place overall.

Other highlights of the ice dance competition for me included Americans Alexandra Eaton and Daniel Eaton's innovative and mesmerizing Bollywood free dance and Cathy and Chris Reed's Shogun free dance in front of that appreciative Japanese crowd. What an exciting competition from start to finish full of great edges, energy and excitement! Whoever said that World Championships in Olympic years weren't full of great skating apparently isn't aware that our world is comprised of more than two great ice dance teams, each bringing their own special moments to the judges table.

THE WOMEN'S COMPETITION

There would be no Adelina Sotnikova .vs. Yuna Kim rematch in Saitama and that's really a shame. I would have loved to have seen both skaters again go out and skate strong performances as they did in Sochi and face a completely different panel of ISU judges. It certainly would have made for some interesting dinner table conversation and reanalysis. That said, although the two Olympic Gold Medallists were not in attendance, there was certainly no shortage of talent or depth in the ladies field. Carolina Kostner, the Olympic Bronze Medallist, was on hand with arguably the two most exquisitely choreographed programs of any of the ladies competing this season, and she had lots of competition to face: World Champion Mao Asada and teammates Akiko Suzuki and Kanako Murakami, Americans Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold and Polina Edmunds, Russia's Julia Lipnitskaia, Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond, France's Maé-Bérénice Méité and so many other skaters... just 'waiting for that opportunity'. As always in figure skating, this competition was all about who delivered when the stakes were high.

After qualifying for the free skate with a twentieth place short program, ten time British Champion Jenna McCorkell sadly had to withdraw due to injury. My heart goes out to her. I can only imagine how important this final Worlds performance was to her and that's not likely the way she wanted to end her lengthy and accomplished career and tenth trip to Worlds. Get better soon Jenna (which was weird to type because my sister's name is Jenna too!)


After that courageous come from behind dream skate in Sochi, World Champion and 2010 Olympic Silver Medallist Mao Asada again showed skating fans (and judges) just what she was made of. That quiet determination and confidence that has always been her strongest suit again came into play in front of her home country. With an elegant, richly layered and understated short program to "Nocturne in E flat major op. 9, no. 2 Andante" by Frederic Chopin, Mao reminded us for the umpteenth time why she's skating royalty. In her last competition, the twenty three year old must have had SO much pressure on her shoulders skating in front of her home country but you didn't even see a glimpse of hesitation from her in that short program. The triple axel she landed was actually spot on as was her triple flip and triple loop combination that were to follow. Her score of 78.66 in the short program actually BEAT Yuna Kim's world record for the short program and placed her in a commanding lead. It was great to see her skate so well! When she's on, she's really so fantastic. In the free skate to "Piano Concerto No. 2 In C Minor" by Rachmaninoff, Asada was again jaw dropping. Another huge and secure triple axel, a triple flip/triple loop, triple lutz, triple salchow, triple flip/double loop/double loop and triple loop - what more could she even do if she wanted to? Her only mistake was a step out on the landing of a double axel that almost looked like she was fixing to make a second triple. Doing all this under such intense pressure and with such understated grace, Mao earned every point, positive GOE, level, standing ovation and bouquet of flowers here. What an incredible career she's had and what a way to end it with another World title.


When teenager Julia Lipnitskaia skated brilliantly in the Team Event in Sochi, the whole world suddenly seemed to find their new it girl. She's got the flexibility of a Cirque du Soleil acrobat and/or Nathalie Krieg, maturity beyond her years and some of the most consistent triple/triple combinations in the business. What's not to love, right? I have to hand it to Julia. As much as there are nitpicky things like the rounded shoulders and aesthetic of her jump technique that bother me, she's so young, so vibrant and SO strong. The pressure of skating four programs at the Olympics in her home country almost seemed too much for the fifteen year old Muscovite as she unraveled a bit in the individual competition but I felt in my heart of hearts she'd come back guns blazing in Saitama. Her short program set to "You Don't Give Up On Love" by Mark Minkov earned her third place with a score of 74.54 and did great service to Ilya Averbukh's choreography although I again feel her PCS score's sudden rise this season to be a little questionable. In the free skate, she'd again be technically prodigal with a triple lutz/triple toe and double axel/triple toe but the presentation was not something I'd call a moment like Suzuki's program for instance. The fall on the triple salchow was irrelevant. She's good, don't get me wrong, but let's pull up that wool cap and never forget the politics of it all. Being a human pretzel skating to "Schindler's List" in a red dress does not make you a bona fide artiste. I do, however, think that she's clearly ridiculously talented and even if given a little help in the PCS department, she may not have needed it based on her difficulty and "levels" in the TES scoring, particularly her "GOE" on spins. She earned 207.50 to move ahead of Kostner and win the silver medal and the more I thought about this 'kind of' skating earning the third highest PCS score at Worlds in the free skate, it boiled my blood.


Although Asada was fabulous in her winning short program, Carolina Kostner's "Ave Maria" short program has been the all anyone's been talking about all season and understandably so. It's musical, it's well constructed and she uses the transitions as choreographic building blocks, not as background music. Yes, her triple flip/triple toe and triple loop WERE easier when compared to a very small handful of the other ladies in terms of jump difficulty, but the program itself stood miles ahead as a complete package. Like with Abbott in the men's event, this is skating that reaches out and touches you. The kind of skating that SKATING needs. Carolina's program was ethereal, BEAUTIFUL and difficult and I feel her skating was a service to the millions watching that just wanted to feel something from a skater's performance in the ladies event. Her PCS score of 37.46 was the highest of the ladies in the short and her score of 77.24 kept her just behind Asada in that segment of the competition. Her "Bolero" free skate was spirited, interesting and artistic, even if at times unsteady. Opening with a beautiful triple lutz, Carolina went on to land a double axel/triple toe but next fell on the triple toe on the back half of her triple flip/triple toe combination and then singled a planned triple loop and a triple flip. The problems continued but the grandeur of the music kept the driving program going even if it didn't have the same impact as it did in Sochi, where I feel it should have won the gold. A real shame. She earned a score of 203.83 and finished the competition in third.

Lipnitskaia's teammate, Anna Pogorilaya almost seemed to add insult to injury to the fabulous Alena Leonova, who skated so strongly at Europeans but yet wasn't sent to Worlds. In her free skate, she skated to the music Alena used to win the short program at the 2012 World Championships just two years ago. That said, she did skate quite well in the free skate, and was reminiscent of a very young Maria Butyrskaya. Although stiff in her presentation, her jumps were secure and strong and her future does look bright. She finished the competition in fourth place, though her PCS scores were lower than Ashley Wagner, Gracie Gold and Akiko Suzuki, all of which placed lower than her in the free skate.


Eighteen year old Gracie Gold has that "it" girl factor and the jumps to back it up. She was brilliant in both Boston and Sochi earlier this season and I personally think her decisions to make changes to her programs and coaching team paid off in dividends. Gracie is the kind of skater who really benefits from the judging system she's competing under and I think we can say that she's made great strides in the second mark as well. With a score of 70.31 in the short program, Gracie's medal chances were looking great heading into the free skate. Like so many of these skaters, she had flashes of brilliance like her triple lutz/triple toe but one singled axel and a nasty spill on her second attempt on the same jump hurt her a bit. Gracie looked a little tentative but was still so elegant and stately in her free skate... and fall apart she did not. Her final score of 194.58 would leave her in fifth place.


Surprising many by deciding to carry on and compete in Saitama on home soil at what will almost certainly be her last competition, Akiko Suzuki absolutely didn't disappoint. The reigning Japanese National Champion arrived with two expressive programs - "Hymne a l'Amour" which was popularized by French chanteuse Edith Piaf and a more punctuated free skate to music from "Phantom Of The Opera". The oldest of the ladies competitors at age twenty eight, Suzuki finished fourth in the short program with an emotion fueled,  rock solid performance featuring a triple toe/triple toe and triple lutz and a personal best score of 71.02, putting the opportunity for her medal at home very much on the table for conversation. A doubled lutz in combination put a lot of concern in my mind as to how this program would continue, but the jumps came and by "The Music Of The Night" Akiko looked sure, confident and committed to skating her heart out. That tender moment right at the end of her program where she brought her hands to her mouth teared me up. I'm going to miss watching this lovely lady. Her final score of 193.72 would somehow keep her behind Kostner, Pogorilaya and Gold and it seemed wrong.


I'm a huge fan of Ashley Wagner. Her skating is adult, mature, sophisticated, fresh and exciting. I saw her skate in Stars On Ice last year. Our seats were in the front row right on the ice and what impressed me even more than the gorgeous triple loop she landed literally right in front of me was the twinkle in her eye. There's something so human and so exciting about the way Ashley skates that makes you take notice. She has that 'actress' quality like Katarina Witt has that just commands you to watch her and like her. She again looked radiant on the ice and gave PERFORMANCES in Saitama that made people take notice. Unfortunately, a downgrade on her triple flip/triple toe-loop combination in the short program left her with a score of 63.64, which was significantly lower than the leading ladies. It would take a lot of 'help' from her competitors for her to move up into medal contention in the free skate, but delivering a great performance is obviously what skaters really strive to do whether they medal or not, right? Deliver an excellent performance she most certainly did. Wisely opting to do the double axel/triple toe instead of triple flip/triple toe, she skated almost CLEAN and brought the house down. Like Jeremy Abbott, Ashley had a moment out there and absolutely gave no credence to her critic's goings on. After reading some of the absolute crap being said about U.S. skaters on skating forums, it never ceases to astound me how unforgiving and harshly critical many people are of skaters, and I'd like to applaud Ashley, Jeremy and team U.S.A. in general. They deserve people's very real support. They delivered. Ashley earned a total score of 193.16 and a Season's Best to finish fourth in the free skate and remained in seventh overall.

When I said in my review of U.S. Nationals that I saw a lot of hope for the future in fifteen year old Polina Edmunds, I underestimated this young skater. Anyone who can reel of a triple lutz/triple toe combination like it's nothing at age fifteen is a skater we want to be paying closer attention to. She stood in 12th place in the short program and in striking distance of the top ten. Her free skate to Grieg's "Peer Gynt" suite was peppered with a smorgasbord of beautifully executed triple jumps and her score of 187.50 earned her a Season's Best and clearly, some respect from these international judges.


I don't care what you say, Kaetlyn Osmond is where it's at. Her Fosse short program, choreographed by the fabulous Lance Vipond, is exuberant, entertaining and exciting: the three E's. The fourth 'E' should be elements, because she's got them going on too. She may be attempting an easier triple/triple combination than some of her biggest competitors, but there is quality and strong technique in everything she does and her PCS scores definitely need to be higher. She's putting on a show, not putting on a pot of hot milk to help us fall asleep. The pride of Newfoundland upped her technical ante BIGTIME and landed a triple flip/triple toe combination, big triple lutz and double axel to finish eighth. I would have had her at least two places higher, if not more, were it not for that issue with the layback spin that left so many points ripe for the picking. Her free skate to music from "Mission Cleopatre" was much dramatic and serious in tone than her playful short program, but Kaetlyn presented it with the same authenticity and dedication to detail. Unfortunately, after really muscling out the latter half of a  double axel/triple toe and landing a beauty of a triple lutz, the jumps started to fall apart for Kaetlyn, thus impacting her technical score. Her saving grace with the jump problems was her dedication to not letting the choreography go to pot when the jumps weren't there. Her PCS score of 58.21 and total score of 170.64 left the Canadian Champion in eleventh place.


Many comparisons are made between nineteen year old Maé-Bérénice Méité and four time medallist at the World Championships Surya Bonaly. Sure, they are both from France, they both exude confidence, they are both great jumpers and they are both people of color. I find the comparison goes behind that though. Like Surya, Maé-Bérénice has this wonderfully exciting quality that just captivates you and I think her more original music choices which harken back to the great era of French ladies skating - skaters like Bonaly, Gusmeroli, Hubert and Leray - are what really draw people in and make them excited to watch what she's going to do next. She earned a personal best in the short program (61.62) and did a great triple/triple combination, triple loop and double axel in the process. Her blues/rock free skate would not be flawless, but she did lay down a kickin' triple salchow/triple toe early on. Although there's this exciting element to her skating and presence on the ice, the jumps (which are usually her strong point) failing her somewhat really hurt her, leaving Maé-Bérénice with a score of 158.72 and fifteenth place. It was unusual to see so many jump problems from her and I hope some sort of injury wasn't a factor - it really is most unlike her and as Dick Button would say, "uncalled for and absolutely unnecessary".


Canada's 'second lady' or shall I call her 'lady in waiting' to Kaetlyn Osmond, Ms. Gabrielle Daleman of Ontario had a really good debut at Worlds. She stayed on her feet in the short program (executing a really nice triple lutz/double toe combination and walley into huge double axel) to finish fourteenth with a personal best and a beaming smile. Although she wasn't perfect in her short program or Borodin free skate, her gusto in both programs reminded us that she (as well as so many other of TODAY'S Canadian ladies singles skaters) is fearless and ready to fight, much like Joannie Rochette, the skater she most looks up to. When's the last time a Canadian ladies skater landed three triple lutzes at Worlds?

I was quite disappointed for Elena Glebova and Sonia Lafuente, who have both been as high as thirteenth and fifteenth in the world respectively in recent years but failed to qualify for the free skate. Whether it's just missing that one jump, that podium, that top ten or that cut for the free skate (or making it here in the first place), it's not easy on any of these skaters and it's all the more reason that it's important we shine light on the positive aspects of these skaters accomplishments and send positive energy their way. I think it's always good to remember what the word 'fan' means.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.

Comments