by Anne Calder

The 2017 ISU World Figure Skating Championships were held March 27 – April 2 at the Hartwell Arena in Helsinki, Finland. The 15,000-seat venue previously hosted the 2009 Europeans and the 1999 Worlds. Thirty-two ice dance teams competed in the Short Dance.

SHORT DANCE

Each team skated a pattern and partial step sequence to the blues. The not touching side by side footwork had to be skated to the second rhythm (swing). In Helsinki the dancers’ swing choices included: hip-hop, jive, rock and roll, lindy loop, swing, disco and boogie-woogie.

The much-anticipated return to the World stage by 2010 Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir created excitement throughout the arena. After a two year sabbatical from competition, the duo won their three 2016 Grand Prix events including a record breaking 197.22 total score in the Final. In January, they reclaimed their Canadian title, prior to winning gold at the Four Continents Championships.

“The real intention behind this comeback was to challenge ourselves,” Virtue explained. “The level of ice dance right now is top notch. We knew we were coming into a very deep and strong field. We needed to raise the level of our skating.”

Their opponents on Friday evening included two World Champions plus four World and numerous Grand Prix gold, silver, and bronze medalists.

World ranking partially determined the starting order for the SD. Virtue & Moir with no scores between 2014-2016 skated 20th, well before the top teams. They skated early; they scored high.

By the end of the evening Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir (CAN) had broken their own world record, and the reigning world champions, Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) were only .36 points ahead of third place Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue (USA). All three teams train in Montreal with Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon, and Romain Haguenauer.

Virtue & Moir danced blues and hip-hop to a Prince medley of “Kiss”, “Five Women”, and “Purple Rain”. They earned level 4 for all five elements and nine 10.00 component scores in the 82.43 personal best score. Afterward, the winners spoke about their coaches and the audience.

“I don’t think we have taken the ice at a World Championship being so prepared,” Virtue said.  “It is a great feeling as an athlete that there was nothing else you could have done to better set yourself up for that moment. That is a testament to our coaching staff both on and off the ice.”

“It was nice to end the season with a season’s best, but it was just so much fun,” Moir added.  “Right from the beginning the crowd was really into it. I had to control a little bit of my energy.”

Papadakis & Cizeron scored 76.89 points with their blues to “Bittersweet” and lindy loop to “Diga Diga Doo”. The lift and pattern earned level 4; the twizzles and footwork were level 3.

Cizeron’s hand was covered with blood as he left the ice. He remained in the Kiss and Cry for his marks while clutching tissues. He arrived late to the press conference after receiving medical attention.

“I cut myself between fingers trying to grab my blade during the twizzles, which actually happens a lot, but it’s usually not so big,” Cizeron said.  “I got two stiches, but I’m fine.”

Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue (USA) found themselves in unknown territory with their third place finish to blues and hip hop. In three previous trips to Worlds, they were never closer than seventh in the short dance. (2016) The pattern, twizzles, straight-line lift, and not touching footwork were level 4. The program scored a season best 76.53.

“We worked for this exact moment,” Hubbell commented.  “We put a lot of time into our preparation, mentally as well as physically.” “The new system really pushes everybody to keep getting better and better. For the most part, you train to get your level 4s, and at the end of the day, you know what happened.”

Madison Chock & Evan Bates (USA) were fourth only .28 points behind their countrymen with a season best 76.25 score for the blues “Bad to the Bone” and hip hop “Uptown Funk”. “I think it was the top of the heap for us as far as the season’s concerned. This is where we want to peak, and I think we’re doing that,” noted Bates. The curve lift, pattern, and twizzles earned level 4; the footwork sequences were level 3.

Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani were in an unfamiliar fifth place.

“We were a little disappointed in our score – we saw that we missed some levels (footwork, 2 and 3) Sometimes you get marks you don’t understand,” Alex said. They used “That’s Life” by Frank Sinatra and Jay-Z for the blues and hip-hop to earn 74.88 points.

Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje (CAN) were sixth with a Michael Jackson medley for the blues and hip-hop that earned 74.84, just .04 behind the Shibutanis.

“We felt good out there,” Poje said.  “We wanted to go out and just let it happen, and we really feel like we’re in that groove today. We want to feel strong going into next season, so this was a stepping stone.”

The 2014 World and European Champions Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte (ITA) scored 73.70 for their seventh place Jersey Boys and boogie-woogie dance.

“We had fun,” Cappellini said.  “It was a good way to say goodbye to a program we have been enjoying very much.”

Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev (RUS) were eighth with a 73.54 score for their Christina Aguilera blues and Louis Prima swing program that had levels 2, 3 footwork.

“The first impression is the points are a little bit low compared to Europeans. I would say we are disappointed,” Soloviev said.

“We are satisfied and our coaches are satisfied,” Bobrova added.  “That’s why we cannot relate to the score we received.”

Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier (CAN) did blues to “Oh What a Night for Dancing and a snappy “Disco Inferno” for a ninth place 73.83 score. Poirier commented on his appearance.

“We wanted to be authentic to the period and really do true disco and not a parody of it, but really take it as seriously as possible. We did a lot of research on the costumes, hair and movements.”

Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin (RUS) scored 60.07 and finished tenth.

“We like to skate here,” Stepanova said.  “The audience is great. I saw so many Russian flags, and it inspired us a lot.”

 

FREE DANCE

Saturday evening a sold out audience witnessed the highs and lows of competitive sport. Virtue & Moir (CAN) won their third World Championship; Papadakis & Cizeron (FRA) won the free dance and silver medal by breaking their own previous world record; and Maia & Alex Shibutani vaulted from fifth to third place to take home the bronze. Americans Chock & Bates (USA) and Hubbell & Donohue (USA) succumbed to the unforgiving twizzle monster and plummeted to seventh and ninth places respectively Bobrova & Soloviev (RUS) won the small bronze medal for their third place FD.

Virtue & Moir culminated their return to competition by winning a sixth season gold medal. “It has been a successful season, and we tried not to get carried away with that because we’ve never had a ‘perfect’ season,” said Virtue. “We’ve never had that kind of run of golds (medals), but what we have been able to accomplish as athletes has been the most satisfying thing,”

The Canadians had a 5.5 SD lead. They needed that buffer to ward off their rallying French training mates, whose outstanding free dance was skated just before Virtue & Moir stepped on the ice. The “Pilgrims on a Long Journey” and “Latch” program opened with a spectacular stationary lift that garnered +3 GOE from all nine judges. Six of the seven elements earned level 4. The 198.62 score wiped out their previous 2016 GPF world record.

“To hear World Champions after our names is a really special thing particularly in 2017,” Virtue said  “This is a great start and we’re looking forward to building on it.”

“There were a couple of little bobbles so it was a little bit harder than usual,” Moir added.

The defending World Champions, Papadakis & Cizeron (FRA) brought their supportive fans to tears with a mezmerizing contemporary dance to “Stillness”, “Oddudua”, and “Happiness Does Not Wait”. Their bodies created an image of floating spirits as they softly glided across the ice with light and lyrical movements. The program earned seven level 4 marks and all +2 and +3 GOEs. The component score added nine 10.00 grades. The total segment score was 119.15.

“This was one of the best dances of our career, and we got our best score ever,” Cizeron said.  “I believe it is a world record. We are very proud. This is a nice personal victory for us.”

After the free dance, several teams shuffled positions. The final roster needed the protocols as a score card to explain the standings.

The reigning World silver medalists Shibutani & Shibutani (USA) were fourth in the free dance, but third over all, with a strong interpretation of Evolution. The repetitive sound of the violin and piano in “Mirror in Mirror” created a haunting background for the sibling’s solid 110.30-point performance. Their spin, lifts, and spectacular twizzles were level 4; the footwork was level 3. An extended stationary lift caused a one-point deduction.

“Today we focused on our performance,” Maia said.  “We stepped off the ice with the same feeling as after the short (dance).  We missed a couple of minor things today, but in total, we are satisfied.

Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje (CAN) were sixth in the short and free dances, but finished fourth just .37 points off the podium with a 184.81 total score. Their free dance to “Concierto de Aranjuez” earned level 4 lifts, spin, and twizzles; the circular and diagonal steps sequences were level 3.

“We haven’t performed this way in two years, being so relaxed and in the moment, and this is what next season will be built on,” Weaver said.

After placing eighth in the short dance, Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev (RUS) were third in the free dance and finished fifth overall with 184.06 points. Their performance to Prelude No. 20 by Chopin and Four Seasons performed by violinist, Nigel Kennedy earned level 4 lifts, spin and twizzle; the circular and diagonal footwork was level 3.

“My favorite element is the rotational lift,” Bobrova said.  “We are the only couple in the world who is performing it. It is technically challenging. I am happy we could show it at Worlds.”

Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte (ITA) were seventh in the short dance, but an animated performance to a Charlie Chaplin medley was rewarded with fifth place. The lifts, spin, and twizzled earned level 4; the footwork was level 3. The total 183.73 score placed them fifth overall.

“We were disappointed with the scores,” Cappellini said.  “We felt we did the best performance of the year. We had the crowd standing. We felt a great connection and power on the ice.”

Two-time World medalists Madison Chock & Evan Bates (USA) began the free dance in fourth place, but several twizzle bobbles disrupted the routine and their “Under Pressure” program placed eighth. Their final 182.04 score gave them a seventh place finish.

“It was a big mistake and obviously cost the team a lot of points,” Bates said.  “I think this year on a grand scale can be a learning experience for us. We just continue to work and improve.”

The 2014 Four Continents Champions Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue (USA) were third after the short dance. A first world medal was within reach. Unfortunately the positioning of Donohue’s toe pick during the twizzles interrupted the sequence, and he fell. The element received points. The free dance placed tenth; the final 177.70 was ninth over all.

Donohue spoke about his fall.

“It was in a moment of complete calm, and what I thought was control,” Donohue said.  “It came out of nowhere, and I was surprised the moment I felt myself going down. At that point, we had a no level twizzle after one rotation. It was devastating.”