Twenty-seven dance teams will take the ice in the final event of the season, the World Figure Skating Championships, in Torino, Italy. Several top couples made the choice not to compete in Torino, including 2010 Olympic bronze medalists Oksana Domnina & Maxim Shabalin of Russia who will be on Ilia Averbukh’s tour. Americans Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto, the 2009 world silver medalists who finished fourth in Vancouver, are preparing to tour with Stars on Ice. 2008 world champions Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelder of France, who finished sixth at the 2010 Olympics, decided to retire.
The last time a newly-crowned Olympic champion competed at the subsequent Worlds was in 1994 when Russians Oksana Grishuk & Evgeny Platov graced the ice in Chiba, Japan to win their first of four world championship titles. Grishuk and Platov had won Olympic gold in an upset over fellow Russians and 1993 World Champions Maya Usova & Alexander Zhulin and reinstated Brits Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean, who had won the 1994 European Championships.
Barely one month ago, Canada’s Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir charmed the judges to win Olympic gold in front of a Vancouver audience. Virtue & Moir, who won world bronze in 2009 and silver in 2008, will seek to complete their collection of medals and attain the only title they do not have — world champions. The team has been evasive when discussing the future, only saying they take it one season at a time; meaning this may or may not be their final competition of their careers. Time will tell.
Also competing in Torino will be Meryl Davis & Charlie White of the United States, who won the silver medal in Vancouver, their first “loss” of the season. Virtue & Moir have acknowledged the young Americans as their biggest competition this season and Davis & White did best their training mates at the 2009 Grand Prix Final in Japan. The team came close to winning their first world medal in 2009 but lost the out on bronze by .04, despite finishing third in the both the original and free dance.
Italy’s Federica Faiella & Massimo Scali are coming off their fifth-place finish at the Olympics and are one of several teams in medal contention. Faiella & Scali won both the original dance and the free dance at January’s European Championships yet had to settle for silver behind Domnina & Shabalin, who had a lead after the Tango Romantica compulsory. Faiella & Scali will no doubt benefit from the home ice advantage and the support from the Italian audience.
France’s Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat finished seventh at the Olympics, besting fellow teammates Delobel & Schoenfelder in the original dance phase, a feat they had never achieved previously. Though their country western original dance is fun, their free dance has not been as enjoyable to the audience, so for Torino they have ditched it in favor of last season’s circus program. Pechalat & Bourzat beat Faiella & Scali at 2009 Worlds (fifth vs. eighth) but have placed below the Italians twice this season in head-to-head meetings.
Siblings Sinead & John Kerr of Great Britain have been in close battles with both the French and Italians for the last few seasons. In Vancouver, the Kerrs finished eighth, and they were fifth at Europeans. To the excitement of fans around the world, Sinead & John Kerr decided after the Olympics to retire their American country and western original dance and revive their popular Scottish OD from 2008. The kilt is back!
Though they finished in ninth place at the Olympics, Russians Jana Khokhlova & Sergei Novitski cannot be discounted. They won the bronze medal at the 2008 World Championships, but were plagued this season by mistakes in their programs and choreography that was just not well received. They scrapped their free dance before Europeans and the new “Firebird” goes into Torino with much more mileage. With Domnina & Shabalin out, Khokhlova & Novitski are Russia’s top team, a distinction that seems to make a big difference in the judges’ eyes.
The competition gets underway on Tuesday with the compulsory dance, the Golden Waltz. With the ISU seeking to reduce the ice dancing event to two phases to fall in line with the other disciplines, this may go down in history as the last CD skated in international competition. The dance’s co-creator, Sergei Ponomarenko, is serving as the Assistant Technical Specialist for ice dance at the world championships. He will be working with Canadian Marie Bowness (Technical Specialist) and France’s Gilles Vandenbroeck (Technical Controller). Walter Zuccaro of Italy is the event referee.
All 27 teams will compete in Thursday’s original dance, and the top 20 will then move on to the free dance on Friday.