or The Amazing Race: Uzbek-style

12wc-nagornyuk-kovalenkoToday’s qualifying round for the ice dance competition at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships featured one missed warm-up, two skate malfunctions, and (I’m assuming) several broken traffic laws. And it’s only Monday. If this is what the rest of the week has in store for us, count me in.

The story of the day does not come from the top of the leader board, but rather, from closer to the middle of the standings. Anna Nagornyuk & Viktor Kovalenko (pictured) represent Uzbekistan and are their country’s only competitive dance team this season. They have worked very hard this season, competing on both the junior and senior circuits, and while they were not heading to Nice as top contenders, they knew that they had a chance to skate well, improve upon their scores, and qualify for the short dance.

Last Friday, the duo planned to obtain their visas for France and catch a flight to Nice, but their visas were delayed. Their Uzbek teammate, men’s competitor Misha Ge, also had visa concerns, but did receive his on Friday. Unfortunately, time was running out for the dancers. The French embassy closed for the weekend without making a decision on their visas, and they had one last chance to return on Monday — the morning of the preliminary dance competition!

The qualifying competition began at 5:15 p.m., and Nagornyuk & Kovalenko’s warm-up group was scheduled to take the ice at 6:44 p.m. They were cutting it close.

Monday morning their visas were granted, and through the magic of Twitter, Kovalenko excitedly shared a photo of the document that would allow them to go to France. But, like a tense episode of “The Amazing Race,” then the demons of air travel struck, and Nagornyuk & Kovalenko missed their connection in Germany.

A new flight was available, but this meant that they would not arrive in Nice until 6:30 p.m. If the flight landed on time. Which it did not.

mishage-124c-forworlds2012recapqualWithout any live streaming of the preliminary phases of the competition, the Internet’s ice dance faithful had to hang on to Twitter updates from the rink, including extremely animated ones from Ge (pictured, left), anxiously awaiting the arrival of his teammates.

A tweet came from Europe On Ice’s @patinaggio as soon as the Zamboni break ended: “Only 4 teams showed up in Group 3 of Dance Preliminary Round.” And Ge followed with: “On Main rink tribune and sadly didn’t see our Ice Dancers on 6 min warm up 🙁 . Last try, maybe they come right to their program?”

Nagornyuk & Kovalenko were slated to skate fourth out of the five teams in their flight, giving them until 7:13 p.m. to appear center ice, in costume and skates. The clock had just ticked past 7:00. At 7:01, Ge’s tweet appeared: “OMG !!!!!!!!!!!!!!! They made it !!!!!!!! They already in skates right now !!!! It’s a Miracle !!!!! Thank you God.” He quickly followed that up with: “I was like CRAZY running to them from tribune !!!!!! Best of luck guys !!!!! GO Uzbekistan !!!!!!!!!!!” and “Doesn’t matter how they will do today they are best !!!!!!! We supporting you guys !!!!!!!!!! Go Go Go Uzbekistan!”

Nagornyuk & Kovalenko had no time to warm up, no official practice, and barely a moment to breathe and collect themselves before their names were called.

Those not in the arena kept hitting refresh like it was 1997, waiting for word how this young team would do under unbelievable circumstances. Once again, it with their teammate Ge who broke the news: “Yes !!!!!! They skate clean !!!!!! Amazing job!!!! Big respect to you guys !!!!!!! That is Miracle !!!! Thank you God for your help.”

Despite everything against them, Nagornyuk & Kovalenko delivered a season’s best score of 70.88 and qualified for the short dance with a ninth-place finish.

Danielle O’Brien & Gregory Merriman of Australia skated directly after Nagornyuk & Kovalenko, and apparently, they didn’t want to let the Uzbek team have all of the drama in group three. Merriman’s blade separated from his boot towards the end of their program, but they pushed through the equipment malfunction and managed a score of 71.37. The effort was over five points better than their previous best score, set at Four Continents in February, and it ranked them eighth at the end of the evening, sending them through to the short dance and guaranteeing that they will at least match their best World Championships ranking of 25th.

Russia’s Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov won the preliminary round, as expected, with a respectable score of 92.40 points. They have struggled over the season with attaining high levels throughout their free dance, and this outing was no exception. Their final two elements, the diagonal step sequence and the straightline lift, were both called level 2. The program components score was strong, but they will need to be sharper technically if they want to break into the top five at the end of the competition.

Xintong Huang & Xun Zheng of China finished second with 79.69 points, a new ISU personal best. Their technical elements had a higher base value than Ilinykh & Katsalapov’s, but their program components were marked almost 11 points lower, 38.62 to 49.40.

Estonia’s Irina Shtork & Taavi Rand skated last and also set a personal best, earning 79.17 points. Their technical elements base value was the highest in the field, with five level 4 elements and three level 3s.

Great Britain’s Penny Coomes & Nicholas Buckland were the second team to suffer a broken skate, yet make it to the end of their four-minute program. The top hook on Buckland’s boot popped open in their first lift, which caused a scary moment for both partners and accounted for the team scoring well back from their season’s best. Still, 79.09 points was plenty to get the Brits through qualification in fourth place.

Julia Zlobina & Alexei Sitnikov of Azerbaijan, Sara Hurtado & Adria Diaz of Spain, and Lorenza Alessandrini & Simone Vaturi of Italy qualified in fifth through seventh places. The Spaniards set a new personal best score of 76.26. Zsuzsanna Nagy & Mate Fejes of Hungary took the final qualification spot, scoring 70.84 and besting their score from the European Championships by just over a point. The Czech team of Gabriela Kubova & Dmitri Kiselev barely missed qualification, falling short by just .45.

The dramatic and exciting day of competition–led by Uzbekistan’s Nagornyuk & Kovalenko–will be one of the stories that will be remembered from these championships. Unfortunately, however, we will not have video footage of it because no one thought they should film the preliminaries today.