2012 World Championships Short Dance Re-cap: The Battle Continues

12worlds-pechbourAfter the pairs turned in a shocker of a short program event at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships in Nice, France some were bracing for a short dance splat-fest, reminiscent of the infamous 2006 Olympic original dance. While this evening’s short dance brought a few surprising results, in the end, the Technical Element Scores explained most placements, and the equilibrium of the ice dance discipline remains intact. The standings may have raised some eyebrows, but if they had not, would this really be ice dance?

With one of the strongest performances of the night and certainly the most heartwarming story, Nathalie Péchalat & Fabian Bourzat of France closed the event by lighting up the arena for the home crowd. After a broken nose from a training accident just two weeks ago, Péchalat’s participation in this event was uncertain until this week. Even if she and Bourzat had just managed to stay on their feet, their effort would have been commendable, given the circumstances. What they accomplished tonight, however, was fantastic.

The technical panel for the short dance was strict, particularly with the second key point—the open choctaw—of the Rhumba sequences. Even the top teams often struggle with this step, and minor wobbles of the blade knocked most teams down a level on at least one of the sequences. Only Péchalat & Bourzat, the United States’ Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue, and Germany’s Nelli Zhiganshina & Alexander Gazsi earned level 4 for both Rhumba segments.

In the Battle of Michigan, of the eight teams who earned at least one level 4 Rhumba, half of them are coached at the Detroit Skating Club, the other four in New Jersey and Europe.

Even with level 3 Rhumbas, the top two placements are occupied by Canadians Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir and Americans Meryl Davis & Charlie White, the last two World ice dance champions. Virtue & Moir won the short dance with a score of 72.31, their best score of the season. They earned level 3 for their circular step sequence and level 4 for their twizzles and rotational lift and performed with a great deal of precision. Two 10.00 marks were issued, by one judge in choreography and by another in performance. The quality of their edges throughout the program (aside from a miniscule slide going into those choctaws) and their chemistry with each other vaulted them into the lead. This is their first short dance victory over Davis & White this season.

Davis & White earned the same levels as their training mates and primary rivals, but their edge mistake in the Rhumba was just a hair more pronounced. The judges awarded slightly lower Grades of Execution for almost all of their elements, with the exception of the circular step sequence. The minor losses added up to a TES of 33.50 points, compared to Virtue & Moir’s 34.29. Davis & White’s program was presented well toward the audience, but they did not appear as connected to each other as Virtue & Moir did, perhaps accounting for another slight loss on the program components score, 37.48 to 38.02. The results are still quite close and the free dance could go either way to decide the title. Davis & White are only 1.33 points back with 70.98 points, and their free dance is the stronger of their two programs this season.

Péchalat & Bourzat have closed the gap that usually exists between them and the world’s top two teams, landing in third with 69.13 points. On the strength of their level 4 Rhumba patterns, their base value was tied for the second-highest in the event, and their technical elements score of 33.64 was ranked second. If they had earned level 4 on their twizzles, they would have been right on Davis & White’s heels.

Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje entered these championships hoping to stand on the podium. With 66.47 points, a medal is still within their reach, but one has to wonder if they would have scored a point or two higher if they had skated in the last group. Weaver & Poje were one of the first teams to really get the crowd behind them, skating the high-energy short dance that became the usual for them this year. They managed a level 4 on one of their Rhumba sequences, but missed the choctaw key point on the first and were dropped to level 3. They had a scary moment when Weaver, who stands on Poje’s thigh in the lift, missed her usual spot on his leg by a few centimeters. Her partner was able to steady her, though, and they pulled off the lift quite well, earning level 4 and perhaps only sacrificing a tenth or so in GOE.

In almost a tie for fifth, Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov of Russia and Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte of Italy still have an outside shot at bronze. Ilinykh & Katsalapov, with 65.34 points, tied Péchalat & Bourzat and Weaver & Poje on base value by earning level 4 on their first Rhumba, the twizzles, and the lift, and level 3 on the circular steps and the second Rhumba. The 2010 World Junior champions seemed a little tight in their expression and were hit with negative GOE on both of their Rhumba segments.

Cappellini & Lanotte had level 3 on both Rhumbas and their circular steps and level 4 on their twizzles and lift. Even with a lower base value, they fared a little better on GOE, earning just five negative marks on the pattern. In one of the questionable judging decisions of the night, they lost to Ilinykh & Katsalapov on the program components, missing the chance to skate in the final flight. Cappellini & Lanotte could understandably be marked lower than Ilinykh & Katsalapov in some of the components, but for tonight’s performance, they should have been markedly higher in performance and interpretation/timing.

Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani of the United States looked pleased with their efforts on the ice, but the tide turned in the kiss & cry, when they were noticeably disappointed with their score of 62.35. The reigning World bronze medalists have not recaptured that magic on the international circuit this season, but they were certainly aiming higher than seventh, where they stand heading into the free dance. They suffered from negative GOE on their Rhumba pattern and a level 2 on their circular step sequence.

On the other end of the spectrum, their American teammates, Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue exceeded expectations by soaring into eighth place with a score of 59.56. Hubbell & Donohue had the highest base score of all 25 teams and finished the short dance with the fifth-highest TES. In their first year together, the team has made huge improvements since their early-season short dance outings, and they were just a slightly botched exit away from earning straight level 4s.

After their teammates were hit with uncharacteristic struggles in the pairs event, the Russians’ bad luck carried over to the dance event. Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev were only 15th in TES and dropped to ninth place after a messy short dance with only one level 4 element. Bobrova fell after the second Rhumba sequence, but the strange glitch was not on an element and only cost them a one-point deduction. They have 58.29 points and are just one-tenth of a point ahead of Russian teammates Ekaterina Riazanova & Ilia Tkachenko.

Riazanova & Tkachenko tackled the performance aspect of their short dance rather well. They did net negative GOE on their Rhumba sequences and only earned level 4 on their twizzles, but their program components were in the low- to mid-7s, and that is where they appeared to lose a ranking to their countrymen.

France’s Pernelle Carron & Lloyd Jones and Japan’s Cathy Reed & Chris Reed, 12th and 13th in the world last year, respectively, had nightmarish outings and did not qualify for the free dance. Chris Reed fell on their opening element, the twizzles, which received no credit. They recovered in time to snag a rare level 4 on their first Rhumba section, but the lack of training following Chris’ foot surgery was too much to overcome. Carron & Jones were last in TES, hurt by a level 1 in the Rhumba and on their twizzles, and missed competing tomorrow by only 0.17.

Last time the World Championships were in Nice, the leaders going into the free dance slipped to silver, and the team in fourth did not make the podium. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. The Shibutanis skate last in the penultimate group, Davis & White first in the final flight and the night ends with Virtue & Moir. Free Dance begins at 7:00 p.m. local time.