by Jacquelyn Thayer
Québec City, Canada, will host the 2011 Grand Prix Final and Junior Grand Prix Final this week. This year’s senior event features a reunion of the top six finishers from last season’s World Championships, including a long-awaited showdown between perennial rivals, and a tight race for the podium. The junior event will see its own match-up between top favorites, as well as an interesting mix of veterans and up-and-comers. Five of the six senior teams, as well as one junior team, hail from Detroit-area training centers, highlighting the region’s increasing prominence in the ice dance world.
Fierce Competition in the Senior Ranks
The battle to watch will be the season’s first match-up between training mates and world champions Meryl Davis & Charlie White (USA) and Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir (CAN). Davis & White, two-time Grand Prix Final victors, seek to defend their title, while Virtue & Moir, twice kept off the Grand Prix circuit due to past injury, seek to take their first. In 2009, at their only prior GPF face-off, Davis & White won by a slim 1.22-point margin. Given the pace of the teams’ successes this season, another tight race seems inevitable.
While a direct comparison between events is difficult, Davis & White possess a slight edge in scoring. After a solid win at Skate America, the team posted the season’s best score, 109.12, for their Die Fledermaus free dance and a total of 179.06 at Rostelecom Cup. Virtue & Moir, however, enter the event with the advantage of mileage, having opened their season in early October at Finlandia Trophy. Subsequent strong Grand Prix victories at Skate Canada and Trophée Eric Bompard revealed technical improvements and refinements to both their short dance and Funny Face free dance, and that extra time for development may finally land the couple GPF gold in front of a home crowd.
France’s Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat won silver at last season’s Grand Prix Final, and seem likely contenders to round out the podium this year. The 98.04 earned by their Egyptian free dance at Trophée Eric Bompard was the highest among all teams outside of Davis & White or Virtue & Moir. Though second-place finishes at Skate America and Trophée Eric Bompard officially slot them below gold medalists Maia & Alex Shibutani (USA) and Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev (RUS) in the entry list, their history and recent strong showings against the top two bode well for their success against the remaining teams here.
With gold at NHK Trophy and silver at Cup of China, the Shibutanis earned their first trip to the senior Grand Prix Final, building on last season’s success. So far, the duo has competed against two other GPF entrants, placing second to Bobrova & Soloviev in China and narrowly defeating Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje at the following week’s NHK Trophy. Though the contest for a medal here will be tight, history has demonstrated that the sibling team is capable of posting solid results against more experienced pairs, particularly given their strength in the free dance.
This year’s busy Grand Prix series saw Weaver & Poje (pictured, right) capture silver medals at Skate Canada, NHK Trophy, and Rostelecom Cup. In their GPF debut last year, Weaver & Poje placed only fifth of six teams. However, the Canadian couple has had a quicker start to their season this year, setting ISU personal bests at Rostelecom Cup, including their total score of 161.18. Courtesy of their three-event schedule, they also enter having already competed against four of their five competitors, with Péchalat & Bourzat as the only exceptions. Weaver & Poje’s central concern will be consistency, avoiding the minor mistakes and deductions that have cost them at events such as NHK Trophy.
Though their season began with gold and a personal best total score of 163.52 at Cup of China, Russia’s Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev earned nearly seven points less in a bronze-medal outing at Rostelecom Cup, finishing behind Davis & White and Weaver & Poje. Last season, the team finished fourth in their first trip to the Final. A similar finish or better is not out of reach for the two, but with the comparative crowding in this year’s field, two high-level performances are a must.
Junior Stars on the Rise
Silver medalists at last season’s Junior Grand Prix Final, Victoria Sinitsina & Ruslan Zhiganshin of Russia lead this year’s pack. The duo set new personal best scores in victories at Baltic Cup and JGP Austria, and their score of 151.10 from Austria is the highest score from this year’s JGP Series. With marks high above their closest competitors, Sinitsina & Zhiganshin seem poised to continue their great run here.
2011 JGPF bronze medalists Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin (RUS), however, enter with their own perfect record, having taken gold at Brasov Cup and Trofeo W. Lombardi. While their overall scores are not quite as high as those of Sinitsina & Zhiganshin, they actually earned the season’s highest short dance score of 62.86 at Trofeo W. Lombardi, while the 87.12 for their “Live and Let Die” free dance at the same event was only two points below that of Sinitsina & Zhiganshin’s best. As with the senior competition, however, scores across events can only tell so much in a battle of closely-matched victors.
After winning bronze at Baltic Cup, the new team Anna Yanovskaia & Sergei Mozgov (RUS) qualified for the JGPF with a victory at the final event at JGP Tallinn. Their scores this season have not been close to the top two teams, but they are the third qualifiers to this event. While gold may be a distant goal, an excellent debut season can certainly continue here with another medal.
As three-year veterans of the JGP circuit, Maria Nosulia & Evgen Kholoniuk (UKR) are making their first appearance in the Final. Although the duo won gold in the first event at Latvia, they took bronze in Austria behind fellow JGPF qualifiers Sinitsina & Zhiganshin and Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton. At that same event, however, Nosulia & Kholoniuk set new ISU personal bests in every category, and a continuation of that trend may ensure a strong finish for the team here. Ukrainian teammates Anastasia Galyeta & Alexei Shumski are making their second JGPF appearance. The pair, who won back-to-back silver at Baltic Cup and Brasov Cup, placed seventh at last year’s eight-team JGPF, but will aim to improve upon placement in this smaller field.
Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton of the United States (pictured, left) round out the roster as the only North American qualifiers. Following bronze in Latvia, the team achieved new personal bests in their silver-medal outing in Austria. The deep field at JGP Austria helped Aldridge & Eaton prove that they are ready to take on the world’s best. Counting on growth since then and their well-received Lord of the Dance free, the duo could certainly contest for the podium this week.
Practices begin Wednesday, December 7. Junior short and free dances are set for Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon. The senior short dance will take place Friday afternoon, while the senior free dance will conclude the event on Sunday.