by Anne Calder | Photo by Robin Ritoss

The 2018 Grand Prix Final (GPF) was held in Vancouver, BC Canada from December 6-9. Six couples representing Italy (1), Russia (3), and the USA (2) competed for medals and prize money. Five teams made their GPF debut – one competed for the fourth time.

The medalists were Americans Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue (gold), Russians Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov (silver) and Italians Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri (bronze).

The order of the dancers was determined by a random draw done the previous day. The teams were then divided into two groups with three couples in each. On the evening of the rhythm dance, each group was introduced at center ice prior to their five-minute warm-up.  

Rhythm Dance

Hubbell & Donohue danced a passionate tango to Astor Piazzolla selections that earned level 4 for the twizzles and curve lift. Their crisp midline footwork scored a total 11.32, the highest of the six couples. The 2018 US National Champions hit only three of eight key points in their patterns. The 80.53 segment score is a personal best.

The Americans had not competed since winning gold at Skate Canada. The duo spent five weeks changing both programs. In the rhythm dance, the lift and steps of the Tango stayed the same, but their placement was switched. “Yo Soy Maria”, which has lyrics, was added as the final music piece.

“We changed quite a bit actually – with the rhythm dance, so much of the program is elements so the changes we made even though they were quite drastic, they came together relatively quickly,” Hubbell said. “We just love the character [Maria de Buenos Aires], and I really connect with this piece and with female vocals, so it’s really great to have the very classic song.”

Guignard & Fabbri brought the audience to its feet with a romantic tango that scored a personal best 78.30. The highlights included a spectacular cartwheel entrance into the twizzles and a straight-line lift that had Guignard upside down while rotating with her hand on his boot. The couple hit six of the eight key points, including all of the four in the first part.

In the kiss and cry, the couple and their coach, Barbara Fusar Poli, 2000-2001 ice dance GPF, European, and World Champion held each other tightly as their tears flowed as the scores were revealed. For eight years, Guignard & Fabbri danced in the shadow of Italian World and European Champions Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte – 2018 is a breakout year!

“We are still in shock,” Fabbri said. “We did a season’s best at the Final, among the best couples in the world – this is something really great for us, so we are really proud and happy.”

Sinitsina & Katsalapov chose “Verano Porteno” as their tango music. The Russians had a glitch in the lift for a level 2 – a possible incomplete rotation. They earned a level 4 for the twizzles; the midline step sequence with deep edges and sharp curves scored a level 3 and received a total 10.90 points. The segment score was 77.33.

“We are pleased with our performance today,” Katsalapov  We felt the tango atmosphere on the ice, and it was like only the two of us were out there skating. We didn’t want the music to end.”

Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin (RUS) received thunderous applause from the audience. The Rostelecom gold medalists missed all of the key points in the first pattern. The segment’s 77.20 score placed them fourth, but only 0.13 out of medal contention.

Bukin commented on his facial expression at the end of the program. “I was overwhelmed with emotions; it was amazing how the audience was supporting our performance.”

Tiffany Zagorski & Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) were fifth (72.98). The couple lost training time when Zagorski got the flu, and knew they had to catch up.

“We are happy that we collected ourselves and showed a dignified performance,” Guerreiro said. “There were a few rough spots, but overall we are happy with our performance.”

Zagorski added, “We were a bit nervous during the warm-up, but it went away during the performance.”

Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker (USA) were sixth with 71.33 points. The team had a late start to the season due to Baker’s concussion and competed at only two events prior to the Final.

“Regardless of the late start, we’ve come out strong,” Hawayek said. “The Tango Romantica is a tricky beast, but we are progressing in general, and we are happy with the way things are coming.”

The two groups were again introduced at center ice prior to their warm-ups. However, due to the rhythm dance placements, different couples comprised the two groups.

Free Dance 

For the second time in the same season, Hubbell & Donohue debuted a Romeo and Juliet program. After Skate Canada, the couple and their team made major alterations to the original choreography.

The first noticeable change was the new opening music – “O Verona – it gave a more classical and dramatic introduction. It was followed by a complete rearrangement of the elements including the new order of the choreographic movements. Instead of being bunched together at the end, they were interspersed throughout the program and seamlessly connected the elements. They earned 12.72.

The lifts and twizzles earned level 4; the diagonal and one-foot step sequences showed off their superior skating skills and received level 3, with almost all +4 GOEs. The level 2 spin was given five +4 and four +3 marks by the judges. The segment (124.82) and total (205.35) were personal bests and guaranteed their first GP victory and gold medal.

Hubbell explained the new program. “We thought of it as a trailer to the movie. It sums up the tragedy of the story at the beginning to suck in the audience and then, once they are really fully absorbed, we tell them the love story that was behind the tragedy.”

Sinitsina & Katsalapov danced into second place and grabbed the silver medal with music from Bach’s Suite in D “Air”, Praeludium and Allegro (In the Style of Pugnani) by Fritz Kreisler. The opening twizzles earned five +5, three +4, and +3 GOEs. The lifts, twizzles and spin were level 4. The choreographic movements were 12.54. The segment (124.04) and the total (201.37) were personal best scores. The Skate Canada silver medalists had the highest TES – 68.29.

“It is great when you have a clean skate,” Katsalapov said. “You simply try to give everything you’ve got to get to the end and wait for the scores.”

Sinitsina added, ”I was not nervous this time performing, and that is a new state of mind for me. I think that’s a really good thing.”

Guignard & Fabbri slipped to third, but still collected their first Final medal – bronze. The Skate America silver medalists danced to the La La Land soundtrack, which included “Audition”, “A Lovely Night”, and “Epilogue”. The combination spin, lifts and twizzles were level 4. Their GOEs were mostly +3 and +4. The Italian silver medalists skated last, so they already knew all the scores.

“It wasn’t easy to skate last tonight, even if it’s a small group just because of the pressure on ourselves and not because of the results of the others,” Fabbri said. “We just wanted to perform out best, and I think we succeeded, so we’re very very happy.”

Stepanova & Bukin remained in fourth place with a Blues song – “Am I The One” by Beth Hart. The highlight was the choreographic movement, which used the couple’s trademark “shoot the duck” twizzle and received 4.42 points. The Russians scored 119.52 for the segment and 1946.72 overall.

“There was a little mishap on the twizzles – they were not parallel, otherwise everything else we tried to do 100% just like we practiced, “ Bukin said. “Such a small mistake on the twizzles shouldn’t have affected the scores, so we are still trying to understand,” Stepanova added.

Hawayek & Baker were fifth (112.71) in the free dance, but sixth (184.04) overall. The NHK gold medalists danced to “Trampoline Theme” and “In This Shirt by the Irrepressibles

“Every time we perform this program it gets stronger and stronger,” Hawayek said. “The scores and levels will come as the season goes on.”

Zagorski & Guerreiro danced to “Blues for Klook” by Eddie Louis and scored a season best 111 for sixth place in the free dance. The total 184.37 was enough to bump them up to fifth overall.

“Today I did a few little mistakes because I wasn’t able to practice the free dance program because I was sick,” Zagorski explained. 

“Tiffany is the hero here because the last time she skated the free dance with me was in Warsaw [two weeks ago],“ Guerreiro added.