by Anne Calder | Photos by Robin Ritoss

Helsinki, Finland made history when it hosted its first Grand Prix of Figure Skating event from November 2-4. Ten teams representing six countries competed for prize money and points to qualify for the GP Final.

Finland graciously volunteered to host the GP event when the Chinese Skating Association withdrew its sponsorship of the 2018 Cup of China. Gold medals were awarded to Russian skaters in three of the four disciplines. The two-time Olympic champion from Japan won the men’s event.

Rhythm Dance

The rhythm dance pattern for this season is Tango Romantica. It was invented by Elena Tschaikovskaia for her students, Liudmila Pakhoma & Aleksanda Gorshkov and was first performed in Moscow in 1974.

After the rhythm dance, Russians Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin held a slim lead over the Italians, Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri. Lorraine McNamara & Quinn Carpenter of the United States sat alone in third place, six points behind the leaders.

Stepanova & Bukin opened with their fast moving twizzles and closed with a cartwheel entrance into the curve lift. Both elements earned level 4. Their crisp footwork was rewarded with a 2.90 GOE. The couple also hit six of eight key points in their Tango Romantica pattern. The dance scored 78.18.

“This is the first competition of the season we were able to show the whole short dance,” explained Bukin. “Our coaches were pleased, and I think the audience approved. We are quite happy.”

Guignard & Fabbri stood at center ice waiting for the familiar chords of their music to begin, but it didn’t happen. Instead, it was Clair de Lune. It took two visits to the referee and a warm-up before the Italians began their program.

“When you step on the ice, you have 30 seconds to take your place, and then the music starts,” noted Fabbri. “If it doesn’t, you have to keep focus. We had the problem at the beginning, but we felt that the music was slower, and we got a time violation. We’re going to check the FD music tomorrow morning to make sure we are not going to have problems.”

The opening level 4 twizzles began with a spectacular cartwheel entrance and earned 2.80 GOE. The Italians’ first Tango Romantica pattern hit all four key points; the second hit two. Like the Russians they were rewarded with 2.90 GOE for their footwork. The Skate America silver medalists earned a higher TES than the Russians, but evened out the score with the lower program component mark. The one point time deduction cost them first place. The segment scored a personal best 77.36.

McNamara & Carpenter received GOE scores mostly in the +2 range. The rotational lift and the twizzles earned level 4. The team hit five of eight key points. Competing in their second Grand Prix season, the couple danced the waltz and tango. The segment scored 71.40.

“We both had a really great time with the Rhythm Dance tonight,” Carpenter said. “The crowd was fantastic, and we’re definitely looking forward to tomorrow.”

The second American team, Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko, Spain’s Sara Hurtado & Kirill Khaliavin, and Finland’s hometown favorites, Juulia Turkkila & Matthias Versluis were 4-6.

At the press conference, teams were asked about the dance. They shared their thoughts.

“Tango Romantica is a really difficult dance,” Bukin said.  “When we first started learning it, we were thinking ‘how on earth could people (do) three runs of it’. It’s full of elements, and it’s really harmonious and into the program, so we really like this dance.”

“It is one of the most beautiful dances created,” Fabbri said.  “Of course, it’s much harder than other dances. We’ve never had the opportunity to skate a tango, so we’re happy for this choice by the ISU.”

“Because it’s so intricate, it almost weaves itself into your program in a much smoother way,” Carpenter said. “We both really like that.”

Free Dance

The top three after the rhythm dance moved on to the podium: Stepanova & Bukin (gold), Guignard & Fabbri (silver) and McNamara & Carpenter (bronze).

Stepanova & Bukin padded their lead with a sultry blues dance to “Am I the One” by Beth Hart that earned a personal best 121.91. Five elements earned level 4; the step sequences received level 3. A highlight was their twizzle choreographic element in the “shoot- the-duck” position that scored 4.89 points with +4 and +5 GOEs.

“We’re very happy to have taken first place on the Grand Prix for the first time; that’s a step forward for us,” Stepanova said. “We hope for the next time we will do even better skating.”

Guignard & Fabbri had no music problems, but she stumbled and lost a point for the fall during their performance to music from La La Land, which included the selections “Audition”, “A Lovely Night” and Planetarium.”  

“Unfortunately, It was a very stupid mistake we were not expecting, so we couldn’t save it,” Fabbri said. “Luckily it was not an element.”

Their light and elegant dance to selections from the popular Hollywood musical earned a personal best 118.93. The twizzles scored four +5 GOEs for a 9.45 panel score. A highlight was their sliding choreographic move.

“We didn’t have a lot of time to work after Skate America, but we still made some improvements and the segment score of today proved it, so we’re happy,” Fabbri commented.

McNamara & Carpenter missed third place in the free dance by .58, but held on to win the bronze.

“Having two Grand Prix events this season was a really exciting opportunity for us, and we’re really proud to take home the bronze at this one, our first Grand Prix medal,” Carpenter said.

The 2016 World Junior champions received all +2, +3, and +4 GOEs for their contemporary dance to “Porz Goret” and “Penn Ar Roc’h” by Yann Tiersen and “Modern Piano” by Piano. The 105.26 segment score included a two-point extended lift deduction. The total was 176.66.

Hurtado & Khaliavin were third in the free dance to “Great Gig in the Sky” and “Sign of the Times” with 105.84 points. They moved up a notch to fourth overall with a total 172.09. Both were personal best scores. Making their Grand Prix debuts, Carreira & Ponomarenko were fifth (167.28) and Tukkila & Versluis were sixth (160.62).

At the press conference, teams spoke about their free dance music.

“Peter Tchernyshev, our choreographer, found the music and our coaches liked it,” Bukin said.  “We started  the program without thinking of anything else.”

“We think that it’s really melodic music that can fit the ice very well,” Fabbri said.  “We fell in love with the La La Land music the first time we heard it, and we chose it.”  

“As a team, we wanted to make a program that was more about us and something we created ourselves,” Carpenter said. “In the past a lot of our music choices have had pre-defined roles (POTO, Carmen). We wanted something more contemporary, more modern that we could personalize in our own way.”


— Bukin vs. Ponomarenko

For four straight years at the World Championships (1985-1988), Natalia Bestemianova & Andrei Bukin won gold and Marina Krylova & Sergei Ponomarenko won silver. In Helsinki, 30 years later, both their sons, Ivan Bukin and Anthony Ponomarenko, competed against each other for the first time.  Several weeks ago, sat down with C&P for an upcoming article. Anthony commented on competing against the son of his parents’ rival.

“I feel we are really not competing against them because they are at the top, and we’re not at that level yet,” Ponomarenko said.  “It’s funny how history repeats itself and how small the skating world is, and we all stay in it.”

— Judges

Why were two judges out of line in their GOEs for Stepanova & Bukin’s shoot-the-duck twizzles?

RD: (SqTwL4+SqTwM4) +3, +3, +3, +4, +3,  0, +2, +2, +2

FD: (ChTw1)                     +5, +5, +5, +4, +1, +4, +5, +5, +4

— Qualifying

Guignard & Fabbri with two GP silver medals and 26 points have punched their ticket to the Final.

“It’s a great feeling and gives us even more motivation for the future to work hard,” Fabbri said.