by Francesca 

Torino, Italy is famous among skating fans for being the set of the original dance Olympic event. The 2019-2020 GPF was far from dramatic but nonetheless saw some iconic performances.

It was a tight race to the top in Torino, where the team of Maria Kazakova & Georgy Reviya made history as the first Georgian team to ever win a Grand Prix Final title. Kazakova & Reviya claimed gold after defeating Avonley Nguyen & Vadym Kolesnik of the United States in both segments of the competition by a few tenths of a point. Both teams earned personal bests total scores and impressed the judges and the crowd with two completely different but equally exciting free dances in the final night of the event.

Kazakova & Reviya had the crowd attention and set the mood from the first seconds of the program. They skated to a cover of the popular “In the End”, originally by Linkin Park, which included several level 4 elements and innovative choreography.

Nguyen & Kolesnik delivered a more classical Piano Concerto No. 2 by Rachmaninov with impressive maturity and filled the rink with their presence. In the mixed zone, the Americans commented that they felt the pressure, but they skated the best they could and were a little disappointed with the outcome. They praised their competitors and said hearing the cheers after the Georgians skated gave them goosebumps and ignited their excitement to perform.

Kazakova & Reviya had to wait backstage to find out the color of the medal. When the scores of Nguyen & Kolesnik came up, they sat in disbelief while the bronze medalists Elizaveta Shanaeva & Devid Naryzhnyy from Russia congratulated them warmly. Kazakova & Reviya then took then a quiet moment backstage to let the feelings sink in. When talking to the press later, they admitted to still having lots of emotions and finding it hard to realize they had won.

The other exciting battle was for the bronze medal between two Russian teams, with Shanaeva  & Naryzhnyy edging out their teammates Elizaveta Khudaiberdieva & Andrei Filatov by a little more than a point. Shanaeva/Naryzhnyy skated a contemporary free dance to “Rivers” by Bishop Briggs, and commented afterwards that they loved performing for such a supportive crowd, although they are still looking to improve some details. While Shanaeva & Naryzhnyy also qualified for last year’s JGPF, Khudaiberdieva & Filatov are a new team that started skating together only six months ago.

Rounding up the field, the French team of Loicia Demougeot & Theo Le Mercier skated to an unusual contemporary version of Carmen to place fifth, while Diana Davis & Gleb Smolkin of Russia placed sixth with a medley by Peter Cincotti. Most of the teams are expected to compete later in the season at the World Junior Championships, although the 3 Russian entries are not defined yet and will face further internal competition. The Georgians are planning to compete also in Seniors, both at Europeans and Worlds. They noted in the mixed zone that competing in both categories has been really demanding but also rewarding.

Most teams in the Rhythm Dance incurred in mistakes or earned low levels for their elements, and ended up scoring below their PBs. France’s Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron still came out ahead of the field, despite a loss of balance in the midline step sequence, followed by two American teams, Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock & Evan Bates, rounding out the top three. At the press conference, all three teams cited fatigue from recent competitions and traveling as a reason for tightness in their skating, plus the added pressure of facing all the top teams for the first time in the season.

It was a “Montréal sweep” at the end of the free dance. For the first time in a major event, all three medalists came from the newly renamed International Academy of Montréal, led by Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon, and Romain Hagenauer.

Papadakis & Cizeron, only half a point off their own world record score, took their second GPF as expected, with a nine-point lead on the rest of the field and several 10.00 in the components. The French team skated to music by Olafur Arnalds and spoken words by Forest Blakk, once again mesmerizing the audience with their avant-garde program. After the competition, they commented that they still have details to improve and can push themselves more until Worlds.

Chock & Bates overtook their teammates Hubbell & Donohue with a crowd favorite free dance set to an oriental theme, where Chock plays a snake and Bates her charmer. The skaters were very happy with their skate and said they felt really present and had lots of fun performing.

Hubbell & Donohue skated last to the soundtrack of the movie A Star is Born performed by Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. The skaters explained in the mixed zone that the program had been heavily reworked after their GP events and as a result felt still fresh and new. They changed nine elements with the aim of better composition and stronger coherence. Their goals in the next weeks are finetuning the movements in each element to improve the GOEs. At the end of the competition, the camaraderie between the teammates was evident during the press conference which was filled with banter and inside jokes. Coming next for the French team are Nationals, where they are expected to earn their sixth title. For Hubbell & Donohue and Chock & Bates will be a tougher match-up in a talent-filled field at U.S. Nationals.

Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin skated to a medley by Einaudi and Justin Timberlake, ending up in fourth place. The Russians felt their energy in the program was much improved from earlier in the season and enjoyed the crowd support, but were not satisfied with the levels on certain elements.

Canada’s Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier climbed up one position after a disappointing RD with a moving program to “Both Sides Now” by Joni Mitchell, which earned them the fourth highest free dance score of the night. The skaters, still wearing flower crowns gifted by their fans, said in the mixed zone that they were pleased with their performances but are looking to improve their levels in the next competition. This will be Canadian Nationals next month, when they’ll be vying for their first title.

Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov, reigning GPF silver medalists, finished last after mistakes the free dance, most notably in the final choreographic step. They will be looking to rebound at the upcoming Russian Nationals where they will go head-to-head with Stepanova & Bukin to defend their title.