by Matteo Morelli | Photos by Robin Ritoss

Day 1: Rhythm Dance

The ice dance rhythm dance had its debut at Finlandia Trophy, one of the ISU Challenger Series hosted at Espoo Metro Arena. The competition saw the return of four-time world champions and Olympic medallists Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France, who ended the first day taking the lead with 85.58 points, followed by Madison Chock & Evan Bates of the United States with 83.72 points, and Spain’s Sara Hurtado  & Kirill Khaliavin with 74.79.  

For a lot of those skaters, this was the first time after a long while performing in front of a live audience. We met with some of them to capture their mood immediately after their rhythm dance.  

Olivia Smart & Adrian Diaz from Spain opened the event with their “Proud Mary”, setting the vibe for the rest of the event.  “When we skated at Autumn Classic in Canada a couple of weeks ago, there was no public yet. Seeing the crowds here, and the Spanish flags supporting us, felt great! Being the first to get on the ice was not a big deal. We got used to it. In a way, it is good as we set the level for the other skaters. Our rhythm dance is a fun programme, and we love skating on it, so it is a good way to make the competition start with a high for the crowd.”

Great Britains Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson ended in fourth place, only 0.01 point away from third place, and with happy thoughts following their performance. “Before today, we have only skated at the national feedback competition, but this is the first time back at an international competition, and it is so nice to have an audience. It feels great. We missed it very much. The energy from the crowd was amazing.”

Chantelle Kerry & Andrew Dodds from Australia were at the rink with Maurizio Margaglio, who is not their usual coach. They explained to us the reason behind it.Australia is on a lockdown because of Covid, and we are unfortunately unable to head back there. This is why we asked Maurizio Margaglio to support us, and it was nice to be welcomed by him. We have to stay away from Australia for the season, to make sure we can keep training and travel to the competitions we want to take part of. Last year we didnt have a competitive season back home, so it was nice to compete again. The calibre of this competition is very high, so it is good for us to be here before the bigger part of the competition comes. And the crowd: we loved them!”

Team USA’s Christina Carreira & Anthony Ponomarenko skated their programme based on Batman. “It is very important for us to keep adjusting our technique and give our best everywhere we go. We are really happy with how we skated today. We have a lot of fun with our programme. We love to get the opportunity to travel and enjoy a good competition.”

Katharina Mueller & Tim Dieck from Germany told us that they really enjoyed showing their programme based on the movie Suicide Squad. “We love to skate this programme! We are happy with todays skating. We have some points that we have to work on, but the coaches are happy and so are we. We had a good flow. The audience was extremely supportive.”

A week after having shown the world their new programmes at the French Masters, Gabriella Papadakis  & Guillaume Cizeron skated their new rhythm dance based on music by John Legend. Their programme takes inspiration from the 90s street dance style called Waacking, which they bring to the ice with its characteristic arm movements. “We are overall happy with what we have done. We did a lot of research on this style, studying the culture and taking classes to learn how to dance this technique. The programme talks about love in every aspect. We find it very empowering, sending a message that it is important to love yourself and the human kind in general, and when in a relationship you can help each other grow”.

Madison Chock & Evan Bates were eager to present their new rhythm dance for the first time. Based on music by Billie Eilish, they wanted to skate something contemporary and that they both love. “It is so nice to skate in front of human beings again! We changed our RD a month ago, after receiving some feedback that was not as positive as we thought. We are very happy with the programme now. We love the idea of skating something really current. We have also started a podcast. It is great fun and it will help us capture our Olympic season and share what this experience looks like”. 

Following their triumph at Nebelhorn Trophy, Finlands Juulia Turkkila & Matthias Verslus delivered a programme that gave them a new personal best. It felt really nice to skate out there and deliver our personal best in front of our home audience! Having the public back helps a lot. We felt the crowd really supported us particularly with our second half of the programme, giving us that extra push. That really made us enjoy our skating!”

Day 2: Free Dance

Espoo Metro Arena gave a warm welcome back to all the skaters on the final day at Finlandia Trophy. The free programme event saw Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron confirming their first place and winning a gold in their first competition back after a long break. The French couple scored 131.96 points for their free and an overall total of 217.54. Their new free programme, based on Élégie (tango) by Gabriel Fauré, was skated with intensity and emotion and was rewarded with the highest component score of the day. (58.72)

In second place, USA’s Madison Chock and Evan Bates gave a world debut of their free programme based on music by Daft Punk. Evan plays the role of an astronaut who lands on a new planet and meets an alien Madison. The two start to interact and communicate, showing that differences are not a problem, and love prevails. This free programme earned a total of 124.59 points and an overall score of 208.31. 

Great Britain’s Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson’s Lion King programme allowed them to gain one position and a place on the podium, earning 190.39 total points.

The battle for the Spanish spot at the next Olympic Games started with Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz’s very entertaining Zorro programme pushing them up to fourth overall. Sarah Hurtado and Kirill Khaliavin dropped three places, ending in fifth place. This, alongside the results of their nationals and European championship, will determine which of the two couples will participate at the Olympic Games and World Championships.

The Finlandia Trophy final showed promising skating even at this early stage of the season. We spoke with some of the skaters to get their views after the free programmes.

Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis from Finland delivered another clean skate that gave them a personal best, finishing fourth in the free programme and going up four places with their final score. “We wanted to skate on something that was a bit like the themes we skated on last year. We like that style of music, but we didn’t get enough time to skate it in front of a live audience. It felt really good to be in front of our home crowd again! We achieved another personal best and are very content with both skates.”

Canada’s Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha confirmed their seventh place with their vibrant music from the movie Rio. We were really nervous, so it is a good accomplishment to get to a performance like this. In almost every element there was an element of stress in our head, but we are overall happy with it. We think the music allows us to show something different from what most people are doing”.

Germany’s two couples both presented free programmes based on movies. Jennifer Janse Van Rensburg and Benjamin Steffan skated on their re-interpretation of Bond movies. “This programme is based on James Bond, which is not new to a skating competition, but we wanted to show a different angle to it: Jennifer as the Asian bond girl working as a spy, and Steffan as the saviour. We thought it was important to show our own interpretation and story! I think it’s fair to say that we are very happy with our performance. Of course, there are some minor flaws in the programme that we know we could have done better, but overall we are very happy with what we have shown in front of this warm crowd. We are so grateful to have skated here and for this season to happen.” 

Katharina Mueller and Tim Dieck brought to the rink the eternal voice of Whitney Houston, with a programme based on the movie Bodyguard.  “We are satisfied. It was not the best but it was good. We tried to improve the elements we worked on after Nebelhorn Trophy. Hopefully the technical panel will notice the improvement! The programme is based on the Bodyguard movie with Whitney Houston music. We did a Whitney programme four years ago already. We wanted to take this up again as we really like it and wanted to show how much we have grown as skaters. We also like the different vibes between the rhythm dance and the free dance. We can show two different sides of us.”

Following a satisfying rhythm dance, Australia’s Chantelle Kerry and Andrew Dodds made a new personal best in their free. “We felt ok. We did our personal best. We are happy with today’s performance, but we know there were things that we can do better. We know we can because we do that in training. We still have a lot of room for us to grow, but we can see us getting better each week!”

Due to Covid measures, the medal ceremony required the winners to collect their medals and flowers from a table placed in the middle of the rink. They then went on their podium step before undertaking the ritual of skating around the rink to greet the fans. Still, the fact that the audience could be allowed back to enjoy such good quality skating made this Finlandia Trophy one to remember.