by Anne Calder | Photo by Robin Ritoss
The Montreal 2020 World Championships were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which made the 2019 World gold medalists reigning champions until the 2021 event was held in Stockholm, Sweden.
Due to the uncertainties surrounding the 2021 World Championships, Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron (FRA), the 2019 ice dance champions, opted not to defend their title and instead work on their programs for the 2022 Olympics.
Two years after the Saitama, Japan World Championships new medalists were crowned: (1) Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov (FSR), (2) Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue (USA) and (3) Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier (CAN).
COVID-19 had caused many difficulties and inequities to ice dancers world wide, so April 2020 the ISU announced the decision to maintain the same basic Rhythm Dance requirements for the next season. This meant the Finn Step and musicals and/or operettas would be repeated in the 2020-2021 programs whether used for a second consecutive year or newly choreographed.
On Friday, March 26, thirty-one athletes representing twenty-three nations competed in the Rhythm Dance. Twenty qualified for the Free Dance. An audience of teammates and coaches, who cheered enthusiastically for everyone, replaced the cardboard cutouts familiar to Skate America and US Nationals viewers.
Sinitsina & Katsalapov took first place with a light and animated performance to “Singing in the Rain” from the 2019-20 season. All but two of the 45 GOEs were awarded +3, +4, or +5. The midline step sequence earned 11.71 total points. Program components were mostly above 9.50 including three perfect 10s. The segment scored 88.15 points
“We are thrilled with the work we did today. We skated with our soul, and we enjoyed it,” Katsalapov said.
“We just kept calm and showed what we worked on,” Sinitsina added.
Skating last, Hubbell & Donohue knew the Russians were three-points ahead. The Americans opened with intricate footwork that was rewarded with the only level 4 for both the lady and man’s Pattern Step Sequences. The in-sync twizzles demonstrated speed and wide ice coverage and earned a 9.75 score – the highest in all the Rhythm Dances.
The reigning US Champions earned 86.05 points and moved into second place with their performance to the backstage musical film, Burlesque, created for the current season.
Donohue explained the rationale behind the new program. “We get bored really easy and have a hard time keeping a program for two seasons. We like to change things up a lot. It keeps things real and authentic for us.”
Hubbell added, “We like to keep things truly connected in the piece. Once it becomes too rehearsed, and we’ve done it for eight months, it’s hard to inject new life into it. We were trying to tweak ‘Marilyn’, but we thought we’d gotten everything out of it.
“Also at last season’s Four Continents, we skated it well, but there wasn’t as big of a competitive gap as we like, so we decided to change the theme to something more modern, and I was ready for a new challenge.”
Chock & Bates scored the second highest Diagonal Step Sequence with 11.43 points. However, the level 3 twizzles cost them points and allowed their Montreal training mates to pass them with a .90 lead. The 2021 US silver medalists scored 86.15 for their tantalizing interpretation of “Too Darn Hot”. Skating such an energetic program in front of a small audience could have been more difficult.
“The audience here is definitely supportive,” Chock said. “Skating in the last group meant the other competitors ran to the stands to cheer for us,” Bates said.
“It was fun. I think there were about 100 people socially distancing in the arena. It’s a new norm and something we are adjusting to,” added Bates.
Canadians Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier added the expertise of off-ice dance choreographer Jeff Dimitriou to their team for the development of their Mack and Mable musical program. The fourth place performance opened with level 4 twizzles that scored all +4 GOEs. The segment totaled 83.37 points.
Gilles addressed the issue of not having competed since the 2020 Four Continents. “We were a little nervous not having competitions this season, but we definitely knew we had the training behind us. We just enjoyed performing again.”
“It was so nice being in a competition setting again,” Poirier added. “We’ve done lots of simulations at home, but competing with a panel and with the top couples in the world – that’s a very different feeling, and it felt so good.”
Four-time European medalists Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin (FSR) scored 83.02 points but were very disappointed with their fifth place performance to selections from Moulin Rouge.
Bukin noted, “We are upset with the mistakes, not so much with the marks.”
Stepanova assumed the blame, “I made several mistakes, so I am very upset, but there is tomorrow.”
Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri (ITA) scored 81.04 points with their sixth place program to Grease.
“We are really proud of what we performed today because there were no major mistakes,” Fabbri said.
Twenty teams competed for the Free Dance and the coveted World Championship title. The dancers skated in reverse order of their Rhythm Dance placement. There was some shuffling with the top four positions and a team who’d never medaled at Worlds before stood on the virtual podium.
The technical panel and judges rewarded Sinitsina & Katsalapov with a personal best 133.02 for their emotional performance to selections by composers Ludovico Einardi and Antoni Dvorak.
The 2020 European champions’ lifts, spin and twizzles earned level 4. The Serpentine Step Sequence was level 3. Skating under the FSR banner, they ended a 12-year World Championship Russian ice dance gold medal drought with a 221.17 personal total.
“This medal means so much for us, it’s so precious for us,” Katsalapov said. “We went through so many hardships, not just us, but the others also. This medal means we can work harder; we can improve and be better.”
“I’m so happy. I don’t know what to say right now. I just want to smile and cry,” Sinitsina added.
Hubbell & Donohue showed off their new program with Karl Hugo’s “Pray Gently to the Light” bridging the bookended Jeff Buckley and kd lang “Hallelujah” vocals. The Scott Moir choreography earned level 4 for the lifts, spin and Donohue’s twizzle. They each scored level 3 for the One-Foot Step, but the Circular step sequence was level 2. The 128.66 points placed them third, but their 214.71 score secured a silver medal.
“We’re feeling a strange mixture of emotions right now,” Hubbell said. “There’s a relief that this competition is over and proud of how we handled this week, but there’s also that bit of dissatisfaction at not bringing home the gold medal, so right now I’m a little bit numb.
“Our only option is to sit back and enjoy our win, which wasn’t what we came here for, but still incredibly dear to us, and we’re going to celebrate that together.”
Gilles & Poirier danced a riveting performance to Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now”. The music was originally chosen in 2019 to highlight the Canadian singer-songwriter at the 2020 Montreal World Championships. The Canadian National Champions earned level 4 for the spin, lifts and twizzles. Poirier’s One-Foot and Diagonal Step Sequences were level 3.
The segment scored a second place 130.98; the total scored a third place 214.35. Both scores were personal bests. The final point count between silver and bronze differed by .36 points.
“This is our eighth World Championships together,” Poirier said. “We were stuck between sixth and eighth for a very long time — since 2014. Just the pent-up frustration of so many years and being able to accomplish this feels like such a nice release.”
“We put it upon ourselves to be on the podium because we wanted that going into the Olympics and to be podium contenders there also. Our goal is to build on the brand we’ve created over the past several seasons. All our music is ready. The Rhythm Dance is choreographed; the Free Dance is under construction. We’re excited!”
Chock & Bates performed their iconic and entertaining “Egyptian Snake Dance” for a 127.54 segment score. The lifts, spin and Chock’s twizzle earned level 4. The One-Foot and Circular Step Sequences plus the Bates twizzle were level 3. The total 212.69 slipped the US silver medalists off the virtual podium and into fourth place.
“There were certainly a few seconds in the program where I made some technical errors that were obviously costly, and honestly I’m quite disappointed about it,” Bates said. “That’s kind of what we love about the sport. If it were a guaranteed thing that every time we could just show up and win the gold medal, then it would be easy.”
“The real pleasure comes from working hard, getting knocked down and coming back stronger. We’ve been through a lot of those moments, and this is one in particular that is quite disappointing for us. We’re certainly going to come back next season stronger and with the same goals in mind.”
Stepanova & Bukin (FSR) danced to “Cry Me a River” performed by Justin Timberlake and remained in fifth place with a total 208.77 score.
[After the disappointment of the Rhythm Dance], “We had nothing to lose,” Stepanova explained. “We made a gross mistake and as a result, finished very far from the top three. Today we decided with our coaches to skate with our hearts and for each other.”
Guignard & Fabbri scored 205.20 points with their new program to the film Atonement, for a sixth place finish.
“We were not satisfied with last year’s [David Bowie] program,” Fabbri said. “ We had time to work on new elements and choreography, so why not move to a new program? Then we thought, that if it’s going to work, why not keep it for the Olympic season. It’s 99% sure that we’ll keep it with some changes, upgrades and adjustments.”
Congratulations to all thirty-one ice dance teams who participated in the virtual 2021 World Championships. Covid-19 has greatly affected the day-to-day routines of the figure skating community. However, throughout the past year athletes, coaches, choreographers and many others involved in the sport have banded together to support each other. We all look forward to the start of a new season and the return to a more stable environment.