by Matteo Morelli
A sold-out Super Arena in Saitama welcomed the 2023 World Championships of figure skating, after having previously hosted the same event in 2014 and 2019. With thirty-three teams representing twenty-seven countries, the post-Olympic year did not disappoint and gifted us with a lot of great skating and new personal bests that both fans at the arena and watching from home really enjoyed.
The medals were awarded to three very experienced teams that have been on the senior competitive scene for more than ten years each. Winning their first gold medal, USA’s Madison Chock and Evan Bates managed to realise the ambition and dream that they have been pursuing for many years. In second place and earning their first world medal were Italy‘s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, who built on their strong season after winning the European title back in January. In bronze medal position were Canada’s Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, the winners of this year’s Grand Prix Final.
Madison Chock and Evan Bates have been skating together for twelve years, with this being their tenth World Championships. After their engagement last summer, their start of the season wasn’t the strongest they would hope for, possibly because the number of shows they took part of didn’t allow them to work on their new programmes as much as they wanted. However, they showed how mature and committed they are and, competition after competition, their programmes reached a stage of development that is worthy of the title they earned.
Their free in particular wasn’t initially welcomed and received feedback that suggested it was probably best to change it and start anew. The duo though decided to believe in their idea and stuck with what has become the spirit of air and fire concept as we know it today: a programme full of intensity and beauty, rich in phrasing and complex technical elements flowing through it.
“It has been difficult, we have been giving just everything inside of us towards our skating and developing these programs as best we can,” Bates shared.
After a first place and an advantage of almost four points from the second team, the free saw a fall from Chock half way through the programme, in between the dance spin and curve lift but not on any of these elements. Luckily, this only translated in one deduction point and allowed them to earn a score of 134.07, a few points away from the current record held by Olympic Champions and former training mates Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, and a total score of 226.01 points.
“This season has certainly unfolded in many unpredictable ways, but all paths seemingly have led to this moment,” Chock said. “We learned a lot about ourselves, about what we want to accomplish and what it takes to achieve that.”
“We really had to dig very, very deep many times this year, and so for those experiences I am incredibly grateful,” she added.
Guignard and Fabbri were the oldest ice dance team at the competition (Charlene is 34 years old, Marco is 35). The experienced Italian team have enjoyed a strong season, with two Grand Prix gold medals, a Grand Prix Final bronze medal, and their first European title.
They entered this competition as favourites: they managed to secure their second place across both segments, earning 219.85 points and a new personal best for them that was met with an emotional reaction by both skaters on the kiss & cry.
“The bronze medal was the goal,” Guignard admitted.
“This medal means so much for us, it is an incredible reward for many years of hard work, of difficult moments, ups and downs,” Fabbri said. “We still have to process this moment because we still can’t believe that we achieved this silver medal here at Worlds but it feels really great.”
The Italian couple is well known for their skilled skating, very precise and technical in almost all elements. In the rhythm dance, they were the only team to receive a level four on the pattern step element.
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier had their first competition in 2023, having to miss Nationals and Four Continents due to Gilles undergoing an appendectomy after the Grand Prix Final.
“While we haven’t competed in a while, we also had more opportunities to get some rest since the Grand Prix and really regather our energy and have nice solid blocks of training to get into this competition,” Poirier said.
The Canadian duo entered Worlds in a strong position, winning gold medals at each Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Final and, despite the time off the ice, they managed to secure another Worlds bronze medal to add to the one they earned in 2021.
Entering their free dance, both skaters were in character and visibly emotional, enhancing their interpretation of Evita. They earned a total score of 217.88, not their highest this season but enough to earn the third place on the podium.
“I think we are really proud of ourselves after a performance like that,” Gilles shared. “We really didn’t know what to expect after a couple of months being off, the moment we stepped on the ice we just felt really calm and we did everything we could to be here in this moment.”
This year’s podium is the first ever with all skaters in their thirties. When asked about the future, each team admitted that no fixed plans have been made yet: they will all compete at the upcoming World Team Trophy, and then reflect on the season and decide on next steps.
In fourth place, Great Britain’s Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson showed that they are a team that intends to keep growing and secure more medals in the future.
“We were building on our consistency, trying to get our skating skills into our performances and really just working on the quality of the GOE of everything, and that really paid off here today,” Gibson said in relation to the work they put in after their silver medal at the European Championships.
Another Canadian team ended in the top five: Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen deliver their best free programme this season, showing confidence and commitment on the ice.
“It was the performance that we wanted to deliver, every time we finished an element the crowd gave us energy by clapping and cheering and it was just a blessing to be here,” Fournier Beaudry shared.
In sixth place and with the highest placement for a team at their first World Championships were USA’s Caroline Green and Michael Parsons, which presented a solid and enjoyable Rhapsody in Blue programme.
“The ease we were able to have out on the ice was kind of a new feeling for us even though it was the end of the season,” Green said. “All the hard work we put in at home and the advice and wisdom of our coaches have really helped us feel comfortable and confident heading into this competition.”
Also from the USA and at their first Grand Prix were Christina Carreira and a Anthony Ponomarenko, which ended the competition in tenth place.
“We are definitely really proud to be in the top ten in such a strong event, all our competitors are amazing so to be part of the top ten is an honour,” Carreira shared.
Lithuania’s Allison Reed and Saulius Ambrulevičius ended in seventh place, with their original and modern free programme based on club music by Faithless that had the audience clapping along the entire routine.
“We as a team always strive to skate to different music, music you may not have heard or that is a little bit more underground,” Reed explained.
In eighth place, siblings Natalie Taschlerova and Filip Taschler earned a new important personal best, proving to be on a growing trajectory that they hope to continue next season. Following them in ninth place were Finland’s Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis which, despite a mistake in the twizzles, gave everyone another delightful skate on their classical free programme.
Japan’s darlings Kana Muramoto and skating legend Daisuke Takahashi ended in eleventh place, with a new personal best for their free and standing ovations for each of their programmes, met with tears of joy by both skaters.
Special mention to Solène Mazingue and Marko Jevgeni Gaidajenko of Estonia: this was the team’s first event this season after a serious head injury took Mazingue to hospital in autumn last year. Despite of not qualifying for the free dance, they left and indelible memory on everyone, showing how resilience and passion can help to overcome difficult situations.
Next year’s World Championships will be taking place in Montreal, after the Canadian federation had to cancel the same event in 2020 because of the Covid-19 outbreak. Based on this year’s results, the ice dance spots allocations will be:
- 3 spots for: USA, Canada;
- 2 spots for: Italy, Great Britain, Lithuania, Czech Republic, Finland, France;
- 1 spot for other countries that will qualify to compete.