by Katie Tetzloff | Photos by Melanie Hoyt & Robin Ritoss
Last week, the city of Barcelona, Spain hosted the 2014-2015 Figure Skating Grand Prix and Junior Grand Prix Finals. This event is one of the most important figure skating events of the year, second only to the World Championships. Beginning in August for the junior division and in October for the senior, elite skaters were sent to compete in no more than two of six ISU international competitions. They earned points based on their placements at these events, and the top six skaters or teams in each discipline (ladies, mens, ice dance, and pairs) were then invited to compete in Barcelona for the Final.
In the junior division, four of the qualifying teams were from Russia, whereas the remaining two skated on behalf of Canada. Heading into the event, Anna Yanovskaya & Sergey Mozgov were seeded first. They came in as seasoned veterans, having competed at the Junior Grand Prix final every year since 2011, and having won the event last year. Additionally, they are the current World Junior silver medalists, and had an extremely successful Junior Grand Prix season, winning both the Tallinn Cup and the Croatia Cup by over five points. After a fall in the warm up, Yanovskaya & Mozgov made no major mistakes in their Rhumba-Samba short dance and achieved a new personal best of 59.12. Nevertheless, the couple had higher expectations for themselves, saying that they were unable to skate their very best. After a bit of disappointment in the short dance, Yanovskaya & Mozgov held their lead in their Argentine Tango free dance, a dance that they both love. Scoring 89.46 for a total score of 148.58, they won by over 12 points and earned a new personal best.
“This was the best performance of the season, maybe not score-wise, but emotionally,” Yanovskaya expressed.
Taking the silver were Alla Loboda & Pavel Drozd, who also competed on behalf of Russia. This is their second season competing internationally at the junior level, and they took the gold at Courchevel and silver at the Nagoya TV Cup, leading them to the Final for the first time. They scored 53.72 which put them in second place after the short dance.
“It’s our first time here, so we were very pleased to have the support of the crowd, it really helped us to hear them clapping,” Drozd said. “There were a few small flaws, but we are pretty happy overall.”
Their success happiness continued the next day with their “Giselle”-themed free dance.
“We enjoyed skating so much today. We showed what we could do. We had maybe a little bit of worry before, but then we were able to just take a deep breath and skate,” Drozd said. Their performance earned 82.59 points for a total of 136.31.
The third team that represented Russia was Betina Popova & Yuri Vlasenko, who, earlier this season placed second in Ostrava and first in Dresden. A total of 50.52 left them in third after the short dance. In the mixed zone, Vlasenko explained that they weren’t very happy with the element levels they received, which resulted in a lower technical score than they had been achieving at previous competitions. Although they earned a level 4 on their rotational lift, they earned level 2 on their twizzles, level 1 and level 2 for their two Samba patterns, and level 1 on their midline step sequence. Popova & Vlasenko were much more content after finishing their free dance, which landed them on the third and final podium spot with a score of 81.36, for a combined total of 131.88.
“We are really happy to be here, and we’re mostly happy with our marks,” Popova said.
Just missing the podium were Canadians Mackenzie Bent & Garrett Mackeen. This is their fourth season competing at Junior Grand Prix events; last season, they were expected to move on to the final, but some errors in their second event were costly, preventing them from qualifying. This year, however, after winning the Ostrava event and taking silver at the Tallinn Cup, they were the second team to earn a spot in Barcelona. In their “Vida Loca” short dance, Mackeen made an error on their synchronized twizzles, resulting in them getting a level 1 with negative grades of execution. Mackeen attributed this to the fact that he got distracted because they were a little bit ahead of the music. Nevertheless, the rest of their program was well executed, and they achieved a score of 49.28 in the short dance. The following day, Bent & Mackeen skated their fantasy-inspired free dance clean, earning 79.33 points for a total of 128.61. Although this score is lower than their season’s best of 144.51, the couple was happy with their performance.
“Well, it definitely went a lot better than yesterday, but you know we’re our own biggest critics, and we got off and thought it was good, but it could have been better,” Bent explained.
Following Bent & Mackeen in fifth place were their teammates, Madeline Edwards & ZhaoKai Pang of Canada. They are the current World Junior bronze medalists, and placed first and second at the Junior Grand Prix events in Japan and France, respectively. This was their first appearance at the Final as well.
“It wasn’t our best outing, but we are proud of what we’ve accomplished so far this season”, explained Edwards after their short dance. Their score of 47.60 put them in fifth going into the free dance, where they earned a score of 74.79 for a total of 122.39. Edwards & Pang, along with Bent & Mackeen, will be competing at the Senior level at Canadian nationals this January, so both teams are eager to keep improving for the rest of the season.
The final team that competed at the junior level in Barcelona was Daria Morozova & Mikhail Zhirnov of Russia. This was their first appearance at the Final, after having won the Ljublijana Cup earlier this season. Their short dance score was 46.99, a score with which they were disappointed.
“We started pretty well, but in the end we got tired because it’s different from Russia where it is very cold,” Zhirnov explained. “Here we are hot, and it was difficult to breath, and we didn’t have enough strength. Of course we are disappointed with the scores, but those are our results.” In their “Mirrors” free dance, a fall caused a one-point deduction, and their final score was 66.27. When added to the short dance, Morozova & Zhirnov finished with 113.26 points in sixth place.
As previously mentioned, many of these teams who are competing at junior internationally must now go back to training for nationals at the senior level. This requires much work because the senior short dance features the Paso Doble with a creative pattern this year, and the free dance is 30 seconds longer. However, after national competitions, these teams aim to compete again at the 2015 Junior World Championships early next year in Tallinn, Estonia.
Following the junior event in Barcelona, six senior teams from three different countries also took the ice to compete for this title.
Heading into the Final, the favorites were Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje of Canada. This season has really been their first time to shine in the spotlight, as in previous years, they were always behind the dominant Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir (CAN) and Meryl Davis & Charlie White (USA). Nevertheless, this season, they took home the gold medal at both Skate Canada and NHK Trophy. At the final in Barcelona this last week, their winning streak continued when they earned a new personal best score of 181.14. In their short dance to the music of “La Virgen de la Macarena”, they received all level 3s and 4s on their elements, putting them in a six-point lead with 71.34 points. The gap by which they won grew during their “Four Seasons” free dance, in which they had a total score of 109.80, putting them in first by over 14 points.
After their win, Weaver exclaimed, “Yaaaaaay! That’s what I feel like inside. I couldn’t be more grateful for this opportunity”. “With this long program we wanted to bring the passion and love that we have to the audience, and I feel we brought it,” Poje added.
Representing the United States, Madison Chock & Evan Bates finished with the silver medal. They have also had an amazing international season thus far, winning both of their previous events, Skate America and Rostelecom Cup, for the first time. During their “Don Quixote” short dance, Bates had an unexpected fall, giving them a one-point deduction. Fortunately, their score of 65.06 was still enough to put them in second heading into the free dance.
“There are always ups and downs, and we’ve had a lot of great performances, but there are always going to be bumps in the road,” Bates said. This will be a big learning curve for us and we can take a lot from it. We hope to rebound tomorrow and skate a great free program”.
The next day, Chock & Bates skated a beautiful and bobble-free free dance to “An American in Paris”, but they received a one-point deduction for an extended lift. Their free dance received 102.03 points, giving them total score of 167.09 and the silver medal.
Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron of France have perhaps made the biggest leap this season. Last year, this young team, aged 19 and 20, respectively, placed fifth and seventh at their two assigned Grand Prix events during their first year at senior. This year, they moved to Montreal, Canada with their coach Romain Haguenauer for a training location change and have surprised everyone by winning both the Cup of China and the Trophee Eric Bompard, finishing ahead of strong teams with much experience at the senior level. Their quick success ultimately led them to qualifying for this year’s Grand Prix Final for the first time. Despite a small mistake on their twizzle sequence in the short dance, Papadakis & Cizeron earned 61.48 points, putting them in fifth place before the free program.
“The levels and the technical score were not what we expected, so we are little disappointed,” Cizeron noted. Nevertheless, the young team was not expecting even to qualify for the Final, so they kept a positive attitude.
In the free dance, Papadakis & Cizeron leaped up two spots and stole third place on the podium after earning 100.91 points for a culminating score of 162.39.
“We’re very happy because we skated better than the short,” Papadakis said. “We were very focused because we felt no pressure, as there was nothing to lose.”
For Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani, who represent the United States, the 2014 Grand Prix Final in Barcelona last week marked their second appearance at this event, with their first being in 2011. Earlier this season, the siblings placed second at both Skate America and the Cup of China Grand Prixs. Their latin-themed short dance was skated clean, although they received only level 2 for their midline step sequence, Paso Doble pattern, and creative pattern, limiting their score to 63.90. Although they were in line for a podium spot, they did not receive the levels and points that they had hoped for in their free dance. This left them in sixth place for the free dance, and in fifth place overall with a total of 158.94 points.
“We’re really pleased with our performance, but sometimes in ice-dance you just don’t understand the scores, but we struggle, and we fight through,” Alex said. “We’re really pleased to be back at the Grand Prix Final, and now we’re going to go home and work really hard.”
“We put together two strong programs, and we connected with the audience, which was proved by the standing ovation, which meant a lot to us, especially when you can’t control the scores,” Maia added.
Finishing in fifth and representing Canada were Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier, who train alongside the junior competitors Mackenzie Bent & Garrett Mackeen. Although Poirier had already competed at the Grand Prix Final in 2009 and 2010 with his former partner, Vanessa Crone, this was his debut at this event with his current partner, Gilles. This team really had a break-out season this year, not only earning their first Grand Prix medals, but also qualifying for the Final in Spain. Gilles & Poirier placed second at both Skate Canada and Trophee Eric Bompard earlier this fall. After the short dance, which was choreographed by the legendary Christopher Dean, this team felt proud and accomplished.
“It’s definitely our best performance of the season, and that was reflected in the score,” Poirier explained. “We had some shaky performances at the beginning of the season, but we’re getting comfortable doing it now”. They earned 62.49 points, a new personal best for them.
In their “Streetcar Named Desire”-themed free dance, Gilles & Poirier finished with a segment score of 95.67. A few points may have been lost on the grade of execution of the rotation lift due to a bobble, but the couple was still content with their overall fifth place finish with 158.16, another personal best.
The sixth and final team that competed at the 2014 Grand Prix final was Elena Ilinykh & Ruslan Zhiganshin of Russia. This team began skating together after the 2014 Sochi Olympics in which Ilinykh placed third and Zhiganshin placed 16th with their former partners. Although both members were already competitive level ice dancers, it is still impressive that in their first season skating together that they qualified for the Grand Prix Final. They just missed the podium at the Cup of China, placing fourth, but took home the silver medal at Rostelecom Cup. Unfortunately, in the short dance, Zhiganishin stumbled in the creative pattern, resulting in a level 2 with negative grades of execution. Additionally, they received a one-point deduction for their lift being too long. These small mistakes left them in sixth before the free dance with a score of 60.25. Heading into the free dance, Ilinykh & Zhiganshin admitted to being nervous because they had made many changes to their program since they qualified for the Final, but they skated clean, only receiving a deduction for another extended lift. Their free dance score of 92.61 put them in fourth for that segment, but it was not enough to pull them up from sixth overall.
Now that the 2014 Grand Prix Final in Barcelona has come to an end, marking the “adios” to this years ISU Grand Prix circuit, the teams will keep working hard for their national championships, which occur in the next few months before the World Championships in Shanghai, China this March.