Its the time of year when the figure skating world culminates in one spot to crown its new champions and I sit on my ass with coffee in-hand and watch, mesmerized.
I’m mesmerized by the incredibly beautiful costumes, the intricate, challenging choreography, the focus and intensity of the athletes and their coaches and most definitely the level of skill required to compete at the senior level nowadays.
When I grew up, my idol, Katarina Witt won World and Olympic championships with a triple loop as the top jump in her arsenal.
Now women absolutely must have a triple-triple combination and everything up to and including a triple lutz. And that’s just the women. The men’s and pairs disciplines have upped the ante making for tremendous challenges for the skaters and coaches.
This season the quad-fest that is the men’s event started to evolve early on. I thought I was finally watching creative routines that included one or two quadruple jumps (usually a toe and salchow) as well as beautiful movements and step sequences that tried to tell a story.
Until Nathen Chen blew everything out of the water at US Nationals back in January.
With two quads in the short and four in the long, including a quad flip in combination, Mr.Chen took the sport in an even more aggressive direction. And yet, he is quite balletic. Critics used to nail men like Elvis Stoijko for including too many quads because it took away from the artistry of figure skating but you can’t say that about Nathan. He was already an accomplished ballet dancer before he chose to pursue skating as his sole focus and it shows in his arms.
He arrived in Helsinki for this week’s World Championships with a lot of expectation on his shoulders. Not only was there buzz that he would quad his way to the top of the podium, he was also expected to earn back three births for the US men into next year’s Olympics.
Pre-Olympic years force more pressure onto skaters from countries with more than one who can rightfully earn a trip to the biggest event of them all. If a country has one skater placing in the top 10 at World’s the year prior to the Olympics, that country gets to send one to the big show.
If you have two skaters whose placement numbers total thirteen or less, that country can send three skaters to the Olympics.
So not only do you have to skate lights-out, you also have to place high enough that everyone in your home country doesn’t hate your guts for losing a spot.
Chen’s coach brazenly told reporters and fans that his pupil was going to go for six quads in his long program. He nailed the two in his short but sadly fell on the triple axel so he needed something ambitious to beat the men ahead of him and get that podium finish.
And he tried.
But it didn’t quite work out. He landed four out of six quads and ended up in sixth.
He did, however, help the US earn a third spot on the Olympic team because team-mate, Jason Brown (who fell on his inconsistent quad but dazzled everyone with his brilliant moves and effortless footwork) placed seventh. Six plus seven equals thirteen. Whew!
Japan made skating history by having two of their men take the top two spots on the podium with Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno. While it was no surprise to see Hanyu on top again (he is the current Olympic champion, after all), he got there in a round-about way.
I love his short program to Purple Rain, by Prince, including the wicked knee slide thing he does to the high-pitched electric guitar part of the song but it hasn’t been received the same way by all of the judges.
And if you don’t land all of your jumps it isn’t going to receive top scores, either. His wonky landing on his first quad combination landed him in fifth place, which he admits was pretty depressing.
Thankfully his team helped him keep his head together and his confidence high and he went out and performed one of the most incredible long program’s in men’s history. His focus was intense (see above photo), his choreography exquisite and his jumps were so solid and of such high quality they looked like doubles. He landed… no, he nailed four gorgeous quads and two triple axels and deservedly won back his championship title.
It is worth trying to find a video online if you’re a skating fan because the routine is sublime. I love when everything can come together for an athlete- the planning, the preparation, the training, the practice, the coaching, the hard work and finally the fulfilment. Way to go, Yuzuru Hanyu!
And good for Shoma Uno, who sometimes can be a bit pissy and petulant when things don’t go his way. He also is a wonderful skater and artist on the ice with probably the softest knees of the current leading men.
And great work Boyang Jin of China who wrapped up the men’s podium for the second time in a row. It was the first time ever that men from all Asian countries placed in the top three.
While I enjoy seeing things work out wonderfully for an athlete like Yuzuru, its heartbreaking to see things completely fall apart. Such was the case of Russia’s Anna Pogorilaya, last year’s bronze medalist.
A good skate in the short had her in 4th place, within one point of the podium. She had been known, up until last season, as one of those skaters who could have a complete and total meltdown on the ice. Sadly, THAT Anna showed up to skate her long program.
Oh, dearie, me, it was awful. I mean, after the third fall I was kind of thinking (wishfully, sort of) that she would just get off the ice. It wasn’t just wipe-outs, either. There were stumbles on other landings, triples popped into singles and slow, off-centered spins. After the grim-faced performance she dropped to her knees and sobbed. To the point where it became uncomfortable. Really uncomfortable.
The crowd rallied to show their support and she eventually got up and made her way to the boards but she once again dramatically fell to her knees to bawl some more. Hey, I get it, it sucks, we’ve all had a bad skate, its embarrassing and demoralizing but please, for the love of all things holy, get your ass off the ice. Thankfully her coaches dragged her off.
While nobody else had quite the mess of a routine, many of the ladies were off during their long programs. The ethereal Carolina Kostner of Italy, back in action after an international ban, placed sixth with a few boo boos. She doesn’t have a triple lutz in her current arsenal so if you’re going to compete with the big girls you had better land everything else solidly.
Neither did the spunky new US Ladies Champion, Karen Chen competing at her first World Championships. She bore a lot of pressure because she bombed at the Four Continents championship last month, causing many to question her selection to the World’s team. See, the ladies, like the men, had the challenge of earning back a third spot for the Olympics.
Everyone figured Ashley Wagner would pull off a top spot. She won the silver medal last year and she likes a good fight for her long program but nobody knew what to expect with the newbie, Chen.
Ashley sat in seventh after a sub-par short and then completely underwhelmed everyone in her long. It was actually a somewhat boring routine where her pesky under-rotation demons returned and she didn’t land all of her jumps.
Her coach looked more annoyed than anything as she awaited her marks.
Chen looked up at the scores before her warm-up and saw that Ashley placed lower than expected. So not only did she have to prove she deserved to be there, she also had to place well for all of America.
Thankfully, the diminutive skater did, earning a well respected fourth place behind the Russian and two Canadians.
Yeah, you read that correctly. Two Canadians. Women. On the podium. At World’s.
Its simply never happened before. While Canada is known for creating amazing skaters and hockey players, we just haven’t been able to do it with the women. Its been discussed for decades why we could only produce a Liz Manley and a Joannie Rochette every now and then but not alongside another top tiered woman.
Until now. When Gabrielle Daleman and Kaetyln Osmond put their skills, training and mental preparation all together at the right time and the maple leaf flew high two nights ago.
Gabby was in third and held that spot even after following the champion, Evgenia Medvedeva, and hearing the roaring crowd after her record-breaking scores had been announced. That can be a bit rattling when you step out onto the slippery surface but Daleman held it together and put on a fun, sassy show to that old warhorse, Rhapsody in Blue.
Skating immediately after her team-mate, miss Osmond, who trains in Edmonton with my dear friend, Ravi Walia, put on her own jumping clinic with a mature, silky, elegant long program featuring a soaring triple-flip, triple toe and blurringly fast, centered, gorgeous spins.
Both girls gave intelligent, sweet and friendly interviews together (you can look them up at cbc.ca) and proudly wrapped themselves in the same Canadian flag after the medal ceremony.
On a side note, watching as the camera zoomed in I noticed Kaetlyn’s earrings… Through my friendship with Ravi, I had offered to sponsor some jewelry to the Canadian champion back in January. She and I spent a morning online in my Chloe & Isabel boutique (www.chloeandisabel.com/boutique/tanyafyfe… you have to check it out now, right?) and she chose the sophisticated Bianca collection. Which includes lovely, on-trend ear climbers.
Who would have known?
My beaming smile was more for the ladies’ placement than the bling, though, but it still made me chuckle.
So Canada gets to send three women to the Olympics! Huzzah!
And we get three ice dance teams as well thanks to Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir returning to competitive skating this season and winning everything they entered, including World’s. It wasn’t simple, though. In first place after their awe-inspiring short dance (to Prince songs), Scott stumbled during their free dance and the two-time former World champs from France actually won the free dance.
The French had to settle for silver behind their training-mates, Virtue & Moir. American cutie pies, the Shibutanis finished in third. Sadly, the US team, Hubbell & Donohue, who were in third after the short dance, tumbled and missed the entire twizzle element which sadly sent them tumbling down to ninth place.
Ice Dance is art on ice, with athleticism thrown in for fun. The skaters are all beautiful (I think its a requirement nowadays), they all fly around the ice (especially the Shib-sibs) and they perform dangerous, acrobatic moves that leave the audience breathless as they watch. The Olympic showdown will be fabulous.
The Pairs event wasn’t so hot for Canada or the US this year, particularly since the Americans only had one team finish in the top ten… meaning the United flight to South Korea next February won’t be as full with only one team getting to go to the Olympics.
The former two-time World Champs from Canada, Duhamel & Radford, fell off the podium thanks to a pesky hip injury that flared up for Eric. They are always exciting to watch and they finished in seventh, which isn’t that terrible. (Maybe I should have sent Meghan some earrings?)
They’re right behind their team-mates, meaning Canada gets to send three teams.
The brand new World Champions are from China and hardly competed at all this year. Sui & Han sat out while she had both feet operated on several times to repair shattered ligaments that are the result of years of Chinese level throw jumps.
I’m happy for them that they won. The world has watched them grow up together on the skating stage and this is perfect after all that they have endured.
Behind them is the somewhat newer team of Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot. They represent Germany, where neither of them is from but you just have to let that go. In third were the Russians, Tarasova & Morozov, arguably the tallest male red-head to ever grace the ice.
So, while nothing got done around the house, I was relaxed and able to fully enjoy watching World’s this year. Our Siamese cat, Sport, watched much of it with me from my lap, my shoulders or the back of my chair.
I’d love to hear any of your thoughts on the state of figure skating, the point system, the outfits, the lack of scandals, the Russian drama, the choreography or whatever. Figure skating is my first language and I still speak it fluently.