2003-04 Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating: Highlights

The ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final was held at the World Arena in Colorado Springs, Col., December 12-14, 2003. The event featured the top six qualifiers (in each discipline) from the six Grand Prix of Figure Skating series which began in October.

Ladies

Japan’s Fumie Suguri seized the gold medal in the ladies event with a total of 182.08 points. USA’s Sasha Cohen had to settle for silver with 177.48 points, while Shizuka Arakawa of Japan fought for and won the bronze (167.57points).

In the short program, Suguri landed a triple Lutz-double toeloop combination, a triple flip, a double Axel, and completed nice spins in her smooth performance to Paint it Black by the Rolling Stones. The two-time World bronze medalist received 32.10 points in the element score and 29.92 for program components (62.02 total segment score).

“After NHK, I practiced for more details and tonight it was exactly what I have been training for,” a happy Suguri said. “This event also will prepare me for Nationals and this experience is one small step in getting me ready.”

Cohen had to overcome a fall on the triple Lutz early into her routine, but she pulled herself together and hit a triple flip as well as a double Axel. The 19-year-old impressed the crowd with her flexibility in her spirals and spins. She interpreted her Spanish Malaguena program very well, scoring the highest program component score of the ladies (32.60 points), but her element score was lower at 28.20 points. With an total segment score of 60.80 points, Cohen was in second place.

“Looking at the positives, I was able to refocus really quickly and get my confidence back for the flip. Going into the Lutz, my timing was a little bit off and I’ll work on that and get ready for tomorrow night,” Cohen commented.

Elena Liashenko of the Ukraine was a close third with 60.54 points. Her elegant performance to Otonal by Raoul di Blasio included a triple Lutz-double toeloop combination, a triple flip, and a double Axel, but she looked somewhat slow in her spiral sequence.

“I didn’t want to relax, but remain focused on each element,” the 27-year-old explained.” I had some problems in practice, it wasn’t going too well. But it worked out just fine in competition. I was very concentrated. Maybe I didn’t skate with too many emotions, but I was focused.”

Japan’s Yoshie Onda was in fourth place, while her teammate, Shizuka Arakawa, hit a triple Lutz-triple toeloop combination but doubled the flip to finish fifth. Julia Sebestyen of Hungary doubled her Lutz in the combination and finished sixth.

In the long program, Suguri skated last to Symphony No. 40 by W. A. Mozart which featured a triple Lutz-double toeloop combination, a triple flip-double toeloop combination, as well as three more triple jumps and a double Axel out of a spiral. The two-time Four Continents champion only two-footed an underrotated loop, but her spins were fast and included nice positions. The 22-year-old earned 120.06 points for this performance (57.18/62.88), defending her lead.

“There were a few mistakes, so it wasn’t perfect,” Suguri said. “But it was a good step towards the next competition which is Nationals. This will be a hard competition, and I can’t lose there. I wanted to gain confidence in this event.”

Cohen had a good start into her Swan Lake program, landing a triple Lutz, triple flip-double toeloop, and a triple Salchow and showing excellent spins. However, the the defending Grand Prix champion lost steam towards the end, falling on the triple toeloop and her second flip. With a segment score of 116.68 (52.44/64.24), the 2003 US bronze medalist remained in second place.

Cohen commented: “It (the fall on the triple toeloop) was a surprise because I landed but I just slipped off the blade. The toe has been easy for me and I don’t remember the last time I missed a toe, even in practice. It was definitely a shock. I have a lot of work to do when I get home and train.”

Arakawa, who stood in fifth after the short srogram, skated a solid long program to Violin Fantasy on the opera Turandot by Giacomo Puccini. The two-time Four Continents silver medalist produced five good triple jumps, but her triple toeloop wasn’t clean. The 21-year-old received 114.23 points for her program (54.43/58.80) and pulled up to third place.

Liashenko popped her Lutz and put down her hand on the triple Salchow, slipping to fourth place overall. Onda, who celebrated her 21st birthday today, fell on the triple flip and finished fifth. Julia Sebestyen of Hungary beat Onda in the free skate, but remained in sixth place.

Ice Dance

Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov of Russia danced to the gold in with a total score of 175.91 points. Bulgaria’s Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski captured the silver medal with 163.30 points, while USA’s Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto won bronze with 161.25 points.

Navka and Kostomarov lead the Original Dance (OD) with a sensual Blues and funky Rock’n'Roll routine. The European bronze medalists executed a difficult side-by-side footwork line (mostly on one foot) and two rotational lifts. They received 22.00 points in the element score and 43.18 points for program components. Their overall segment score was 65.18 points.

“It was very hard,” Kostomarov commented. “I thought, I couldn’t do it, but the music was pushing us. We are very well prepared and in full force, so we skated well. However, we did the last step sequence, the diagonal, really with the last strength we had left.”

Belbin and Agosto danced a technically difficult routine to Jitterbug, Blues and Swing that featured intricate footwork and a dance spin with changes of position. The audience cheered for the couple during the footwork sections and gasped when the skaters came dangerously close to each other during a twizzle series. The Skate America Champions moved into second place with a segment score of 59.81 points (20.30/39.51).

“It felt great. The audience really helped us right from the start. A lot of things were stronger than we have competed them all season, ” Agosto said. “Our goal here was to show our enthusiasm and love for the sport and to show that we are riding a wave of momentum that will hopefully carry us up and up,” Belbin continued.

Denkova and Staviski were close behind the Americans with 58.26 points (18.20/40.06). The Blues part of their dance was highlighted by an interesting spin as well as a lift in a spread eagle position. The Swing part contained a demanding side-by-side footwork line with twizzles in two directions.

“I think it was a good performance, normal for us,” Staviski commented. “We changed our side-by-side footwork to make it more evident that it has a higher level. We wanted to make it more difficult. I think all our elements are difficult, but we just cleaned them up a bit.”

The Ukrainian husband-and-wife team Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov placed fourth by the thinnest of margin with 58.24 points for their OD to Swing and Blues. Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France were fifth.

Navka and Kostomarov delivered an entertaining routine to Pink Panther and Austin Powers that underlined their smoothness and lines. The Russian Champions executed strong twizzles and lifts, but they slowed down in their final footwork sequence. They scored 110.73 points for their program (43.40/67.33) and were the clear winners with 175.91 points.

“We heard our teammates shouting, and their support helped us,” Navka commented. “I didn’t think about the fact that we had a comfortable lead going into the Free Dance. I’m just competing against myself and not thinking about the marks. My goal is always to improve on the previous performance. We can skate much better, but here are different conditions. Of course, this win gives us confidence. It’s always nice to be first, and especially with a big lead.”

Denkova and Staviski danced to Georg Händel’s Suite No 4 in D minor. Their classical dance included difficult lifts and spins, as well as strong transition moves. However, Staviski stumbled on a twizzle. The Bulgarians, who stood in third place following the OD, received 105.04 points for their performance to pull up one spot.

“I didn’t expect the mistake on the twizzle. I had trouble with the first one, and then I probably lost my focus. It was a stupid mistake. Usually these twizzles aren’t a problem for me. At this point in the program, I didn’t feel my legs and arms anymore! The beginning was good, the technique and presentation was right on.”

Performing to West Side Story, Belbin and Agosto completed interesting lifts and hard footwork, but they made little errors like two-footing a twizzle and had trouble in the circular step sequence, and they seemed to lack energy. The Four Continents silver medalists were awarded 101.44 points for their FD and ranked fourth in this segment. Overall they still finished third.

“The performance was a little rough tonight,” Agosto admitted. It was just one of those programs where things didn’t work the way I wanted them to.”

Grushina and Goncharov were ranked third in the FD but were in fourth place overall. Delobel and Schoenfelder skated to Merlin and produced a very difficult circular step sequence. They came in fifth ahead of Dubreuil and Lauzon.

Pairs

China’s Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao won the gold medal in the pairs event with a total score of 196.08 points. Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin of Russia won silver with 177.30 points, while their teammates, Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, won the bronze with 166.76 points.

In the pairs short program, Shen and Zhao opened their dynamic performance to Kismet by Bond with a spectacular triple throw loop followed by a side-by-side triple toeloop. The two-time World Champions also completed a high double twist, but almost lost their balance on the exit of their lift. The Chinese scored 33.84 points for their elements and 32.16 for program components, for a total segment score of 66.00 points.

“The center of gravity wasn’t completely balanced on the exit of the lift. It was too much backwards,” Shen explained. “The rest of the performance was ok.” Her partner added: “It was very hard to skate because of the altitude. When we finished, I just thought I need oxygen. It’s our second time in Colorado Springs, so we know what to expect. We prepared in our practice for it.”

Totmianina and Marinin put out a solid program to Variations on a Theme of Paganini that featured an excellent triple throw loop, a side-by-side triple toeloop, a one-armed lift, and a serpentine step sequence. They earned 33.32 points for their elements and 29.64 points for program components (62.96 total segment score).

“I think it was the best short program of the year of us. We did everything well tonight,” Totmianina commented.

Petrova and Tikhonov had a rough start into their routine when Tikhonov doubled the side-by-side toeloop and Petrova stepped out of the landing of the throw triple loop, but the World bronze medalists showed perfect unison in the-side-by side combination spin. Their lift was difficult and included changes of positions for Petrova. The team from St. Petersburg was awarded 56.32 points for their performance.

“It was terrible because we missed two elements,” Tikhonov said. “I did a double toe and Maria missed the triple throw, so for us, it was really bad.”

Canada’s Anabelle Langlois and Patrice Archetto finished fourth. They both had a forward lean on the side-by-side triple toeloop. China’s Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang missed the throw triple loop to finish fifth. Their teammates, Qing Pang and Jian Tong made three errors to finish sixth.

Shen and Zhao really sparkled in their Nutcracker program that featured a side-by-side double Axel-triple toeloop sequence, a huge throw triple Salchow, another side-by-side triple toeloop, as well as a triple twist and throw triple loop. The only glitch in the dynamic program was a wobbly exit of their lasso lift. The 2002 Olympic bronze medalists interpreted the music very well, supported by the audience that cheered for each element. As soon as they finished, the crowd rose to a standing ovation. Shen and Zhao earned 130.08 points to claim the gold and the title with an overall score of 196.08 points.

“This was the best peformance of the season so far,” a smiling Shen said. “We felt really emotional during our program, especially towards the end. When we finished, I just thought, it’s finally over. We felt very confident going into the free skating as our training at home in Beijing has been going very well.”

Skating to The Cotton Club, Totmianina and Marinin produced a side-by-side triple Salchow, a triple twist and two excellent triple throws. On the downside, Marinin struggled with the side-by-side triple toeloop (and singled the second toe while she did a triple-double combination), and their lifts weren’t as difficult. The judges awarded the two-time World silver medalists 54.10 points for the technical score and 60.24 points for program components (114.34 total segment score).

“We skated this program for the last time and we will have a new free skate for Russian Nationals,” said Totmianina. “We skated good, but it was hard to skate because of the altitude.”

Petrova and Tikhonov had a strong start into their Princess of the Circus routine with a side-by side double Axel-triple toeloop sequence, a throw triple loop, a triple twist and two difficult lasso lifts, but then Tikhonov put down his hand on the double Axel and Petrova went down on the throw triple Salchow. The reigning European and World bronze medalists earned 110.44 points for their performance, putting them behind Langlois and Archetto in the free skate. Overall, the Russian team stayed ahead of the Canadians to clinch the bronze medal.

“Yesterday, we skated terrible and the hope was to skate better tonight,” said Tikhonov. “The start was very good with the combination (double Axel-triple toeloop sequence) and the throw (loop). Unfortunaly at the end, Maria missed the second triple throw (Salchow), but overall we skated well,”.

Langlois and Archetto, who were third in the free skate, remained in fourth place overall. Langlois missed the side-by-side triple toeloop, despite an otherwise good skate. Pang and Tong skated better in the long program, but Tong singled the Axel and Pang touched down with her hand on the throw triple loop. The Chinese moved up one spot to fifth while their teammates, Zhang and Zhang, fell to sixth place overall.

Men

Emanuel Sandhu of Canada was the surprise winner in the men’s event with an overall total score of 228.29 points. Sandhu didn’t qualify for the Grand Prix Final and was the second substitute going into the event. Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko, who scored a total of 225.19 points, had to settle for silver, while USA’s Michael Weiss won the bronze with 198.35 points. There were only five competitors in the men’s event as Jeffrey Buttleof Canada withdrew shortly before the competition started, citing illness.

In the short program, Plushenko fell on his first element, the quadruple toeloop, but he rallied back to complete a triple Axel, triple Lutz, difficult footwork, and good spins. The two-time World Champion scored 37.70 points for his elements and 40.55 for program components to clinch the leadwith 78.25 points.

“I feel like an idiot that I fell,” Plushenko admitted. “I’m a hundred percent ready for this competition, and I landed the quad and the triple Axel in the warm up. I don’t know what happened (on the quadruple toe).” The 21-year-old is battling a knee injury, but he said that he felt ok.

Sandhu stumbled on his quadruple toeloop but managed to add a triple toeloop. The landing of the triple Axel was weak, but the Canadian completed a triple Lutz and interesting spins to earn 75.55 points for his expressive routine to Carlo Saura’s Tango by Lalo Schifrin (40.30 element score/35.25 program component score).

“It feels like I am at my first World Championships. I have never done this event before and my hope was to qualify for this event last year and this year so I finally got my chance,” Sandhu told the press. “I couldn’t have been more ready for the competition.”

Weiss hit a triple flip-triple toeloop combination, triple Axel and a triple Lutz in his program to Henry V, but the landings of his jumps were a bit below par. The three-time and reigning U.S. champion was awarded 73.33 points (37.88/35.45).

China’s Song Gao fell out of his triple Axel to place fourth. Kevin van der Perren of Belgium nailed a rare triple Lutz-triple loop combination and finished fifth.

The men’s long proved to be an exciting event. Sandhu upset Plushenko to claim his first major international title. The two-time and reigning Canadian champion hit a quad-triple toeloop combination early into his routine, but he stepped out of the second jump. Seven triple jumps inlcuding two Axels (one in combination with a wobbly triple toe) and intricate step sequences followed. The 23-year-old scored 75.74 points for his elements and 77.00 for program components (152.74 total segment score) and had an overall event score of 228.29 points.

Plushenko skated right after the Canadian. The 2002 Olympic silver medalist nailed a quad-triple toeloop combination, a quadruple toeloop-double loop combination in the first seconds of his routine, but then he did a third combination, a triple Axel-double toeloop. As three combinations are not allowed, he received zero points for this one. The Russian doubled his second Axel but completed three more triple jumps in his program that is dedicated to the famous Russian ballet dancer Vaclav Nizhinski. The additional combination cost Plushenko dearly, he only received 66.54 points in the element score. His program component score was 80.40 points (146.94 points total segment score), and he lost narrowly to Sandhu with a total event score of 225.19 points.

“I’m surprised, because I didn’t skate badly. Actually, I think I skated well,” the three-time European champion commented (before he realized his mistake). “I’m happy with my skate, I did two quads, one of them with a loop, and I think this is a new combination nobody has done before.” When told what the problem was, he said: “Oh, that was it.” Coach Alexei Mishin added, “Too stupid. He did three combinations. He wanted to do the second quad with the loop, and I said, ‘go ahead’. But he forgot not to do the Axel in combination then.”

Sandhu was thrilled about his unexpected victory. “This is just crazy,” he said. “To do it when it counts I think that is what being a champion is all about. As I have experienced before, you never know what is going to happen. This is a step in the right direction and to be able to share it with the audience, my coach, friends at home and all of Canada is important to me.”

Weiss made a few errors, falling on the triple Axel and flip, but hit a triple flip-triple toeloop combination to hold on to third place.

“I don’t know what happened,” said the two-time World bronze medalist. “I have never been hit by Mike Tyson, but after I finished my program it felt like I had. I have been sick with the flu and the easy thing would have been just to pull out but I am glad I stuck with it and competed.”

Kevin van der Perren, who landed his trademark triple Salchow-triple toeloop-triple loop combination, finished fourth. Gao slipped to fifth after popping some jumps.

The Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final concluded Sunday with the Exhibition Gala.

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