Shen and Zhao take lead at Worlds
The 2007 ISU World Figure Skating Championships continued Tuesday with the Pairs’ Short Program.
The anticipation in the arena was almost palpable with a hush falling over the crowd as China’s Xue Shen (28) and Hongbo Zhao (33) took their opening pose. Skating 21st of 22 teams and performing to Romanza by Bacarisse, they did not disappoint.
The audience sat entranced as the two-time Olympic bronze medalists moved from tender choreography into perfect perfect side-by-side triple toe loops, followed by a fabulous throw triple loop. Their spiral sequence started with a nested change of edge that flowed with the music and transitioned into a backward-outside death spiral entered by Shen leaning back under Zhao’s free leg. The side-by-side triple combination spin went a little out of sync at one point, but they got it back on the change of foot.
The only element not awarded level 4 was their spectacular level 2 triple twist which received +GOEs from all of the judges. A little glitch on the landing didn’t really mar their lift which was entered with Shen doing a shoot-the-duck back and forth between Zhao’s legs.
As the Four Continents Champions closed the program with a pair combination spin, the audience rose to their feet as one with an extended standing ovation. The judges rewarded them with a new personal best of 71.07 for a first place finish after the short.
Shen was very happy with the performance as was her partner.
“It is still hard to do jumps because of my Achilles injury,” admitted Zhao, “but I am very happy to make our personal best today. The audience was cheering us up and I felt so good. I hope we will earn another personal best score tomorrow to win these worlds before we retire.”
Aliona Savchenko (23) and Robin Szolkowy (27) of Germany had the audience clapping along as they skated an exciting program to music from the soundtrack Once Upon a Time in Mexico. Their matching lines and extension were accented by Savchenko’s black tights.
The European Champions opened with a clean throw triple flip, followed by side-by-side triple toe loops that were close together and in perfect sync. Their level 1 triple twist had a late catch and was the only element which didn’t receive a +GOE. The team also produced a level 4 lift which had an innovative entrance, lovely air position, and good speed across the ice. Both of the spins were excellent and were awarded level 4, as was their spiral sequence which contained unusual positions and transitions.
The team scored a new personal best of 67.65 points for a second place finish.
“Our short program performance tonight was quite good,” said Szolkowy. “It was the second best short program of the season for us. Only the triple twist was a bit shaky, and overall it felt somewhat difficult to skate. As for the free skating, we intend, as always, to do our very best and to show what we do in practice each day.”
The German Champions are not intimidated by being in the mix with three strong Chinese teams.
“We need to stand in the middle!” said Savchenko. “We are not going to change any elements in our long program anymore, but we will just have to skate like at the European Championships.”
“For an athlete there is never a perfect performance,” continued Szolkowy. “At German Nationals we had a good feeling and it was fun, whereas today things were a bit harder. We have high expectations of ourselves, so we will have to concentrate and pull ourselves together.”
China’s Qing Pang (27) and Jian Tong (27) showed good connection to O Doux Printemps d’Autrefois by Jules Massenet and every move reflected the nuances of the music, earning 66.75 points for a third place finish.
The defending World Champions produced a huge lateral triple twist and throw triple loop. Other highlights included a level 4 spiral sequence started with a nested change of edge, showing lovely extension, a level 4 backward-outside death spiral, and a level 4 lift which had an unusual press entrance. Both spins received level 3 with only a small error in synchronization in the side-by-side spins.
“I was sick and had injuries,” acknowledged Pang, “but I started to practice regularly since two weeks ago and feel OK.”
“I am proud of my partner because she did so well today despite what she went through,” said Tong. “I love the audience here since they are so polite and supportive, and I feel really good performing here in Japan. We will defend our title and do our best to win again.”
Tong also wanted to congratulate the top two pair teams.
“I am happy that the quality of pair skating is improving,” he stated, “and I hope that it will continue to improve.”
Skating to the familiar music of Rondo Capriccioso, Russia’s Yuko Kawaguchi (25) and Alexander Smirnov (22) showed a lightness to their skating while displaying good speed and flow. Almost perfect side-by-side triple toe loops opened the program, but then they had a problem with the catch on the triple twist. The newly-formed team recovered with a nice throw triple loop, followed a level 4 lift. The team also received a level 4 for their side-by-side spins, spirals and combination spin, placing fourth with a personal best of 62.07 points.
“I am very pleased with our personal best score tonight,” said Kawaguchi, adding that she was proud to be representing Russia.
Smirnov was also pleased with their performance. “Our presentation was good and the audience was great,” he added.
The first team to skate in the all-Canadian second flight was Valerie Marcoux (26) and Craig Buntin (26), who performed their playfully flirtatious program to Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White with genuine smiles on their faces from start to finish.
The Canadian silver medalists skated cleanly, delivering their best performance of the season with a new personal best of 60.73 points for a fifth place finish. All elements were graded a level 4 except for their death spiral which was given a level 2.
“We are very happy about tonight’s performance,” said Marcoux. “We just did what we are supposed to do.”
“We are looking at each other smiling while we skate,” said Buntin. “We struggled the last couple of competitions. We just wanted first to come out and skate a really good short program. We are really happy and comfortable, focused on our own program. We did not care about marks at all.”
USA’s Rena Inoue and John Baldwin were sixth with 59.50 points. They were the only team to receive level 4 on all their elements in their routine to Soul of Spain.
Inoue fell on the landing of the throw triple Axel, however the team still received credit (less the deduction) for the throw jump as it was fully rotated. The US silver medalists also produced side-by-side double Axels, a double twist, and good spins.
Inoue was born in Nishinomiya and used to compete for Japan as a singles skater. The 30-year-old, who’s been competing with Baldwin (33) since 2001, became a US citizen in 2005.
“The Japanese fans were cheering for me in Japanese and that made me very happy and comfortable,” said Inoue. “I was able to skate very relaxed and I believe that that was possible because of the fans. I haven’t competed in Japan for a while, but the Japanese fans still remember me and support me and I am so honored. I cannot be any happier.”
In seventh place are Canada’s Jessica Dube (19) and Bryce Davison (21) who earned a new personal best of 58.94 points for their routine to Galicia Flamenca by Gino d’Aur.
The Canadian Champions “clicked” blades when going into their side-by-side triple Salchows, but the landing was clean. They also produced a good double twist, throw triple loop, and a lift which covered the full length of the rink and had excellent air position. Remembering the accident at Four Continents only three weeks ago, the the audience held their breath as the Canadian Champions executed the side-by-side spins with only small loss of sync on the camel position.
“We were a little bit too close I guess,” said Dube of touching blades going in their triple Salchow jumps. “It was hard. I have a hard time with my Salchow and with that before I was like ‘ugh.’”
“We were a little bit too anxious,” added Davison. “[We didn't] quite have the right pattern, but we squeaked it out. We’re happy with it. We refocused right away.”
Dube was back on the ice ten days after the accident at the Four Continents Championships in which she suffered a facial laceration from Davison’s blade while doing side-by-side spins.
“Everything is fine,” she said. “We did everything right away on the first day. We decided to come here as soon as I came out of the hospital.”
“The side-by-side spin was the first thing we did,” said Davison. “It was a good way to get back on the horse after being knocked off.”
Ukraine’s Tatiana Volosozhar (20) and Stanislav Morozov (28) also delivered a good program which was highlighted by a huge triple twist, a throw triple loop, good side-by-side spins, and a spiral sequence which had unusual variations in the changes of positions. The team placed eighth with a new personal best of 57.62 points.
Skating in their final competition of their career, Poland’ s Dorota Siudek (31) and Mariusz Siudek (34) sit in ninth with 57.23 points after a good performance. The European bronze medalists delivered a good throw triple loop, pairs spin, spiral sequence, and lift, but Mariusz stumbled out of his jump on the side-by-side triple toe loops and the team lost sync during the side-by-side spins.
“This is the first time we have done the flying camel,” acknowledged Mariusz. “It was not perfect, but I am proud I can do it. Even at 35-years-old, I can learn new moves and improve.”
“In Warsaw (at Europeans), we felt big pressure,” admitted Dorota. “We had planned to stop competing after Torino, but we decided to keep going one more year because the Europeans were coming to Poland. For us, coming here to worlds is a prize. This was a gift to be able to compete one more time.”
“In our 29th season [as skaters], we feel more like coaches now,” added Mariusz. “After we won the bronze medal at Europeans, I asked Alexei Tikhonov if he wanted to compete one more year. We would have done it if he (and Maria
Petrova) would have done it. He said no.”
Current world silver medalists Dan Zhang (21) and Hao Zhang (22) of China sit in tenth place with 57.00 points.
The team received no credit and a two-point deduction for doing four rotations in their lift instead of the maximum allowed 3-1/2. The team otherwise produced a huge triple twist and throw triple loop – both of which had an innovative mini-lift entrance.
“We were a bit sick [with a cold] and therefore our performance wasn’t so good,” said Dan. “We couldn’t prepare so well for this competition. I could not practice as usual since I was sick with fever and sore throat.”
“We are so tired with injuries and sickness,” added Hao, “so my team-mates will do better here.”
Russia’s Maria Petrova (29) and Alexei Tikhonov (35), who are competing in their last competition, are in 11th with 56.36 points.
Unfortunately, it was not a performance to remember. Their routine was marred by three relatively small mistakes which quickly added up. The current world bronze medalists opened with a nice triple twist, however, their lift was flawed and Petrova two-footed the landing of her jump on the side-by-side triple toe loops and stepped out of the landing on the throw triple loop.
“We did really stupid mistakes,” acknowledged Petrova, “and we are obviously unhappy with our performance. I think we were well prepared, but maybe we are tired of figure skating and that is the reason. On the other hand, we really wanted to come to Japan and that’s why we are here.”
Tikhonov agreed, adding that they had never ranked so low after a short program at a world championship.
“It’s upsetting that we made these small mistakes,” he said, “but they added up and we lost five, six points and as a result, we ended up in 11th place. We tried our best. I know how upset Maria now is. We tried to skate for ourselves and our fans. Tomorrow we just want to skate a beautiful program.”
Teammates Maria Mukhortova (21) and Maxim Trankov (23) are currently in 12th place, followed by Anabelle Langlois (25) and Cody Hay (23) of Canada.