Golden Skate

Domnina and Shabalin capture European gold

Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin perform to Masquerade Waltz for their Free Dance.

In the final showdown of the ice dance competition, Russia’s Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin regained their leading position with an inspiring performance to Masquerade Waltz. Skating after their rivals, they held nothing back. The flow of their Free Dance (FD) surpassed that of any other dancers who performed today.

While their performances earlier in the season haven’t always been convincing, this time the 2007-08 Grand Prix Final champions have proven that the choice of music is the right one for them. It capitalize on their strongest points: excellent basic skating skills and lines.

“The idea of our dance belongs to Tatiana Tarasova,” explained Domnina. “She suggested it at the end of last season. The actual choreography was done by Sergei Petukhov. I felt the story is self-explanatory. It’s [about] poor Oksana being forced to marry an evil St. Petersburg’s… well, Maxim, who had that evil gleam in his eyes. And that’s what I was trying to portray today.”

The students of Alexei Gorshkov seemed to float across the ice, delivering a powerful and dramatic performance which was marred only by the lack of speed in the end of the non-touching midline step sequence and relatively slow final reverse rotation lift. They placed first in the FD with a personal best of 104.99 (53.78/51.21) points, and moved up to first overall (207.14 points) to claim the gold.

“I’m speechless,” said Domnina, at a post event press conference. “I think I left all my emotions back on the ice. We are very happy we survived the competition. I want to congratulate Maxim on his birthday and to thank him for his courage and his strength. Only he knows how difficult it was.”

“It was the hardest competition of my career,” added Shabalin. “We knew it was going to be difficult, because I had an operation (knee surgery) a month ago. It was a risky decision to come here, but now we know that it was the right decision. I made it on January 9th, when I returned to the ice for practice, and I knew that I would be able to train in order to prepare for the competition. The decision was risky because the doctors recommended three weeks of swimming and two weeks of cycling to regain the shape. And watching Europeans on TV.”

“I really enjoyed dancing with Maxim tonight,” added Domnina. “He was great, I really felt his support both inside and outside.”

Defending champions Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France were great as well. Skating before their main rivals, they left nothing to chance, and executed all their elements smoothly. However, the change of the position in their combination lift was a bit heavy and the exit of the spin looked somewhat abrupt. In addition, their non-touching midline step sequence received only a level 3.

Nonetheless, those minor drawbacks didn’t distract from the mesmerizing quality of their dance to music from the Piano soundtrack. The sign language seems to be a very appropriate theme for their subdued and sophisticated love story, which really silenced the audience, and the crowd loudly cheered the team as they took to the ice. The defending champions set a new seasonal bests by scoring 101.95 (51.69/50.26) for the dance, and 205.92 points total.

At the end of the performance, Delobel pumped a fist in the air, but in the end, the team from Lyon had to settle for silver.

“You know there is a lot of stress and we did a good program,” said Delobel, regarding her gesture. “I wanted to do the best and I did. I am a bit disappointed because we won at Europeans last year, and now we didn’t. Anyway, we did a good job from the beginning of the event. That is life. That is sport. Fair play.”

When asked about the changes they made to their dance, Schoenfelder replied: “I think we did some good changes, modified some lifts and some steps, and as we beat out best score, we must have done it right. For Worlds, we have to analyze our performance. Perhaps, we will change some steps. We still haven’t got all levels 4, and that’s our goal.”

The team also changed costumes from a modest brown to a more vibrant red. “We changed our costumes, because the brown color we had before was too sad,” explained Delobel. “We changed my costume to red because it’s the color of passion and this dance is about passion.”

Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski won their first European Championships medal with an energetic performance of their Night at the Bald Mountain free dance. The 2008 Russian champions have improved their speed and power from the previous event, and really captured the audience’s attention with the impressive lifts and tricky connecting moves. This time, they were able to maintain the momentum through all four minutes of the program, giving 100% on all their elements. However both their step sequences received only level 3. The team placed third in the FD with a new personal best of 99.66 (51.46/48.20) points, and 197.06 points total to win the bronze.

“The crowd was awesome,” said Khokhlova, after the event. “When they started to clap along during our side-by-side steps, it gave us so much energy.”

“It was fantastic tonight,” added Novitski. “It was probably the best performance of the season. We are well received everywhere, but here the crowd was just amazing.”

When asked how they felt about winning their first European medal, Novitski replied: “I haven’t realized it fully yet. I have chaos in my head right now – after the performance and the amazing reaction of the crowd.”

When asked how they felt watching the Italians Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali perform, Novitski replied: “We watched them with mixed feelings. We really wanted to win our first medal at European, and we were probably more nervous watching them than before we went out to skate. There were just two points difference between us, and that’s not much in ice dancing.”

Faiella and Scali finished fourth in free dance with 95.29 (49.29/46.00) points and overall (190.95 points). Their program to Papa, Can You Hear Me? was highlighted by excellent transition moves and strong lifts, but Massimo stumbled towards the end of the serpentine step sequence and the element was rated a level 3. The Italian champions also only received a level 3 for the first half of their combination lift, but overall their soft and enchanting dance provided an excellent ending for the competition.

“We are very happy,” said Scali. “We did a good job at these Europeans, especially after the last season (they were sixth). We were more ready mentally to fight for a medal. It was hard for us to skate last in the group. It was difficult to keep our focus. I think we did a great job in the Free Dance.”

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France pulled back up to fifth place overall (185.26 points) after a clean performance of their “Craziness” Free Dance for which they earned 93.71 (49.24/44.47) points. The team did an excellent job in capturing and portraying the idea of a downward spiral towards insanity, which ended up with Bourzat putting Pechalat in a straight jacket. Their series of synchronized twizzles were also one of the most original versions of this rather standard element. The 2007-08 Grand Prix finalists managed to avoid major mistakes, even though they lost a lot of training time due to Bourzat’s knee surgery.

“It was a bit hard to go out for the Free Dance because of the lack of practice after Fabian’s surgery,” said Pechalat. “But it’s good that we fought until the very end and did a good competition without any major errors. Considering that we started training only ten days before, I am very pleased that we came, although we would have wished to achieve a higher placement.”

“Yesterday we wanted to move up,” added Bourzat. “Today we just wanted to do a good job.”

The French team feel they can still improve on their footwork, which only received a level 3 at this event.

“Physically we can improve,” said Bourzat. “We can improve our score at Worlds.”

When asked if he spoke with Maxim Shabalin about the same surgery they both had, he replied, “Yes, we were exchanging glances at practice. We know that the other one is also hurting. We understand each other.”

Sinead Kerr and John Kerr of Great Britain finished sixth in free dance with 89.97 (48.10/43.87) points and overall (182.06 points). The students of Evgeni Platov presented a very original program on a theme of space travelers, but Sinead slipped and fell in the corner while doing crossovers. Their serpentine lift and midline step sequence received only a level 3, and the team also took two deductions: one for a fall and one for an extended lift. Despite the errors, their unique lifts, bright costumes, and innovative connecting moves impressed the audience.

“It’s always hard (to recover from a fall),” said John, “but I think we handled it relatively quickly. It happens to everyone, and all you have to do is get up and get on with it.”

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