Golden Skate

Delobel and Schoenfelder lead dance at Worlds

Isabelle Delobel, 29, and Olivier Schoenfelder, 30, of France lead the Ice Dance field after the Compulsory Dance (Argentine Tango) at the 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships.

The 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships are being held Mar. 18-23, 2008 in Göteborg, Sweden, at the Scandinavium Arena. Approximately 203 skaters/couples from 48 countries are competing. In addition, Puerto Rico is represented for the first time at ISU World Championships with one entry in the Ladies division. Göteborg last hosted the World Championships in 1976. Overall, Sweden has hosted the World Championships seven times between 1897 and 1947.

The ISU will be awarding prize money totaling $710,000 to skaters and couples that place first through 12th. In addition, the top three skaters and couples per discipline having earned the most World Standing points during the 2007-08 season, will be awarded with a World Standings Bonus.

Following a decision of the 51st Ordinary Congress of the ISU in June 2006, no Qualifying Rounds will be skated. All single skaters will compete in the Short Program with the top 24 proceeding to the Free Skate.

The competition kicked off on Mar. 17 with the Compulsory Dance and the Pairs Short Program.

The Compulsory Dance (CD) for this event was the Argentine Tango. The dance was invented by Reginald J. Wilkie and Daphne B. Wallis and was first performed in 1934 at the Westminster Ice Rink in London, England.

Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder from France put a comfortable distance between themselves and the rest of the field as they scored 40.73 (20.79/19.94) points for their rendition of the Argentine Tango. The 2008 European silver medalists executed all the steps in extremely close position and added their own unique twist to the dance as they started to perform it even before they hit the opening position.

The team from Lyon began their performance with Delobel (29) leaning on the boards while Schoenfelder (30) skated around the center of the rink, putting on his jacket and studiously ignoring his partner. The jacket was used to enhance the character as Delobel tried to slip it off his shoulder later in the dance. The French champions, which are known for their excellent basic skating skills, were smooth and confident, maintaining a strong flow throughout the dance and demonstrating the kind of unison which can only come from years of experience.

“We wanted to have fun here and enjoy the competition.” said Delobel. “It was a good compulsory dance,” added Schoenfelder. “We wanted to show a special interpretation to make the dance more interesting. We are happy with the marks.”

Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were the only other team to reach 20.00 points in the technical mark. The 2008 Four Continents champions received 18.71 points for program components and finished second with a new personal best of 38.71 points.

“We never really judge our performance on the scores,” said Moir. “We know exactly how it feels and how it went.”

Virtue (18) and Moir (19), who made the dance their own by modifying their upper body movements throughout the entire routine, clearly stood out among the 29 performances before them. Though their footwork was neat and precise and though they skated close together, the Canadian champions lacked the flow demonstrated by the veteran French team.

“We really like this dance,” said Moir, “so it was really fun to compete and there were a lot of Canadian flags out there… a bit surprising.”

Jana Khokhlova (22) and Sergei Novitski (26) of Russia were third with a new personal best of 37.98 (19.52/18.46) points. The 2008 European bronze medalists also efficiently used their upper body to express the tango character, while maintaining very good flow and speed throughout the dance, and showing sharp and precise movements. However, the Muscovites, who unexpectedly found themselves as the leading Russian team after the withdrawal of teammates Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, appeared a bit tense.

“We feel very sorry for Maxim, Oksana and Alexei Gorshkov (their coach),” said Novitski. “For us, this is maybe a small chance to present ourselves.” “We feel more responsibility now,” added Khokhlova. “We found out about it only two or three days before we left, and it was rather unexpected news for us.”

Federica Faiella (27) and Massimo Scali (28) also set a new personal best after they scored 37.15 (19.45/17.70) points for fourth place. In a dance where all couples are supposed to execute the same steps in exactly the same manner, the Italian champions made some subtle changes in their arms movements in order to enhance their excellent and expressive tango. The team left a strong impression with their sharp and passionate style, and were among the best teams in terms of expressing the character of the dance properly.

“We love to skate and to have a strong interpretation of the music with strong emotions in the compulsory dance,” said Scali. “We felt great today. We skate the best we can. We know it is hard competition for us, but the marks today were unbelievable and we are very happy with our performance”.

U.S. champions Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto were the highest ranked team coming into the competition as they were the only ones to ever win a World Championships medal. Last year’s bronze medalists, who often found themselves behind their main rivals after the compulsory dance, said in a recent interview that they worked very hard to improve their Argentine Tango.

Belbin and Agosto opened the dance with very strong skating on deep edges while displaying an excellent tango character with their sharp and precise movements. Unfortunately, their improvements were for naught as Belbin slipped off the edge of her blade half-way through the second pattern.

“I don’t know what happened,” said Belbin afterwards. “It’s just a freak accident. It has never happened before. It’s hard to continue in the dance, because you’re so distracted that you don’t even know what you are doing. In the competition, it should make it easier. It’s always easier to come back from behind, to skate with nothing to loose. I think we have absolutely nothing to loose after what happened here.”

The team was executing the key sequence of steps in the so-called “section 5″ of the dance, which has the lady doing a twizzle before the couple glides on a deep curve in a face-to-face hold. Belbin lost her balance during the twizzle. Agosto couldn’t provide support for his partner as they were separated at that moment, and Belbin fell behind him. The team took a hit in the technical mark, only earning 16.88 points, but they earned the second highest presentation score (19.05 points), and are currently in fifth place with 35.02 points.

“We are kind of bummed,” admitted Agosto. “It’s a very good dance for us. We’ve been training really hard, feeling really confident. It happens, it’s a part of sport and you have to move on and deal with it. The rest of the dance felt really good, we are happy with our performance. We just need to avoid little mishaps.”

Nathalie Pechalat (24) and Fabian Bourzat (27) of France rounded out the top six with 34.82 (18.05/16.76) points. The team from Lyon started off very strongly, skating on deep edges and in close positions, but their second pattern wasn’t as sharp as the first one. Their interpretation, however, was very strong and they maintained the good flow throughout.

“It felt very good,” said Pechalat. “Although we have practiced a lot on the original dance and free dance, and didn’t had a lot of time practicing on the Tango, but it felt really good.”

“It is up and down,” said Bourzat of his knee injury. “I still feel pain sometimes and it makes practice shorter.”

USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White are currently in seventh with 34.80 points, followed by Great Britain’s Sinead Kerr and John Kerr (33.48 points).

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