Golden Skate

Delobel and Schoenfelder maintain lead in Sweden

Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France perform the Breton Gavotte (a French country dance) at the 2008 World Figure Skating Championships.

The Folk/Country dance is the Original Dance (OD) for the 2007-08 season. While there are no restrictions on the the number of music selections used, the dance must have a theme based on a specific country/region.

Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France defended their overnight lead by winning the OD with a new personal best of 67.25 (35.30/31.95) points.

The 2008 European silver medalists, who are making their 10th appearance at this event and who have yet to win a World Championships medal, are now in an excellent position to capture the gold. However, the pressure seems to be taking its toll.

While their performance to a French Gavotte was technically flawless, the team appeared somewhat cautious throughout, executing their moves without the abandon they have shown at previous events. As a result, a neatly choreographed routine lacked the flippant character they have displayed in the past.

Nonetheless, the French champion’s complex connecting steps and excellent stylization were rewarded the highest presentation score of the night, and all their elements received a level 4. They currently have a total of 107.98 points.

Both skaters were satisfied with their performance.

“Among our international competitions it was one of our best performances indeed,” said Delobel, referring to their new personal best. “We are happy that we skated well and that we have finished for today.”

“I think we skated with pleasure and we tried to have much energy in our skating,” added Schoenfelder. “Of course we are very pleased with our marks.”

Going into free dance, the team has a 4-point advantage over the rest of the field, but the two-time Olympians are cautious about the lead.

“We have to stay concentrated and we can’t afford any mistakes,” noted Delobel. “We are leading now, but others might still catch up.”

“We try not to think on that now,” said Schoenfelder, “but of course we want to win the free dance tomorrow so that there are no questions.”

In contrast to the French team, Russia’s Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski seem to be adjusting to the pressure of being the Russian leading couple.

After a rather tense compulsory dance, the new Russian champions appeared relaxed and confident in their Two Guitars routine. The team also posted a new personal bet of 65.99 (35.67/30.32) points and received the highest technical score of the night. They also gained a level 4 on all their elements and matched the leading team in the number of points earned for their circular step sequence (9.86). However, the judges awarded the Russians slightly higher grades of execution on all elements except for the final rotational lift. They are currently second overall with 103.97 points.

“We did all we could do at the moment,” said Khokhlova. “We think we did good as you can see on the results screen. It felt very good and we are very excited and happy. We felt a lot of responsibility and were very focused, but when you look at the scores, we apparently did all elements clean and showed the character of the dance. I want to thank the audience for their support.”

“We are very pleased as we significantly improved our personal best,” added Novitski. “We are also pleased with how we skated. It was probably one of our best performances. We put a lot of work into this dance and we’re very happy that it worked so well.”

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who were second coming into the OD, placed third in the OD with 64.81 (34.58/30.23) points for their Dark Eyes routine. The 2008 Canadian champions also performed a Gypsy dance, but their approach to the interpretation of the rhythm was quite different. Compared to flamboyant Russians, Virtue and Moir appeared more subdued, obviously valuing precision over passion.

The dance went on smoothly until Virtue stepped out of the second twizzle a rotation too early. Her mistake cost them a level on this element (level 3 while all other elements were level 4), which could prove costly at this event. The 2008 Four Continent champions, however, are virtually tied for second place with 103.52 points going into the free dance.

“I think it’s the first time it (Virtue making a mistake) ever happened,” said Moir afterwards. “Usually I do the mistakes.”

Nonetheless, the Canadians were happy with the way they skated.

“Tessa and I really wanted to go out there and have fun,” said Moir, “and skate a really good program. It felt like we did that. We had a blast right there in front of the Swedish crowd and we are very pleased.”

Virtue agreed, adding, “We really tried to attack each element. We went for it today. It felt like we connected with both each other and the audience.”

Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto recovered some ground as they placed fourth in the original dance, but they remain fifth in the overall standings. The U.S. champions delivered a fast and entertaining dance to a medley of country tunes and received the second highest presentation score of the night. However, while they received a level 4 on all their elements, their grades of execution were slightly lower than those of the leaders which was enough to make the difference. The current World bronze medalists earned 64.69 (34.23/30.46) for the dance and now have a total of 99.81 points.

“I’m very very relieved,” said Belbin after the performance. “I think that tomorrow will be even better than today. I just lost a little bit of confidence in myself from the compulsory dance, so I was very happy that this one was without flaws so that I can reassure myself that I’m trained and I’m ready to do this competition.”

The 2006 Olympic silver medalists gives credit to their coaches for helping them cope with the disappointing results of the compulsory dance.

“Thankfully we have very wise coaches who were able to take to us and let us know that we are only human and we make mistakes,” said Belbin. “In sports, that is even more so what it is all about. You have good days and you have bad days and it’s from those experiences that you gain what you need to become champions – whether it be here or the next time, it doesn’t matter. We need these experiences.”

Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali placed fifth in the OD with strong, yet playful Italian folk dance, earning a new personal best of 63.55 (34.16/29.39) points. The highlights of the dance were the connecting moves which suited their music perfectly, but while the difficulty was there, the quality of execution wasn’t as strong as that of higher-ranked teams. With a total score of 100.70 points, they are still in fourth place overall.

“It’s five points more than in the European Championships,” said Scali, of their new personal best. “We are so happy. We felt really confident and comfortable on the ice. We came to Worlds to fight and to enjoy our experience and we like to perform on the ice. We do not like to think on the marks or our position. We do not really care. We just want to enjoy ourselves and have a good time. We were kind of reborn after our previous bad season, so for us it is important to enjoy our experience.”

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France remain in sixth overall (95.49 points). Their excellent interpretation of the Spanish Flamenco earned them a new personal best of 60.67 (32.72/27.95) points. The highlights of the dance were two innovative lifts, including a rarely performed stationery lift, and the creative use of a fan which Pechalat pulled out of her corsage and used to emphasize the moves.

“It was really difficult in the beginning,” admitted Pechalat, regarding using the fan as a prop. “It took much hard work.”

“People do not understand how much work it took to make it look that easy,” added Bourzat. “We must succeed to make really difficult things look easy and it requires a lot of coordination. But we are glad to be able to use it properly. Not that many couples are using accessories yet, so that is fun.”

USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White finished seventh in OD (60.36 points) and overall (95.16 points). The team, which chosen the famous “Kalinka” tune for their routine, opened the program strongly and setting the right mood of the dance. Later, however, White appeared to outshine his partner, and the team also lost points on the technical elements score as their circular step sequence received only a level 2.

“It’s a little longer than usual,” said White about their last starting number. “But these are the things you are trained for. It didn’t feel awkward, it felt fine. We feel like we skated really well. Before we skated, we wanted to leave everything on the ice and I think that’s what we did. I think we can be really happy with that. (on their score) It’s hard to say, it can so either way, it’s so close.”

Great Britain’s Sinead Kerr and John Kerr, who performed a Scottish dance with John appropriately dressed in a kilt, were the favorites of the Swedish crowd and got the only partial standing ovation among all the dancers. The team remains in the eight place overall with 93.34 points.

Israel’s Alexandra Zaretski and Roman Zaretski are currently ninth, followed by Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy.

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