Olympic ice dance champs nab first World title

Olympic Champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada grabbed their first world title at the 2010 World Figure Skating Championships.

The outcome of the ice dance competition at the 2010 World Championships has been in little doubt long before the start of the event. The level of the teams and the quality of their material have made it pretty clear who will place where, if everyone skates clean.

The Championships ended pretty much as predicted. Canada’s  Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won their first title, while  USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Italy’s Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali took silver and bronze, respectively. It was also the first time the two latter teams have won a world medal.

The relative lack of intrigue, however, did not make the competition any less exciting, especially since the order of finish in the free dance was different from the final standings.

Davis and White skated before their training mates and the duo set the audience on fire with their powerful performance to The Phantom of the Opera. The dance was as an excellent vehicle for them as it capitalizes on their ability to execute all elements, including step sequences, with lightning fast speed.

The  audience could not help but respond enthusiastically to the energy and power the U.S. Champions put into their execution of the dance. They received a new personal record of 110.49   (53.70/56.79) to win the free dance, but remained second overall with 223.03 points. The team also earned five perfect (10.0) scores from three judges, one for performance, two for choreography and two for interpretation/timing.

“A very emotional performance for us tonight,” said White. “We also really love that program, the Phantom. I feel we really connected with it, and I think that was something the audience and the judges were able to feel tonight. It was a really high season’s best, an amazing performance. We left it all out on the ice.”

Despite it being a very long and successful season, the team did not plan to take any time off. “On Tuesday we start our tour Stars on Ice,” explained Davis. “It’s a 40-cities tour, so a break isn’t really in the near future for us, but after that we’re going to have a holiday.”

Neither do they plan to retire.

“I think both of us really still have that competitive fire,” elaborated White. “Definitely it wasn’t extinguished tonight going through that Free Dance. If anything it’s grown. We’re definitely looking forward to continue competing and being part of the sport as it grows.”

Virtue and Moir mesmerized the audience with their performance to Mahler’s Symphony No. 5, but left a little room for improvement in what otherwise has been a brilliant free dance. Moir stepped out of a twizzle in sequence, which was downgraded to level three, and the team also received a 1.00 deduction for an extended lift.

“It was just a little bobble,” Moir explained. “We train to do that every day, so when that happens, I just learned to try to hold on to save the twizzle the best I can. But I don’t think that really affected our performance tonight, and I was very back on it and left a really strong skate. To tell you the truth, it didn’t feel as bad as it looked on the replay. I guess one mistake in six skates, I’ll take it.”

The clarity and seamless flow of the dance suited the Canadian Champions perfectly, making full use of their soft basic skating skills, excellent lines and posture, and outstanding rapport between the partners. Their ability to maintain the character of a pair of young lovers throughout all their level four elements is almost uncanny, and could be compared to those of professional actors rather than professional athletes.

Virtue and Moir  received 110.03 (53.10/57.93) points for the free and 224.43 in total to win their first World title. The judges awarded them eleven perfect marks: four for performance, three for choreography, and four for interpretation/timing.

“It was a strong skate for Tessa and I,” added Moir. “It felt really good from the moment we started. We love skating that program.”

“It was a great season for us,” agreed Virtue. “I think we really peaked at the right time. Throughout the Olympic Games and heading into the World Championships, we made a lot of progress throughout this season. I think we timed our training perfectly, so that’s great and I think we learned a lot from that. We can take that into whatever is to come.”

The team plans to take a short period of rest and skating in shows before sitting down and deciding about their future.

“I think we’re looking forward to taking some time off and we’re going to do some shows,” said Virtue, “but we just really need a chance to breathe. It’s been such a whirlwind this season. We’ve been so focused on that year for so long and achieving our goals. Out of respect for one another, we need to give ourselves the opportunity to let it sink in, to let it register, and really sit down and talk about some options. Before we’re making any announcements, we’re going to give ourselves a bit of time. ”

The duo was very complimentary of their training mates and their coaches.

“I think our secret is Marina Zueva and Igor Shpilband and how hard they train us every day,” said Moir. “They are the hardest working coaches I’ve ever seen. They really demand a lot from the four of us. We also have each other to push each other every day. You can’t really slack off when Charlie is there, running around like he did today, like crazy. We have a great school. I think that is how we have achieved what we achieved this year, and we have some great junior teams coming up in the future.”

“It’s not a hard friendship to keep up,” added Virtue. “Meryl and Charlie are great people and we really respect them both on and off the ice. We’ve been on that journey for some time together now. We’re able to go and push each other on the ice and motivate one another and then get off the ice and go grab some coffee, which is great. I think that is what keeps us fresh and keeps us coming to the rink every day. I think we are here because of Meryl and Charlie.”

Returning to last season’s free dance to “Circus Medley”,  Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France were able to garner a much warmer and more enthusiastic response from the crowd than they would have received for their more sinister Requiem for a Dream dance. The students of Alexander Zhulin were able to capitalize on this energy to deliver a flawless performance to score 98.09   (48.70/49.39) points for third place in the free dance.

“It was difficult to change our program after Vancouver,” explained Bourzat, “but I guess we feel more confident with this one. We had a good performance involving the crowd and we are happy for this. It’s a perfect way for ending this long season.”

“We decided to come back with a program different from the Olympics,” elaborated Pechalat. “We really love it and this is a circus medley based on the movie La vita e bella soundtrack, an Italian film. We hoped the public enjoyed it. We completed it perfectly without any mistake, and it was brilliant to perform it.”

The uplifting program, however, brought the French team another bittersweet   souvenir: last year at the European Championships they finished second in the free dance and received a small silver medal for it, but finished off the podium in the championships as a whole. Now they have a small Worlds’ bronze medal to accompany it, but once again, their score (194.39) was not enough for the ‘real’ medal.

The Grand Prix Final bronze medalists appeared to cope with the disappointment much better than a year before. “I look at it (fourth place) in a positive way,” said Pechalat. “Fourth at Worlds is better than fifth, which we were last year. We progress with each year and we got the small bronze medal for the Free Dance. We hope to win a medal next year, especially at the Europeans. We want to skate until Sochi, but for sure until the World Championships 2012 in Nice (France).”

Faiella and Scali delivered an extremely emotional performance of their “Immigrants” free dance, which held the audience spellbound throughout all four minutes of the program. Both skaters were overcome with emotions halfway through the dance, but the technical panel remained unaffected and downgraded their spin and twizzle sequence to level two.

The judges decision added to the suspense, and when their score of 97.84  (47.10/50.74) points for fourth place was announced, neither the skaters nor the audience knew if it was going to be enough for the bronze. However, upon hearing that 197.85 points meant that they got the medal, the stadium erupted in an ovation.

“Of course it was important for us to get a medal,” said Scali, “but when we saw that we were in fourth in the Free Dance, we were happy anyway. This Championship was about never giving up, just keep fighting. We proved to ourselves that we are fighters, so we didn’t really care. But when we saw that we were still third, of course we were really happy.”

“It is very special,” he continued. “It was a very, very hard competition for us. Federica was very sick right after the Olympic Games, and a week before the World Championships, we actually thought that we would withdraw. So last four days before the Worlds, we were back on the ice. It was really hard both physically and mentally, and I am just so proud of her. It was hard for me, because I was supporting her, but it was really unbelievable what she did in this competition.”

The Italians plan to continue to compete for at least one more season.

“It was a long journey,” said Scali. “I know, that these guys (Davis/White, Virtue/Moir) keep saying that we look young, but we are not. So it was a long journey and it was our dream to arrive here. We started to think about the future right after the Olympic Games, and we are pretty sure that we will be skating for at least one more year. After this medal, for sure there will be at least one more season.”

Great Britain’s Sinead Kerr and John Kerr  drew the last starting number. After an emotional roller-coaster provided by the leading teams’ performances, the Scots’ subdued free dance, which needs to be thought through and appreciated at the intellectual level, rather that just felt, fell a bit flat.

The students of Evgeni Platov did their best and achieved  levels of difficulty on the most of the elements, but their sequence of twizzles was downgraded to level one after John put a foot down on one of them. They place fifth in the free dance 93.32 (45.70/47.62) and overall (189.11).

“It was tough going after Massimo and Frederica,” admitted John. “They got an amazing response from the crowd… what you would expect from a home audience. That’s a little hard to follow sometimes, but I think we just went out and did our job.”

“The good thing was we didn’t feel pressure,” added Sinead. “We knew we maybe could pull up to fourth, but not third. Federica and Massimo skated well and I didn’t feel any pressure to beat them, because I didn’t think that was possible. Our performance was just for ourselves today.”

The skaters remain undecided about their future.

“We’ll see,” said John. “We’re going to have a holiday and then we have to think about it. We’ve had a good career. We’ve had two Olympics, a European Championships bronze medal, and  a lot of great times. Sometimes it’s time to do something else. We’ll talk about it.”

Alexander Zaretski and Roman Zaretski of Israel gave the final performance of their Schindler’s List dance in which required elements were secondary to the emotions they conveyed throughout the program. They earned a  new personal bests both in the free dance (91.34) and overall (181.26), and finished in the sixth place – by far their best result at their fifth World Championships.

“It is sad,” said Roman, “but today we skated for everybody who loves and supports us. Our parents, friends, coaches, and our country that supported us really well this season. The country, that recognizes only football, used to get up at 5 a.m. to watch us on the Olympics. It was our best season. We got a Grand Prix medal, won Zagreb, we were seventh in Europeans, and ended up in the top ten in the Olympics.”

Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier gave a smooth performance of their Nocturne and Bohemian Rhapsody dance in which they got level four for all elements except for the final diagonal step sequence. However, while the choreography of their dance is quite interesting, their ability to present it to the public and to draw them into their routine was relatively weak. The Canadian silver medalists also scored new season best for both the free (91.22) and  (180.30) and finished seventh overall.

“It feels fantastic,” said Poirier. “We learned a lot from the Olympic Games, and we are happy that just in the three weeks of training between the Olympic Games and now, we were able to improve so much. We got a seasons best in all three portions. It’s very satisfying for us to show that our hard work has paid off and has brought us to that next level. Hopefully we’ll keep building on that for the next seasons.”

“There were some technical aspects of levels that we wanted to upgrade,” added Crone, “but mostly we’ve worked on presentation which we kind of lacked at the Olympics. We definitely came here trying to stand out, looking like we belong here, and I think we did a pretty good job with that.”

Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev opened the penultimate warm-up group with an inspired performance of Adagio. The Russian silver medalists were  once again able to deliver all their elements without mistakes, and received level four on all the elements. They also impressed the audience with their intense interpretation of the famous tune to receive a new personal best of 89.76 (47.60/42.16) and 177.23 in total for eighth place overall.

“This was our best performance this season,” summed up Bobrova.

“We need to perform more,” said Soloviev. “With every competition comes experience, which we really need. In the beginning of the season, we were very nervous before competitions, but with each start it grew smaller, and we learned how to cover it with our emotions on the ice. This was a successful season for us as we went to Europeans, Olympics and Worlds.”

Hungary’s Nora Hoffman and Maxim Zavozin  entertained the crowd with their dancy routine to So ExcitedHush, Hush and Rock This Party, but got low levels on some of their elements  and rounded up top the ten  (166.90) after finishing ninth in the free dance.

“Considering the circumstances, we had a good performance,” explained Zavozin. “I was very sick this night [with the stomach flu]. I couldn’t skate this morning, and when I entered the rink for the warm-up, I wasn’t sure I would be able to compete. We didn’t skate as well as we wanted, but this is all we could do.”

USA’s Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates finished 10th in the free dance, but remained ninth overall (168.77) with a smooth performance to Canto Della Terra.

“I think that in terms of the big picture of the year, our best performance was on the Olympics, but that was our goal,” said Bates. “Here, we did not quite do as well  as we skated a little automatically, but at the same time, it is hard after the Olympics to come back to training. Overall we are happy.”

“When we picked this program,  we were thinking mostly about Olympics,” explained Samuelson. “This song seemed to fill up the entire rink, so it could be great for an Olympic performance. It worked out, and the Worlds are here in Italy, and I hope that the audience enjoyed the program.”

Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte dropped out of the top ten after the skaters collided during the twizzle sequence, which resulted in a fall from Cappellini. Both their step sequences were graded only level two, and the second part of combination lift only level one. The devastated Italians finished 11th (164.52).

“Tonight it was very hard to skate,” explained Lanotte. “We felt under pressure and we wanted to have a good performance, but we made an enormous mistake. No problem. Sometimes also champions make that kind of mistake. We recovered strongly as well as we could do.”

“Errors teach us something as well,” Lanotte concluded. “We learned a lot during this World Championships. We have to skate focused on elements and execution, but also giving the public all those emotions we feel everyday dancing together. The crowd in Turin is amazing, and I’ll keep this public in my heart for the rest of my career.”

The 2010 European Championships bronze medalists Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski, who stood sixth coming into the free dance, withdrew from the competition for medical reasons. Novitski’s knee, which was been operated on in 2006, started to bother him again before the original dance. Since the problem did not resolve itself in time for the morning free dance practice, the Russians decided that it was too dangerous to continue.

“I had problems all season, and it became worse already yesterday before the Original Dance,” offered Novitski. “I tried in practice today, but the joint is just not holding and I don’t feel the leg.”

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