Strong season debut for Virtue and Moir at Finlandia Trophy

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir

Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir perform their Short Dance at the 2011 Finlandia Trophy.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada easily  danced to victory at Finlandia Trophy this weekend, proving that they are in  good shape this early into the season. Japan’s Takahito Mura captured  the Men’s title and Sofia Biryukova of Russia won the Ladies event in Vantaa  near Helsinki.

It has been a while since Virtue and Moir competed  this early in the season as Virtue had been fighting injuries in the past, however, the team trained during the summer and was well prepared to debut their new  programs.

Virtue and Moir took the lead in the short dance to Hip Hip Chin ChinTemptation, and Mujer Latina, picking up a level three for the two Rhumba  compulsory dance parts and the side by side circular steps. While the twizzles were a level four, their curve lift was a little shaky and merited only a level two. Although the Olympic Champions recycled their free dance music from last  year, the program had a very different look.

“The person who did the music made it sound different,” explained Virtue. “With the different cuts it feels like a brand new program. It is a good start for this program and it is important for us to  get the feedback. It is October, we are here to compete, and we  feel so privileged. We don’t take it for granted.”

Moir agreed and added that there were a “couple of mistakes” that they want to improve on for next time.

Fans and media were curious to see the new free dance to the music movie Funny Face with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. The theme and the music might be a little old-fashioned,  but Virtue and Moir gave it a fresh look and their pure joy of dancing and performing came across very well. Their footwork looked effortless. Both step sequences garnered a level three and the twizzles were a level four. Moir whirled his partner around in the rotational lift and combination lift (level four), however, the new curve lift, with difficult changes of position, looked somewhat cautious (level two). The Canadians scored 101.59 points for their free dance and won by a landslide with a total of 170.33 points.

“We are happy with our day. We wanted to come out and enjoy the support of the Finnish fans and try to skate our very best for them,” Moir commented. “It’s always tough to get out in your first competition. You get nerves and different feelings that you kind of don’t remember from last year. It’s been a long time since we competed.

“All things considered, we skated very well,” Moir concluded. “We have lot of things to work on in our competitions that are coming up, but we felt we laid down two very good performances and it was a very good starting point for our year.”

With the two US teams, Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani and Madison Chock/Evan Bates, in second and third, the Canton ice dance school once again swept a podium. Shibutani and Shibutani’s short dance seemed a little stiff and nervous, and they only earned a level one for the second Rhumba sequence and a level two for the circular footwork. The brother-and-sister team looked more at ease in their Glenn Miller free dance. They skated more freely and were awarded a level four for the lifts, the spin, and the twizzles, however, the footwork sequences were a level two. They earned 92.63 points and totaled 151.08.

“I think it went really well today,” Maia Shibutani said. “It was really good to get out for the first time this season. With two new programs, it’s just good to get out there and to get some feedback.”

The siblings denied that their surprising world bronze medal this year puts additional pressure on them.

“Last year our results were really great, it was an amazing end of the season for us,” Maia Shibutani answered. “If anything, we are more motivated this year. This is only our second year in seniors, and we are looking to building on our skating and just continuing on.”

“It was a very strong year for us,” her brother agreed. “We thought that with each competition we improved, and that’s all we want to do this year. We continue to work hard. The placement (at Worlds) was an amazing result, but going into this week and all the rest of our competitions, we don’t look at placement or our point total. Right now it’s about developing these new programs and enjoying them.”

Chock and Bates are a new team, but stepped on to the podium in their first international competition. It takes some time to get used to this pairing after seeing Madison Chock with Greg Zuerlein and Evan Bates with Emily Samuelson the past few years. Obviously they need more time to gel as a team. They skated well although they had only a level one for the circular steps and for the rotational lift in their Chopin free dance. The Americans got 82.97 points in the free dance and accumulated 136.88 points overall.

“This is our first competition together and we are obviously thrilled to be here,” said Bates. “We have our coaches to thank to prepare us quickly enough to even be considered for a fall competition. This is a great first step for us. We have lots of room to improve, obviously, but this is a really good experience for us to build on.”

Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy came fin ourth at 127.64 points ahead of the more experienced Russians, Kristina Gorshkova and Vitali Butikov (123.69 points). Guignard and Fabbri danced to Godfather while the Russians chose a Tango, but their dance featured less difficult transitions.

Takahito Mura

Takahito Mura of Japan performs to music from the "Red Violin" soundtrack at the 2011 Finlandia Trophy.

Mura won the Men’s event ahead of USA’s Douglas Razzano and Poland’s Maciej Cieplucha.

Mura took the lead in the short program to Red Violin (Aranjuez) with a shaky triple flip-triple toe (which got an edge call), a triple Axel, and a triple Lutz. He picked up a level four for the flying sit spin, but the combination spin was only a level one. The Japanese held on to his lead although he was only ranked fourth in the free.

Skating to Four Seasons Tango in the free skate, Mura two-footed and underrotated his opening quad toe, but hit both triple Axels. The 20-year-old ran out of energy in the second half, popping a loop and doubling a Salchow. Overall he seemed to try to skate in Daisuke Takahashi’s style. He earned 121.77 points in the free and had 189.55 overall.

“I am very happy to have won, but today I was only at 70 percent,” Mura commented. “It was my first competition of the season and I was quite nervous.”

“I like my program,” said the Japanese. “It is a very difficult program and I want to dance more.”

Mura and Cieplucha share the same choreographer, Tom Dickson.

Razzano stood in fifth place following the short program as he crashed on a downgraded quad toe and the technical panel also deemed his triple Axel underrotated. But the American won the free skating despite a fall on his first triple Axel. The second Axel was wobbly, but he landed five clean triples and collected level threes and a level four for his footwork and spins to score 126.43 points.

The routine set to Astor Piazzolla’s famous tangos Adios Noninos and Oblivion overall was elegant. The 22-year-old moved up to a close second with 189.43 points.

“I’m happy with the result,” said Razzano, “but I was disappointed with the beginning of my program. I trained it well at home and to make those mistakes is disappointing for me. But I’m very happy with the end that I kept everything together and was able to finish strong.”

“I’m building towards US Nationals,” concluded Razzano. “That’s where I want to be at the top.”

Cieplucha finished eighth in the short. He skated clean with a double Axel, a triple Lutz-triple toe, and a triple flip, but two spins were a level two. The Polish skater then put out another near-perfect performance to jazzy music in the long. Again, he didn’t risk a triple Axel but produced six clean triples and two double Axels. The only glitch was a double Salchow.

Cieplucha jumped on to the podium with the third-best free (124.55) and a total of 184.35 points to claim his first medal at an international senior level event.

“I feel very good,” Cieplucha said with a grin. “I didn’t expect it, but I really like it. I didn’t think about the result, I just wanted to skate like I do in practice and that’s what I did. Now I want to keep pushing and training hard.”

Coach Scott Davis, who has been teaching him in Calgary since last fall, added that they plan to include the triple Axel in the next two months.

Alexander Majorov of Sweden finished fourth. The World junior bronze medallist stumbled on several jumps and went down on a triple Axel in the free (183.81 points).

Teammate Adrian Schultheiss landed a good triple Axel in the short, but missed the triple flip and stepped out of the Lutz which left him without a combination. He stood in 10th place after the short, but moved up to fifth overall with the second best free. The Swede was one of the few to skate a clean long and produced a triple Axel as well as five triple jumps (182.39 points).

Sofia Biryukova

Russia's Sofia Biryukova performs to "Turandot" at the 2011 Finlandia Trophy.

Russia’s Sofia Biryukova clearly won a rather weak ladies event with decent performances ahead of Elena Glebova of Estonia and Finland’s Alisa Mikonsaari.

The Muscovite led the field of ten ladies after the short with her excellent triple toe-triple toe combination. The triple loop was wobbly, but she held on to it and finished with a nice double Axel and beautiful spins. The Seven Years in Tibet soundtrack underlined the natural elegance of her skating.

Performing to Turandot in the free, the 17-year-old opened with another strong triple toe-triple toe combo, but fell on an underrotated triple Lutz. She recovered to complete three more triple jumps, a double Axel, and nice spins, but stumbled on the second double Axel. Biryukova, a student of Viktoria Volchkova, earned 101.47 points for the free  for a total of 159.59 points.

“I am very pleased with my placement today but not so much with my performance,” said the Russian. “The triple Lutz didn’t happen today, but it is the beginning of the season and hopefully I’ll skate much better later.”

“I hope this win is a good omen for the upcoming season,” Biryukova continued. “I am setting maximal goals for myself, but the most important is to overcome myself and show what I am able to do in competition.”

Biryukova had to do without her coach as Volchkova was in Milan at the Junior Grand Prix coaching Anna Shershak to the silver medal.

“My coach has to travel to the (Junior) Grand Prix quite often and sometimes I have to train on my own,” Biryukova explained, “but we keep in touch and she is supporting me. I am calm about it, but obviously it would be nicer if she was here by my side now.”

Glebova celebrated a little comeback after a tough season. The Estonian shone in the short program Angels and Demons with a triple toe-triple toe, a triple Lutz, and a double Axel. She made a few errors in the long to Spartacus when she popped the Lutz and fell on a Salchow. A triple toe was also underrotated. Her total score was 143.74 points.

Still, Glebova looks much improved and has gained confidence since moving to the US last summer and training with Igor Krokavec and Craig Maurizi in Hackensack.

“First I only wanted to go to the US for summer training, but then I liked it so much that I decided to stay for at least one season and maybe until the Olympic Games in Sochi if everything goes well,” the Estonian skater explained. “Today my placement is good, but the performance wasn’t as good as yesterday in the short. I hope to skate much better in my next competitions.”

Alisa Mikonsaari was the best of the four Finnish girls. Kiira Korpi withdrew as she was recovering from a foot injury and wasn’t quite ready to compete, and Laura Lepistö is still battling injuries and not training at the moment.

Mikonsaari went for the triple toe-triple toe in the short, but underrotated the second toe as well as the triple Lutz which was downgraded. The 18-year-old had to overcome a tough start when she fell on a cheated triple loop in the long and the Lutz was two-footed and downgraded again. But then she pulled herself together and landed three triples and two double Axels. She remained in third place with 125.66 points.

The other Finnish girls were ranked fourth to sixth. Beata Papp came fourth (121.66 points), followed by Minna Parviainen (118.36) and Juulia Turkkila (113.66 points).

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