Golden Skate

Davis and White take fourth consecutive Grand Prix title in Sochi

Meryl Davis and Charlie White at the 2012-13 Grand Prix Final

USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White perform to “Notre Dame de Paris” at the 2012-13 Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating.

The first show-down between USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir ended up in the Americans’ favor at the 2012-13 ISU Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating, while Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France took the bronze.

Performing to Notre Dame de Paris by Riccardo Cocciante, Davis and White made certain that they left no stone unturned in terms of meeting all requirements for an excellent free dance.

For their efforts, the students of Marina Zueva earned seven perfect 10.0 marks from the judges (two each for Performance and Interpretation / Timing, and three for Choreography), as well as many perfect “+3″ Grades of Execution (GOE).

The Olympic silver medalists moved through various changes of holds and positions without neglecting either the emotional side of their heart-breaking story or the technical aspects of the required elements’ execution.

The team picked up their season’s best of 110.19 (52.56/57.63) points, and with 183.39 in total, won the event by a 3.5-point margin.

“It feels great,” said Davis at the press conference, but immediately continued to explain that from the skaters’ point of view, the performance was not as effortless as it appears to outside observers.

“Some days you go out there and the performance comes really easily,” the 25-year-old explained, “and other days you have to fight through it. Today, we were proud of the way we fought through it, and still put out a great performance. I think it’s days like that, when it doesn’t come super easily, that we feel we really grow the most.”

The 2011 World champions were at loss to explain the reason for the difficulties they had experienced.

“I think you can prepare to the best of your ability, and sometimes it comes really easily and sometimes it does not,” explained Davis. “If we could figure out why, it would be great, because we would prefer it to be nice and clean…when it kind of flows naturally. Unfortunately, we have not found it out just yet. It is nice to know that even if the things do not come easily, you still can skate that well. The program is challenging. I don’t think there was any particular reason.”

The skaters were very conscious about the high level of the competition at the Grand Prix Final.

“Winning this event for the fourth time is something to be proud of,” stated White, 25. “These are the top skaters in the world. They had to prove themselves at their Grand Prix events, and we had to do the same. To be able to come out on the top four years in a row is a big accomplishment.”

However, the dancers were humble in their expectations for the future, especially the next big event at this venue.

“We talked a little bit about this being the Olympic venue,” said White. “I think just being able to be at the venue, to get a feel of it, is really helpful. Obviously, being able to compete and warm up here, you cannot help but think about the Olympic Games. It’s pretty much everywhere, it’s on everyone’s mind.”

“Our goal is to come back and to win the Olympic gold,” he said, “but it is a bit of a long road to travel before we get back here. We are proud of what we did today, but there is lot more stuff to do before we can think about stepping on that top spot.”

White was also quite pleased with the performance.

“It was a fantastic program, emotionally,” he explained. “Technically, I think we really put it all out there, but like Meryl said, we both felt a little out there. It could be any number of things. I’m proud of the way we fought through it, and it is a great building stone towards worlds.”

The event was briefly attended by the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin.

“Having important people in the audience is not something you’d like to focus on while you skate,” admitted Davis, “but afterwards, it’s like ‘Cool! Putin was in the audience!'”

“I thought I caught (a glimpse of him) when everybody started applauding,” shared White. “It’s cool. This is the Olympic setting and it’s great practice. To have the Russian president here it really sets the tone and helps us build towards that Olympic goal, as well.”

Tessa Virtue, 23, and Scott Moir, 25, were unable to catch up with their rivals and training mates. In terms of the base value of their programs, the two North American teams were tied, with both getting level four on all elements except for the step sequences, which were rated level three. The Canadians, however, picked up lower GOEs for their elements.

The Olympic champions lost 0.6 points on their final ‘choreographic’ lift alone, which looked rather insecure, and thereby spoiled the ending of an otherwise incredibly detailed and intense dance. Even though the team came in second, they still improved their season’s best to 108.56 (51.50/56.86) points, and earned 179.83 points in total.

“It certainly felt like a season’s best,” said Moir. “I think it is good for this point of the season. We still have to fight for this program, it’s really quite challenging. Our elements were a lot stronger today than they were in Canada or Russia, which we expected because we have been training quite hard. It’s nice to see it pay off in a competition like that. Technically, it was a very strong skate and we still kept that emotion.”

However, the team was unable to receive a level four for their step sequences, which was their particular goal.

“We were close,” said Moir. “We made major changes in all our footwork. We’d like to see it get a level four, but it has been consistently called a level three this week. It’s tough now, the callers are being hard, but we need to figure those out for the new year so that we will maximize the points.”

The 2012 World champions are fairly used to the rivalry, and were unfazed by their second place after the short dance.

“I think tried to put it out of our minds,” said Virtue. “We need to focus on our own job. We cannot think about the scores or what they are doing on the ice. If we do, we will lose our concentration and get a little bit side-tracked. For today, we were focused on our own job.”

The team’s visceral interpretation of Carmen is, to an extent, a tough program to judge. The rules require the skaters to demonstrate an “elegant /sophisticated style” and a “refined line of body and limbs”. As brilliant as their program is, those are not necessarily the first words one would use to describe it.

“I think it was a risk,” admitted Virtue, “but we would have been disappointed actually if we did not go in this direction. Having won all the titles, we still need things to grow.”

“We haven’t in fact won all the titles,” Moir chimed in, referring to the fact that they have yet to win a Grand Prix Final.

“For us, it (artistic challenge) is really exciting,” continued Virtue. “We would not be competing otherwise. It would have been very easy to retire. This is what gets us into the rink everyday. Merely knowing that we have this challenge, working on different movements.”

The couple picked up ‘only’ two perfect tens (both for Interpretation / Timing), however.

Skating before their rivals, Pechalat, 28, and Bourzat, 31, presented a dance which was very far removed stylistically from the programs of both the leading teams. Light-hearted and careless, their performance to a Rolling Stones’ medley was nonetheless very technically sound.

They were the last team to get more than 100 points for the free dance (101.48 (48.78/52.70)), and won the bronze with 170.18 in total.

“I think we had a good performance, it was very clean,” said Pechalat. “We just would like to improve on the component score, so we know what to work on to be ready to European and World Championships.”

“We would like to repeat a lot of things from this performance,” added Bourzat. “For example, we had no deductions for extended lifts, which was one of our goals for the event.”

According to the European champions, their dance is progressing nicely.

“After the first Grand Prix, we changed some lifts and transitions,” explained Pechalat. “We were mostly changing stuff in the short dance. For the free dance, we need to talk to our coaches. During the season, programs always change. It’s never like it was in the beginning. It needs to improve.”

They picked up the music because it appealed to them.

“We like it,” said Pechalat. “It seems that the audience likes it as well. We could hear clapping at the beginning. Actually, they clapped for us more here than in Beijing or in Paris… maybe it’s because we are in Russia. We want to have different kinds of music to have different styles on the ice.”

“I have heard that Mr. Putin was in the audience,” added Bourzat. “I hope someone has a photo of him and maybe on this photo he is moving his head (in time with our music).”

None of three other European teams were able to come close to challenging the reigning continental champions. In the short dance, it seemed that the Russia’s Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev – the runner-ups from the past two seasons – would have a shot.

However, the substantial improvement the Russians champions have achieved after they started to work with Alexander Zhulin, was nixed by a fall in the second half of their poignant free dance. The team received a 2.00-deduction (one point for fall, one for ‘excessive interruption’). Ironically, their devastated expression in the end fit the theme of the program perfectly. They earned 91.86 for the dance, and slipped to fifth place (158.09) overall.

“Maybe I just wanted to express my emotions a little bit too much, was going a bit too strong,” said Soloviev about his fall. “It was a really stupid fall. I never ever fall down, even in practice, and now this. Really stupid. I hit my back a little bit, it still hurts, but it’s more mental pain than physical right now. I probably just lost my concentration for a few seconds.”

“Our coaches were very supportive,” added Bobrova. “We were very disappointed, because we wanted to skate this program that everybody loves to the best of our ability.”

The mishap allowed Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte to establish themselves as major contenders for the upcoming European championships. They had the highest base value of the free dance among all competitors by the virtue of being the only ones to receive a level four for one of their step sequences.

The Italians also use Carmen for their free dance this season, and compared to the Canadians, their interpretation seemed to be almost too conventionally pretty, but it is hard to deny its quality. They earned a new personal best for their free dance (99.53), and moved up to fourth overall with a total personal best of 165.64 points.

“I guess it was probably the cleanest skate,” said Cappellini. “I’m not sure if it was the strongest.”

“Drama is what we feel we’re good at, so we are trying to use our strength and portray the story that way,” she added regarding their free dance.

“We tried to bring inspiration from the ballet,” explained Lanotte. “We also took some inspiration from the opera, so we tried to kind of mix the two things. I think that’s the difference between us and the amazing “Carmen” of Virtue and Moir. Their “Carmen” is more modern and we took inspiration more from the classic ballet and opera. We are storytellers, so we wanted to tell the story.”

Like many other leading teams, the ice dancers from Milan thrive in a highly-competitive atmosphere, and feel that there is always something to learn from the competitors.

“Tessa and Scott, Meryl and Charlie are great athletes,” said Lanotte. “We’re always taking inspiration from them. We look at them, we look up to them trying to gather what’s great about their skating, and we always try to stick around at the practices just to see what their skate is like.”

It does not, however, mean, that they do not believe that they have it in them to challenge the rivals.

“There are a few skaters that we really like,” Lanotte shared, “but for different things, not the entire package. For example, Nikita’s (Katsalapov) skating is amazing, I like the way he glides. Meryl and Charlie are super strong, and then there is the charisma that Tessa and Scott have, the chemistry.”

Russia’s Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov remained in sixth (156.36).

The 2012 European bronze medalists earned program component scores comparable to those of the Italian team, however, with both step sequences only meriting a level two, they were too far behind in the technical mark to challenge the other teams.

“Of course, we came to fight for the best places,” said Katsalapov. “Maybe, we’re not ready yet. Today we had some mistakes in the elements, but in general, we went out to enjoy skating, to try to do our best and to add emotions. It was a kind of a practice on Sochi ice. We felt it and now we know what we need to improve. We’ll have one more chance to skate here during the Russian Championships.”

The team said that they did not understand the marks they have received a day before in the short dance. They were in fact, so upset by them that they refused to speak to the press.

“As for yesterday, we did everything we planned,” said Ilinykh. “It was our best performance of the season. Maybe referees watched slow motion and saw something. We were satisfied with yesterday’s performance. We were really happy, and people supported us so kindly. The low score was unexpected.”

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