Werner on Grand Prix choices, especially ice dancing
Prize stallions of the Grand Prix
Article by Werner
A few days ago, the site of the International Skating Union published the list of participants for each of the ISU Grand Prix events. Grand Prix is like racing horses before the horseracing World championships, where the composition of each race is put together very carefully. It just has to be that way. In figure skating, just as on the hippodromes, bets (albeit unofficial one) are placed on the future medalists of Europe, Worlds, and the Olympics. Those who play this betting game are usually certain national federation presidents, certain coaches, or certain unique judges. In the long line of bookies, Valentin Nikolayevich Piseev is without a doubt the most experienced one. Distributing Russian athletes among the six races – sorry, I mean events – he is making exact calculations as to where his mares will win outright or at least in a photo finish, and where he should send is prize stallions. That’s why the list for the 2008 Grand Prix led to so many questions and opinions.
Let’s start with ice dancing. Here, in my opinion, two of the six events will be juniorish (Canada and Japan), two will be duels (China and Russia), one will be a gift (France), and the remaining one, also the first one chronologically, Skate America, will basically be the warm up.
Though, one could only explain a duel with Domnina/ Shabalin on one side and Khokhlova/ Novitski on the other as Piseev disagreeing on the merits of the dancers with his own spouse Alla Shekhovtsova, and starting business affair with Irina Zhuk. Though, of course, that is all of the non-science fiction. It was always hard to believe that Shekhovtsova would let Moscow run ahead of Odintsovo as far as ice dancing is concerned. Then, however, the news came that Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin decided to change coaches from Gorshkov to Linichuk, and their training base from Odintsovo toDelaware. Now, if we figure out that Oksana and Maxim made Piseev’s decision rather than their own, then everything falls nicely into place.
In and of itself, Domnina and Shabalin leaving Gorshkov and Petukhov was predictable – if the mountain can’t create all the steps for Muhammad’s ascent to the top, Muhammad’s will seek another mountain. But why Linichuk? Bulgarian miracle isn’t likely to repeat itself – times have changed, and those dreaming of becoming Shipka’s heroes have queued up. Most likely, other factors have played a role. First of all, Stasik, the offsping of Piseev and Shehovtseva, has for the past two years studied in the Universy of Delaware, the hometown of Linichuk and Karponosov who have diligently looked after the child. Secondly, Piseev could easily see that Belbin and Agosto ready to fight and well prepared by their able mentors are too great a threat to Russian figure skating’s only medal expectation for Vancouver, Domnina and Shabalin. He then made his move with the knight by sending the presumed first ice dancing team of the country to Delaware as a gift for all the care of his son and as a reminder of whom Russian-passport-carrying coaches are supposed to bring to the podium. Bulgarians can be overlooked, half of that team is Russian anyway, but American victory is a different story. I can imagine that Natalya Vladimirovna and Gennady Mikhailovich were none too thrilled with this gift, but Yeltsin’s times are long gone, and the slogan “Go, Russia!” has become a national doctrine. A member of the FFKR presidium cannot be allowed to prepared champions for a country both foreign and non-friendly. So, the dream of Linichuk and Karponosov to become the coaches of American Olympic champions can only come to pass for Shpilband or Nechaeva and Chesnichenko. Belbin and Agosto, meanwhile, will either have to live with being a secondary team, or search of a coach ready to make them their priority.
Domnina and Shablin will first engage Khokhlova and Novitski in China and Russia. The funny thing is that in China those teams’ main competitors will those same Belbin and Agosto. Poor Karponosov will again have to always carry a bag with the jackets of different federations, and Linichuk will have to change into them with the speed of a first rate comedian. Russian event will see the other Americans, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, also from the “Star Factory” of Shpilband and Zueva. Those events will also see other decent teams – Israel’s Zaretskys, Italy’s Capellini/ Lanotte, and Ukraine’s Zadorozhnuk/ Verbillo, but I hope both Russian teams can handle them without too much difficulty.
In Canada and Japan, both young Russian teams, Yekaterina Bobrova with Dmitri Soloviev and Christina Gorshkova with Vitaly Butikov, will have a hard time. They will be like the new recruits in Chechnya, up against the experienced fighters. Just take Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir! And what about Natalie Pechalat with Fabien Bourzat? And Federica Faiella with Massimo Scali? Come to think of it, we can’t even discount America’s Samuelson/ Bates and Navarro/ Bommentre, Canada’s Weaver/ Poje, and technically Japan’s Reed/ Reed. So, only the few optimists would place their bets on the Russian racers there.
Paris’s first place has already been reserved for the veterans, Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder. They are up against only two serious teams, ready to enjoy their second and third places – Britain’s Kerr/ Kerr, and Italy’s Faiella/ Scali. Other teams are remarkable peaceful and can’t challenge the French dance elders – two backup French teams, Azerbaijan’s Fraser/ Lukanin, Canada’s Krone/ Poirier, Russia’s Rubleva/ Shefer and Monko/ Tkachenko, and the American-Russian sandwich of Jennifer West/ Daniil Barantsev. Alexei Gorshkov, who will bring his only remaining team to Paris, will be quite unhappy were he to lose to a former student whom he has personally expelled from figure skating and Odintsovo.
In pair skating, the cruel lot is sending Russia’s Ksenia Krasilnikova and Konstantin Bezmaternykh to China. The Perm natives will be like the gladiators up against the lions – three Chinese teams (two of which are the leaders) and Ukraine’s Volosozhar/ Morozov. Ksenia and Konstantin and face the remaining two American and one Canadian teams as equals. Russian team leaders Maria Mukhortova and Maksim Trankov will go to USA and France, where their coach has good connections. In both cases, they’ll be up against Germany’s Savchenko/ Szolkowy as well as various Americans, but they could medal, especially in Paris. Yuko Kawaguchi and Alexander Smirnov will accompany Tamara Moskvina to Canada where they’ll cross blades with Canadians and Americans. Then it’s on to Russia, where things are most often decided in the judges’ room. Going to Japan is a very green team of Nina Moser’s – Yekaterina Sheremetieva and Mikhail Kuznetsov. The new meat will be eagerly awaited by Canada’s Dube/ Davison and Langlois/ Hay, China’s Pang/ Tong, England’s Kemp/ King, and America’s Inouie/ Baldwin. Not to forget the fierce Estonians Sergeeva/ Glebov, of course.
Russian ladies will be represented by Ksenia Doronina, Katarina Gerboldt, Alena Leonova, and Nina Petushkova. Leonova is going to China, Gerboldt – to Japan, and Doronina and Petushkova are left for local consumption. Of course, in comparison to their competitors they are still ponies. They’ll be lucky to make it to top seven.
There is more choice among the men, but the chances of success aren’t much higher. Andrei Griazev, slated for USA and France, is hardly more stable than an old three-legged stool. Andrei Lutai isn’t likely to be much more stable in Japan. In Canada, Vladimir Uspensky and Servei Voronov are up against Stephane Lambiel, Evan Lysacek, Brandon Mroz, and other no less dangerous competitors. Perhaps Voronov can get to the podium even through that crowd. Artem Borodulin will be met in China by Tomas Verner, Jeff Buttle, Daisuke Takahashi, and a trio of no less friend Chinese skaters. So, let’s thank our dancers, as one of them is sure to make it to the finals.
 Shipka is a town in Bulgaria that witnessed a key battle in the Russ-Turkish war of 1877-78
 Russian Figure Skating Association
 Meaning Barantsev
Last edited by Ptichka; 07-09-2008 at 12:08 PM.
This article makes it seems like the master puppeteer "sends" his skaters to various events, rather than the skaters being "selected," either by random draw or by the preference of the host federation and event organizers.
Is Werner saying that Piseev has so much clout in the ISU that he can dictate these matters to the other federations, even when it is to the disadvantage of the host federation's own skaters?
MM, I am not sure about that either. However, I find his explanation for D&S going to Delaware (a decision that, I think, surprised nearly everyone) very plausible.
These is a great read - thanks so much! I need to re-read it more slowly, but I find his explanation of D/S move interesting to say the least; I can't wait to hear/learn more (including how B/A are really fairing with all of this....)
While I don't think it's as simple as whatever a puppet master wants immediately happens in a cut-and-dried, straightforward way, I've become increasingly convinced over the years that EVERY decision in figure skating is political. Savvy federations do just like Werner said and send their skaters to events with an eye to helping them place well or to place where in the scheme TPTB want them to place. Savvy federations also plug for rule changes that will help their skaters by rewarding their strengths and not penalizing their weaknesses.
Originally Posted by Mathman
Federations like USFS worry about front loading events like Skate America for possible short term gains in TV ratings. No matter that we've shot a couple of our best in their respective feet by making it difficult for them to reach the GP final. USFS wants ratings, not a team of skaters with international respect and results, even though the latter might eventually do as much or more for ratings than one good event, with lots of head-to-head matchups, much too early in the season to be more than a vague memory come worlds.
It seems to me that from several of the articles translated here (big thanks to the translators for their hard work!) that at least some europeans are more up front about acknowledging that, yes, this is a political sport. And I don't just mean that national pride can play a part, I mean the federation and coach strategizing we're talking about here.
Has the author actually thought that if one wants the grand prix to work, skaters have to be spread out evenly?
One can't just send all of the worlds top skaters in one event and turn it into a mini world championship and in another event send lower-ranked skaters that won't necessarily attract many spectators.
The grand prix final does have to reflect world standings and not just be the produce of a random draw.
I do admit though that I am a little disappointed that Isabelle & Olivier won't have any real competition in Paris.
^supposed to look like a blade!
Thanks Ptichka as always for your translations!
Interesting read, especially about Domnina/Shabalin.
Also, I think the Kerr's will be interested to know they're English!
I guess "British" would be a better translation. Technically, "English" is the correct translation of Werner's word, but really it is often used for "British" in Russian. I'm going to change it now.
Originally Posted by C_T_T_
[QUOTE=rallycairn;325086] USFS wants ratings, not a team of skaters with international respect and results, even though the latter might eventually do as much or more for ratings than one good event, with lots of head-to-head matchups, much too early in the season to be more than a vague memory come worlds.QUOTE]
I think you've made an important point here, rallycairn. I'm a tennis fan, and the recent highest-quality final match at Wimbledon has had a TV ratings impact already; one article referred to it as a "huge" impact. Figure skating has been losing public interest, and I think that "international respect and results" are very important for it. The tennis article author pointed out that the ratings for tennis expanded globally, due to the quality of the participants, even expanding in the U.S., although neither participant was a U.S. citizen.
It's a small world, after all.
Ptichka, thank you so much for this article; it's a great read. I love some of the descriptive methods, like: "Of course, in comparison to their competitors they are still ponies." lol Can't beat that with a stick.