WHAT WILL THE 2011/2012 SEASON BRING US IN ICE DANCE?

The 2010/2011 season was more memorable than I think any of us had any right to expect. V/M were out, so D/W were expected to cruise to their WC (finally, you hear their many fans say). Unexpectedly close scores with P/B on the GP circuit made that a touch scarier for some (I think most of us expected them to improve more quickly anyway, as they did). Than V/M came back at 4CC, and with their season debut, outscored them in the SD. And they had to WD from the FD!!! Goodness, watching that had my heart in my throat. P/B were cruising to their bronze medal, and then that freak eight point fall (what it ended up costing them) knocked them off, and the Shibs (the Shibs?!?!?) were the beneficiaries. Goodness, there once was a time when ice dancers were expected to wait, and if you were from North America, well, patience was a virtue (sorry). But a North American sweep? On Russian soil? Goodness.

The Kerrs and Faiella/Scali retired. Then the Italians changed their mind (aka, saw the state of European ice dance and said, well, why not us?). The Russian depth seemed to reassert itself a little, particularly on the junior slates (5 or 6 of the JGPF teams were Russian). So here’s the thread to speculate on next season, with some questions, discussions, and maybe even answers.

Russia, oh Russia
The eye is on Sochi. Heading into this season, Ilynikh/Katsalapov were supposed to be elevated to Russian number one status. They were not supposed to fight with Riazanova/Tkachenko for a spot on the Worlds team. They were most definitely not supposed to miss out on a GP medal at their debut. And most assuredly, they weren’t supposed to lose their FD at Nationals to Khoklova/Andreev. They righted many concerns at Euros with two solid skates, but once again, their FD at Worlds was marred with errors (the beginning where Nikita simply freezes, that lift that looks like she’ll decapitate him and then crash to the ground). The coaching debate started instantly, and has proven out. But you’ve gotta wonder if such instant interference (I almost said meddling) in their affairs is beneficial, regardless of any immediate results. This is especially true with this extended season, where the rules about how to train were rewritten due to the unexpected extension. Thankfully, they with Bobrova/Soloviev got back that third spot, so next season the Russian depth will have a bit stronger representation.

O Canada.....
Crone/Poirier? Colleen (and many others) hates their packaging/presentation. Chuck’s called them out for their program choices and lack of chemistry (as have others). KKonas has criticized their lack of power. Meanwhile, Skate Canada gave Lane’s team the full court press heading into the GP season, and in a Voirless season, they had four straight victories over their main competitors, Weaver/Poje. Chinks in the armour (their Nationals victory was quite close, W/P beating them at the GPF/4CC SDs only to fall behind later) were present, but it’s hard not to note that when you have a win rate like C/P does to automatically assume that you were... ahead. And then Worlds happened. W/P outranked C/P. And by nine points, so no mere minor victory (which is bigger than any victory C/P had over W/P this season).

It’s not just that C/P were beaten by W/P for the first time since the 2007/2008 season. It’s because, if you look at C/P’s performance in REAL terms, it’s quite a depressing story (three teams ahead of them at Worlds 2010 weren’t there: Z/Z, F/S, Kerrs. Teams they beat last year, B/S, C/L, beat them this year. Teams they beat on the GP circuit: Shibs, C/Z, W/P... ditto). It would’ve been totally fair for them to challenge for the top five. Instead..... We can forgive the short dance: after all, it’s a new format, and not everyone understands it immediately. My big question: what lessons do C/P (along with Lane) take from this? Because they are myriad.. Because if they don’t learn from this, it’s likely they’ll continue to stagnate... or worse.

And it’s not as if the teams behind them are gonna stay still. W/P are gonna take a huge confidence boost from this (I love Krylova and Weaver’s reactions to the FD score at Worlds), of course, but I’m thinking in particular about Paul/Islam. P/I know what they need to do. And if their improvement from their junior season is any example, they will do it. Indeed, I think it’s pretty much a gimme that they’ll improve much more rapidly than C/P. The question is will a slower improvement by C/P be enough? Next season’s SD doesn’t work to their favour (the rhumba should be slinky. They don’t have a slinky bone in their bodies). I’m very curious and about ready to write them off, if I’m honest.

A cornucopia of riches
Perhaps the worst time to get injured is the first season after the Olympics. Even when the hierarchy is fluid, narratives tend to start within the federations and become hard to dislodge. So, the injury to Samuelson/Bates happened at a bad time. Not only that, but the teams in line (Shibs, C/Z) took advantage of it like nobody’s business. The scoring at Nationals and Worlds clearly demonstrate that the Shibs are the second team, but C/Z actually outperformed what S/B were able to do in their first world appearance, and matched them in their second. But more than that, we don’t know where S/B are in their recovery (his recovery). I wagered, after seeing them at Worlds 09, they were future world champions. Ah, Skate Gods, I smite thee!

Perhaps even worse off is the team of Alessandrini/Vaturi. An extended lift meant they didn’t make the World junior podium in 2010. A fluke fall from Cappellini meant that Italy didn’t get three spots for this season, something I thought was a lock (Skate Gods, I smite thee again!). An injury meant a massive set back this season. Even at Euros, where they were clearly undertrained, they demonstrated creativity, verve and some exciting movies (that straight-line lift... jaw dropping). They’re more than a journeyman team, and I would love it if they got some more admiration. Hopefully, next season F/S and C/L combine to get three spots so we get to see more of them

The Canton Quartet vs the Rest
You know, according to COP, the hardest program TES wise has already been done. And it’s done every season or two. Generally, a team is able to do a straight level four program. W/P did it at 4CC with their SD. I/K did it last season, as did D/W, with their FDs. This is a roundabout way of saying that “perfection” in ice dance is more easily definable and attainable than it is in other disciplines. The Canton quartet are staring down at that goal right now.

One judge at Moscow gave D/W straight threes for all their technical elements (the first time that’s happened, I’m sure). Four judges gave them at least one ten. One judge gave V/M four tens (and there was no Canadian judge on the panel). V/M scored the highest PCS ever at Worlds 2010 (note: Navka/Kostamorov had higher TCS at Cup of Russia 2003, but that was under different factoring. A direct comparison of the scores has V/M and D/W both outscoring them). Part of me thinks that the ground left to cover (literally a few tenths of a point to perfection in any given component-score, and overall just over two points) is obviously going to be difficult. Getting all the judges to give them tens in PCS... well, you can’t politick to perfection. So even if they improve, their scores won’t.

But... the scores didn’t close that much from last year to this year. If we presume that V/M would’ve been closer to D/W if healthy and use that score as a benchmark, the difference with the top two teams as compared to the rest shrunk (27 points last season, 22 points this season), and considering that the two teams had a three-four point advantage from the CD negated, that’s a small change.

I guess my question is (a) will anyone challenge them over the next few years and (b) who? If P/B skate beyond 11/12, I’ll be surprised – though they are talking about gunning for Sochi, fwiw (and also, I doubt they’d be able to catch to the quartet that basically surpassed them as soon as they appeared). The Russian contingent seems to be fighting amongst themselves – I thought Bobrova/Soloviev would’ve made a bigger leap forward this season (I also really like them). Maybe the Shibutanis? On the one hand, fluke medals tend not to repeat themselves (and may trigger a backlash), but they certainly asserted themselves in a big way this season. Of course, when you realize just how young the Canton quartet actually are and think that they could (possible/maybe) dominate until Sochi.... wow.