Still reeling from the last-minute loss of the 2000 World Championships, Australia hosted its first major international figure skating event at the 2001 Goodwill Games. Traditionally held in late July or early August, the Goodwill Games’ September event dates resulted in more skaters electing to debut new programs, programs which will carry many of them to the Olympic games in February.
World Champion Evgeny Plushenko began the season in top form, skating two near-flawless performances with three quadruple jumps in all. Like many competitors at the Goodwill Games, Plushenko chose to debut his new short program while retaining last year’s free skate. He and coach Alexei Mishin have kept the music under wraps, but expect to see a new free skate at Nations Cup in mid-November.
Returning from a fall from a grace (and the U.S. and world podiums) last season, former U.S. Champion Michael Weiss stayed on his feet throughout two new programs in order to take the silver medal. Two-footing the all-important quadruple toe loop remains the biggest problem for Weiss, who otherwise kept mistakes and deductions to a minimum.
Russia’s Alexei Yagudin, now smoke-free and fresh off an 18-lb. weight loss, struggled throughout the competition. During the short program, Yagudin crashed into the boards on a quad toe-triple toe attempt. Despite two more errors and nearly a full point in deductions, Yagudin placed a generous third in the short program. Although he mathematically was still in the running for the gold, misses on the two quad attempts at the beginning of last year’s “Gladiator” free skate sealed the fate for the former three-time World Champion, who remained in third place overall.
Australia’s Anthony Liu thrilled the crowd and achieved a personal best by finishing fourth with quadruple toe loop-double toe loop combinations in both programs. While the rest of Liu’s skating is generally of a high caliber, the lack of a consistent triple Axel will continue to prevent him from rising into the world’s top five.
In the much anticipated women’s event, Russia’s Irina Slutskaya defeated U.S. and World Champion Michelle Kwan by astronomical proportions, winning every judge in both programs and even a majority of the judges on the presentation mark– Kwan’s forte. Though the Olympics are still five months away, Slutskaya skated a program with only marginally less content than one would expect from the Olympic gold medalist in February.
Kwan, on the other hand, was uninspiring with her debut of “Scheherazade.” Landing only four clean triple jumps, the base difficulty of Kwan’s program is average at best. As more of her competitors like Sasha Cohen and Fumie Suguri add new and more difficult triple-triple combinations to their repertoires, Kwan may be forced to try the triple salchow-triple loop combination that she has practiced off and on for the past two years.
Japan’s Fumie Suguri defeated American Sasha Cohen for the bronze medal. Suguri’s comparative lack of sophistication showed at times during her program to “Moonlight Sonata,” but three of Cohen’s six completed triple jumps were landed on two feet. The third American, Angela Nikodinov, withdrew after the short program due to pink eye.
Russia’s Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze won the pairs event with last year’s free to skate to “City Lights,” a program that they are considering keeping for the Olympics. Dorota Zagorska and Marius Siudek of Poland edged out Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze’s teammates, Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov, for second on a 4-3 judging split.
Russia also took home the gold in the dance event, where Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh dominated throughout. Americans Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev challenged Israel’s Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovsky for second place in the original dance, but a series of mistakes at the end of the free dance dropped the Americans to a disappointing fourth overall.