Reigning World Champions Irina Lobacheva and Ilia Averbukh confirmed their roles as leaders in the sport by dancing to the Gold relatively easily. However, their main rivals for the gold in Washington, Canadians Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz, were not present. Lobacheva and Averbukh’s Original Dance (OD) looked even more polished than at Europeans, and the overall impression was strong. They skated last year’s “Time for Peace” in the evening of the first day. The dramatic program featured fast footwork and impressive lifts. The funny Rock ‘n’ Roll routine on the next day was quite a contrast to this piece. The dancers looked a bit tired and didn’t sparkle as much as they did in Malmö at Europeans. The program included interesting lifts and intricate footwork and earned them their first gold medal in the Grand Prix Final, but it could have done better.
Their teammates and European bronze medalists Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov skated well throughout the event, but their placement ahead of Bulgaria’s Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski was questionable. Navka and Kostomarov’s OD contains excellent choreography in the Waltz part, but the March is too militaristic and has not much to do with the “Grand Ball” theme. Navka and Kostomarov’s first Free Dance (FD) was set to songs by Michael Jackson and George Benson. It was last year’s program, and while it was nice to watch, it is technically not very demanding. The same goes for the current FD “The Feeling Begins” from Passion by Peter Gabriel, although the degree of difficulty has improved, and Kostomarov’s skating has progressed as well.
Denkova and Staviski presented their OD to “Marche pour le ceremonie de Turques” in beautiful new Barock costumes that matched the character of the dance perfectly. The whole program is a piece of art, highlighted by the unusual and difficult side-by-side footwork with mirror-moves and their dance spin. The European silver medalists went back to last year’s “O” from Cirque du Soleil for their first FD. The program looked very confident and smooth. On the next day, the Bulgarians skated their FD to “Afrah Baladi” better than ever this season. The interesting program featured demanding footwork as well as strong lifts such as a change of edge lift in a spread eagle position and a lift out of a small spin. Their performances should have earned them the second place, but they were third.
Ukrainians Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov finished fourth. Their classical OD to Waltz and Polka by Johann Strauss is characteristic, but their edges could be cleaner. The husband and wife team selected a completely redone version of their 2000 FD “Spente le Stelle” for the first night. The program looked somewhat raw and unpolished, which is no wonder as they skated it for the first time in competition. Their FD to “Quixote” starts off strongly with a lot of footwork, but at the end it always seems to fade. The music is still fast and powerful whereas the skaters slow down. Goncharov can be criticized for a lot of two-footed skating, but this also applies for many other (male) dancers.
World bronze medalists Galit Chait and Sergei Sakhnovski didn’t qualify for the GP Final originally, due to a tie breaker. They came to St. Petersburg as the replacements of Kati Winkler and René Lohse who had to withdraw a few days prior to the event. Winkler had caught a bad flu and did not recover in time. Chait and Sakhnovski were not able to beat the couples that have surpassed them this season and came in fifth. Their strong points in all three programs were their dynamic and their lifts. They skated their first FD to “Variations on the Theme of Paganini” and their second to “Lord of the Rings and Lord of the Dance”.
In their third GP Final, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon of Canada, finished again sixth. This team shows a lot of impressive lifts and has “quiet blades,” but they need to spice up their footwork.
Sasha Cohen made it to the GP Final for the first time in her career and won the whole thing right away. It was an exciting duel between her and World Champion Irina Slutskaya. Cohen won the Short Program (SP) ahead of Slutskaya. Both programs were clean, but Slutskaya’s combination was wobbly. She came back much stronger in the first FS and pulled out an excellent performance to “Tosca”. The Russian landed six triples (including a triple Lutz-double loop and a triple Salchow-double loop-half loop-double Salchow combination) and performed excellent spins. Cohen wasn’t bad either, but she fell on the triple loop and landed the Salchow on forward. Her spins and spirals stood out, but it wasn’t enough to beat Slutskaya. On the second day, things were a bit different. Slutskaya completed five triples, but her second Lutz and the Salchow were just doubles. Cohen also made a mistake, singling the loop, but the 18-year-old showed two triple Lutzes (one with double toe) and four more triples as well as fast, well centered spins. She did not risk a triple-triple combination, but she prevailed over Slutskaya.
The bronze medal went to Viktoria Volchkova. The Russian produced a clean SP, but looked tired in her first FP “Air” by Bach and Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”. She also stepped out of the triple loop. The 20-year-old had more energy on Saturday in her program to “Tara’s Theme,” but she struggled again with the loop (step out) and the flip (double). She was ranked fourth in the second FS, but remained in third overall.
Shizuka Arakawa of Japan moved up from 6th in the SP to 4th in the final result. She landed a triple toe-triple toe in the first FS and a triple Lutz-triple toe in the second program, but the toe was cheated. Elena Liashenko finished fifth. Her SP was excellent, but the Ukrainians made mistakes on the loop and the second Lutz in both Free Programs. Japan’s Fumie Suguri made several errors in all three parts of the competition to finish sixth.
Evgeni Plushenko skated to the gold without showing any weaknesses. He surely looked like the absolute top contender for Worlds in Washington. The 20-year-old took the lead with a strong SP that contained eight clean elements (including the quad-triple toeloop combination). The routine to Tomasini Albinoni’s “Adagio” looked softer and smoother. Plushenko chose “Carmen,” his Olympic program, for the first evening. He impressed with a quad-triple toe combination and six triple jumps (including a rare triple Axel-half loop-triple flip combination) as well as with fast footwork. He felt that his legs were a bit “shaky,” but watching him, you’d never have guessed! Plushenko proved his artistic progress in his second program “St. Petersburg 300” by Igor Korniliuk. He was always with the music. The choreography and the elements formed a unity that looked polished and rounded. The three-time European Champion hit a quad-triple toe-triple loop combination and six triples followed. The footwork was demanding, but maybe a bit short as Plushenko starts not at the boards. The judges were obviously impressed, awarding him six perfect 6.0s for presentation.
Ilia Klimkin took the silver somewhat unexpectedly. The Muscovite is getting more consistent and has innovative routines with a lot of linking elements. Klimkin’s quad-double toe combination and his triple Axel were shaky, but he stayed ahead of Alexander Abt, who two-footed both the quad and the Axel. Skating to “Sunny Boy” by Rene Aubry in his first FS, Klimkin landed a triple Axel-triple toe but fell on both quad attempts and on a triple loop (that he repeated later successfully). It was surprising that he fended off Abt, who two-footed some jumps but at least didn’t fall. However, Klimkin’s second place on the next day wasn’t questionable. He produced seven triples, but no quad, but the quality of his spins and technical transitions were superior to those of Brian Joubert from France, who landed one quad toeloop. The 22-year-old presented a completely new program to “Dr. Diesel” that he might use for Worlds.
Joubert took the bronze with his “The Untouchables” routine that contained also two triple Axels and three more triples. He only missed his second quad attempt and the Lutz. Joubert was in fourth before. He fell on the triple Axel in the SP and stumbled on the quad toe and the Axel in the first FS. Abt slipped to fourth. He two-footed the quad toe (in combination with double toe), the first Axel and doubled the loop, but his spins were good, and he landed five triples. The judges really hit him hard for two-footing.
Chengjiang Li of China placed fifth. He looked very shaky on the first day and made several mistakes. The 2001 Four Continents Champion came back stronger the next day and landed most of his elements, including a quad-triple toeloop. Min Zhang of China was a last minute replacement for Japan’s Takeshi Honda, who withdrew due to injury. He wasn’t really prepared for the Final and arrived only the evening before the competition started. He still managed to pull off three quads on the second day and finished sixth.
Tatiana Totmianina and Maxim Marinin celebrated what was probably their most important success so far. They took the title and beat reigning World Champions Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao for the first time. The Chinese weren’t in top shape, though.
The Russian team won the SP with an excellent performance and never relinquished their lead. Shen and Zhao messed up their side-by-side spin in the SP. They also had some trouble in their first FS to “Spirit of Spring”. Zhao fell on the first triple toe, and the landing of the second toe was weak. Later he also aborted a lift. Totmianina and Marinin, on the other hand, delivered a perfect performance of their “Westside Story” program. The side-by-side triple Salchow and toeloop, their beautiful throws and their spins all looked effortless. The two-time European Champions made only one mistake in their FS to “Cotton Club” when Marinin stepped out of the triple toeloop. Shen and Zhao weren’t quite as convincing. She fell on the triple toe and two-footed the throw triple loop. The Chinese produced a high triple twist and throw triple Salchow as well as a double Axel out of a spread eagle position to take the silver.
Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov took the bronze with solid performances. However, they did not land clean side-by-side triple toes together in the event. He doubled in the SP and the second FS, she fell on it in the first FS. But the other elements looked good, and their lifts were stronger than those of the top two The Russian team used a new version of last year’s “Chess” program that suited them very well. Julia Obertas and Alexei Sokolov came close to the top three, especially in their first FS to the soundtracks of “Spirit Wind” and “Pearl Harbor”. The performance was flawless, the unison on the side-by-side triple toeloop and the spin was remarkable. The Russian struggled with their solo jumps in the second FS, but overall they were pleased with what they accomplished in their first GP Final.
Poland’s Dorota Zagorska and Mariusz Siudek came in fifth. Their side-by-side jumps were their weakness in both Free Programs, and Zagorska wasn’t able to land the throw triple loop and Salchow cleanly in the second FS. Anabelle Langlois and Patrice Archetto of Canada produced a clean SP, but they missed the triple twist and she fell on the throw triple toe. There were a few minor errors in the second FS to “Tosca”, but the lifts were strong.