Finlandia Trophy is a rather popular fall competition in the friendly city of Helsinki and took place from October 10 to 12. For the first time, it featured all four categories. The pairs discipline is usually left out as Finland doesn’t have a tradition in pair skating. Last year, pairs replaced ice dancing because of a judges’ seminary that was held in Helsinki. This year, the organizers decided to invite single skaters, pairs and ice dancers.
Reigning World bronze medalists Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviski of Bulgaria were the uncontested leaders of the ice dance field at Finlandia Trophy. For them, this competition was a welcome warm-up before the Grand Prix events. They dominated the event easily, of course. There were some minor glitches in their performances, but nothing serious, and their programs looked ready although it is still very early in the season.
The Bulgarians put out a solid Austrian Waltz, but they could have done it better. They lost some momentum towards the end of the dance. For their Original Dance (OD), they used It’s a Man’s Mans’s World by James Brown and Big and Bad by Big Bad Voodo Daddy (Swing music) as their rhythms. The blues portion of the OD featured a spin in a difficult low position and was interpreted in an excellent manner. The side-by-side footwork line to Swing music looked somewhat out of control at the end, but contained a lot of twizzles in both directions. The Free Dance (FD) to Georg Friedrich Händel’s Suite in D-minor was lovely to watch and included many innovative lifts and moves such as a serpentine lift with changes of position for her and him. Staviski was too hasty in the twizzle series, but didn’t miss them. One element lead to the next, and there was no pause. The judges awarded marks from 5.4 to 5.7 for technical merit and from 5.6 to 5.8 for presentation.
Russia’s Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin came in second and claimed their first medal at an international senior event. Their Compulsory Dance (CD) was a bit scratchy, the OD (Blues and Boogie Woogie) looked too nervous, and the footwork could have been more demanding. However, the young couple put out a good performance of their FD to a modern, Tango-like version of “Four Seasons”. They looked cautious in some moves like the serpentine lift, but overall left a good impression.
Great Britain’s Pamela O’Connor and Jonathan O’Dougherty took the bronze medal, the fourth medal at an international competition for them. The couple proved solid basic skills in all three phases of the competition. Their OD contained a nice Swing part, but O’Dougherty fell in the final pose of the program! The British danced to a selection from the “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack in the FD. The first set of twizzles was out of sync, and the first rotational lift was wobbly, but the other elements were fine.
The Polish team of Alexandra Kauc and Michal Zych finished fourth. They definitely have improved since the last event, but overall lacked the difficulty of the others in order to medal in Helsinki.
Only six pairs competed at this event. This may be due in part to the fact that not everyone knows this competition now includes the pair discipline.
Canada’s Utako Wakamatsu and Jean-Sebastien Fecteau took their second win in what was their second international competition. The team from Montreal stood in second following the short program after she fell out of the backward-outside death spiral. Wakamatsu, a former single skater from Japan, has only been skating pairs since the spring of 2002 and probably still struggles with this difficult death spiral. The side-by-side triple toeloops were far apart, but clean. The double twist was ok, but she barely hung on to the throw triple Salchow. The team impressed with a nice lift, proving that lifts are usually a strong point for Canadian pairs!
In the Long Program (LP) to a piano concerto by Sergei Rakhmaninov, Wakamatsu and Fecteau had some trouble unfortunaly. They started with a triple twist, but then Wakamatsu touched down with her hand on the throw triple Salchow, and both two-footed the landing of the side-by-side triple toeloop. Fecteau fell on the following double Axel and later on the triple Salchow where she put down both hands. The lifts were strong, and the forward-inside death spiral posed no problem. It still was enough to move up one spot as the other pairs made mistakes as well.
Wakamatsu and Fecteau’s team and practice mates, Pascale Bergeron and Rob Davidson claimed the silver medal. They finished third in the short program when he missed the side-by-side triple toeloop, but their throw triple loop was excellent. Skating to The Planets by Gustav Holst for the LP, the Canadians started with a triple twist. She under rotated the side-by side-triple toe while he doubled, but the Lasso lift and a hand-to-hip lift with changes of position were strong. Bergeron stumbled on the throw triple loop, but landed the throw triple Salchow.
Marcy Hinzman and Aaron Parchem of the USA took the lead in the short program to Tosca with a solid performance that included side-by side-triple toeloops, a double twist, a good throw triple loop and a hand-to-hand lift with changes of position. The Americans have been skating as a team only for a few months, which became more apparent in the free program to music from the Titanic. They did a double twist (they don’t have a triple twist yet), then she doubled the side-by side-toeloop, but both triple throws (loop and Salchow) were good. They looked like they had a chance of holding onto first place at this point of the program, but then they stumbled on the exit of a lift and she fell on the double flip (in a sequence with double toe).
The remaining three pairs’ standard was much lower. Still, the Bulgarian pairs team of Rumiana Spassova and Stanimir Todorov deserves to be mentioned as they are the first Bulgarian pair skaters to compete in an international event in a long time. She is only 14 and he is 21, so they look more like big brother and small sister out on the ice. They impressed with a high double twist.
To the delight of the home crowd, Susanna Pöykiö of Finland won the Ladies competition. The defending champion put out two very convincing performances to claim the title for the second time. Pöykiö was one of the few to skate a clean short program, but she almost went into the boards in her triple Lutz/double toeloop combination. The two-time National Champion had to skate last in the LP and delivered the highlight of the Ladies’ event. Her program to George Gershwin’s Concerto in F Minor featured five triple jumps. She only doubled a flip but repeated it as a triple later in the program. The double Axel was low and scratchy, but everything else was done with confidence. The program is a good vehicle for the skater with her quiet elegance.
Pöykiö’s teammate, Alisa Drei, pulled up from fifth to second to claim the silver medal. In the new short program to Kismet by Bond, the Russian-born skater doubled her Lutz in the combination and fell on nothing while setting up for the triple loop (which she hit). She stumbled later on in her performance (which she later attributed to nervousness). We saw a different Alisa Drei in the free skating to Adagio by Albinoni. The reigning National Champion hit her opening triple Lutz and triple/double toeloop combination as well as a nice triple loop, triple Salchow and double Axel. She only stumbled out of the under rotated loop in her attempted triple Salchow-triple loop combination and fell on the triple flip. It appeared that she lacked speed in her overall performance.
The surprise winner of the bronze medal was Miriam Manzano of Australia, who stood in fourth place following the short program. She produced a triple Lutz/double toeloop combination in the short, but she missed her flip and the combination spin was wobbly. Performing to The Nights in the Gardens of Spain, Manzano delivered one of her best free skates up to date. The oldest competitor in the Ladies’ field landed six triple jumps, she only doubled the loop, and her spins could have been more creative.
Italy’s Carolina Kostner, who came as one of the favorites to this event, wasn’t in top shape. She struggled with her triple Lutz throughout the event, falling on it in the short and popping it in the free program. She also ran out of energy towards the end of her program and slipped from second to fourth in the final standings.
USA’s Angela Nikodinov had a disastrous short program, missing all jump elements. She looked like she gave up after she doubled her Lutz. The American doubled all her jumps in the free skate and remained in 11th place. Nikodinov underwent shoulder surgery in January and was off the ice for seven months. She started training again only a short time before this event and it wasn’t surprising that she is not yet consistent.
Romania’s Gheorge Chiper won the free skate to claim the second international title of his career. Chiper, who lives and trains in Switzerland, was ranked second in the short program after he fell on his quad toe attempt and turned out of his triple Axel. He also stumbled in the footwork. The program Maroccanian Spirit was nice to watch, though. Chiper kept last year’s free skate to The Groove Maker and Triangle. He nailed an effortless looking quadruple toeloop right at the beginning of the program – his first in competition. From there, it went almost perfect. The 25-year-old landed two triple Axels, a triple flip/triple toeloop combination (but two-footed the toe) as well as a triple loop and nice Salchow out of footwork. He fell on the triple lutz and stepped out of his solo triple flip. Spins aren’t his strong point, but they were decent, and he sold the program to French-style music well.
Johnny Weir of the USA, who was in the lead after the short, was one of only two skaters to skate a more or less clean short program. (The other was Przemyslaw Domanski from Poland). The American pulled off a triple Lutz-triple toeloop combination and a scratchy triple Axel in his routine to Valse Triste. His spins were the best in the field. That goes as well for the long program to music from the Dr. Zhivago soundtrack. It appeared that Weir was on his road to the gold when he hit his triple Axel-triple toeloop, triple Salchow and second triple Axel, but then he popped the Lutz. The 2001 World Junior Champion recovered to land a triple flip and triple toe, but his loop was a double only. The marks were close, but it was a 6:1 decision for Chiper.
Sweden’s Kristoffer Berntsson won the bronze medal, which came as a surprise not only to him. The Swede struggled in the short program with the triple Axel and he barely held on to the landing of his triple Lutz/triple toeloop combo. Berntsson was in fifth after the short program. Berntsson skated next to last in the long program. He put down his hand on the opening triple Axel and stepped out of the triple flip in combination with the triple loop. He also two-footed his triple Lutz and second triple Axel (with double toe), but he managed a good triple Salchow. He obviously benefited from the mistakes of his competitors, moving up to third place.