When the organizers of the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships decided to put the Ice Dance final first, their goal most likely was to ensure that the event would begin on a high note for the host country as Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat were France’s best hope for a World Championships medal.
What they accomplished, however, was putting pressure on the representatives of the other three figure skating disciplines to match the sheer intensity and excitement of the first final.
The event was full of sparkling happiness and personal tragedy, a theatrical modern dance and a youthful prayer, capped by a reminiscence of Hollywood’s finest. Each of the five performances in the final flight kept the audience at the edge of their seats, and the final rankings matched most of the predictions—a poor reflection of the suspense of watching the competition unfold in real time.
Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won their second World title, while the defending World Champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA) had to settle for silver. Home favorites Pechalat and Bourzat took the bronze—their first World Championships medal.
Needless to say, all dances by the leading teams were superbly choreographed, well thought out, and all required elements were delivered without any glitches. The difference was in the nuances of interpretation and personal preferences for certain styles.
Virtue and Moir did not take an easy road in their first full competitive season since the Olympic Games in Vancouver. Much like their Latin free dance last season, their choice for an adaptation of the movie Funny Face put them into a difficult position. In order to stay true to the theme, they had to go against the natural flow of an ice dancer’s movements.
The Olympic Champions were up to the challenge, though. They adjusted to a more compact style of movement dictated by the music, and brushed their acting skills up to play the characters. While the team received only a level three in one step sequence, they picked up nine perfect 10.0 scores for performance, choreography, and interpretation of the dance. They won the free skate with 110.34 points and the event overall with a total score of 182.65 points.
Virtue and Moir, however, were not as enchanted with their performance.
“To be honest it wasn’t the best we’ve skated this program this season,” said Virtue, “but that’s why we train and got all the mileage on the program we can rely on, even if we didn’t feel 100 percent. It’s great to get the victory. We’re thrilled with our season.”
“It wasn’t a magical skate,” agreed Moir. “We kind of had to fight through the elements and really rely on our training. We feel good, though. It was a pretty good skating tonight and we had very strong elements. We definitely need to fight more for the program. I think this season, we really appreciate that we could perform like that. Overall we are happy, we did a great competition.”
“It will be interesting to look back on the tape,” added Virtue. “It didn’t come as naturally as I think it has in the past, and maybe as easy as it felt in training. Maybe those were just little bobbles that I felt or that maybe we felt between the two of us and people didn’t notice. Overall, like Scott said, this is why we train and it’s nice to have that to rely on so that we’re not worrying about executing elements and we’re still getting into character and the program is still building.”
“I still think it was a step forward from the rest of the season,” Virtue summed up. “We did fight a little bit for it. When you are envisioning the program at a World Championships, it is not always a fight.”
The 2011 World Championship silver medalists said that recapturing the World title was not the best part of the season for them.
“The sweetest part of the season was the ability to train to all our potential,” explained Moir. “That was our big reward this year, enjoying the training, and we did. I think Tessa shows a little of what kind of perfectionist she is when she is not happy with a skate like that. It was still great, just little bobbles that only we can feel.”
The students of Igor Shpilband and Marina Zouva believe that the sport of ice dancing has moved on since the times then the Russians dominated it, but they could still benefit from working with those who have a Russian ice dancing school background.
“My coaches are Canadian and American, but were from Russia at one time,” stated Moir. “Obviously they have that Russian background and that was a big reason for why we went to them seven or eight years ago. I think the sport has changed since Russia was dominating it, especially in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, and it’s more the vision now at this point of our career. The technical aspect of the Russian coaching helps a lot, but it is more about vision. I think we are excited about the vision that Marina and Igor have for us for the next couple of years. We’re lucky to have them.”
In contrast to their training mates, Davis and White opted to set their free dance to Strauss’ Die Fledermaus Overture. The floating notes of the music are a near perfect match for the glide of a skating blade over the ice. The engaging rhythm and memorable melodies of the famous operetta can add luster to any performance, and when the those tunes are interpreted by skaters who need no such enhancements, the overall effect is stunning.
It is hard to say which parts of the Americans’ performance elicited louder response from the audience: required elements, which were set perfectly to the musical highlights and performed with abandon, or the playful interludes in between. Either way, the skaters had the audience in the palms of their hands right from the beginning. The technical panel, however, gave both of their step sequences level three, and they finished second in the free dance (107.64) and overall (178.62).
“Charlie and I felt really good with what we are able to spill out these two days and this week,” said Davis. “Obviously we were a little disappointed coming in second, but what’s more I think is that we feel really good about both of our performances. I think we went through a lot this year and this competition. We are really pleased with ourselves and we’d like to thank the French audience for being absolutely amazing.”
“We’re a little disappointed because we felt we skated our season best performance and we wanted our season best scores at worlds,” added White, “but we skated our hearts out and left it all on the ice today. We don’t know where the discrepancy was in the judges eyes. Of course we want to get feedback from the competition. Like Meryl said, we were aiming for first, but we are proud of the way we skated. Despite the discrepancy in points, we are going home really pleased, and will find out what the judges want us to improve on. This is our next step: to win the World Championships next year.”
The team, who won the first ever World Championships title for the USA last season, said that they found it easier to skate now.
“Last year, we put more pressure on ourselves,” explained White. “We sort of felt the U.S. was behind us to try and really get that first World Championship. Having gotten that out of the way, we just had the confidence to believe in ourselves and our training. It was definitely a little easier this year, a little less stressful.”
The Americans have mixed feeling about having skated this season’s dances for the last time.
“At the end of the season, if you have programs that you really love and are able to grow, it it is kind of sad to see them go,” explained Davis, “but we’ve had programs like that before. Throughout our career we’ve learned how great an experience it is to create new things and take new directions to see where you can improve. I think we’re very excited to see what we’ll come up with next year.”
Unlike the two North American teams, Pechalat and Bourzat have a history of making mistakes under pressure—most recently at last season’s World Championships. Therefore, the French were understandably cautious during their performance, making certain that they gave the judges no reason to mark them down.
Fortunately, their Mummy and Pharaoh free dance, which relies more on intricate connecting moves than on strong emotions, worked well with this kind of restraint. The audience fully shared their desire to avoid making mistakes, and supported them throughout the entire routine. The team earned 104.05 points for the free dance and 173.18 overall to win their first ever World Championships medal.
“We are very satisfied with this performance,” said Bourzat. “We did our very best and could finally show our level, the one we have in practice. I was more nervous than yesterday, but I pushed until the end. Our practice was good all week and this performance was the top of it.”
“We were really stressed tonight,” revealed Pechalat, “but our performance was good. Sometimes it was hard to hear the music because the audience was so loud, but they gave us energy. It was a good experience, and it was a very good way to win our first world medal.”
With the goals for the season accomplished, Pechalat can now take here of her health.
“Two weeks ago, Fabian broke my nose during the practice,” she explained. “Now we are going to see the doctors and see if I need to do surgery. However, these two weeks of practice were quite hard. We changed some elements [so that we wouldn’t] hurt the nose.”
“There were some things we couldn’t do, like spins, lifts, or the acrobatics,” Pechalat continued, “but wanted to be sure that I could compete in the championships. We just slowed down a little bit, but we used to have some rough moments. It’s not the first, and it’s not the last one. It was more difficult for Fabian, because I know what I can do. He skated two days keeping his hands close to himself.”
The former students of Alexander Zhulin, who trained in Russia for three seasons, also believe that representatives of the Russian skating school still has a lot to share with other ice dancers.
“As you know, we moved to Russia three years ago to learn their way to skate because it was something that we missed,” said Bourzat. “Moving to Angelika Krylova and Pasquale Camerlengo worked for us. They are crazy workers. They are asking you to skate, and they make you do something until you cannot do it anymore. I think it is the only way to be sure in elements, to be ready to go under any circumstances and do your job. I really enjoy working with Russian coaches. They were on top of figure skating for a long time, and it’s not by chance. We have a lot to learn from them.”
Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, another team with Russian coaches, finished fourth in Nice. Skating to the famous Je Suis Malade ballad, they held nothing back in their performance. At the end, the audience was on their feet and their coach, Angelika Krylova, was in tears. They earned 100.18 points for the dance and 166.65 in total.
“It was just amazing,” said Weaver. “Exactly what we wanted to show, both from the emotions and the technique. Our biggest fear actually was to screw up skating to a French song in front of the French audience, but it was great. I cut my knee on the lift. The ice was really rough out there.”
The best Russian team at the event were the 2010 World Junior Champions Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov. The team, whom many had proclaimed the best hope of Russian ice dancing after their stellar season in Juniors, had a shaky start to this season. In Nice, however, the students of Nikolai Morozov were indisputably the best Russian duo.
Despite the very high level of the final flight in the free dance, their routine to Ave Maria did not look out of place. The 2012 European bronze medalists earned 95.66 points for the free dance and 161.00 overall.
“It wasn’t easy to skate after the French couple,” admitted Ilinykh. “The audience supported them so much. It is understandable as it is their home competition, but we had to wait for our turn for a long time. Otherwise it was very nice to skate today.”
Finishing first among the Russian teams gave the young team a boost of confidence.
“I think now we feel that we can compete, not only with Russian couples, but also with more serious rivals,” said Katsalapov. “We wanted to prove this at this competition, and I think we did. Now we will have new goals, new horizons, and it will be better and better from now on, I am sure.”
“I think we met some 90 percent of our goals for the competition,” he continued, “but the remaining 10 percent maybe are the most important. We know what we need to work on, we know our weak sides. We will work more on our physical condition. I don’t say we are weak, but we need to skate our programs more and more.”
Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca LaNotte achieved their career-best with a sixth-place finish (160.62). The team, who used to train in Lyon, France, moved back to Italy last year, and their free dance this season is set to the music from the famous Italian movie La Strada. The 2012 National Champions capitalized on their great lines and even better acting skills to put together a very touching and unencumbered performance. They earned 95.51 points for the free dance, and seem to be well on track to securing a place in the world’s ice dancing elite.
“I’m definitely happy with today’s performance,” said Cappellini, “although it could be better in terms of power and speed. We are focusing on interpretation and we have achieved what we were focusing on. We learned a lot from today’s result. There are things to improve still, especially skating skills and interpretation.”
After the clarity of the Italians’ routine, Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev’s free dance to Faust looked a bit too much on all counts. Despite not making any major mistakes, the students of Svetlana Alexeeva only earned a level two for one of the lifts and one of the step sequences. Even the quality of the 2012 European silver medalists’ basic skating skills was not enough to let them finish higher than a distant seventh (150.75).
“I was really angry, mostly with myself,” said Bobrova regarding a fall in the short dance yesterday. “I don’t even remember if I ever was so angry during the competition before. Now I think that I need to remember this feeling. It helped me to gather myself together. I was totally in control of myself. Nothing bothered me. I felt my partner, I felt the ice, I felt the music. When we finished skating, I thought that I didn’t have any thoughts during the performance about being tired.”
“We analyze all our competitions, so this one also will give us something,” she summed up. “We haven’t thought yet about future plans. We’ll have to rest for a couple of days, and then we’ll see.”
USA’s Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani slipped to eighth place (144.72) after Alex fell out of a twizzle sequence.
“I can’t explain my mistake on the twizzles today,” said the skater.”Obviously we’re very disappointed with this skate, but we’ve faced new challenges and stuck together for a long season, and we’re going to be around for a while.”
Russia’s Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko (144.43) and USA’s Madison Hubble and Zachary Donohue (143.95) round up the top ten.