Home Figure Skating News Fear and Gibson edge out Italians for NHK Trophy gold

Fear and Gibson edge out Italians for NHK Trophy gold

by Paula Slater
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Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson

Great Britain’s Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson won their first Grand Prix gold medal at 2023 NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan, on November25, 2023.

2023 NHK Trophy: Ice Dance

Great Britain’s Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson edged out Italians Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri for NHK Trophy gold on Saturday in Osaka, Japan. Allison Reed and Saulius Ambrulevicius of Lithuania pocketed their second consecutive Grand Prix bronze at this event. The top two teams have now qualified for the Grand Prix Final in Beijing.

Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson

Fear and Lewis, the 2023 Skate Canada silver medalists, placed second in the rhythm dance with a new season’s best of 84.93. Their energetic and spirited routine to “Sweet Dreams” featured their level-four twizzles and rotational lift and very good level-three midline and pattern steps. All elements were rewarded with high grades of execution (GOE).

“We are both happy with our performance and will continue to build our program,” said Gibson. “It was great to skate in front of such a warm audience.”

Fear said Japan is their favorite place to compete.

“I am still shaking; the energy was so electric!” she said. “Our objective for this season is to work on skating skills. Also, on turns and improve our technical strength.”

Fear also relayed that they want the crowd to feel their love for skating and “see what a great sport figure skating is.”

“For us a big project this season has been skating skills,” she added. “I think that every competition is a great opportunity to put that to the test and to allow the program and performances to grow and expand. Turns have been a big focus for us over the past few weeks, just building that consistency, that technical strength. And I’m really proud that we implemented that today.”

“Sweet dreams” is the fifth version of their rhythm dance this season. They considered skating to music by Wham or “Take On Me,” by A-ha, but found it difficult to find matching pieces. They also feel the gloves of their costumes are a little distracting and annoying, but “worth it.”

The 2023 European silver medalists gave an uplifting and crowd-pleasing performance to Rocky, earning a new personal best of 130.26 for first place in the free dance. They produced level-four twizzles, dance spin and lifts. Fear picked up a level four for the diagonal steps while Gibson received a three. The one-foot steps were graded a level three for both ice dancers. Their total score of 219.19 was also a personal best, and enough to edge out the Italians for their Grand Prix gold medal.

“I am in shock right now!” said Fear. “Lewis and I are over the moon! Reaching the 130 points in the free dance is somehow also seen as a milestone. It’s amazing to have reached that right now. We’ve been skating together for so long and it feels amazing to experiment this moment with Lewis on my side.”

“Our strength is to be fun and a little different,” she added. “We want to show our personality and we believe in the story of ‘Rocky.'”

“I can’t put it into words right now,” said Gibson. “We worked for this moment; it is a dream come true. With our programs, we want to have fun out there and push the sport forward. We want to get more fans and people involved in the sport.”

Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri

2023 Grand Prix de France champions Guignard and Fabbri immediately engaged the crowd with their rhythm dance to “Holding out for a Hero” and “Against All Odds.” However, they lost two levels on their pattern steps since their outing in Angers, France. The midline steps were also graded a three and two, where they were a level four at the Grand Prix two weeks ago. However, the level-four twizzles were very strong, earning high GOEs, as did the level-four straightline lift. They scored 85.27 for first place going into the free dance.

“We felt very good today, similar as in France,” said Fabbri. “We got a bit of a lower score because of the levels, but that is okay. Already last season it was always close between us and Lilah and Lewis, so we are used to this situation.”

Guignard shared that she got her inspiration for the costume and her makeup from Pinterest. It should transfer a bit of a “super-hero” vibe as they are skating to “Holding out for a Hero.”

The 2023 World silver medalists displayed good connection in their free dance to various soundtracks, including The Theory of Everything. All three lifts, twizzles and dance spin were graded a level four, while the circular and one-foot steps were graded a level three. They picked up a new season’s best of 129.29 for second place in the free dance and finished second overall with another season’s best of total score of 214.56.

“We are overall happy with our performance,” said Fabbri. “Some little mistakes, but we felt like it was a good performance. But I can’t lie, it is not the result we expected. Scoring 129 in the free dance is also not bad for the beginning of the season. Still, it was apparently not enough. We want to not think about figure skating for the rest of the day now and then prepare for the Final. It will be a quick turnaround.”

“Ice Dance in Europe right now is really strong,” he added. “It was an exciting preview for the event (2024 Europeans) in Lithuania.”

Allison Reed and Saulius Ambrulevicius

Reed and Ambrulevicius finished third in the rhythm dance, improving their season’s best by over three points with a score of 78.71. The 2023 Skate Canada bronze medalists gained a level on their midline seps (two) and showed good level-four twizzles and rotational lift. The pattern steps were graded a level two in their entertaining performance to a Guns n’ Roses melody. 

“The crowd was amazing!” said Reed. “With such a high energy program, the crowd is really a game changer. It was such a difference compared to the practices with no audience. We did some technical changes since Skate Canada and worked on some turns. We think the changes really paid off. We keep improving the program and that feels great.”

“It was great to see so many flags here in Japan,” added Ambrulevicius. “We continue to build on this program, get the technical panel to be happy with us.”

Reed added that it helped to have their team’s support.

“It’s easier to get up at 4 a.m. in the morning together with teammates,” she said.

They practiced on Wednesday on the same ice with Allison’s sister, Cathy. They are excited to be at the same event with Cathy and her team at the Golden Spin of Zagreb next week.

The Lithuanians picked up a new season’s best in both the free dance and total score for third place (118.15/196.86). Their unique routine to “Enough of Our Machines” and “Children” featured level-four lifts, twizzles and dance spin. The diagonal steps were graded a level two, but he lost a level on the one-foot steps that were a level two in their last outing at Skate Canada.

“We are so happy!” said Reed. “It is more than we ever wished for. We are so proud! Winning this medal here in Japan feels extra special. We are just going to try to improve our performance going towards the second half of the season. I will see my sister this afternoon and spend some family time.”

“This season brings a lot of joy but also responsibility,” Ambrulevicius summed up. “We are looking forward to welcoming all our teammates and amazing couples in Lithuania soon.”

Reed and Ambrulevicius will compete next at the Challenger event in Zagreb, Croatia.

Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis

Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis of Finland received a one-point deduction on an extended lift in their rhythm dance, finishing just behind the Lithuanians with 74.66 points. The Grand Prix Espoo bronze medalists still earned a level four on the element as well as on the twizzles. However, the midline steps and pattern steps were graded a level one and two, respectively.

“We feel good considering we just competed last week,” said Turkkila. “Performing here was really nice and actually it felt similar to our performance in Espoo. We got an extended lift which we don’t understand right now. We felt like we rather ended the lift a bit earlier than usual.”

Versluis said he felt good and wasn’t suffering from jetlag.

“Of course, we couldn’t really practice since last week and took it a bit slow in our first practice session here on Wednesday,” he shared. “But overall, we feel okay about competing back-to-back.”

The 2023 Nebelhorn bronze medalists did well in the free dance, but the first lift in a stationary-rotational combination lift was marked down to a level three. His twizzles were also graded a level three. The circular steps were a level three and two, while the one-foot steps received a level two and one. They finished fourth in the free dance and overall (116.35/191.01).

“It felt actually better to skate today than the free dance in Espoo,” said Turkkila. “We had a nice flow, and the performance felt really good.”

“We are really looking forward to going to Rome in December to work with Massimo Scali,” shared Versluis. “Last season already this was a huge step forward for us and gave us a lot of extra motivation and confidence.”

“We are overall very happy with our first half of the season,” Turkkila summed up. “Our goal for the second half is to improve overall!”

Loicia Demougeot and Theo Le Mercier

Loicia Demougeot and Theo Le Mercier of France scored a new personal best (73.58) for fifth place for their rhythm dance to “Rapper’s Delight” and “Why Can’t We Leave Together.” The 2023 Budapest Trophy bronze medalists displayed level-four twizzles and rotational lift, while the midline steps were graded a two and three.

“We are really happy with our performance today,” said Demougeot. “I think it was the best we can do at this point. The last three weeks we spent away from home in China and in Japan. It was tough but so rewarding at the same time.”

“Yes, we miss home now, but we met so many amazing new people and made new friends,” added Le Mercier. “We trained in the Olympic center in Beijing. We feel like we performed better than in China and want to continue that way in the free dance; hopefully closing the gap more and more to the teams that are above us.”

The had team changed a portion of the rhythm dance after their Challenger event in Budapest and feel it has improved a great deal.

Their free dance to “Clair de Lune” and “Waves” was highlighted by level-four twizzles, lifts and dance spin. Showing much improvement, they scored a new personal best for both the free dance and total score, placing fifth place overall (114.08/187.76).

“We are very happy and proud,” said Demougeot. “It’s great to end these weeks with this and a personal best!”

“We want to thank the audience for the amazing support,” added Le Mercier. “So many French flags! It’s so fun and such an honor to skate in Japan. We really hope we will be able to come back soon!”

Demougeot received many comments on her intricate hairstyle for the free dance. She revealed that it takes two hours to do, and she prepares and sleeps with it the night before competition. The inspiration came from Instagram.

The team will skate back-to-back events next week. First at the Challenger event in Zagreb, then French Nationals with no days off in between.

“It will be an experience,” said Le Mercier.

Rounding out the top nine

USA’ s Emily Bratti and Ian Somerville, who placed sixth at Cup of China two weeks ago, finished sixth (183.43), earning new personal bests in both the free dance and total score.

The husband-and-wife team of Marie-Jade Lauriault and Romain Le Gac of France finished seventh (176.26).

USA’s Lorraine McNamara and Anton Spiridonov placed eighth (167.84) ahead of Japan’s Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto (167.61).

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