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Russia Scores a 6.0 at the 2011 World Championships

BEHIND THE SCENES

The International Skating Union’s (ISU) decision to award Worlds to Moscow and not one of the other last-minute candidates such as Canada or the U.S. was primarily a financial one.

The Russian government committed to invest more than US$7 million to cover the expenses for hosting Worlds. That financial contribution enabled the organizing committee to hire workers and eliminated the need to enlist numerous volunteers at the last minute.

Prior to Worlds, Russia’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin, appealed to his sport’s minister on national television to organize this event “so well that all foreign athletes and other guests feel at home.” Putin and Russian president Dmitry Medvedev were filmed at several practice rinks speaking to Russian skaters and coaches three weeks prior to the event.

Putin was also shown in conversation with pairs skater Yuko Kavaguti, expressing his sympathy for the Japanese people in regard to the catastrophe that nation experienced. He also attended the opening ceremony and was greeted with loud applause from the spectators.

It was quite clear that these Championships were meant to show that Russia has stepped into the 21st century. More than that, Putin wanted to show the world that Russia is capable of organizing huge sporting events such as the 2014 Olympic Winter Games and the 2018 World Soccer Championships.

The Megasport Arena, a modern multistoried 14,500-seat venue, was the ideal place to hold the World Figure Skating Championships. Constructed in 2007 for the World Ice Hockey Championships, a practice rink sits one floor below the main one. The rink’s management team has solid experience organizing skating events, as this has been the Cup of Russia venue the past three years.

The host broadcaster advertised the event nationally, which proved to be a strategic move. All tickets, other than those for the qualification rounds, were sold out in two weeks. This caused problems for foreigners, who were unable to purchase tickets in advance, which made the grey market outside the rink an intense scene every day with scalpers charging exorbitant prices.

On the flip side, the skaters’ hotel was a five-minute walk to the venue, the nearest subway station was within walking distance and it was a very sunny, mild spring week in Moscow.

The event schedule was adjusted to accommodate the needs of the Japanese networks. Thus, the singles events were scheduled in the early afternoon to correspond with evening prime time in Japan.

Putin acknowledged that the Japanese and Russian federations had cooperated closely to organize the Championships on such short notice. Some of Japan’s top television experts assisted the Russian network with its preparations.

When each of the 195 skaters attended at the accreditation desk, they were presented with an unexpected gift — a rolling suitcase from the Japanese federation that had been transported from Tokyo to Moscow.

Many observers commented that this was one of the best-organized Worlds in memory.

MOVING TRIBUTE

The opening ceremony in Moscow was like no other. ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta spoke of his deep regret for what had transpired in Japan and expressed his sympathy for the people of that nation.

He thanked Seiko Hashimoto, the president of the Japanese Skating Federation, for allowing the ISU to move Worlds to another venue, and presented her with a huge bouquet of flowers on behalf of the worldwide skating family.

THE COMPETITION

When the ISU found a substitute host for the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships one month after the devastating earthquake and subsequent tsunami that struck Japan, it was a moment of jubilation for millions of fans around the world.

The results of the 2010 World Championships were the determing factor for who qualified in Moscow and who did not. The 18 highest-ranked singles skaters, top 12 pairs and 15 ice dance teams went directly to the short programs.

Preliminary rounds were held in the singles and dance disciplines to fill the remaining spots. No qualification round was held for the pairs due to the limited number of entries. As the organizers did not cover the cost of these qualification rounds, some of the smaller skating nations did not field any entries.

The judges gave higher component scores and more points for elements than usual, allowing many skaters to achieve personal bests.

No nation was dominant. Canada, Japan, Russia and the U.S. each captured two medals, while China, Germany, Italy and South Korea went home with one each.

ANDO GLIDES TO SECOND TITLE

To the delight of the more than 1,000 Japanese fans who made the trek to Moscow and an estimated 30 to 40 million viewers glued to their television sets back home, Miki Ando claimed the ladies title in fine style (195.79 points).

Ando laid down a clean short and a controlled long program with five solid triples and only one mistake on a combination. “It was a tribute to the Japanese people who suffered in the disaster,” she said. “Maybe I was able to bring back a little smile to the people of Japan.”

Her reports on Facebook indicated she had split from her coach Nikolai Morozov in March, but he was at the boards with her in Moscow. Ten days later, Russian news agencies reported the two are planning to marry.

Silver medalist Yu-Na Kim admitted to being nervous competing in her first event in 13 months. She stumbled on the Lutz in the short and popped two jumps in the long, which left her 1.29 points behind Ando. “It was mentally difficult to prepare for these Championships. I have reached all my goals,” Kim said. “But I wanted to show my new programs to my fans.”

To improve her uneasy relationship with Japan, Kim donated her prize money of $27,000 to the tsunami victims.

She confirmed that she will not compete in any of the Grand Prix events next season, as she is busy in her role as the spokesperson for South Korea’s 2018 Olympic bid.

Italy’s Carolina Kostner claimed the bronze medal, putting down her best performances in years (184.68).
Alena Leonova from Russia, one of the best jumpers in the world, ended up fourth, just 0.77 points off the podium.

The 2011 Grand Prix Final champion, Alissa Czisny, placed fifth, 2.43 points behind Kostner. If she had not fallen on the first Lutz in her long program she would have earned approximately four more points and the bronze medal. There is no doubt her spins are the best in the world.

Rachael Flatt, who skated in spite of a stress fracture in her right tibia, popped several jumps and landed in 12th. Many observers criticized her for not withdrawing and giving her spot to the first alternate, Mirai Nagasu.

Last year’s gold medalist, Mao Asada, could do no better than sixth. She had serious problems with the triple Axel and looked quite unhappy during her programs.

CHAN MAKES HISTORY

Patrick Chan had good reason to be confident. His outstanding short program earned 93.02, giving him an 11-point lead over Nobunari Oda (81.81) and a 12-point margin over reigning World champion, Daisuke Takahashi (80.25).

Chan set another world record in the free program, earning a cumulative 280.98 points overall. He earned a number of +3 grade of execution scores and was awarded four 10.0 marks.

Takahashi had set the previous World record at the 2008 Four Continents Championships (264.41).

“I felt some pressure,” Chan admitted. “Even though people said, ‘It’s a great big lead, you don’t need to put in two quads in the long,’ I really wanted to, because that’s how I’ve been training the program.”

Japan’s Takahiko Kozuka was the surprise silver medalist with 258.41 points. He did not risk a quad in the short, but the free skate, which included a quad toe loop, was perfect. His downfall is that he fails to draw audiences into his programs.

Takahashi performed with much more flair. Unfortunately, his program was interrupted when he popped his opening quad due to a missing screw that caused his blade to loosen. He landed in fifth place.

Once again, Nobunari Oda lost count of his jumps and let the bronze medal slip through his fingers after performing one triple toe too many. He received zero points for his triple Axel-triple toe combination and wound up in sixth. This is a mistake he has made several times before.

Artur Gachinski from Russia was the surprise bronze medalist, thanks to clean quads and a home advantage. He scored 241.86 points.

Michal Březina from the Czech Republic, who ranked fourth, and Javier Fernandez from Spain (10th) were the only skaters to land two different quads in their programs. Březina fell twice in the last minute of his free skate, which put him out of medal contention.

The 2011 European champion, Florent Amodio who placed seventh, used a vocal version of a Michael Jackson tune for his free skate, although this is not permitted. “I will get higher component scores because the impression is more intense,” Amodio said prior to his long program. “I want to provoke the ISU to allow vocals not only in ice dancing. I will accept a deduction of one point.” Astonishingly, he received no deduction at all.

Brian Joubert (eighth) missed his combination in the short program, leaving him unable to move up much even with a good long program. Richard Dornbush (ninth) was the best of the three Americans, with Ross Miner skating two clean programs, but Ryan Bradley gave quite a stolid impression. He retired from competition a week later.

There were other disappointments. Neither of the two Swedish skaters managed to reach the final. Belgium lost its second spot for 2012 and the Canadians have only two spots next year because Joey Russell and Kevin Reynolds made many mistakes.

TRIPLE CROWN

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy from Germany won all six competitions they entered last season. But in Moscow they put down the best performances of their career, making no mistakes. Their unison and interpretation were superior.

The Russian folk music for the short program worked brilliantly. The fans began to clap as soon as the program began.

Their score of 217.85 set a new world record in pairs, overtaking that of the reigning Olympic champions Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao by 1.28 points.

“With this title, we went beyond a border. I think this third World title will go into the history of German figure skating,” Savchenko said. “If we can win three times, we can do this perhaps four or five times.”

Two Russian teams were vying for a medal. Worlds was only the second international competition for Moscow’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov. The duo claimed the silver medal with 210.73 points. Their long to “Romeo and Juliet” had many excellent elements, but their components were slightly lower because they have only been together for a year.

Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov dropped from medal contention and placed fourth after he fell on the step sequence in the short program and she fell on the triple throw loop in the long.

The 2010 World champions, Qing Pang and Jian Tong from China, won the short program. They were elegant in their lyrical short program. However, in the free skate, Tong singled the Axel and doubled the toe loop. Although the rest of the program to Liszt’s “Dreams of Love” was without error, it was only good enough for bronze, six points behind Volosozhar and Trankov and almost 17 points ahead of Kavaguti and Smirnov.

“We had a chance to win today, but maybe I thought too much of our coach’s birthday today and lost concentration,” Tong explained.

Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin from the U.S. ended up sixth, the best result for an American pair in years. Except for the throw triple Salchow, their long program was very emotional and without error. The choice of Schubert’s “Ave Maria” was a tribute to Coughlin’s mother, who died last summer.

A few days after Worlds the duo split, like so many other U.S. pairs teams last season.

Canada’s Eric Radford had a painful short program. As he was catching his partner Meagan Duhamel on the triple twist, her elbow hit him so forcefully that it broke his nose, which started to bleed profusely. Spectators heard the crack.

“My nose hurt a lot and I had tears in my eyes from the pain,” he said. “I was thinking, should I stop or should I go, and I just kind of magically did it.” He went on to execute six clean elements, despite his bloody face and shirt.

The Russian competition doctor set his nose right immediately. One hour later Radford wrote on Facebook: “Thanks for watching our bloody Worlds debut. Don’t worry … Meagan’s elbow is 100 percent and we are looking forward to tomorrow.”

In the free program, Duhamel and Radford became the first pair to execute a triple Lutz-double toe-double toe combination. They were delighted with their seventh-place finish.

Another unfortunate occurrence occurred, this one subsequent to Worlds. Israeli pairs skater Evgeni Krasnopolski (20th with partner Danielle Montalbano) had stayed abroad longer than planned due to the delayed Championships, but without the permission of the army of which he is a member. He was arrested at Tel Aviv airport upon his return.

COACHING SWEEP

The ice dance event was a huge triumph for Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband.

For the first time in ice dance history all three medals went to one school, to their students and to North America. The coaches had five teams in Moscow (another record), all of which earned excellent results.

From the outset, it was clear that the fight for gold was between Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Meryl Davis and Charlie White. This time Davis and White came out on top, setting a new world record of 185.27, 14 points higher than the record they set at the 2011 Four Continents Championships.

This victory came as no surprise. Their results last season included a +3 on 47 occasions and eight 10.0 component scores, record-setting highs no ice dancers have ever achieved before.

“We’re just so pleased with skating the way we did and having the result turn out the way it did,” Davis said.

White added: “I think we benefit tremendously from having such amazingly talented skaters around us all the time.”

Virtue and Moir performed their innovative Latin free dance for the first time this season. It was sexy and fluent but less than perfect, which motivated the judges to award them 3.48 points less than Davis and White. “The complexity of our free dance is unlike anything we’ve ever done before and perhaps something the ice dance world hasn’t seen,” Virtue said.

Capturing the bronze medal at their senior Worlds debut was a major surprise for America’s Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani. The duo performed first-class elements and showed the joy of dancing, which is what the judges are looking for. They later said they were “speechless” about their podium finish and praised the creativity of their coaches.

The French couple of Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat was favored for bronze, and after the short dance the duo was right on track. But both fell during the circular step sequence in the free dance, which cost them seven points and a medal. Still, it was close — they were only 0.25 of a point behind the Shibutanis.

“We know the rink, we train here all year, and then this,” Péchalat said in frustration.

The couple was forced to leave Moscow in May because the Russian government will not allow state-employed coaches like Alexander Zhulin to train foreign skaters with medal potential in 2018. Péchalat and Bourzat have relocated to Detroit to train with Anjelika Krylova and Pasquale Camerlengo.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje showed a lot of sparkle and placed fifth, clearly winning the battle against Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier (10th).


Originally published in August 2011

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