Behind the Scenes at the French Grand Prix

Susan D. Russell
Jeremy Abbott Sits in First After the Short

I must admit that Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy’s withdrawal had a dampening effect on the pairs event for me; no doubt many other skating fans who were expecting the reigning World champions to perform here, felt the same. I have been advised that Aliona caught the flu, is on antibiotics and her doctors advised her against competing here.

With only seven pairs here in Paris, it was exciting to see who would make it into the top three. I was hoping the Italians Stefania Berton and Ondrej Hotarek would clinch one of those spots, but to my surprise, they are in fourth place.

It’s always good to see skaters supporting their teammates, as were Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte who were cheering loudly from the stands for Berton and Hotarek.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford really aren’t known for playing it safe and I found it so gutsy that they included both the side-by-side triple Lutz and throw triple Lutz in their short. Unfortunately Duhamel fell on the side-by-side Lutz, but the Canadians are in second so we have something to look forward to. As Duhamel stated in the press conference: “Tomorrow, I guarantee you, it’ll be perfect.” I can’t wait.

When I looked at the men’s entries today, my first thought was: Anything is possible here in terms of placements. And as has been said many times before (and again by no other than Brian Joubert at the press conference), “You can’t win the competition with the short program, but you can lose it.”

So much was at stake this afternoon. It was good to see Nan Song contest the competition after what happened at Cup of China. (He had a collision with Adam Rippon in the warm-up and Song had to withdraw). Despite a fall, he fought through his program and had the support of many fans.

On another note ... A fan threw a very big soft toy Panda in his direction, which actually ended up hitting a judge in the head, much to the amusement of the photographers standing behind the judging stand.

Joubert did not have the best start to his Grand Prix campaign at Cup of China, withdrawing after falling ill after the short program. His attendance here in Paris was only confirmed a few days before the event and while he did not have a perfectly clean skate, he had a lot of fun out there, selling the program to his home crowd.

Visibly relieved, he awaited his scores in the kiss and cry with Annick Dumont, who is coaching him in Paris while his home rink in Poitiers is being refurbished. Joubert sits in third place after the short. He admitted to feeling more pressure when skating in France, but I hope that with today’s performance he may have finally put his TEB demons behind him. This really hasn’t been his luckiest competition the last few years.

Unfortunately things didn’t go that well for some of his fellow competitors, including Florent Amodio who suffered two hard falls and was clearly very disappointed with his performance. Similarly, Tomáš Verner was not able to pull off a consistent skate.

The pressure was on Jeremy Abbott, the final skater in the men's event, to lay down a clean skate. His decision to take the quad out of his program really paid off, as he gave us just that, earning first spot and a big confidence boost ahead of tomorrow’s free.

The absence of Russian skaters in the men’s event was made up for in the ladies, with three representing the host country of the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Polina Korobeynikova stood out for me as she executed all elements beautifully with outstanding grace to boot. Julia Lipnitskaia also held her nerve and like many others in the audience, I couldn’t help but be impressed with her flexibility.

Lipnitskaia currently sits in first place. She said she was planning on seeing the Eiffel Tower after the competition is over, as this is the first time she has been in Paris.

Elena Tuktamysheva made her debut in Paris last year, when she skated away with the title. Her skate today wasn’t as consistent, but she is in third place and happy with her performance. She is also happy with her coach’s decision to drop the new short routine and go back to last season’s short program.

Ashley Wagner hit a high note last season, finishing fourth at Worlds. This season started in very much the same vein with a win at Skate America.

Today, she again put down a solid performance. “I’m excited, this is a good day for me,” Wagner said at the press conference.

As an aside, she also told us that she was nervous going into the short and generally prefers to talk to people prior to competing as she finds that relaxing. Her added comment that, “Mr. Nicks is not much of a talker so he is not an option," was a lighthearted moment at the press conference.

As expected, Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat stole the short dance show. Their “Can Can” was well received by audience and judges alike. They are in the lead. Bourzat thanked the audience adding it makes a really big difference when you have “that support from the very beginning.”

The Italians put on a great performance, really capturing the spirit of the Polka. Anna Cappellini explained that it’s a dance you “grow to love” as it is a challenge. Everyone agreed. The hard work they put in between Skate Canada and this event, to really push themselves and improve has really paid off. They received high levels and a season’s best.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings when the final standings will be decided. Some of the podium places are still up for grabs, and I think it’ll all come down to who can keep their nerve.

See you after the free skates…Nadin