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A World Without Sky
by Sonia Bianchetti
The Grand Prix Final is the most important international competition in
figure skating. Only six skaters in each category (Ladies, Men, pairs and
dance) are allowed to participate, based on the best results obtained in
two Grand Prix events this fall. The 2007 Grand Prix Final was assigned to
Italy, the first time it was held in a country outside the Grand Prix
circuit. Torino and its beautiful Palavela, the same arena where the
figure skating events were held during the Olympic Games 2006, was chosen
to host "the cream of the crop" of figure skating.
The announcement created great expectations among the fans and the arena
was crowded at least for the ladies and pairs free skating.
The list of entries, though, did not correspond to the expectations.
Some of the top world single skaters unfortunately did not qualify: World
individual champions Miki Ando and Brian Joubert were out, as well as
Sarah Meier, Tomas Verner and Kiira Korpi, silver and bronze medallists at
the European Championships.
They all messed up their programs badly in one or both of the Grand Prix
events where they competed. For the Ladies it will be the second year in
a row that the reigning world champion did not qualify. Last year Kimmie
Meissner did not make it.
Unfortunately there is no consistency in the performances of the
competitors; their success depends on the luck of the day, rather than
their capabilities. The kind of champions we were used to, who developed
slowly and proved to be great year after year, championship after
championship, do not exist any longer.
Now the skaters are like meteorites; they rise to the top, cross the sky
once and then disappear. This is sad. The skating fans love to identify
with stars shining for a long time, not winners who are mostly just lucky
that day. Who would bet on a falling star?
Despite all that, the list of the skaters announced was a guarantee that
we could expect some wonderful and exciting programs. And so it was!
Still, as was the case during the six previous Grand Prix Events (Skate
America, Skate Canada, the Cup of China, the Trophée Bompard, the Cup of
Russia and the NHK Trophy), very few programs were clean. In pairs only
three short programs were clean (none in free skating); in the ladies, two
in short and one in free, and in men, three in short and one in free.
On the other hand, as Jack Curtis, a well known American mathematician
and figure skating judge, has demonstrated through his studies, when you
have seven jump elements with an average success rate of 54% each (as was
the case in the Ladies' event at the World Championships 2007) for the
very best performers, your probability of a clean program is under two
percent, meaning you could expect a clean program only two times in every
hundred performances. That is now the standard imposed by the rules.
For the first time in many years in a major ISU international competition,
in my opinion, the best event was the ladies'. Although only one free
program was clean, Asada's, we saw some very artistic, well choreographed
and exciting programs.
Yu-Na Kim from South Korea, coached by Brian Orser, won her third Grand
Prix gold medal of the season with a passionate and precise free skate.
Skating to the sound track of "Miss Saigon", Kim opened with a triple
flip/triple toe-loop combination. After falling on her second jump, a
triple loop, she recovered her form and performed all elements, ending her
program with a double Axel and a beautiful change foot combination spin.
Yu-Na, although only 17, is a mature skater; her technique is pure and
she moves beautifully on the ice. She is a joy to watch.
Mao Asada, from Japan, coached by Rafael Arutunjan, moved from the 6th
place in the short program to second overall, with a magnificent free
program, well choreographed and pleasant to watch. Skating to "Fantaisie
Impromptu" by F. Chopin, she opened with a beautiful triple Axel,
followed by a triple flip/triple toe-loop combination. Her technique is
pure and she is very expressive and artistic too. Her choreography is
just built around the music and she skated with her heart.
Carolina Kostner, from Italy, won bronze. Carolina looked very
determined on the ice although very strained. She opened with a triple
flip/triple toe-loop combination followed by a triple lutz/double loop
combination which gave her enough confidence to skate through her program
with speed and elegance. Although she singled the flip and had a step out
just on her closing double Axel, her presentation was excellent. Still
not enough passion in her skating.
A very promising young marvel was Caroline Zhang, from the US. Caroline
is just 14 years old, and looks like a little bird on the ice. She easily
masters almost all the triple jumps, even if her technique must be
improved, but what is especially impressive is her flexibility. It really
seems her spine is made of soft rubber! Her layback spin is just
unbelievable! Let's hope she can develop into a great skater.
In the pairs, Aljona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, from Germany, won the
gold medal. They opened up with a long throw triple flip followed by a
fabulous triple lutz twist lift. Although they had a small error in the
triple Salchow, they skated beautifully, with great intensity, in perfect
unison. In my opinion they were by far the best that evening. The
American pair, McLaughlin and Brubaker, unfortunately had to withdraw
because of injury.
In ice dancing, Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, skating to
"Masquerade Waltz", won the ice dancing title ahead of Americans Tanith
Belbin and Benjamin Agosto, who skated to a selection from Chopin.
France's Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder took the bronze,
dancing to music from "The Piano". Not everybody agreed on these results.
As a spectator, I preferred Belbin/ Agosto, who were very elegant on the
ice and whom I also credit with having chosen dignified and appropriate
costumes. At least one team did!
The men's event, usually my favourite, this time was, in my opinion, the
most disappointing. And not because of the skaters! Lambiel, Lysacek,
Takahashi and Weir all possess the qualities and the capability to offer
the best possible technical and artistic performances, each one with his
own personality and style, if only they would be allowed to express
In Torino, only Daisuke Takahashi, from Japan, skating to "Romeo and
Juliet" by P. Tchaikovski, executed a perfect and very attractive free
program. He was like a feather on the ice, hitting all his jumps,
including a quad toe-loop. His body and arm movements were rapid but not
frenetic, as they are with some skaters. They just fit the music. A great
All the other programs, although beautiful and well choreographed, were
marred by falls. Today the top skaters are trying to perform elements
beyond their capabilities, including really good athletes. Even worse,
the elements on which they concentrate are increasingly unattractive.
And still worse is that these extreme elements are turning what once were
performances into lotteries with lower chances of success upon any given
day. There is not a single skater whom one would call a star. What was
once a dance form is now more similar to gymnastics, poorly performed. The
memory of what a "free program" was is fading away.
More telling than my words are those of Lambiel and Lysacek , quoted in
the Sunday, December 16 issue of the Turin "La Stampa". Lambiel, whose
first place raised some questions, tried to explain the reasons why he
preferred rather than taking risks insisting on a quad jump, very
difficult to execute and not sufficiently rewarded, to choose jump
combinations, easier to do and with higher values. He closed his
interview saying that his choice "has worked, but I believe that some
corrections are needed". And: "The artistic side is an important part, we
have to attract the people or they will get bored and will go to see
Holiday on Ice. Now, both the short and the long programs are packed with
compulsory elements, there is no way to create something personal. Even
if I know that I cannot influence the system, I wish that things may
change next year". Lysacek added: "[The system] takes away any free
creativity, but my problem is even more specific. I contest the values
assigned to some jumps: the triple Axel is the most difficult, still it
weighs very little, it does not reward the risk and I believe that even
the public would get more excited". What more can I add? Only: ISU
leaders WILL NOT ignore their appeal.