Short dance: dancing to a new tune, thankfully

I’ve never seen anything like it. What a free-for-all this ice dancing event at the world championships has become. There’s no predictability about it (at least so far. We still have the free dance to come and we’ll see how that unfolds.) Isn’t it fun?

Results from the Sochi Olympics have been turned upside down and that’s the way it should be, if judges are judging what they see on the ice before them. With the absence of the top two teams, the mantle of favoritism fell on the Sochi bronze medalists, the lovely Elena Iliniykh and Nikitia Katsalapov of Russia.

But shock of shocks: Katsalapov blew his twizzles – totally – in the short dance in Japan and there was no repairing them. After the first set, his blade just didn’t seem to want to turn, and he stood, still, as Ilinykh bumped into him as she continued on her merry way. Ilinykh kept twizzling, as Katsalapov twiddled. He just stopped moving and watched her.

When they finished, they looked at each other in stunned silence. Ilinykh floated over to comfort her partner. As Katsalapov got off the ice, coach Nikolai Morozov handed him his skate guards, said nothing and turned away. Cold comfort from that corner. The kiss and cry was utter silence as the marks came up.

And the marks offered cold comfort as well. The arresting team got no points at all for those twizzles (base value 6.00) and dropped to fifth place, albeit not hit in the marks seriously enough to lose all chance for a medal. They’re still only 2.53 points away from bronze, although I’ll guarantee they were dreaming about gold – and they’re only about four points away from that. That means that only four points separate the top five teams.

I love the Russia team to bits, and have done so since they were juniors, but if you don’t skate well, you don’t skate well. They took a hit in the technical mark, although really, they still aren’t far behind Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, the leaders from Italy, who seemed surprised when the marks came up. They had been sixth in Sochi, with a short dance mark of 67.58, 32.85 for their technical mark. Here, they finished first with 69.70, with a technical score of 33.77. Ilinykh and Katsalapov had 29.22 (compared to 36.36 in Sochi, which would have put them into the lead in Japan.

The Russians’ technical score was only 10th best in the short dance. Guess who had the highest technical score of all? Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the United States, with 34.79! They are currently sitting fourth. (They were eighth in both short and free dance in Sochi). Even Canada’s young team, Alexandra Paul and Mitch Islam (in 11th) had a marginally higher tech score than the Russians. Still, it’s all very close. Anything could still happen. The Russians aren’t dead yet, although the Cossacks may be wringing their hands a little harder because their other team, Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev withdrew after a morning practice when Dima injured a groin.

So who won the program component mark? You guessed it: Ilinykh and Katsalapov with 36.45. French champs Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who many thought could take the title here in their final competitive appearance, had the second highest at 36.35. Pechalat and Bourzat had the seventh highest technical mark, with Bourzat’s body just slightly veering out of control on a twizzle. Those twizzles. They’ll get you every time. Actually, the French lost levels not only on the twizzle, but on the second Finnstep (level two) and the midline not-touching step sequence (level three).

The twizzles weren’t the only problems the Russians had. They lost levels in the not-touching step sequence (three) although they generally were headed to level fours on everything, it seems.

A team that finished below Cappellini and Lanotte at Sochi – Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje – have also risen to the top, right along with the Italians. With 69.20, the Candians are only half a point behind the Italians. Gold, not just bronze, is now within their grasp and they call their tango free dance their secret weapon, for good reason.

In Sochi, Ilinykh and Katsalapov got program component marks that were incredibly high, most of them (except for transitions) averaging higher than 9.00. They are still high, three of the five averaging higher than 9.00, losing out on transitions (linking footwork and movement) and performance. And has anyone noticed that this team with the lovely knees and glide over the ice spends very little time in closed dance hold, which is more difficult than more open, or side-by-side positions? Should that be part of skating skills in ice dancing? At any rate, only one judge marked them as low as 8.25 for skating skills. The rest ranged from 9.00 to 9.50.

Of course, all sorts of rumours are swirling around Ilinykh and Katsalapov. Although many thought they’d sail on as Russia’s No. 1 team to the 2018 Games in South Korea, it is being whispered that they will break up after the world championships. Everyone is keeping zipped up about this. “No more questions,” says a Russian official, when asked if the rumours are true. “No comment,” says another. This of course makes people speculate that it is true. This would be a shocker and unfortunate for Russia.

Asked if the rumours affected them, Katsalapov said in Japan: “A lot of things went through our minds. We have our goal and we prepared for the world championship, what does it matter what happens around us?…We don’t have time to think about that.”

Pechalat and Bourzat admit they skated “much better” at the Olympics. Pechalat mentioned two little mistakes. “We thought to end our career in Japan is a good thing because we want to get a beautiful medal before leaving,” she said. “We did not get a medal in Sochi. We were kind of starving.”

But for Weaver and Poje, the short dance result was a major breakthrough. Their task here was to make up some of the points they left on the table in Sochi in the short dance. And they came at this event in a different way: “much calmer, focused, technically minded,” Weaver said.

They knew in the back of their minds that there was not only one spot open for them: there were three. And it’s proving to be true.

And with the unpredictability that seems to be the order of this event, now it seems that anything is possible. “I think that gives us a little bit more of excitement and energy, knowing that anything can happen,” Weaver said.

Yes, that’s the way it should be. It’s more exciting for everybody.



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