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A Wonderful World Championship, Boston 2016
by Sonia Bianchetti Garbato
April 2016

The 2016 World Figure Skating Championships were held in Boston, United States, from March 30 to April 3 in the TD Garden arena.

It was a very special and unforgettable Championship for me because I could also celebrate with some of my best friends my induction into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame. To be elected to the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame is the highest honor conferred in skating. It’s hard to really put into words what it meant to me. Thanks to the US Figure Skating Federation for this honor and to the many friends who have submitted my name and all those who supported my election.

I fell in love with figure skating since I was a little girl and I devoted to it all my life. Skating has made such a big impact on my life. It definitely enriched me and opened my mind. The possibility of meeting so many wonderful people all around the world and exchanging opinions made it possible to better understand different cultures, different ways of living and thinking. It has been a very exciting, informative, demanding and fascinating journey. And even more valuable and precious for me was the opportunity to make so many precious friends who still honor me with their friendship and esteem.

The joys and emotions that the skaters were able to transmit to me were precious gifts that I will never forget, and the election to the Hall of Fame is another gift of figure skating. I devoted to it my whole life, but what figure skating has given back to me is much more.

The Championships in Boston were very well organised and very successful. The arena was filled up every day and the atmosphere very warm and friendly, thanks to the support of an enthusiastic and competent audience.

In the pairs’ event, Meagan Duhamel / Eric Radford of Canada moved up from second place in the short program to strike pairs gold. China’s Wenjing Sui / Cong Han earned the silver medal and Aljona Savchenko / Bruno Massot of Germany captured the bronze medal in their debut as a team at the world championships.

Skating to Adele’s hit song “Hometown Glory”, the 2015 world champions, Duhamel / Radford, performed a very beautiful and appealing program combining the highest level of athleticism with an inspirational performance. They executed all their elements, including a throw Quad Salchow, in perfect unison and each of them was impeccable and of the highest technical quality. Their triple twists were impressive, and their throw triple jumps breathtaking. Each element was skated at incredible speed and perfectly in time with the music. Really a piece of art.

Sui / Han, the Four Continents champions, opened their program to “Samson and Delilah” by C. Saint-Saëns with a quadruple twist, followed up with a triple toe-double toe combination. They also produced a throw triple flip and level-four lifts, but Sui fell on the throw quadruple Salchow and doubled the side by side Salchow. They also had some problems in both of their throw jumps and the quality of some other elements was not that good either. So, in some ways, it was not a very satisfactory performance, although they placed second in the free.

Savchenko / Massot, amazingly, started this new partnership with a bronze medal. They seemed to be enjoying themselves with lots of smiles from Aljona. The quality of their basic skating is excellent, their elements are huge, yet everything is done with such smoothness and ease, as if it’s not difficult at all. Their program to “Sometimes” by Wax Tailor included a breathtaking triple twist and a fantastic combination of triple toe loop / triple toe loop / double toe loop. Their throw triple flip, side-by-side triple Salchow and throw triple Salchow perfectly matched with their music, just like their strong lifts and spins. They are very elegant on the ice and they move in perfect unison, really transmitting their feelings and a strong emotion. Welcome back Aljona.

The ladies’ event was the most attractive and exciting event of the Championships and, in my opinion, by far the best we have seen in Ladies in recent years.

Most of the skaters, and not only the medal winners, performed good and flawless programs, which, in my opinion, is a great and promising development. Figure skating cannot be the property of a handful of athletes!

Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva skated off with the ladies’ gold medal. Ashley Wagner (USA) pulled up from fourth to claim the silver medal and Anna Pogorilaya of Russia earned the bronze.

One year after winning the European Championships, 16-year-old Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia was crowned the senior Ladies champion. Skating to the W.E. (soundtrack) Allegro by Rene Aubry, Medvedeva gave a flawless performance executing seven triples, including two triple-triple combinations, and beautiful spins and steps. Her program is very well choreographed and perfectly fit to her personality. It was a performance both youthful and mature at the same time. She is a beautiful and very promising young skater.

Skating to the “Moulin Rouge” soundtrack, Wagner’s program was highlighted by a triple loop-single loop-triple Salchow combination, three more clean triples and intricate footwork, but she underrotated a triple toe and a triple flip. Her jumps are technically very good and she also has beautiful spins and step sequences. Her program is very well choreographed; she moves well on the ice and she skates to the music, interpreting and expressing it in a very brilliant and dazzling way that the judges rewarded with the highest program components scores of the field. She moves with the elegance of a mature Lady! She was greeted by the public with a standing ovation.

Pogorilaya won the bronze medal. She performed a flawless program with good speed and elegance. Her jumps are technically very good and she also has beautiful spins and step sequences. Her program is very well choreographed and she moves well on the ice. Her interpretation of the well-known Sheherezade music by Rimsky-Korsakov was convincing and well rewarded in the components. A beautiful and appealing young lady.

The dance event was also very beautiful and enjoyable.

Gabriella Papadakis / Guillaume Cizeron of France danced off with the gold medal. Maia Shibutani / Alex Shibutani from the USA took the silver medal and the bronze went to Madison Chock / Evan Bates from the USA.

Papadakis / Cizeron put out an excellent performance to “Rain In Your Black Eyes” by Ezio Bosso and “Build a Home” by the Cinematic Orchestra that was highlighted by smooth step sequences and beautiful lifts and the way they completed and integrated their elements into the program was outstanding. They displayed incredibly long and deep edges and they perfectly interpreted and expressed their music with their bodies, as if there were a perfect melding of their emotions. Cizeron, especially, has a magic artistic impression which cannot be compared with any other present couple. I particularly appreciated their beautiful music and elegant skating, with a lot of class. They performed with almost the same magic as last year and in a similar style and got a standing ovation. It seems to me they could represent a start of a new era in ice dancing.

Shibutani / Shibutani, skating to “Fix You” by Coldplay, produced smooth footwork and impressive lifts, placing second in the free dance and winning their second medal at Worlds. Their free dance included complicated step sequences and original lifts and spins. I particularly appreciated their beautiful music and elegant skating, with a lot of class.

Amazingly and sadly enough, the men’s event this year was just distressing and very hard to accept for me. Most of these fantastic talented athletes, who put up an unforgettable event just a few months before at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, messed up their programs, leaving us with a bitter deep sorrow. What to say about Patrick Chan, Shoma Uno, Maxim Kovtun, Denis Ten, Michal Brezina and others.

Javier Fernandez of Spain, reigning world champion, skated to the gold medal. Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan took the silver like last year and Boyang Jin of China claimed the bronze, the first world championship medal for a Chinese man.

Javier Fernandez, skating to “Guys and Dolls” performed by Frank Sinatra, skated the program of his life! A perfect and rare combination of art and technique. A real masterpiece. He executed a flawless program with three quadruple jumps, one of them in combination with a triple toe loop, as well as five fantastic triples. His jumps are of the highest technical quality, properly started and landed, without any visible effort. Impressive also were his step sequences, especially, in my opinion, his choreo sequence filled with original and beautiful moves. But what is even more impressive for me is the way he skates: he moves, he enjoys his skating, reaching the heart of the audience, which thanked him with a standing ovation. He really lives the music and his skating is a perfect melding of technique and art, which is what used to make our sport unique, loved and appealing. He was awarded by the judges twenty six perfect 10.0 points in the Program Components. Well deserved! This is what I call “figure skating” and that unfortunately we too seldom see now. Thanks, Javier!!!!

Yuzuru Hanyu, the Olympic champion from Japan, was first in the short program but in the free skating he seemed somehow lost. Skating to “Seimei”, a Japanese movie soundtrack, Hanyu produced a quadruple toe-loop and five clean triples, but he struggled with his quadruple Salchow, touching down with his hand on the first one and falling on the second one. But even more surprising and disappointing for me was the fact that he was skating without any passion, and did not transmit any emotion, which is just the opposite of what normally happens when he skates. Nevertheless, he was awarded by the judges 92.0 points in the Program Components, which raises the same question: do these marks really reflect what is done on the ice in that particular day?

Boyang Jin, 18 years old, took the bronze medal in his debut at the world championships. Skating to “Dragon Racing” by John Powell, Jin had to fight for the landing of his quadruple Lutz but went on to land three other quads (one Salchow and two toe-loops) as well as six more triples. Technically, he gave an outstanding performance. Surely a very talented young skater who needs to work and improve in the artistic side of the sport.

The World Championships are now over. I enjoyed watching them and, although figure skating continues to give me a lot of joy, I must admit that, except in very rare cases, I miss what made our sport unique: the art, the creativity, the interpretation and the expression of the music, the capability of the skaters to transfer their joy and inner feelings to the public. And the only explanation for this is that the programs are much too demanding and the number of requirements and details imposed by the rules has become excessive by far. The programs are skated in a nightmare of anxiety for the next jump. During the programs the skaters are mostly running from one jump to another, and very often, from one fall to another. They seem to be struggling with too many jumps, difficult variations in spins and even with overly complicated step sequences. In each event there have been some outstanding programs but, once again, very disappointing and distressing for me was to see many top and talented skaters all mess up their programs and mar them with too many falls. This was particularly evident in the men’s event, where the skaters are more or less “obliged” to try to execute quads if they want to get a result, even when they know that their chances of standing up are poor.

Under the International Judging System (IJS), such flops are considered successful jumping attempts that get nearly full credit. If sufficiently rotated, a jump counts as done no matter how it’s landed—or not. The only difference between a splat and the same jump landed vertically is a slight deduction for grade of execution. Today, with rare exceptions, perfection is for aliens. Collecting points like coins at a slot machine is the only way to the podium. Whether you stand up or sit down, it doesn’t matter. After all, a big splat on a quad can be worth more points than a perfectly executed triple jump. This pattern of madness repeats itself event after event. Common sense dictates that when a skater steps out of a jump, puts his hands down, lands on his bottom, or crashes into the boards, he has failed. Where else but in figure skating is failure rewarded with such generosity?

Little wonder the sport is losing its last shred of credibility.

Besides, the system clearly rewards difficulty too much compared to the beauty and the artistic part of the program. There should more attention and value paid to fluidity, to flow and glide on deep edges and intricate footwork. On the contrary, what we see today are movements of the arms and body with no reason. Some movements and positions are just horrible!!! I do not think it is so important to see rockers, counters, etc., with a stiff body in step sequences that make no sense with the music. Much better and appealing would be to have more simple steps and step sequences that express the feeling and the passion of the skaters.

In my opinion, it is vital for the survival of the sport that the system is simplified and made more understandable in the interest of the skaters, the coaches and the audience. And if we want to get credibility back as well, no more secret judging, please!!!!! What we have witnessed in Boston could be the straw that will break the camel’s back. These championships not only conclude the skating season but also Ottavio Cinquanta’s era.

After 22 years as President of the ISU, Cinquanta will have to step down next June in Dubrovnik, where the ISU Congress will take place, because of the age limit. The same will apply to most of the present Council Members. There will also be important changes in the Technical Committees. In other words, a real revolution in the ISU leadership.

My sincere wish is that a new and younger generation of leaders will have the courage and the wisdom to take the necessary steps to adopt some essential changes to bring back to our wonderful and beloved sport, its beauty, its appeal, its art and most of all, its popularity.

Good luck!