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The 2015 Grand Prix Final
by Sonia Bianchetti Garbato
December 2015

The Grand Prix Final took place again in Barcelona, Spain from December 10 to 13. I definitely had a great time and enjoyed the beautiful city and the friendly atmosphere of Spain. Synchronized Skating was added to the Grand Prix Final, with 5 teams competing. It was the first time that this event has been included in an ISU Single and Pair Skating and Ice Dance competition.

From a spectator's point of view, what makes this event particularly attractive is that only the six best competitors in the world in each category are entered, and this, of course, makes it the best possible competition a fan could wish for.

Both the junior and the senior events were very interesting, with some outstanding programs.

However, in my opinion, the junior event was a bit disappointing from a technical point of view, especially in the men, and also concerning for the lack of participants from most European countries, the US and Canada in the ladies and the pairs. Since the junior skaters represent the future of our sport, I think that the ISU governing bodies should seriously consider the reasons why so many countries have practically disappeared from the scene.

For the second year in a row, only two countries earned spots in the Ladies event: Russia and Japan. Notably, most of these girls were at their first experience in a Grand Prix.

In Pairs, Russia dominated and qualified four couples; in ice dancing, three. Ice dancing was the only event where the USA qualified two spots.

Russia won a total of six medals out of twelve, of which two were in the Ladies, one in Ice Dancing, two in the Pairs and one in the Men. Three medals went to the US, two to Japan and one to CZE.

For the senior events, the arena was filled up with an enthusiastic and very supportive public.

In Pairs, Ksenia Stolbova/Fedor Klimov of Russia claimed the Pairs Grand Prix Final title. Canada's Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford took the silver medal and Russia's Yuko Kavaguti/Alexander Smirnov earned the bronze. Stolbova/Klimov, performing to "The Man and the Shadow", skated a marvelous, flawless program which included a 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. A marvelous pair.

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. It included side by side triple Lutz and throw quadruple Salchow as well as five level-four elements. Their major mistake took place when she tumbled on their throw triple Lutz.

The reigning European Champions, Kavaguti/Smirnov, unfortunately had a dramatic start to their performance to the Manfred Symphony by Petr Tchaikovsky, as Yuko fell on her side by side triple toe loop and the first double Axel of the planned combination. However, they managed to recompose themselves, landing their throw quadruple Salchow and executing difficult and original lifts. Their skating is very elegant, in perfect unison and very appealing.

Deserving of mention is the young Canadian pair, Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau. They showed a brilliant performance skating to Procul Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale". They are fresh and joyful on the ice and they went from their opening triple twist to their final spin like it was a dream. Their side-by-side triple toe loop/double toe loop combination and the Salchow were perfect. Their final Axel lasso lift was like a present they offered the audience at the end of their program. A really promising young pair.

The Ladies' event was very attractive.

One year after winning the Junior Grand Prix final, 16-year-old Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia was crowned the senior Ladies. champion. Skating to the Allegro by Rene Aubry, Medvedeva gave a flawless performance executing seven triples, including two triple-triple combinations, and beautiful spins and steps. She is a beautiful and very promising young skater.

Skating to "Un Sospiro" by Franz Liszt, Satoko Miyahara, the 2015 World silver medalist, 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; she moves well on the ice and she skates to the music, interpreting and expressing it very well. Really a beautiful and promising young skater.

World bronze medalist Elena Radionova came third. She has grown up a lot since last year and she now looks like a young beautiful lady. Skating to the Titanic soundtrack, Radionova landed six triples, but she fell on an under-rotated triple loop. Her program, although well executed, in my opinion, is still missing any kind of emotion or feeling for the music and the movements of her arms are too mechanical and do not fit to the music. But she has all the time to improve!

The dance event was also very beautiful and enjoyable.

Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (Canada) won the gold medal. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) took the silver and Italy's Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte secured the bronze.

Performing to the "On the Nature of Daylight" by Max Richter, Weaver/Poje danced with their usual passion and style. They skated a very beautiful and appealing program with intricate footwork and impressive and innovative lifts.

Chock/Bates, the 2015 world silver medalists, delivered a strong performance to Concerto No. 2 by Sergei Rachmaninoff. This seemed to be the ideal piece of music to execute the long and clean edges that have become their trademark up to their final straightline lift, which was incredible.

Dancing to "La Dolce Vita", Cappellini/Lanotte, the 2015 European champions, produced smooth footwork and impressive lifts, placing second in the free dance. 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. 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.

As a personal remark, I am wondering whether it would not be better and more appropriate for "ice dancing" to use dance music with rhythm and tempo, rather than pieces of classical or opera music, as beautiful as they may be, but which have nothing to do with dancing.

The Men's event was just breathtaking, something that will be remembered forever. I do not recall any event of such a high technical level and at the same time as artistic and appealing. I am afraid I do not have the proper words to describe my emotion.

Yuzuru Hanyu, the Olympic champion from Japan, was first both in the short and the free program. Both his programs are a perfect combination of art and technique. In the short program he was awarded twenty scores of "10" in the Program Components and twenty-four in the free program!!!! It has never happened before. His free program was a real masterpiece. The swiftness, the flow and the precision of his movements, in a program containing three quadruple jumps and seven triples, including a rare triple Axel-half loop-triple Salchow combination in the second part of the program, all preceded by difficult steps and movements, as well as beautiful spins, is the result of his supreme athletic skill. His jumps are of the highest technical quality, properly started and landed, without any visible effort. Impressive also were also his step sequences, especially, in my opinion, his choreo sequence filled with original and beautiful moves. Skating to the Japanese movie soundtrack Seimei, he was invincible in combining speed, athleticism and elegance. His skating is very soft and graceful and filled with passion. He surely is a natural talent. He is skating on another planet!

Javier Fernandez of Spain, the reigning world champion, placed second. Skating to "Guys and Dolls", he executed three quadruple jumps, one of them in combination with a triple toe loop, as well as five fantastic triples. His only mistake was a step out in the first quadruple toe loop. His technique is great and the height and length of his jumps is unbelievable. 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 and that unfortunately we too seldom see now.

The bronze medal went to the 2014 ISU Junior Grand Prix Final champion, Shoma Uno, from Japan. Performing to "Violin Fantasy on Puccini's Turandot" and "Nessun Dorma", he gave an outstanding performance, both from a technical and an artistic point of view. He perfectly executed two quadruple toe loop jumps and seven more triples, all of the highest quality. But what impressed me more is the way he skates on deep long edges, with great flexibility. I also particularly liked the way he utilized the spread eagle twice in his short program. A very talented young skater and a great promise for the future.

Patrick Chan, three-time world champion, placed 6th in the short program and 3rd in free, ending up in 4th position. Skating to a Chopin medley, he performed a flawless and gorgeous free program. Technically, he was outstanding. He opened with a super quad toe loop/triple toe loop combination, followed by seven more triple jumps and jump combinations, plus very well executed and attractive spins. But even more fantastic and breathtaking were both the step sequences, through which Patrick was really reaching the hearts of the spectators, expressing the music in the best possible way. Patrick really flows on the ice on deep edges and transmits his joy of skating. Each movement of his body, hands, and head corresponded to what one would expect on this beat of the music, just as in ballet. He was intense and communicative. Simply magic. Welcome back, Patrick!

The Grand Prix Final is now over. I enjoyed watching it 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.

The regulations seem to be much too hard for the majority of the competitors. During the programs they 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. Besides, the system clearly rewards too much the difficulties compared to the beauty and the artistic part of the program. There should more attention paid to fluidity, to flow and glide on deep edges. On the contrary, what we see to-day 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. in step sequences with a stiff body and 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, just a few changes could bring back the appeal and the beauty of the programs.

1. Reduce the number of jumps in the free programs and award no value if a jump or a throw (in pairs) is marred by a fall. In case of a fall or landing on two feet on any jump or throw jump in pairs, the concerned element should be considered as a not completed element and called by the Technical Panel as no-value, and should not be marked by the judges either. No longer should jump attempts with a fall be rewarded by nearly as many points, if not more, as a completed jump of a lower level. Either the skater lands on one foot backwards on a running edge or he does not ; either he/she stands up or falls over. If he does it, he gets credit but if he does not, he doesn't get credit. The issue is that the current judging system encourages skaters to skate above their true ability, and before they are really ready. At the ISU Championships or the Olympic Games, the skaters should only execute elements they can perform at their best. Rather than elevating skating to new levels of greatness, the present system creates an environment to focus on points, regardless of true ability. This is also the main reason for the many falls that we witness to-day even among the top world skaters.

2. To improve the quality of the spins and avoid that "the uglier the position is, the better it is", I would propose to assign only basic values to each kind of spin (upright, sit, camel, with change of foot and/or change of position, flying spin or spin combination). The elimination of the so-called "features" would have the following effects:
a) Stimulate the creativity of the skaters;
b) Place emphasis on the basic qualities of the elements (speed, beauty of positions, balance, centering of the spin, etc.) instead of simply achieving levels of difficulty at the expense of the quality and the beauty of the elements.
c) Reduce the risks of .personal interpretation. by the various Technical Panels in establishing the level of the elements.

It would be the duty and the responsibility of the judges to establish with their GOE marks the extra value added by the skaters through their ability and creativity, such as: number of revolutions above the minimum required, new and original positions, speed, quality of a spin in general. In steps: use of complex turns, changes of skating or rotational direction, speed, depth of the edges, extension of the free leg, etc. An increase of the range within the GOE from -3 to +3 to -5 to +4 is also suggested.

Besides the technical changes proposed, I would suggest that secret judging be abolished. Secret judging was the worst decision ever made by the ISU since its existence. It is an insult to the skaters and covers up the deals among the judges.

Let's hope that the next ISU Congress will take into consideration some of these ideas.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.