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New stars on the horizon
by Sonia Bianchetti
April 2010

The 2010 World Figure Skating Championships, held in Torino, Italy, in the beautiful Palavela, celebrated the 100th anniversary of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships. They also concluded the skating season as well as the Olympic cycle, which was not the best one for figure skating, with the appeal and the popularity of the sport going downhill year after year.

Let's hope that the ISU will turn this sad experience into treasure and at the next Congress will adopt the necessary changes to make the sport less demanding for the competitors and the judging less complicated and more understandable for the fans and the general public.

In Torino, the arena was packed every day for the free programs with an enthusiastic crowd, and the atmosphere for the skaters could not have been better.

Once again, I experienced two opposing feelings: on one side, my distress in seeing so many talented top world skaters virtually falling apart both in short and free skating, and on the other, my joy in seeing some really outstanding programs and especially seeing some young very promising skaters coming along: Patrick Chan (CAN), Adam Rippon (USA), Javier Fernandez (ESP), Denis Ten (KAZ), and Michal Brezina (CZE) are all technically very good and, even more important in my view, they can skate. They glide and move on the ice with elegance and charm. In the Ladies, although she blew up in her free program, Mirai Nagasu (USA), is a wonderful young marvel, a great hope for the future. She can execute all the jumps at great speed as if she were flying on the ice. Her spins are among the best I can remember and her flexibility is unique. She has all she needs to become a great champion and I do hope she will.

To attend all events was an exhausting endurance challenge. There were 55 Ladies, 48 Men, 25 Pairs and 27 Dance couples. To sit in the arena fourteen hours in a row is a nightmare even for the most passionate fans! Lets hope that at the next ISU Congress, to be held in June this year, some kind of qualifying system will be adopted, and especially that the horror of having the bottom group of qualifiers skate their free program during a separate session in the afternoon, at least 45 minutes before the official starting time in front of a nearly empty arena, will be cancelled forever.

As for the competitions, with the exception of very few outstanding programs, the skating was simply depressing for the poor quality of skating and the total lack of choreography and musicality in both the short and free programs. Very sad!

New records were set for number of falls in competition, even among the medal winners. In singles and pairs there were more falls than competitors!

In the Men's free, only Brezina skated a flawless program.

Nevertheless, in spite of the number of falls, mistakes and poor skating, a record of seasons best scores was also achieved. This was a real joke. To me, it was rather a record of the judges' best scores.

How long will it take for the ISU President, Ottavio Cinquanta, to understand that as long as the results in figure skating are determined by human beings and not by stopwatches, the scores are doomed to change depending on the mood of the panels of judges or the instructions they receive, rather than the ability of the competitors?

In Pairs, none of the top four teams skated a flawless program, but all four gave a strong performance.

The gold medal went to Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China. Although, in my opinion, they were not as good as in Vancouver, they skated a good program and their interpretation of Impossible Dream was just great. The fluidity, speed and difficulty of their lifts and twists were just stunning, and their throw jumps were, in my opinion, by far the best of the evening, with perfect and smooth landings.

Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany, winners of the last two world titles, placed second. They gave a moving performance to Out of Africa, their new, original and well-choreographed free program.

Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia dropped to third overall, winning the bronze medal. They made a brave attempt at a throw quad Salchow, with Kavaguti taking a hard fall on this first element. She also fell on a throw triple loop. Their program however was good and featured original and attractive lifts and spins.

Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov of Russia skated their last competition together. They announced they will split and will continue to skate with different partners.

I cannot refrain from expressing once more my frustration, and that of the many skating fans, watching all the ladies grabbing their skates in the death spiral! We can only wish and hope that the ISU Figure Skating Committee will forbid for the next season this feature that has simply destroyed the beauty, the elegance, the harmony of one of the most attractive elements in pair skating.

In the Men's event, Daisuke Takahashi (JPN) placed first and won the first world gold medal in men for Japan.

Skating to La Strada by Nino Rota, he performed an outstanding program. His only flaw was a landing on two feet on his opening quadruple flip, which was also downgraded. This was the first ever attempt to execute a quadruple flip in competition. His steps are fantastic, skated on deep edges at great speed and changing directions. The choreography is wonderful and he expresses the music through each movement of his body, his arms and his face. He played to the judges and the crowd. Just marvellous!

The silver medal went to Patrick Chan, from Canada.

Patrick, who was also the silver medallist at last year's worlds, didn't have his strongest performance. He fell down on a triple loop and was struggling to hold the landing of a triple Salchow. However, his skating is beautiful, with long and deep edges. His program is well choreographed and he moves with elegance and style while interpreting with passion his music. A young and promising skater.

The bronze medal went to Brian Joubert from France. He opened with a quad toe-loop/double toe-loop combination, followed by a quad toe-loop, but he couldn't keep up the momentum. He fell on a triple Lutz and had an edge call in the triple flip. He placed fourth in free skating.

The third best free and the only flawless program of the event was performed by Michal Brezina, from CZE.

Michal is a young and very promising skater. His jumps are of the highest technical quality, properly started at full speed and landed without any visible effort. Very captivating is his presentation, the way he uses his arms and his body while skating on deep edges. His program is well constructed and beautifully choreographed to the music. Definitely the second best for me that evening.

The dance event was the best with four couples performing excellent and fascinating programs.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (CAN) placed first. Skating to the romantic Adagietto of Gustav Mahler's Symphony #5, they performed an excellent program even if, in my opinion, not as good as in Vancouver. Their skating, on deep edges, was so smooth that they seemed to float over the ice. They had great power and speed, and they executed original and innovative lifts with the same grace as ballet dancers. They have a great natural style and class which is also reflected in their costumes.

The silver medal went to Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA). They placed first in the free dance and they were unbelievable. Skating to the Phantom of the Opera, they performed an excellent program, skated perfectly to their music with fluidity and speed, flying across the ice in perfect unison on deep edges in the fast part and using deep edges to convey romance and lyricism in the slow portions. They were very strong in the technical elements, with beautiful and innovative lifts. They skated one of the most beautiful programs I can remember. They were just magic.

Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali from Italy placed third. They skated a very emotional free dance to Gli Emigranti by Nino Rota. The bronze medal was a great achievement for Federica, who is facing serious health problems and was not sure until the last minute whether she would be able to compete. Best of wishes to Federica.

Very good and captivating was also the free dance of the French couple, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bouzard, who placed fourth overall but third in the free dance.

As an historical note, this may have been the last time that a compulsory dance was skated in a championship. A new combination dance might replace the compulsory dances from the next season, depending on the decision of the ISU Congress.

Contrary to Vancouver, the Ladies' event was the most disappointing and the judging was embarrassing, to say the least.

The short program was a real mess!

So many Ladies and so little skill in the first half of the Short Program. The technical standard was extremely low and only a few skaters reached the fives or more in the components. Most were scored in the threes and fours, and some even in the twos. Overall the skaters in this group looked like mediocre Novices or Juniors. They should never have competed in a World Championship.

But even among the top skaters the results were upside down. Mirai Nagasu (USA) totally unexpectedly placed first with an unbelievable flawless short program. She attempted a triple Lutz/triple toe-loop combination but the Lutz had an edge alert and the toe-loop was downgraded.

Mao Asada (JPN) placed second. She executed a triple Axel/double toe-loop combination but the triple Axel was downgraded. Laura Lepisto (FIN) placed third with Yu-Na Kim (KOR) only seventh and Miki Ando (JPN), eleventh!

Yu-Na was a great disappointment. After under-rotating the triple flip, which was downgraded, she lost concentration and fell out of the entry to her layback spin, which was scored as non-executed. Then, entering her spiral sequence, she looked like she was lost in the arena and made another error that put the sequence at level 1. Her components marks were rather high anyhow.

The free skating was another kind of upside-down.

Mirai Nagasu blew up in her program and placed only eleventh.

Laura Lepisto gave a pleasant performance, but she doubled two triple loops and a triple Salchow. She placed sixth but, in my opinion, she was definitely over-marked, especially in the components marks, compared to Carolina Kostner (ITA), Miki Ando (JPN) and Cynthia Phaneuf (CAN). Had she been given the correct marks, the final result would have probably been different.

Yu-Na Kim did not have the skate she needed to win the gold. She fell on the triple Salchow, and popped a double Axel into a single at the end of her program. It was otherwise a good performance, but, in fairness, not up to her standard and not deserving of first place in the free. With this I do not mean that, on the whole, she skated poorly. Her jumps were of the highest technical quality, properly started and landed. Her skating on deep edges at great speed is and was very good, as well as her spins and step sequences. What was missing, to me, that night was her soul, her expressiveness. She was not as captivating as usual. She gave me the impression that she was physically and mentally worn out. Still, her the components marks for Performance/Execution and Interpretation did not reflect that at all!

Mao Asada performed a strong, solid and flawless program which led her to win the gold medal. Skating to the Bells of Moscow by Rachmaninov, she started off her free program with a beautiful triple Axel followed by a triple Axel/double toe-loop combination. The second triple Axel was downgraded, though. Mao was the first woman to execute a triple Axel in the Olympic Games since her compatriot Midori Ito landed one in the 1992 Olympic Games in Albertville. She skated with good speed and determination. Her spins and the spiral sequence were beautiful. On the whole she gave a lovely, elegant and passionate performance. She fully deserved to be the World Champion.

Happy Easter!