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No Stars Shining in Paris
by Sonia Bianchetti
November 2007

When I first saw the list of the skaters named by the ISU to take part in the Trophée Eric Bompard, I said to myself: I cannot miss this event. And in Paris, one of my favourite cities in Europe!

After the disappointing quality of the performances, with very few exceptions, at the previous Grand Prix events (Skate America, Skate Canada and the Cup of China), my expectations to watch some good and exciting programs in Paris decreased significantly. Still, being optimistic by nature, I left for Paris with joy, confident that things would be different there. I could not have been be more wrong!

I am sitting here in front of my computer and really do not know what to write. What we saw in Paris was much worse than I could ever have expected. Sadly, the only thing that comes to my mind is how each program has been turned into a boring sameness, with each skater doing an ugly leg-grab spiral and too many sloppy jumps and goofy-looking spins.

The programs look totally absorbed in point accumulation and there is no room for interpretation or expression of the music or creative movement. The whole skating facade is a joke really. There is no likeness with what we used to consider figure skating.

The first shocking news that I got upon arrival was that Brian Joubert had withdrawn. So, what was supposed to be the brightest star of the event was turned off right way!

The first day, for the short programs, the arena was practically empty. Only a few hundred spectators were there and half of them left after the men's and ladies' short programs. For the free skating more people attended; still, the wonderful Bercy arena looked half unfilled. Nothing new!

As to the skating, it was more than disappointing. Really sad for me. In the ladies' event only one short program out of twelve was clean and no one in free skating! Mao Asada, although she fell on her first jump, the triple Axel, and two footed the triple flip/triple loop combination, deservedly won with a beautiful program, well choreographed and pleasant to watch. Her technique is pure and she is so expressive and artistic too. To me this was the only program where the choreography was built around the music, a beautiful "Fantaisie" by F. Chopin, and she skated with her heart.

In the men the panorama was even more depressing. In the short program, out of 11, only two skaters had a clean program, Sergei Voronov (RUS) and Alban Preaubert (FRA), and in free skating only one: Sergei Voronov (RUS)! Sergei's program was relatively simple but was well choreographed. It was not filled up with too many difficult and complicated elements, but they were all beautifully well executed. This, in my opinion, was a winning move of his coach, A. Urmanov, and perhaps it should be considered as an example to follow. The only other good and well-choreographed program was that of Patrick Chan from Canada. He skated to the Four Seasons by Vivaldi. And it was a real joy to watch, at least! Although Patrick fell down at the end of his program while executing his final spin combination he deservedly won. He is a young, talented and very promising boy.

The best event was definitely the pairs, although once more only a few programs were executed without mistakes: four out of eight in short and three in free skating (less than 50%). Qing Pang/Jian Tong and Dan Zhang/Hao Zhang, both from China, performed breathtaking lifts, twist lifts and throws, as well as elegant and original spins. The best choreography and musical interpretation was that of Pang/Tong. The pairs event was highlighted by the first quadruple throw Salchow landed for the first time in competition by the US pairs skaters Tiffany Vise and Derek Trent.

I leave the technical comments on ice dancing to people more knowledgeable than I am. However the thing that struck me once again are the lifts which are more and more anaesthetic with the lady thrown onto the boy's shoulders, up and down like a sack of potatoes, in horrid positions! Worse than in a circus. What is the purpose of all this shame?

As a general remark I would say that it is just distressing to see all these talented skaters, some of whom are real marvels, who are unable to perform at their best. Why? Because the earning of points starts with jumps and triples earn the highest number of points.

The new must is "difficulty for the sake of difficulty". This is what counts today. Art comes last! Is this what the ISU wants?

The music is just background noise to most skaters and is the only difference between one program and another! A titanic challenge for the choreographers who work to develop passionate pieces of work but who are limited by the multitude of restrictive boundaries which undermine the development of a personal style in a sport where such style is essential. Not only the jumps, but the entirety of the sport itself has been downgraded to counting to three over and over again and not listening to the music.

What is left? Just a great sadness and regret for all that is missing today: "free skating".