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A wonderful World Championships
by Sonia Bianchetti
May 2011

The World Figure Skating Championships were successfully held in Moscow at the Megasport Palace from April 25 to May 1, 2011. These championships, which were supposed to be held in Tokyo at the end of March, had to be moved because of the tragedy that hit Japan. They were a perfect way to honour the Japanese skaters and the Japanese people, to whom I want to express all my admiration for the dignity, the courage and the strength with which they have faced the biggest natural catastrophe of their history. No tears, only a strong will to fight and go on. Even before such a disaster, with thousands of people who lost their lives, they did not scream, they did not complain, they just got together and as a team they started to work for their future. Just marvellous. A great example from which we all can learn.

In Moscow, all the Japanese skaters were wearing black ribbons pinned to the left shoulder of their warm up jackets and they all seemed willing to skate to deliver courage to those who were affected by this immense tragedy.

Surely it was not easy for most of the skaters to handle the month-long postponement of the most important event of the season, both mentally and physically, and there was concern that the skating could suffer from this delay. But it was not so! On the contrary, these championships, in all categories, were one of the best I can remember in recent years.

The men's event was the most exciting.

The gold medal was won by Patrick Chan of Canada. He really skated at his best and both the short and the free programs will remain as memorable programs in the history of our sport.

In the short program, he started off with an outstanding quadruple toe-loop/triple toe-loop combination, followed by a perfect triple Axel and a triple flip. The choreography of the program was excellent. At the end of the program it came naturally to me, an old figure skating judge, to write down my marks: 5.9 - 6.0! I am sure Patrick would have liked to see these marks on the score board.

Skated to the Phantom of the Opera, his free program was just breathtaking. His first jump was a quadruple toe-loop immediately followed, from the blue, by a fantastic quadruple toe-loop/triple toe-loop combination. He then executed five more triple jumps of the highest technical quality. His only mistake was a step-out on the triple Axel. His spins were excellent as well as the choreography of the program. But what makes him so captivating in presentation is the way he moves his body, his head, his arms, while skating on deep edges. He really flies on the ice. Every movement is wonderful; he really lives his music and makes you perceive his inner feelings. At the end of his program, I was crying. Patrick perfectly represents what I would define as the ideal male skater. Excellent in technique as well as in the artistic side of our beautiful sport, without becoming feminine. Thank you, Patrick, for the intense artistic emotion you gave me.

The silver medal went to Takahiko Kozuka of Japan. Kozuka was sixth in the short and second in free skating. Skating to Franz Liszt's Piano Concerto No. 1, he executed a flawless program which included a huge quadruple toe-loop, two triple Axels, six other triple jumps, and fast spins. He had also fantastic step sequences. He is a very elegant skater, soft and harmonious. Definitely the second best program of the day.

The bronze medal went to Artur Gachinski of Russia. Gachinski was fourth in the short and third in the free. He opened his program to The Bolt with a quadruple toe-loop followed by two triple Axels and five more triple jumps. His jumping technique is excellent and he had a sparkling performance. Artur, who is only 17 and was taking part for the first time in the World Championships, is definitely a very talented young and promising skater.

In fourth place we have another young skater, Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic. Although he landed a quadruple toe-loop and a quadruple Salchow, he only placed fifth in the free because of two falls. In spite of this, he impressed me with the way he glides on the ice on deep edges, the way he moves with natural elegance and charm. Another hope for the future.

A special thought must go to Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, the defending world champion. He was third in the short program and only sixth in free skating because of unbelievable misfortune. Kicking the ice to take off for a planned quadruple toe-loop, he was forced to interrupt his performance because a screw on his skating blade came loose. In accordance with ISU Regulations, he was given two minutes time by the Referee, Mrs. Mona Jonsson, to settle the problem. He made it in time, but had to restart the program from the point of interruption. Therefore, he could not try the quad again. However, with unbelievable self-control, he successfully concluded his program, executing his fabulous step sequences. He is a very appealing and charismatic skater, with a great personality. It is really sad that he could not perform at his best because of this accident.

The pairs event was also very interesting.

The gold medal was won by Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, who captured their third world title. They were second in the short and first in free skating. Skating to the Pink Panther, they executed a perfect program, starting off with a magnificent throw triple flip, followed by triple toe-loop/triple toe-loop sequence, double Axel, triple twist and a great throw triple Salchow, plus original and difficult lifts. Each movement was perfectly executed in time with the music and expressed its character. The choreography was original and well conceived and the skating full of passion.

On the second place we have the new Russian pair, Tatiana Voloszhar and Maxim Trankov. Although they are the 2011 Russian champions, this was their first major international competition. They could not compete at Europeans because Tatiana had not been cleared yet to compete for Russia. They placed third in the short and second in the free. Skating to Romeo and Juliet, they featured a triple twist, a triple toe-loop/double toe-loop combination, a triple Salchow and two excellent throw jumps, loop and Salchow, plus excellent lifts and spins. They are very elegant and appealing on the ice.

The defending world champions, Qing Pang and Jian Tong of China, after winning the short program, only placed third in the free. Their free program was marred by several mistakes. Tong struggled with the solo jumps. He singled an Axel and doubled a toe-loop. Overall, the whole performance was a bit disappointing. In my opinion, they were also over-marked. In no way should they have been placed ahead of Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov of Russia in the free program. Skating to Clair de Lune, although Yuko fell on a throw triple, they showed a brilliant and very strong performance which included a triple toe-loop, a triple twist lift, two triple throws, a double Axel sequence and original and breathtaking lifts. Their interpretation of the music was excellent, very touching and artistically appealing.

The ladies' competition was also very exciting and full of surprises.

Miki Ando of Japan won the world title for the second time. In the short program, she placed second, very close to Yu-Na Kim of Korea. But in my opinion, her short program, skated to The Mission, was the best of the day. All her jumps were of the highest quality, as well as her step sequences and spins. It was a beautiful and romantic program, skated with a lot of class. She should have been given first place.

In her free program to Grieg's Piano Concerto No. 1, she executed five triple jumps, including two triple Lutzes. Her only mistake was to double a planned triple toe in her double Axel combination, and then stumble. The program was cleverly constructed to collect the maximum number of points by placing many jumps in the second part of the program to obtain bonuses. Her jumps were of the highest technical quality, as well as her step sequences and spins. The whole program was very elegant, appealing and well skated, to her beautiful music.

This victory was the best way to pay a tribute to the Japanese people who suffered in the disaster and maybe bring back to them a little smile, as Miki said after the competition.

The silver medal went to Yu-Na Kim of Korea.

In the short program, Yu-Na put on an intense performance and placed first. Skating to Giselle, she stepped out on her opening triple Lutz, but then executed well a triple flip/ double toe-loop combination, a double Axel and four spins. Her step sequence was very attractive. As usual, she was very elegant, expressive and dramatic, but she was far from the Yu-Na Kim we all remember.

In her free program, skated to traditional Korean music, she started with a perfect triple Lutz/triple toe-loop combination and nailed three other triples, but she singled a flip. Her spins were good, even if not so well centred.

On the whole, it was a good program, but she has lost her magic. I could hardly recognise the skater that I had described as a marvel one year ago. Perhaps because of the choice of this unfamiliar music, in her program I could not see any story; there was no interpretation; I did not feel any emotion. Probably this is due to the fact that Yu-Na had, lets say, taken a year off, and coming back to the World Championships without having tried her programs in competition played an important role. And it was really sad to see her in tears on the podium. But Yu-Na, with her natural talent, her natural elegance, can easily be re-born and be again the beauty we all remember.

The bronze medal was won by Carolina Kostner of Italy. Carolina, who was only sixth in the short program after falling down on a triple flip, moved up to third thanks to an excellent free program. Skating to L'Après-Midi d'un Faun by Claude Debussy, Kostner executed a triple flip, a double Axel/triple toe-loop combination, and three more triples, but singled a loop. Except for this error, which did not have any impact on her presentation, Carolina executed a flawless program to the end while seducing the audience with her expressiveness and her elegance. She looked sure and determined on the ice. She skated one of the best programs I can remember in the last few years.

Ksenia Makarova of Russia, who stood in third place following the short program, placed only ninth in free skating and dropped to seventh place in the final. When I saw her placement in the free program, I thought that there had to be a mistake in the results. Although her program was not perfect (she had a fall on her triple loop and the triple toe-loop in her jump combination might have been under-rotated), I really could not see how she could possibly have been placed so low. Then, checking the detailed results, I found out that her last jump combination, triple Salchow/double loop, was considered null. This is due to a very complicated rule that I will try to explain.

In her program, Ksenia executed two triple loop jumps, the second of which, although she fell, was considered automatically by the computer as a jump combination. Since the rules allow a maximum of three jump combinations or sequences, at that point she was allowed only one more combination, which was a three-jump combination with double Axel. The last one she executed, triple Salchow/double loop, therefore was not allowed and considered as an extra element. Either the girl did not know the rule or she did not remember. Of course, this error cost her a lot of points. It is not the first time that such a case has occurred in a competition or championship. Although correct according to the present rules, one has to wonder whether these rules make sense or if they should be reconsidered. Is it appropriate to expect the skaters have a computer in their head instead of a brain? How can we expect the competitors to interpret, express and live their music with their hearts if their main concern must be to count the number of positions or revolutions in the spins, or remember whether they still have the right to repeat a fallen jump in a combination? I do think that it is time that the "Long Program" went back to being a "Free Skating Program", without too many strings and limitations. In my opinion, there should be a minimum number of elements that are required and then the skaters should be left free to choose which additional elements they want to perform. Some may say: this is going back to the past. Well, changes are not always for the best. It is important to realise this and have the courage to change again.

The dance event was fantastic.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White placed first, winning an historic gold medal by becoming the first US dance team to win this title. Skating to a tango, they executed a breathtaking program, with very difficult intricate footwork, amazing twizzles, original lifts and spins. They lived their music with intense passion from the beginning to the end. Really a great and unforgettable performance.

The silver medal went to Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada. They skated to a medley of Latin dances. It was really a very difficult and demanding program, and they interpreted each step in a fantastic way. They had great power and speed and they also executed original and innovative lifts. It was a close fight.

The bronze medal, surprisingly, went to another US couple, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, in their debut at the World Championships. Dancing to Smile and Let's Face the Music and Dance, they gave a flawless performance as well, executing difficult lifts and steps.

European champions Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat (FRA) dropped from third to fourth as they both fell right at the beginning of their circular step sequence. Really sad for such a great couple.

To conclude, I did enjoy watching this World Championships, even if only on TV. I regret that I could not be in Moscow and live the atmosphere in the arena, but to stay at home to take care of my husband during Easter time was my first priority.