by Klaus Reinhold Kany
(24 March 2019) Even if Japan’s heart beats more for the single skaters than for ice dancers, the Super Arena in Saitama was sold out with almost 20,000 spectators for the free dance on Saturday noon. About ten couples gave world class performances.
The big favorites Gabriella Papadakis & Guillaume Cizeron from France placed 11 points ahead of the rest of the field and won with a new world record of 222.65 points. They used two music pieces of Rachael Yamagata. Their flow on the ice is unique and especially Cizeron has the attitude and the sparkle of a ballet dancer. All their elements had a level 4 and were absolutely outstanding. GOEs of +5 dominated, the choreographic lift had nothing but +5, 26 of the 45 components were 10.0 and the average was 9.9.
Papadakis commented, “It was a great performance. Every year it is a little different, we go through difficulties every year. This year is post-Olympic. We had shorter preparations, not as many competitions as before, everybody was a little bit more tired than last year. It is always a challenge, but we take it easy.“ Cizeron added, “The practice and the competition were really close. And since the hotel is really far, it was better just to stay at the rink. The organization had a little nap area for us. I think most of us like to go back to the hotel and take a nap to reset a little before the competition. So it is a little different from what we are used to, but it still worked out pretty well.“
Victoria Sinitsina & Nikita Katsalapov from Russia crowned their excellent season with the silver medal, gaining 211.76 points after being ninth in 2016 and not even qualifying in 2017 and 2018. Skating mainly to the classical version of Bach’s Air and a piece of Bach’s admirer Fritz Kreisler, they excelled by flow and expression. All their level elements were level 4, the +4 dominated and their components were around 9.6, with five perfect 10.0.
Sinitsina explained, “I can say that I was afraid to start this way, but when we started to skate together and held our hands together, we felt we were the ones. We have been moving forward, have been training a lot, have overcome a lot of obstacles and fails. I have never felt like quitting, I just wanted to move forward.“ Katsalapov added, “We are absolutely happy. The competition went really well. We have been practicing a lot for this event. I feel that all of our hard work has paid off. I can feel it on my neck now. Gabriella and Guillaume are just amazing. They are icons on the ice now. Everybody is watching them and learning from them.“
U.S. Champions Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue won the bronze medal with 210.40 points. They are the best U.S. dance team again after losing at Four Continents against their training mates Madison Chock and Evan Bates because they had travelled too much during a stationary lift which therefore was not recognized as stationary. The defeat at this event motivated them generally to work more on precise elements. That lift was really stationary in Saitama. After three minutes of two Romeo and Juliet soundtracks they added a more dramatic last music piece of "Kissing You“. Especially main coach Patrice Lauzon had missed something which motivates the spectators to feel more emotions and rhythm. Their music boss Hugo Chouinard created a mix which fits and which he liked. Like the two top teams they had nothing but level 4 elements and their components were around 9.3.
Hubbell commented, “Zac and me are incredibly pleased with our performance today. This has been arguably our best season, our best calendar year starting last World Championships in Milan. We have grown so much as a team. We wanted to challenge ourselves to get more changes, to make a stronger last part and really give the performance for the Japanese audience. We have the honor of training with Gabriella and Guillaume everyday. I can attest the fact that they are just as fabulous at home. But I can say that the growth that I and Zac have had already probably would not be the same without them everyday. So, the only thing we can do is to trust our team.“
Alexandra Stepanova & Ivan Bukin from Russia finished in fourth position after performing a very sexy and sultry Blues to "Am I the One“ by Beth Hart. Their components also had an average of 9.3 and they had only GOEs between +3 and +5. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje from Canada finished on fifth position, earning 205.62 points. As a tribute to single skater Denis Ten from Kazakhstan, who was killed last year, they used the music which he had skated to in his last free program, “S.O.S. d’un terrien en detresse“ (SOS from an earth citizen in despair). Weaver’s twizzle sequence was not clean, but all other elements were excellent.
U.S. team and Four Continents Champions Madison Chock & Evan Bates placed sixth with 204.92 points. The twizzle sequence had a level 3, everything else a level 4 and their components were around 9.2. The fourth and sixth place of the two best U.S. teams will guarantee the U.S. dancers again three spots at next year’s World Championships. They also changed parts of their free program after Four Continents. The opening pose and the diagonal step sequence are more speedy and and the choreographic steps looked more dance-like.
Chock said, “I think that all the changes that have happened to us this season had a great impact on us in a positive way. We have never felt more confident about ourselves and about our skating as we do now. It feels so good that our best performance of the season happened here, at the World Championships.“ Bates added, “I think it is our favorite free dance that we have ever had, and it is really our tempo, especially the last piece of music. It is very audience-friendly.“
Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier from Canada ended up on seventh place, earning 200.92 points. Charlene Guignard & Marco Fabbri from Italy are eighth with 199.18 points after making a small mistakes on a lift. The third American couple of Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker finished in ninth position with 189.06 points. The third Canadian couple of Laurence Fournier Beaudry & Nikolaj Sorensen were tenth, earning 188.10 points.