SOCHI FIGURE SKATING: INDIVIDUAL MEDAL RESULTS

PAIRS: Russian Strength Dominates

In Sochi the outstanding masquerade waltz short program from the Russian Pair Volosozhar & Trankov (1st) was sheer classic perfection. But I preferred the more fun/modern short routine of the German couple Savchenko & Szolkowy who performed to music from the Pink Panther, dressed as the Panther and a policeman respectively. I also enjoyed the brightly clad Canadian Pair Moore-Towers & Moscovich, who performed superbly in their free program scoring 202.18 for overall 6th place. My preference in the free program gravitated more toward the lower end of the spectrum. I loved the Italian Pair Berton & Hotarek performance to the Philip Glass soundtrack Dracula (overall 11th). The complete package just fitted them so well I thought. The American Pair Castelli & Shnapir (overall 9th) almost made history by pulling off a throw quadruple Salchow during their Skyfall routine. Castelli landed two-footed although credit was given in the technical marks. But all eyes were on the top four from the short program for medal contenders. All of them were first time viewing for me as I had missed them during the team event, and I was in for a treat. The German Pair Savchenko & Szolkowy in second place after the short program had falls at the start and end of their free routine, won Bronze with 215.78. Mother Russia took Silver with 218.68 through Stolbova & Klimov performing to The Adams Family music, and Gold with 236.86 from Volosozhar & Trankov performing to Jesus Christ Superstar. The Chinese Pair Qing & Jian put in a solid performance to score 209.98 placing 4th in their last skating season.

MEN: World Record Helps Secure Japan Gold

Drama unfolded in the Men’s individual event when Russian Evgeni Pluschenko pulled up injured in his warm-up and retired from the competition. This resulted in Russia’s only chance of a medal in this event being dashed. Japan’s 19 year old Yuzuru Hanyu made history by scoring the first ever plus 100 marks in the short program (101.45). Having only recently burst onto the international scene Hanyu proved to be the main threat to Canada’s Patrick Chan. In the short program Chan took second with 97.52 whilst Spain’s Javier Hernandez placed third with 86.98. This left the interesting prospect of an Asian, Canadian or Spaniard being within touching distance of the Individual Men’s Gold medal, a feat never seen before. However, anything can happen in the free program, and further drama played out before the Gold medal was awarded. Team USA’s Jeremy Abbott performed a lovely flawless routine to Exogenesis by Muse, scoring a season’s best of 160.12 which earned him 8th in the free program ranking. But having suffered a horrendous fall in the short program (15th), could only manage 12th overall with a score of 232.70. Germany’s Peter Liebers 5th after the short program failed to land his first quadruple jump, thwarting his chance of making the podium, ended up 8th overall (239.87). Other skaters produced errors in their routines including Yuzuru Hanyu, who fell in his first quad and faltered in a triple move as well. His free program scored 178.64 well below his plus 193 season’s best, but his overall tally was 280.09 enough for Japan Gold. A nervous looking Patrick Chan didn’t manage a flawless performance either and secured Silver for Canada with a score of 275.62. But the surprise Bronze medallist was Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten who put in a solid, well executed, flawless routine to move from 9th to 3rd overall with a score of 255.10. This happy ending for Ten was made all the more sweet, having endured an injury blighted season with skin, back and ankle problems. Going into the free program less than nine points separated Ten in 9th from Javier Hernandez in third, but the Spaniard ended 4th overall (253.92) in the competition. A special mention should also go to Michael Christian Martinez the only Filipino at the Games, and the first to compete in the Men’s Individual who placed 19th overall (184.25). He looks to have a promising future ahead of him judging by his assured performance.

 

ICE-DANCE: The Only Question-Who Will Get Bronze?

Before the competition started it seemed everyone had already crowned the American couple Meryl Davis & Charlie White as champions, with the Canadian couple Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir coming a close second. With each couple performing true to form and expectation, the true battle rested with the fight for third place.

Having missed seeing the Ice-Dance short program in the team event, I was interested to find out how the more compulsory elements would be interpreted, and delighted in hearing lots of vocals in the music. Great Britain’s Penny Coombes & Nick Buckland received a very disappointing score of 59.33 leaving them 11th going into the free program.  After the team event they subtly changed their short routine in an attempt to better their scores, but still found no favour with the judges. Their free program dancing to a Michael Jackson medley (91.78) was well received by the audience, but a final score of 151.11 left them 10th overall. Coombes & Buckland’s experience in Sochi highlighted perfectly, how subjective figure skating is as a sport. No two competitions can expect the same kind of judging, and the British couple with the same routines won Bronze last month in the Europeans. Other lower ranking couples who impressed with their free programs included Guignard & Fabri of Italy (86.64) and Hurtado & Diaz of Spain (88.39). Both performed to music associated with their nationality, the Italians moving beautifully to Romeo & Juliet and the Spaniards inhabiting the Surviving Picasso Soundtrack.

Meryl Davis & Charlie White never put a foot wrong to win Gold for Team USA, having come first in both the short and free programs. They scored a season’s best with 116.63 in the free to obtain an unassailable 195.52 lead score. Routines showed a combination of quick, dynamic, strong, faster movements and more fluid lines, whereas the Canadian couple Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir who took Silver with 190.99 emulated more elegance, class and style in very precise routines. They also scored a free program season’s best with 114.66, which is all you can ask of an athlete.

The real competition however was between the two Russian couples for third place. Bobrova & Stoloviev (5th overall 172.92) also received a season’s best score of 102.95 for their intriguing “vice-versa” free routine, which saw the personas of the couple switch mid routine. It was fascinating to watch and utterly compelling. Ilinykh and Katsalapov performed a very dramatic Black Swan free program that had both modern panache and old school Russian classic lines within. With an overall score of 183.48 they took Bronze for Russia.

WOMEN: RUSSIA SECURES A FIRST GOLD MEDAL IN WOMEN’S FIGURE SKATING

The “darling” of the Russian team skate Julia Lipnitskaya fell in both her short and free programs putting her out of medal contention. However, her compatriot Adelina Sotnikova who had yet to compete in the Sochi Games shone. Her short program was technically accomplished and scored 74.64 just fractionally behind the Olympic champion of 2010 Kim Yuna (74.92). Going into the free program Italian Carolina Kostner was third (74.12), and barring a fall in the free skate it was expected that these positions would remain unchanged. Kostner performed a lovely free routine to Ravel’s Bolero scoring 142.61 to secure Bronze for Italy (216.73). Adelina Sotnikova put in an electrifying free program gathering 149.95 points with 7 jump sequences/4 in combination. Last skater South Korean Kim Yuna put in a flawless graceful routine, which TV commentators stated was an obvious Gold medal winning performance. How wrong they were, because Yuna scored 144.19 for her free program; (losing 6 technical points to Sotnikova who performed more jump combinations); and only had enough (219.11) to secure Silver for South Korea. To the obvious delight of the home crowd the ecstatic 17 year old Adelina Sotnikova took Gold for Russia with 224.59 points. She became the first ever Russian Olympic female individual figure skating Gold medallist, and having been overlooked in favour of Julia in the team event, Adelina’s success must have tasted sweet.

TEAM SKATING TAKES A BOW IN SOCHI

Before the official opening ceremony took place in Sochi on February 7th the inaugural team figure skating program had already began. This was a much anticipated event for me, as it was a chance to see all four skating disciplines together as one entity. With both short and free programs for the men’s and ladies singles, pairs and ice-dance all included, the countries with a strength of depth would always do very well. Each country had the opportunity to switch a maximum of two performers over all four disciplines. This meant that the perceived “strongest” contenders for the short/free programs could be used by each nation (within reason). However nations with a weaker skating heritage (GB) had to rely on their sole representatives in each discipline covering both the short and free sections.

Results would be given a points allocation, with the highest score receiving 10 points down to the lowest receiving 1 point. Medals would be awarded to the nations with the highest amount of points accumulated.

OVERALL TEAM FIGURE SKATING RESULTS

Gold RUSSIA (75pts): Silver CANADA (65pts): Bronze USA (60pts)

Team Figure Skating Individual Section Winners

PAIRS: Short Program: TATIANA VOLOSOZHAR & MAXIM TRANKOV (Russia)

PAIRS: Free Program: KSENIA STOLBOVA & FEDOR KLIMOV (Russia)

LADIES: Short Program: JULIA LIPNITSKAIA (Russia)

LADIES: Free Program: JULIA LIPNITSKAIA (Russia)

MENS: Short Program: YUZURU HANYU (Japan)

MENS: Free Program: EVGENI PLUSHENKO (Russia)

ICE DANCE: Short Program: MERYL DAVIS & CHARLIE WHITE (USA)

ICE DANCE: Free Program: MERYL DAVIS & CHARLIE WHITE (USA)

From a personal point of view it was a joy to see Evgeni Plushenko skate in his home Olympics. Being an elder statesman on the rink at the age of 31, I remember him bursting onto the scene as a precocious teenager full of talent. This could be said about his young compatriot Julia Lipnitskaia aged 15 who was electrifying performing to music from the film Schindler’s List. It was not lost on me young Julia wearing a vivid red dress, replicating the red coat emblem in the movie. A youngster standing out from the crowd with all that vulnerability. Brilliant though Julia is, I can’t help but wonder, if her childhood has been somewhat sacrificed for the sake of skating glory. Perhaps the same could be said about Evgeni too, because his injury ravaged body today, may well be the result of over work when a youngster.

MY WINTER SPORT “ARTISTIC” PREFERENCES

The BBC TV program “Ski Sunday” introduced me (as a child) to the thrills and spills of downhill skiing, and ski-jumping. Later on I would discover freestyle skiing and snowboarding. And ever since I witnessed John Curry take the Men’s Individual Gold in 1976, I have adored watching figure skating. With the exception of skiing with its “fastest” winner takes all approach, all of the disciplines I enjoy watching have an element of artistry involved in deciding a winner. Ski-jumping not only involves distance jumped but has a style component built in as well. Ice-skating is a subjective sport as a whole, as are the newer ski sports of snowboarding (half-pipe, slopestyle) and freestyle skiing (moguls, slopestyle). But snowboard cross manages to replicate the thrills of downhill skiing, with as much drama occurring before the first past the post winner is crowned.

Not for me the long arduous endurance events, or the frantic pace of ice-hockey on the rink. I’ve grown to very much enjoy the sedate but cut-throat world of “Chess on Ice” otherwise known as Curling. Who can forget Rhona’s last stone going “centre of the house” to secure Gold in 2002? I’m also quite fond of the luge and skeleton events which although based on a cumulative time score, does in my opinion, have an artistic quality to it. The luge gloves with their sewn in mini spikes to help give purchase on the ice, are a work of art in themselves. From a paddle start in luge, an athlete lies flat on their back travelling feet first down a meandering bank of ice. In skeleton a running start has the athlete hurtling head-first down the same course. Effectively both are performing on something akin to an over large tea-tray with skate blades. To do this convincingly has to be an artistic endeavour at least-and a very brave one too. Lizzie Yarnold took Gold in the Women’s Skeleton to win GB’s second medal of the games.

So during the first few days of competition in Sochi I’ve enjoyed the spectacle of my artistic sporting events. The Figure Skating Team competition began on Day minus one and ended on Day Two, with Russia victorious. It was nice to see some camaraderie in the figure skating for a change, as it’s normally such an insular sport. I’ve also delighted in witnessing the sheer exuberance, freedom of expression and friendly relaxed nature of the newer Olympic sports as well. Snowboarders seem to combine the balance of a skateboarder with the dexterity of a gymnast. Jenny Jones a pioneer of her sport here in Great Britain won our first ever medal on snow/in Sochi.  She took Bronze in the Snowboarding Woman’s Slopestyle Final, a new Olympic event. Women’s Ski-jumping (normal hill) also made its debut and Carina Vogt of Germany with a score of 247.4 took Gold.

Intriguingly knitting made an unexpected debut in the Olympics, making a striking appearance in the starting gates of both Snowboarding Slopestyle finals. A volunteer could clearly be seen holding a pair of knitting needles with the beginnings of a potential scarf on them. How on earth did they get through security I wonder? Another unexpected viewing has been the pre-opening ceremony entertainment, when The Ministry of Internal Affairs Choir performed Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. In formal military style uniforms these guys “let loose” with gusto, (Russian style), and it was a sight to behold. Seems their rendition has proved very popular on the internet, though it remains to be seen if this new found popularity, will be enough to land them a berth in the official closing ceremony.

LET’S TALK BOLERO AND DANCE WITH TORVILL and DEAN

On St Valentine’s Day (February 14th) 1984 a British TV audience of 24 million people held its collective breath, as Jayne Torvill & Christopher Dean took to the ice in Sarajevo. They were about to perform their iconic Bolero ice-dance routine in their quest to win Olympic Gold. When the performance scores were returned, Jayne and Christopher had spectacularly succeeded in achieving their goal, and in doing so created a little bit of sporting history as well. So where did it all begin?

The golden partnership of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean began in 1975, a year before Ice-Dance skating was introduced as an Olympic sport. At the 1980 Olympics held in Lake Placid New York, Torvill & Dean placed 5th,an amazing result considering they only skated part-time. Possibly sensing the chance of future greatness, Jayne (an insurance clerk) and Chris (a policeman), gave up their day jobs to concentrate full-time on skating. From 1981-1984 they were World Champions, and only injury in 1983 prevented a clean sweep of European titles as well.

It was customary to perform ice-dance routines to a medley of music within a certain time frame. In 1982 Jayne & Chris (in gold outfits) danced to music from Mack & Mabel, and in 1983 (wearing white) they performed a circus based routine inspired by Barnum. Then the 84 season beckoned and Torvill & Dean went for something radically different. Instead of a medley they would perform to a solitary piece of music, which would gradually build to a crescendo finale. The music they chose was Ravel’s Bolero (originally a ballet score) with an unvarying rhythm and repetitive theme, and with an unaltered length of about 18 minutes!!! How on earth could Jayne & Chris translate this somewhat monotonous work, into a short spine tingling performance that would enchant the world?

Firstly the length of the music had to be significantly reduced to a manageable length, that didn’t diminish the overall power of the work. Some brilliant editing brought Bolero down to just over 4 minutes in length whilst still maintaining its integrity. Still just a little too long for use in competition; 4m 28s as opposed to 4m 10s; some clever choreography was required to make the music viable. By beginning the routine on their knees, Jayne & Chris could incorporate some intricate moves and count down the extra seconds of music. Only when the skating began would the routine officially be timed. Genius in my opinion, and Torvill & Dean’s precision dyed purple outfits ensured every move was accentuated, to the point where their two bodies became one. Portraying a story of lovers unable to be together (like Romeo & Juliet), the routine culminated with them climbing a volcano and throwing themselves into it, thus ensuring being together forever. The overall effect was mesmerising, enchanting and thrilling all at once. I admit though it took a while for me to become so enamoured by Bolero, I think because it was just so radically different. But by the time of the Olympics I knew every nuance of the routine. During the Sarajevo performance for a split second my heart was in my mouth. Had Jayne’s back/shoulder fleetingly touched the ice when it shouldn’t have? I remember at the time the TV commentator had the same thought as me, and then mentioned something about the camera angle being different for the judges. When the results were announced Torvill & Dean swept the board with nine perfect 6.0 scores for artistic impression. I need not have worried; my sporting heroes with a total of twelve 6.0 scores (from 18) had struck Gold.

After the Olympics Jayne and Chris turned professional and toured the world with their unique brand of entertainment. I remember a TV special called Fire & Ice which was just wonderful, and I was enthralled by their “live” shows which I delighted in attending. By 1994 however a change in rules meant that Torvill & Dean although professional, could return to “amateur” competitive skating. With the Lillehammer Games in Norway beckoning Jayne & Chris returned to the Olympic arena. Once again I took a little while to warm to their new routine Let’s Face the Music and Dance, which seemed very classic in style to me but somewhat devoid of the usual “flamboyant” air I expected from them. It seemed that the rules being used by the skating authorities at the time, showed a preference for technical clean lines as opposed to individual flair. So with this understanding Torvill & Dean went to the European championships in January of 1994. They won the event but only very narrowly, and perhaps a little shaken by this, undertook a revamp of their routine adding some trickery and pizzazz before the Olympics in February. The new version of Let’s Face the Music was Torvill & Dean at their very best. Again their performance was spell-binding, but when the results came up they had only done enough to win Bronze. It appeared some of the judges felt an illegal lift had been incorporated into the revamped routine, and so marked them down accordingly, although more harshly than was required. However, Torvill & Dean were far too diligent to their craft to have made such a fundamental error. At the time, and to this day even, I think Torvill & Dean were robbed of a second gold medal. The subjective nature of the sport makes it difficult to ensure that the interpretation of the rules remains constant for every competition. It would seem that had Jayne and Chris left their Let’s Face the Music routine as it was in the Europeans, they would have had a better chance of a higher placed medal in Lillehammer. But I can’t help but think that a bit of snobbery toward “professionals” returning to competition played a part as well.

Once again Torvill & Dean returned to the professional circuit until in 1998 without fanfare they quietly hung up their skates. That may well have been the end of the story, but celebrity/reality TV shows had gathered popularity during Jayne and Chris’s retirement. So in 2006 to my utter delight, Torvill & Dean returned to the world of performance through Dancing on Ice. Once again a TV audience could witness the sheer mastery, genius and beauty of Torvill & Dean, albeit mainly through the choreography & teaching used by them with celebrity non skaters. The couple have performed special routines throughout the series, and a recent performance to The Beatles In My Life was an emotional viewing. Seeing their effortless unified synchronicity, in a performance with little T n D signature moves throughout was, as always, just a joy to behold.

2014 brings the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and our ice-dance stars this time around are Penny Coomes & Nick Buckland. Just getting to these Games is such an achievement for this young couple, as Nick underwent heart surgery in October having been diagnosed with tachycardia (exceptionally high heartbeat). In January they won Bronze at the European Championships, but will face tough competition in Sochi from the USA, Canada and Japan.

But for Torvill & Dean 2014 brings the last series of Dancing on Ice and the 30th Anniversary of Bolero. Through them, I gained a deep love and a better appreciation and understanding for a truly wonderful sporting art form. So, Jayne & Chris, happy anniversary, thank you so much for all the memories. It’s been a blast!