Chinese pair take first world title after being out for most the season; Germans and Russians overcome their own injuries to win silver and bronze.
At the World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, Finland this week, 28 pairs competed, tying the record number of pairs from 1994. This made for a bloodbath, when only sixteen teams were allowed into the free skate, and only sixteen of twenty Olympic berths were up for allocation. A strong 60-point program did not guarantee a place in the final, which in the past has been unheard of. Nor did a top ten finish guarantee two Olympic berths, ultimately causing no small amount of confusion. It all goes to show the International Skating Union needs to seriously consider allowing more pairs into the final, and probably the Olympics as well.
It was a fairly inspirational competition as well. Eight of the top twelve pairs ended up overcoming some sort of injury, be it from last summer or from the morning practice before the short. This included all three of the medalists. It was a fairly well-skated event as well, despite some teams’ injuries getting to them.
Chinese Narrowly Beat Germans for Gold
Wenjing Sui & Cong Han’s injury struggles have now been behind them for half a year. They might not have had much of a skating season, with only two events. Perhaps it even showed a little in their side by side spins in the short program. But even so, their short was one for the ages. They absolutely nailed most of it, even maxing out the possible score for their difficult throw triple flip. Their skating and performance too were at their best, and they broke 80. They would max out the throw flip in their free skate too, as well as one of their lifts. Attempting side by side triple salchow jumps, they did have a fall, but they also had a beautiful quadruple split twist. They broke 150 to win the segment and the gold.
Both were narrow wins, though. They weren’t the only team to break 150. So did Aliona Savchenko & Bruno Massot. Earlier this month, he was struggling with back issues, which had cut into their preparation a bit. But with him recovered, they went all out, even attempting the throw triple axel in both programs and nearly landing it in the long. Their throw elements in general were a bit rough, as they got through solo salchows on two feet but didn’t manage their planned sequence of triple toes in the free. But they made up for it with their other elements and artistry. This was especially true in the long, where they too maxed out the value of a lift. They won silver less than two points behind Sui & Han.
Russian Teams Have Their Ups and Downs
Evgenia Tarasova & Vladimir Morozov had their participation in the event throw in doubt the morning of the short, when she sliced her leg open in practice. Half a day and ten stitches later, they skated a good short, though their throw loop was rough. Their long program ended up being similar, where they profited from a strong side by side three jump combination and salchows, and a quad twist, albeit with a hard catch. They came dangerously close to botching a lift, but ultimately survived. They took bronze comfortably over Chinese team Xiaoyu Yu & Hao Zhang. Yu & Zhang combined a quad twist in the free with easier side by sides throughout, mostly clean, though their combination in the long didn’t go well at all.
Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov too were long recovered from the leg injury that cost them the first half of the season. But in the short program falls on the twist and throw flip left them down in 13th. They came back with a third place free, where they went for a three jump with two triples in it. He turned it into a messy triple-triple single, but they still had the highest technical tariff of anyone, with the aid of a clean throw flip and salchows less so. It was also possibly the most artistic performance of the event. They climbed all the way up to fifth.
Natalia Zabiiako & Alexander Enbert were fifth, after a strong short. But they had full downgrades in their three-jump and on their salchows, and did botch a lift. They had a thirteenth place long, and finished twelfth.
Canadian Teams Struggle, Barely Preserve Three Berths
Reigning world champions Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford were skating the most injured, with a spasming muscle in his hip making it hard for him to do various elements, including their signature side by side lutzes. They substituted them with much easier toe loops in Helsinki. There were still throw lutzes in both programs, but they weren’t quite clean in either. They also went for the throw quad salchow in the long, which she fell on. They then managed the side by side salchows, but even they were shaky. So were multiple non-jump elements throughout, especially in the second lift in their free. They finished seventh, though within a point of Stolbova & KIimov.
Landing .13 in front of them were Liubov Ilyuschechkina & Dylan Moscovitch. In the short, she managed their side by side toes with a bobble. In the long, she fell on them to lose their combination, and two-footed their salchows. But, as is typical for this team, they made it up best they could with everything else, including throw lutzes in both programs, and did it just well enough to be another Canadian team in the top seven. Sixth and seventh made Canada the last country to qualify three berths to the Olympics.
Their third team here, Julianne Seguin & Charlie Bilodeau, capped off a season where an injury hasn’t been their only misfortune with a disappointingly low finish. Neither salchows nor their throw lutz were quite clean in the short. The salchows and throw flip were in the long, but their technical content still wasn’t enough to place higher than eleventh.
Three Teams Finish Close to Round Out Top Ten
Between eighth and tenth there were less than two and a half points. French team Vanessa James & Morgan Cipres took eighth mostly on their dramatic presentation scores. In the short, they too had a fall on the twist, though their salchows and throw flip were clean. The throw was clean in the free too, but she singled the salchow. They too also went for and fell trying the quad salchow. They did a three-jump, which partly made up for the loss.
Italians Valentina Marchei & Ondrej Hotarek did a harder three-jump in the free. They had a clean short with salchows and a throw lutz. But while they repeated the throw lutz in the free, their other jump elements were easier, and their non-jump elements were weaker. They came in ninth, and Italy was the last country to qualify two berths for the Olympics.
After Haven Denney & Brandon Frazier suffered two falls in the short and failed to qualify for the free, Alexa Scimeca Knierim & Chris Knierim were left to qualify the United States Olympic berths on their own. After getting through their short with a stepout on their salchows, they landed those a throw flip clean in the free. But he stumbled on the triple toe to cost them their intended three-jump, a costly error indeed. In tenth, they still would’ve qualified two berths, except the teams in front of them had already qualified fifteen. They obtained only the last one available for America.
Final Distribution of Olympic Berths
Three: China, Russia, Canada
Two: Germany, France, Italy
One: United States
All multiple berths also apply to the 2018 World Championships, to which the U.S. will also be able to send two teams.
Four more berths remain in reserve, for teams from countries not yet qualified to win at the Nebelhorn Trophy. It’s not impossible the results there will decide the fate of a fifth berth. France, right now, has James & Cipres, who will certain compete, and three more age-eligible teams where the man’s ability to get French citizenship in time is uncertain. They may ultimately have to give their second berth up.