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Worlds 2003: Ladies qualifiers; Pairs finals (3/26)


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Wednesday was a day of drama and intensity at MCI Center.


The first medals were awarded in the Pairs event. Reigning champs, Xue Shen & Hungpo Zhao of China earned the gold in the climax of one of the most dramatic skating finals in the history of the sport...with the entire MCI Center audience screaming and yelling for "sixes" even before the music had ended.

The powerful and dynamic Shen/Zhao drew to skate last among the top four pairs, heading into the finals. Their main rivals, Russia's elegant, long-limbed team of Tatyana Totmianina/Maxim Marinin, and the leaders after the short program, drew to skate next-to-last...so the set-up for a dramatic finale could not have been better.

Earlier we saw a clean, perfect (if a tad tentative) performance by USA champs Tiffany Scott/Phillip Duhlebon, drawingthe first standing ovation of the night. In the end, that performance ensured that the USA would finish in the top ten, thus allowing two teams for that country in 2004 Worlds. [When all was said and done, S/D finished in 9th and fellow team members, Inoue/Baldwin, in 10th...so Team USA placed two couples in the top ten...a huge surprise!]

The second standing ovation of the night was for a high-flying performance to 'Tosca' by Canada's Langlois/Archetto, prompting an ocean of maple-leaf flags in the audience. L/A ended in 5th place in their first outing at Worlds.

The lyrical classists among the three brilliant Chinese pairs -- Pang & Tong, who must weigh about 70 and 100 lbs, respectively -- were up next. Dressed in pale grey chiffon costumes, skating to Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto no. 2, they sailed elegantly through their routine and, again, many in the audience rose from their seats and gave them a spirited ovation. They ended 4th; almost to the podium.

They were followed by the Polish team, Zagorska/Siudek, known for their powerful and innovative lifts. A couple of minor errors, step-outs by Zagorska on throws, was enough to drop them from 5th to 7th overall. They were wonderful...but so many others were even better. It was one of those nights.

Then came the youngest and most explosive of the Chinese teams -- Dan Zhang & Hao Zhang. Wearing gorgeous lilac costumes and skating a new program to the operetta 'Countess Maritza,' they performed yet another near-perfect routine (spins were their problem), garnering yet another rousing ovation from the audience. They ended in 6th place.

Then the top four teams took to the ice.

First up among the top four were 2000 World Champions, Russia's Maria Petrova & Alexei Tikhonov, a 'classic Russian' power-team who have always lacked a certain charisma and, in fact, had been dropping in technique since that gold medal three years ago. But tonight they finally regained some of the spark from 2000. Skating to music from "Chess" and wearing new, bright costumes, P/T tore through their program with near-perfection, faltering only on a couple of dismounts, but not falling. They had zip and speed; covered the ice well. Displayed the Russian trademark of precision and synchronization. BUT, alas, they failed to ignite the audience...still lack charisma. Thus, when judges marks flashed and put them into 1st place (at the moment), the audience booed like crazy. Some yelled "Thieves!" Emotions were running high..esp. in the area where I sat, among a Canadian tourist group that were a bit bitter over the earlier marks for Langlois/Archetto.

Up next, the youngest Russian pair, 4th coming into the finals -- tiny blone Yulia Obertas, with Alexei Sokolov. Alas, their lyricism from the short program eluded them tonight. Their "Spirit Wind" martial arts-inspired program was riddled with obvious oerrors. Obertas took a hard fall from a throw triple...a fan in the audience yelled sarcastically: "Hey! A First-place program!!!" Sharks ready to bite judges who may hold-up any other Russians.... Thank goodness, Obertas/Sokolov earned relatively low marks, as were deserved, and they ended in 8th place. Whew!

Next up, the Russian champs Totmianina/Marinin & in first place coming into the finals. A PERFECT, artistic program to "The Cotton Club" with spot-on jumps, throws, spins, their trademark lift with the man skating (not just gliding) as he carries the girl aloft and she switches positions on her own. Superior synchronization of each other's movements...flicks of the wrist, bend of the head, snap of fingers, intricate footwork...two skating as one. There is wild applause, standing ovation, near-perfect marks for T/M (5.8s and 5.9s).

The audience is cranked up by the time that the next & final team take to the ice -- Shen/Zhao. Puccini's "Turandot" - a time-tested routine that every skating fan knows by heart, from last year's Olympics and Worlds. We skate the routine with them - knowing what is coming up. The HUGE triple throws, sending the girl five feet into the air and halfway across the rink, with picture-perfect landings! Clean side-by-side triples. Even their usually-lackluster spins are clean! With one minute left, the audience is ready to crown them the victors. By the time the routine ends, we are all on our feet, screaming "Six! Six!Six!" This time, judges got it right - Zhen & Zhao won!!!

As much as I love Russia, I give this one to China, no doubt about it. :) There's enough other gold awaiting Russia later this week. :D


Forget the all-USA podium, folks. Olympic champ Sarah Hughes fell and slipped her way through an uninspired "La Bayadere", ending in 6th place in one of two qualifying groups. Most of the audience -- even Americans -- thought that Hughes deserved much lower. She was that awful. Tiny Dan Fang of China, who ended in 7th place behind Hughes, was robbed!!!

Hughes was in the tougher, more talent-packed group, which included the other two USA ladies (Michele Kwan and Sasha Cohen) plus the Russian champ, Elena Sokolova. Kwan placed first following a musical, dazzling, clean "Concierto de Aranjuez" despite not completing a 3-3 combo (she did only one combination of jumps, a 3-2; in all, six triples, including the one in the combo). Audience adored her & she got a standing ovation, early in the morning.

In second place was Russia's Elena Sokolova, skating two 3-3 combos...the magic formula that earned Sarah Hughes the Olympic Gold last year. Blonde sweet-faced Sokolova was charming, delightful, in her routine to 'Notre-Dame de Paris' overture. Eight triples, including those in the combos.

Most in the audience were dumbfounded by the 3rd-place placement of Sasha Cohen, following a near-perfect performance of her "Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto no. 2" program. No 3-3 combos...but she did three different 3-2 combos...seven triples in all. And gorgeously-extended spirals and quick footwork. A dazzling presence. Musicality. On the other hand, not great coverage of the ice (her spirals traveled small paths, compared to Kwan and Sokolova); bit slow in sections; missed her first combo, doing only one 3 lutz, when she usually tacks on a 3 toe loop; near-fall just skating around one corner of the ice; aggressive posture of STABBING the ice with her toe-picks as she took to her opening pose, may have been a turn-off to some judges who may prefer 'ladylike' demeanor in their ice princesses??? Whatever the reason, Cohen WAS undermarked by some judges...even one 5.1 for artistic impression. But, IMO, she deserved 3rd place, compared to Kwan's perfection and Sokolova's much-higher technique/charming presentation. Audience disappointed.

Japan's Shizuka Arakawa was a 4th-place surprise. (The other two Japanese skaters are in the other qualifier group; see below) Clean, speedily-skated performance to "Titanic" with six triples, including a 3-3 combo.

Fifth place went to Ukraine's beautiful perennial champion, Elena Liashenko, whose deep edges & 'basic skating quality' are second to none, save Kwan's.

Sixth - Sarah Hughes (see above)

Seventh - Dan Fang of China (see above)

Eighth - Alisa Drei of Finland...capable of 3-3 combos but not today.


This was a far 'easier' group, by the luck of the draw.

1. Fumie Suguri (Japan) - last year's Worlds bronze medalist won this handily, with only four triples, including one 3-2 combo. Stepped out of another triple; popped another; hand down on another. But it was good enough for first place in the group...so she goes into the short programs tied for first place with Michelle Kwan.

2. Jennifer Robinson (Canada) - for once in her life, a perfect qualifying program. 'DeFalla Suite' of Spanish music, charmingly delivered. Technically conservative but CLEAN. Canadian fans were delighted. She goes into the SPs tied for 2nd with Elena Sokolova...ahead of Sasha Cohen!

3. Viktoria Volchkova of Russia - She's lucky to have been in this weak grou, with this lethargic performance to Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Fall in her combo, after a good high 3 lutz. Step out of double axel. Still, she completed five triples cleanly. No combos.

4. Yoshie Onda of Japan - Disappointing skate, considering that she is supposed to be the strongest of the three Japanese girls and the one with best chance to make the podium, due to her huge triple jumps, including possible triple axel. But not today. Fell on one 3 lutz; touched down on the second attempt. Did five other triples well.

5. Lyudmilla Nelidina of Russia - a shocker, of sorts. She already has a consistent triple axel. Tried one here and did it, but with a slight two-foot landing, so it did not count. BUT it woke up the judges & they rewarded her with 5th place despite unpolished overall skating. A tall, untra-thin, long-limbed blonde beauty...so perhaps the judges are thinkinng in terms of future potential? Audience booed her relatively high marks.

6. Anne-Sophie Calmait of France - charming, fresh, energetic little redhead; lots of potential

7. Galina Maniushenko of Ukraine - lethargic; pounded out a few triples

8. Carolina Kostner of Italy - thin, long-limbed surprise from the Europeans...performed poorly here....not quite her time but she already has many fans in the audience

A long day yesterday, as you can read.

Today will be shorter. Nothing in the morning (Thank God, some rest). Ice Dance 2nd of three phases in afternoon. Then, tonight, the finals for Men -- showdown between Yevgeni Pluschenko (who is promising us a 4-3-3 combo..."and maybe even more!") and Americaa's 'Quak King' Tim Goebel. Takeshi Honda of Japan (now in 3rd) or China's Chenjiang Li (now 5th) could be spoilers. Then there is the unknown factor: Can Washington's own Michael Weiss rally from 4th place (after being in 1st place in round One) to earn that long-awaited ride to a celebration in Atlantic City, aboard a Hummer Limo? The answer, tonight! :D

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Again, thank you so much for your posts, Jeannie! Much better than the media coverage here...which I MUST complain about.

I feel I'm owed some figure skating news (tv, print, what have you) after all the hockey, golf, and football I must watch...but sadly, last night I was disappointed.

Canada is still only broadcasting from TSN which is fuzzy on my tv and a station I forget about...the Ice dancing was on early, so I missed it. Then we had to wait for a HOCKEY game and at 11:30 I fell asleep at the tv waiting for skating to appear.

I did check out the ABC coverage. They only showed the top 3 pairs and the American team. The Americans did a wonderful performance, and I fully understand the coverage...but it annoyed me that they didn't even show the entire final flight or even mention other teams (such as the Canadians). At least they did show the placements. The Chinese team was absolutely amazing, I've never been so moved by their skating.

So we proceed on to the men. Only the top flight was shown...the other men were not even mentioned, and the placements were only shown at the end of the broadcast for the final flight. So I've no idea what happened with the Canadians.

Go to the paper this morning...no mention of the pairs or the men... argh. A little article about ice dancing, and about Jennifer Robinson's great skate.

Jeannie, I'm very curious to see your report about the men's final. As I've said, I know next to nothing about skating, I only watch it because I enjoy it so much. Last night Pleshenko (sp)looked a bit tentative to me, probably a result of his sore knee, but I really enjoyed T Goebel's performance...and Michael Weiss, I guess it just wasn't his time. I frainkly wondered about his choice of music...at least last night I think he needed something with a bit more energy. that being said, Concierto de Aranjuez is one of my favourite pieces of music...but it just didn't seem to be a great fit for him.

I know things can look totally different live, and especially through the eyes of someone who really knows what to look for. Am looking forward to your posts.

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Thanks for your kind words, mom2!

I am working on the report of yesterday's events - men's Finals and Ice Dance Original Dance. As a preface - I agree with almost all of your observations re. men's finals, as you saw it on TV...except that, IMO, Yevgeni Pluschenko won fair-and-square, 100%, on artistry, as well as a huge arsenal of jumps that were landed...some saved through extraordinary...but no touch-downs, or falls. So each and every jump that he attempted counted. Kirill Simonov's choreography to the specially-commissioned piece of music, "St. Petersburg 300," was simply stunning, particularly the footwork, as well as the placement of spirals and spins. A great tribute to a great city by a great skater who refuses to abandon his country. (Neither does his coach, Alexei Mishin; along with Moscow's Tchaikovskaia, the only top coach from the old USSR who has not left.) A stellar moment for Russian sport, in this era of non-stop emigration from east to west.

But just in case one reads 'Russian Jingoism' into these reports -

If Michelle Kwan or Sasha Cohen outshine Elena Sokolova tomorrow...or if Bourne/Kratz outskate Lobacheva/Averbuch in dance tonight...I'll be the first fan waving the stars-and-stripes and the maple leaf, respectively! Just as I agreed 100% with the Chinese victory over Russia in pairs. :)

I am now carrying flags of six nations - USA, Canada, Japan, China, France, and Russia. Some of you have seen me with my 'flag display' at various ballet competitions. My main objective in all of this is to have a blast and bring smiles to audience-members from all over the globe who are seated around me, while supporting great skaters or dancers!

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From the archives of "WHAT WAS I THINKING?":

I went to DC for one day. It was torture to get on a plane to come home and know what I was missing at the MCI Center. (Once again, bless you Southwest Airlines and your fares that are cheaper than taking the train from Albany to NYC). I am hooked on figure skating competitions!

I picked a winner of a day. Ladies' Qualifiers and Pairs' Final. I chose deliberately so as to see the Chinese and now 2 time world champs: Shen and Zhou, and was amply rewarded for doing so. More about that shortly.

I agree with so much of Jeannie's report that I won't echo, but I'd love to add a few impressions.

Jeannie did not overstate the Sarah Hughes case. I saw Sarah at Nationals, and felt that she was being held up. She looked tired and her technique was poor. I had hopes that she would pull herself together for Worlds. Well she didn't look tired on Wednesday, but she did look lazy. Her technique was even worse. Besides the popped jumps, her legs were never straight. A old-fashioned ballet mistress would have hit her with a stick! I have never been a Sarah fan, but I wholeheartedly endorsed her Olympic gold. That night she outskated the field and the medal was earned. I think that was a fluke. She just isn't that good. I wish Sarah well. From all accounts, she is an outstanding student who will have her pick of colleges. And finally: the Baydere program does not suit her choregraphically or musically. It just doesn't work.

Jeannie had given me the heads-up to watch for Yoshie Onda and her triple axel, and she was disappointing. I know that Yoshie didn't skate her best by any means. The other Japanese ladies are also outstanding. Watch for Shizuka--she is a comer. And I agree that Dan Feng was exquisite.

So thrilled for Jennifer Robinson. She is a beauty and a beautiful skater. And Sasha Cohen. Don't even get me started. a 5.1! Please. What was that about? Sasha is one of the most musical skaters and her Rachmaninoff program is magnificent. She does a running sequence toward the end of her program that is breathtaking. Please, Sasha..keep it together tomorrow night!

Michelle Kwan is elegance and radiance on ice. It is always a joy to see her.


It was a privilege to be a part of the cheering, stamping, waving crowd that didn't even wait for Shen and Zhou to finish their program. I am so glad that I was there to see such a triumph.

For me, though, the other part of the story was Scott and Duhlebon. They were truly terrible at Nationals, and only won the title because everyone else was bad too. My heart was in my mouth during their skate and I was so thrilled to see a beautiful program. As bad as they were in Dallas, they were that good in Washington. Lots of work between January and now, obviously. Well done.

I have a few more notes to add, but it will have to be later. Gotta run.

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