Saturday, 4 February 2017

State of the Art: Pair Skating

Of all the disciplines I have always admired Pair Skating the most. Pair skating requires two equally skilled single skaters who have trained all their lines, edges and body movements to be as one plus numerous extremely acrobatic elements to be executed with perfect quality. It is true that pair skating looks horrible when the pairs try too difficult elements for their level. But when all is trained to the perfection added with good speed and interpretation of music not to forget the famous connection on the ice, Pair skating is pure joy to watch (read about G&G). The element of risk is always present what makes it ever so exiting.

It is good to remember that it was Pair Skating and Jamie Sale and David Pelletier who made Figure Skating to change the whole judging system by their Salt Lake City program of Love Story. Audience and whole Figure Skating family did not accept their silver after a clean program and couple of days later the political bias was revealed behind the results. Gold medal was shared and Figure Skating was never the same.

My favourite duo couple of years back were a classy Canadian pair of Jessica Dubé and Bryce Davison. They had such smooth lines on ice and a sweet connection. Unfortunately their career ended for Bryce's knee injury leaving bronze medal at worlds their best ever result. This program is from their last season and has a really classy style.

But most recently, what is hot in Pair Skating? Interesting enough the reigning Olympic Champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov are having a break and Tatiana very pregnant. Aliona Savchenko, multiple World Champion has made a comeback with a new partner. Five years younger Bruno Massot is huge besides tiny Aliona and they have delivered some promising programs. Overall Pair Skating does not have one single star but a handful of pairs who can all win at their best day. They are all still building up to their very perfection but they all are a joy to watch.

Canadians Megan Duhamel and Eric Radford are great and athletic but compared to the legends of the discipline I still miss the harmony on ice. Young Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (Their names are made for winning in Pair Skating 😃) are the most promising and have dominated the arenas this year. The other two Russian pairs are just an inch behind. Then there are Wenging Sui and Cong Han, Chinese porcelain dolls - so fast, so skilled and yet so small but rumored to be injured this season however there are other Chinese pairs who could podium at worlds. Europeans had a really delightful bronze pair Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres - long timers in the discipline but what a progress they have made this year!

So the doors are wide open for the new stars! Personally I always enjoy watching Italians Valentina Marchei and Ondrej Hotarek. Valentina was a great rival of Kiira Korpi in singles but couple of years back she switched to Pair Skating and has made a really delightful career there with Ondrej. With clean programs they are just knocking the door for top six at worlds.

Friday, 3 February 2017

State of the Art: Ice Dance

It became true yesterday. I will be watching Helsinki World Figure Skating Championships LIVE on the arena every single day in March as part of the volunteer organisation. Now it is time to summarize past couple of years, building ultimately to 2018 Olympic Games. Helsinki is a key milestone on the way as the results will determine the initial entries to Olympic Games. So, lets start with Ice Dance.

There is one star brighter than all the other and that is the French Ice Dance duo Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron - funny enough making the abbreviation of G&G by their first names as well (read this). They jumped from junior ranks directly to the very top of the seniors by winning both Euros and Worlds in the season of 2014-2015. Their magnificent free program combined of contemporary dance and classical Mozart Adagio made everybody to realize that there is yet another direction in Ice Dance and these two are the pioneers of that ground. I remember writing to my Facebook wall after their first GP competition that let me predict these to be the new stars. Finally we have an Ice Dance pair who could bring the true nature of contemporary dance on the ice and expand it to new levels with the fluidity of the ice. The inspiration for the program is from a dance piece Le Parc made for professional dancers. In the previous year I had paid attention to the smooth and extremely flexible body lines of Guillaume. He is by no doubt all time best male ice dancer so far.

The year after they continued their contemporary style with beautiful lyrical music.They left everybody speechless again by telling of a story of building a home in a new circumstances of their life. (Placing 1st in Euros and Worlds again)

This year they challenge their fans, audience and judges by coming with borderline music of rather abstract theme and rhythm and they are skating with their smooth contemporary style to a chaotic almost unstructured choreography. I must admit it took me time to accept that and I'm still trying to get the deepest meaning of that. Looking forward to see that LIVE! However they won Europeans again albeit the start of the season has been a roller coaster and they have not dominated Ice Dance this year.

Who is behind this duo? How come they have achieved such success and become the youngest ever Ice Dance World Champions. Their coaches Marie-France Dubreul and her husband and Ice Dance partner in competitive years Patrice Lauzon together with a choreographer Romain Haguenauer are the "Team Zueva" of late 2010. It is this team that has made such an impact on Ice Dance. Marie-France is former world medalist with Patrik but it seems that they will make even bigger impact on Ice Dance as a coach and choreographer team. And what a jewel they have with Papadakis Cizeron to make their ideas live!

But, this year we heard that the former multiple World Champions and Olympic Champions 2010 Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are returning to competitive skating. Not only that, but with the same team of Marie-France and Patrice behind them. The pattern of one coaching team with different pairs concentrating on the top seems to continue when the old team of Zueva is slowly fading from it's fame. Virtue and Moir will be great but Papadakis and Cizeron have all the goods to go beyond great, something we can't imagine yet.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Hall of fame: Pair skating perfection of Gordeeva and Grinkov

Worlds are just gone. Boston hosted great championships like USA always does. North America has done great things to figure skating and skaters however I still prefer the Russian deep soul. One of the most touching figure skating story is about my all-time favorite pair skaters Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov. We all know them as G&G.

They were the last generation of pure Soviet products. They had grown within the system where talented skaters just had to skate. They potentially could have had that grey Soviet glance in their eyes but on the contrary they both had a character and they both seemingly loved skating regardless the pretty ruthless system. They were one huge man and one tiny girl as they started. They went from win to win from 1986 to 1987.

1988 was Olympic year and Galgary hosted the games. Canada is all about Ice hockey and figure skating. Soviet people could explore the western world very limited at that time but athletes had the luxury of being on the competitions. Gordeeva and Grinkov just melted the Calgary audience with their genuine, fresh and clean programs. Especially Ekaterina was the one to draw the attention. They won Olympics with the ages of 16 and 21. This victory gained them North American relations and ever since they were invited to North American tours. America just loved them. 

One would think that this is the story, but the story only starts here. They had age difference of 4-5 years and Ekaterina had been like a tiny girl. However after Olympics her body became to change and her skating suffered. Sergei realized that Ekaterina was not only getting the attention because of her open and honest personality but she truly was becoming a very beautiful woman. They became a couple, married and got a child while being professional skaters in US in the early 90’s.

For 1994 it was made possible for professionals to reinstate and make a comeback to competitive skating. So the duo did. They come back as husband and wife, parents of a baby, with a magic that was never seen on ice before. G&G had the programs of all times choreographed by Marina Zueva. She started together with G&G in the Soviet Union but turned out to be the most famous and successful choreographer and coach of ice dance during past fifteen years in North America. Their Olympic free skate on Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, telling a story of their lives and hunger for more, was just pure perfection – it had it all. (The video is from European championships since they skate this cleaner than in Olympics)

Pair made a golden comeback and was crowned as Olympic Champions again in Lillehammer despite some errors in the Olympic skate. They return to pros and continue in North American show of Stars on Ice. Just one and a half years later Sergei collapses on ice and dies of a massive heart attack with the age of 28. Ekaterina loses her husband, father of their child and her partner on ice. This brought a tragic end to their love story that Americans had just loved. Their skating truly had the best qualities of pair skating all times.

For me it is still not the love story that shines through. It is actually the deep russian soul that they could bring on ice from the very pressure of the soviet system. Sergei and Marina were the artistic engine of the couple where Ekaterina had the shine of a star. She has the capability to draw attention and embrace the ideas of those two. Sergei was the perfect partner for her. Marina Zueva describes him as the pure ideal of a male pair skater. Almost like a statue of Ancient Greece. This exhibition program of Lillehammer is one of my favourites and brings out their quality of skating.

Well, and the heartbreaking tribute to Sergei was skated just couple of months after his death and Ekaterina was seen alone on ice - skating for the memory of her husband.

I really enjoyed watching this couple when they were skating and I still do – thanks for youtube. Ekaterina has stayed on ice and has made performances as a single skater, continued life and found a new partner. However the magic was gone together with Sergei. I’m still waiting a couple to beat that or come even close. 

Great site about this couple: 

Monday, 4 April 2016

What is Finnstep?

Finnstep is a blog that has been planned long before a web blog as a medium was invented. It was maybe 1984, Sarajevo Olympics and I am a kid watching YLE's (Finland Public Broadcast) coverage for Olympic Figure Skating.

It is Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean dancing their out of the box Bolero and earning their clean row of 6,0s from artistic impression. It is Katarina Witt and her legendary coach Jutta Müller on the screen. It is Valova and Vasiljev in pairs and Scott Hamilton in men. They were crowned as Olympic Champions but I was bit by a figure skating buzz.

Ever since I have followed figure skating. I have had my favorites and my opinions on the judges' favorites. This is a blog that reaches to history to embrace current skaters. This is about my reflections on this ever so interesting sport. On my behalf I want to be building a great momentum for Helsinki World Figure Skating Championships 2017 and hopefully long after that.

And myself. In the 80's I was a lot on skates but unfortunately I wasn't put on a figure skating club. Luckily it is never too late. I skate in an adult synchronized skating team and slowly start learning my individuals. There is a lot to gain on that area :)

But what Finnstep really is despite my figure skating blog nowadays. It is maybe the most recently invented compulsory dance in ice dancing. Yes - we don’t have compulsory discipline in ice dance any more - but in the short dance there are always compulsory rhythms embedded to program. Finnstep was one of the rhythms in Vancouver Olympics. The dance is created by Finnish ice dance heroes Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko. It is a variation of quick step which was their short dance on the golden season of 1994-1995. 

What a delightful dance that is. That was the ultimate gift to the judges who were begging for ballroom dance in the early 90's and Rahkamo-Kokko kept on delivering theatrical un-ball-room-like performances. But this is ballroom dance, you can almost feel the bounce from floor! 

P.S. More about Finnstep from a fellow blogger The Wrong Edge