The Grand Prix Finals 2007 in Torino


Text © Céline Oreiller

Pictures © Céline Oreiller, Marco Malinverno

Over the past few years, Torino has become a regular stop-over for figure skating. Host of the 2005 European Championships, the 2006 Olympic Games and the 2007 Winter Universiade, the Palavela welcomed on December 13-16 the best skaters of the beginning of the 2007/2008 season for the Grand Prix Final. While the youngest generation of skaters stepped into the Olympic rink for the first time, others returned there for the third time of their career.

The Grand Prix Final, as usual, gathered the six best ladies, men, pairs and ice dance teams of the various Grand Prix events that took place from the end of October until the beginning of December. Luckily, this year, no qualified skater withdrew before the event, which turned out to be a very exciting competition.

On Friday, the ice dancers were first to take the ice, in a Palavela that was about half full. With intricate original dances to folk music, the six teams brought the audience to Russia, Spain, France and the United States. What a welcome change after last season's overdose of tangos! Belbin/Agosto (USA) took the lead ahead of Delobel/Schoenfelder (France) and Domnina/Shabalin (Russia), but with a gap of just 2.5 points between first and fourth place, all teams were bound to deliver perfect performances of their free dances to medal the following day.

Next, the men offered us one of the most exciting short program event in the past few seasons. Stéphane Lambiel (Switzerland), Evan Lysacek (USA) and Kevin van der Perren (Belgium) skated near-perfect programs that included 4T-3T combinations as well as the triple axel and triple lutz. Nevertheless, it’s Daisuke Takahashi (Japan) who took the lead thanks to the high quality of his elements and the originality of his program, a hip hop version of Swan Lake. Johnny Weir (USA) had the only fall of the event on his triple axel, while Patrick Chan (Canada), who skated in his first major senior competition just two weeks before his 17th birthday, had some problems on his 3F-3T combination.

The ladies could unfortunately not keep up with the level of the men’s competition. Yu-Na Kim (Korea) only did a 3F-1T combination, Carolina Kostner (Italy) singled her axel and Mao Asada (Japan) almost fell on her 3F-3L combination and skipped the solo triple jump after she tripped in the steps preceding the take-off. Caroline Zhang (USA), the 14-year-old wonder who qualified for the Final in her first senior Grand Prix, went all out and managed to grab the 2nd place, three points behind Kim and two points ahead of Kostner. Yukari Nakano (Japan), Kimmie Meissner (USA) and Asada were all within a point of Kostner, which, again, promised a good fight in the free program.

Last to skate were the pairs. European Champions Savchenko/Szolkowy (Germany) delivered a good performance of their “Bollywood” program that earned them the highest ever SP score of 72.14 points, despite a mistake on the throw triple flip. The two Chinese teams Zhang/Zhang and Pang/Tong took the 2nd and 3rd place, not far behind the Germans. Dubé/Davison (Canada) lost many points on an aborted lift, and McLaughlin/Brubaker (USA) and Kawaguchi/Smirnov (Russia) also did some mistakes that kept them far from the leaders.

On Saturday afternoon, the ice dancers were again the first to compete. Opening the event, Pechalat/Bourzat (France) presented a very interesting routine about “craziness”, but unfortunately Bourzat fell during a step sequence. Khokhlova/Novitski (Russia) delivered a very energetic performance of their free dance to “A night on bald mountain”, one of the most original and exciting programs of the season. In a totally different style, the 2006 Junior World Champions Virtue/Moir (Canada) produced a smooth performance of their romantic “Umbrellas of Cherbourg”. These three teams stayed respectively in 6th, 5th and 4th place, while the top 3 fought hard for the gold by delivering technically strong programs. It’s finally Domnina/Shabalin who walzed their way up from 3rd place to grab the title, ahead of Belbin/Agosto and Delobel/Schoenfelder, both with classical programs to piano pieces.

The men’s free program was unfortunately not as good as the short, with many smaller and bigger mistakes. Kevin Van der Perren suffered an injury that prevented him from landing his jumps cleanly and skated the end of his program in obvious pain. Patrick Chan had a good performance of his program to “Four Seasons” that reminded many people of Lambiel’s emotional free program at the Olympics. Johnny Weir fell on the triple flip and doubled a loop, but still landed six triples in his program “Love is war”. Evan Lysacek landed a 4T-3T combination again, but his triple axel was downgraded and he fell on the triple salchow. Stéphane Lambiel and Daisuke Takahashi were then to fight for the gold. While Lambiel’s program had a better choreography, Takahashi’s performance was stronger technically with one quad and two triple axels – the Swiss World Champion landed neither jump cleanly. In the end, it’s the computer that decided on the winner when it randomly picked the seven judges (out of ten) whose marks were to count. Takahashi would have placed 1st in over 86% of the cases, but Lambiel got lucky and won the free program with enough margin to overtake the Japanese in the overall standings (239.10 to 238.94 points). This leads to an important question: What if something like this happens at the World Championships or at the Olympic Games? Should the computer really have enough power to “choose” the winner?

In the evening, the rink was full of Italian fans eager to support Carolina Kostner, but the pairs’ event was first. McLaughlin/Brubaker withdrew due to an injury and the other pairs seemed somewhat “uninspired”. Savchenko/Szolkowy won both the free program and overall standings, despite mistakes on their side-by-side triple salchow and 3T-3T sequence. The Chinese took silver and bronze. Zhang/Zhang missed their opening combination and aborted a lift, while Pang/Tong doubled the throw loop and looked unusually unsecure both on the triple twist and the death spiral. Dubé/Davison placed 4th after she fell on the throw triple lutz and Kawaguchi/Smirnov ended in 5th place after they failed on their attempt at a throw quad salchow.

Luckily the ladies’ event was totally different. Skating first, Mao Asada redeemed herself from the previous day and blew everyone away with an amazing performance that included a triple axel and two 3-3 combinations. It was hard to believe that she didn’t break all records with such a great program and harder yet to understand how Yu-Na Kim received almost the same score for a weaker performance that saw her fall on the triple loop. Kim won the event ahead of Asada and the “fight” between those two wonders should continue in the coming competitions and seasons. Carolina Kostner, unlike in previous events at home, managed to keep her nerves under control and beat her personal best with a very good program that included a 3F-3T combination, three other triples and two double axels. She stayed in 3rd place, ahead of Caroline Zhang, who skated just after her: the difference in ice coverage and maturity between the two “Caro” was quite impressive, and we can only hope that the little American prodigy will build up speed and power in the coming years. Yukari Nakano finished 5th and Kimmie Meissner ended up last after falling three times in her program.

For full results of the competition: click here.

Overall, the Grand Prix Final was a very exciting competition, much better than last year’s in St.Petersburg, where skaters had suffered various injuries and illnesses. Hopefully, all the wonderful athletes who were in Torino will continue to progress this season and reach their peak at the World Championships in March – if they do, the competition in Göteborg will be nothing short of amazing!

So far, no international competition is planned in the Palavela for next season, but many fans will take the trip to Torino for the 2010 World Championships. I will probably be there too and look forwards to traveling to this wonderful city once more, though I’m not really thrilled at the thought of spending a whole week on the iron-ish “seats” of the Palavela… Oh well, what wouldn’t we do for figure skating?

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