Looking back at the 2023 Worlds in Saitama, part II

March 16, 2024
By Atsuko Kuryu
Photo © International Skating Union (ISU)

As the Worlds 2024 in Montreal draws near, Atsuko reminisces about the thrilling event of the previous year as we delve deeper into what to expect in the week ahead. (Note: The pictures featured in this article are from the current season, not from the previous one.)

Ice Dance

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, in their tenth Worlds, triumphed in both the rhythm dance and free dance categories to claim their first title. Charlène Guignard and Marco Fabbri, the reigning European Champions, secured second place, while Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier from Canada finished third, failing to sustain the momentum from their Grand Prix Final victory. The rhythm dance competition, in particular, marked a fantastic end to the season with a series of exceptional performances and very few errors overall.

Rhythm Dance

Piper and Paul were the first to compete in the final group. They not only executed their elements flawlessly but also created a unique atmosphere and their own world on the ice. They received a score of 87.34 points. When Piper was asked about her surgery, which caused her to take a three-month break from training after the Grand Prix Final, she expressed her happiness to be back in competition. Paul added that every situation has its pros and cons, and not being able to train was definitely a disadvantage. However, the time off the ice allowed them to rest, recharge, and engage in some productive training.

Italy's Charlène and Marco delivered a strong performance, showcasing particularly beautiful moves in the latter part of their routine, resulting in a score of 88.21 points. Charlène jumped for joy upon seeing their score, while Marco expressed his gratitude toward the fantastic audience and mentioned how performing in such a wonderful atmosphere made it easy for them.

Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson, who are very popular in Japan, captivated the audience with their lively and fun moves. Their performance not only resonated with the spectators but also showcased their steadily improving technical prowess in recent years. As a result, they secured fourth place with a score of 86.56 points.

Madison and Evan, the runners-up of the Grand Prix Final, emerged as the victors in the rhythm dance competition. Their graceful and refined movements were executed in perfect unison, and despite the intricacy of their choreography, their rhythm remained flawless. Their performance warranted the impressive score of 91.94 points.Like Marco, Madison expressed her deep gratitude for the electrifying energy coming from the audience and mentioned that the support from their many fans seemed to have a magical effect, enhancing their performance and ultimately contributing to their remarkable score.

Representing the next generation of American ice dance couples, Caroline Green and Michael Parsons demonstrated remarkable agility and swiftness, earning a commendable score of 78.74 points and securing the sixth position. The top-tier European ice dancers, Allison Reed and Saulius Ambrulevicius, along with Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis, as well as Nat√°lie Taschlerov√° and Filip Taschler, claimed the seventh, eighth, and ninth spots, respectively.

Free Dance

The earlier groups delivered a series of outstanding performances, which prompted the audience to give them standing ovations on multiple occasions. The competition for the podium was ultimately decided by the final group, and the final results were directly influenced by the rankings from the rhythm dance.

Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi, who have been the focus of attention in Japan, achieved a tenth-place finish in the free dance with their dramatic and moving performance of "Phantom of the Opera." However, despite their efforts, they were unable to improve upon their eleventh-place finish in the rhythm dance, ultimately landing in eleventh place overall and thus failing to increase Japan's quota in ice dance. Kana must have found it particularly disheartening, considering it was her third occasion finishing in eleventh place at Worlds (on the previous two occasions, she was partnered with Chris Reed).

Caroline and Michael's performance of "Rhapsody in Blue" in the second-to-last group captivated the audience with their classic ice dance-like choreography and nifty touches. Achieving a season's best score of 122.70 and an overall score of 201.44 points left them elated in the Kiss & Cry. Natalie and Filip from the Czech Republic, who garnered attention with their rhythm dance earlier, showcased a beautiful routine featuring impressive lifts and music. They achieved their season's best score of 119.83 and secured the eighth position overall with 196.39 points.

Madison and Evan were regarded as the frontrunners for victory. The audience held their breath as they witnessed their stunning performance, but to everyone's astonishment, Madison stumbled after the dance spin! However, since the fall did not occur while doing an element, it had minimal impact on their score. Despite this setback, they managed to secure first place in the free dance, achieving a season's best score of 134.07 points and an overall score of 226.01.

Charlène and Marco delivered a near flawless performance, although they received a downgrade on one of their foot step sequences, lowering it to level three. Among their numerous captivating poses, Charlène's graceful back bend during the lifts was truly eye-pleasing. With a score of 131.64 points in the free dance, they claimed second place overall with a total of 219.85 points.

Piper and Paul's free dance earned them a total of 130.54 points, showcasing breathtaking moments and beautiful positions executed with seamless flow. However, due to Piper's insufficient practice, they were able to achieve only level three for certain elements. Their final score was 217.88, resulting in a bronze finish.

Lilah and Lewis from Great Britain impressed the audience with their rhythmic, nimble, and contemporary moves, receiving a loud ovation. They concluded the competition in fourth place with an overall score of 214.93 points.

Editor's note: Traditionally, the ice dance competition is expected to feature familiar faces in the final warm-up group. Madison and Evan will aim to defend their title, while Piper and Paul, as well as Charlène and Marco, are determined to go for the gold, too. Both couples had a successful Grand Prix season and a strong second half of the season, with the Italians retaining their European crown for the second consecutive year and the Canadians securing the Four Continents gold recently. Lilah and Lewis will try to make it to the podium this time around. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is certain: they are fan favorites, and the audience will be thoroughly entertained by both their dances. In general, for all I.AM students, who form a significant portion of the ice dance competition, Worlds in Montreal will be extra special as they will be skating at home, with multiple friends in the stands, an opportunity denied to them due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020. And so we wish them to make the most of this experience.

Men

It was a great competition, full of highlights. Skaters starting from Kazuki Tomono (7th) scored over 90 points in the short program, and Shoma Uno and Ilia Malinin surpassed 100. Ilia challenged the quadruple Axel in both programs, and Shoma delivered a free skate without any triple jumps (except Axels). Two unique and captivating skaters, Kévin Aymoz and Jason Brown, returned to the top stage, and Keegan Messing bid farewell. Junhwan Cha from Korea made history by delivering his best performance and securing second place, becoming the first Korean male figure skater to earn a medal at the Worlds.

Short Program

France's Kévin Aymoz perfected his program with two successful quadruple jumps, scoring 95.56 points. On the other hand, Jason Brown's performance, although lacking a quadruple jump, captivated the audience with its charm and elicited a sense of joy in watching figure skating. He received a score of 94.17 points. The audience's excitement soared; it was truly a delight to witness these two exceptional skaters return to the top stage. They secured the fifth and sixth positions, respectively, granting them the opportunity to compete in the final group for the free skate.

Kazuki Tomono and Ilia Malinin, known as the "quadruple god," showcased their individual talents to the maximum extent. Despite his fall from the quad Salchow, Kazuki managed to secure the seventh position with 92.68 points, thanks to his typically entertaining program. Ilia delivered a flawless performance, earning level four for all elements including a perfect quad Lutz-triple toe, quad toe, and triple Axel. With a score of 100.38, he secured the second position and was the only one to surpass Shoma in terms of technical score. During the press conference, when asked about his strategy to beat Shoma in the free skating, Ilia stated that he had no secret plan. Instead, he emphasized the importance of focusing on himself and delivering a strong performance.

More exceptional performances were showcased in the final group. Junhwan executed his Michael Jackson routine flawlessly, receiving a high GOE and achieving level four in all elements, including the coolest step sequence of the evening. Despite performing only one quad, he successfully landed a triple Lutz-triple loop, the most challenging triple combination, securing a third-place finish with a total of 99.64 points. Junhwan expressed that while he had previously achieved good results in the first half of the season, he had dedicated this season to improving his conditioning and training methods in preparation for the Worlds. He was happy to witness the result of his efforts.

Keegan Messing, who recently won his first championship medal at the Four Continents, maintained his strong performance with a delightful routine that showcases his unique style. He earned a score of 98.75 and garnered the loudest cheers of the day. Ultimately, he placed fourth, just behind Junhwan.

Shoma Uno, the reigning World champion, carried the highest hopes and faced significant pressure during the home Worlds. As he sustained an injury during official practice the day prior, he opted for a quad-double combination instead of the originally planned quad-triple. Nevertheless, he managed to showcase his skills with composure and dignity, delivering a fantastic performance. Shoma said he had no regrets, believing it was the best he could have done under the circumstances.

European medalists struggled. Adam Siao Him Fa encountered some issues with his jumps, yet he persisted and gave his best until the end. Receiving an unexpected score of 79.78, he ended up in twelfth place but remained resolute to improve in the free skate. Lukas Britschgi secured ninth place with a score of 86.18. Matteo Rizzo finished thirteenth with 79.28 points, while the Grand Prix Final silver medalist Sota Yamamoto also faced difficulties with his jumps, resulting in a seventeenth-place finish with 75.48 points.

Free Skating

As the event progressed, the level of competition intensified in each category, with athletes showcasing their skills at an exceptionally high standard. The men's free skating, being the final discipline, was no different. Right from the start, the skaters delivered impressive performances with minimal errors. However, when the final group took the stage, the contenders executed their routines flawlessly, leaving the audience with no opportunity to pause and take a breath.

Shoma emerged as the victor in this intense battle. His solo jumps and the first jumps of his combinations consisted solely of quadruples or triple Axels. His body moved as if it were playing music from "Air on the G String," resulting in a highly artistic performance. Despite receiving one under rotation and two jumps marked with a "q," it was commendable for an athlete to compete at the World level with such a demanding program. Regarding his score of 196.36, he acknowledged that his performance was far from flawless, but he gave it his all. During his victory interview, he expressed gratitude towards everyone who supported him, emphasizing that he would not have achieved this milestone without them.

Junhwan, who secured the second spot, executed his program with precision, earning high GOE in all elements except for the triple flip, which received an edge call. His body lines and the Ina Bauer in the latter portion of his program were distinctive in his outstanding performance. With a program components score surpassing 90 points, he fell slightly below the 300-point mark, finishing with a total score of 296.03, his season's best.

Ilia, the second-place finisher, delivered a solid performance, although a few of his jumps were not fully rotated, and he received a level three in one of his spins. With a score of 188.06, he placed third for the evening and overall. Nevertheless, he represents the future of figure skating, offering hope for the upcoming generation.

Kévin Aymoz showcased his exceptional talent, captivating the audience with his unique and acrobatic performance. His technical score exceeded his base value by 18 points due to a positive GOE, while his component score surpassed 90 points. He finished fourth overall. Jason, who secured fifth place, received a commendable technical score thanks to positive GOE, with his component score reaching 96.84, higher than Shoma's. Watching his performance, along with the beautiful music, made the audience delighted, as if they were transported to a realm of figure skating bliss. Kazuki delivered an enjoyable and highly accomplished performance, securing sixth place overall. And, except for a fall on a quad toe loop, his program was impeccable!

Keegan was anticipated to deliver the performance of his lifetime, given that this was his final appearance at the Worlds. However, despite successfully executing two quadruple jumps, he unexpectedly faltered during a spin, resulting in a drop to eleventh place and seventh in the overall rankings. Nonetheless, his upbeat personality, great skating skills, and talent to entertain the public will be fondly remembered by fans of figure skating.

Editor's note: Ilia Malinin is experiencing a rise in his career and is not only showcasing an impressive array of jumps, but also diligently working on enhancing the artistic aspect of his skating. Yuma Kagiyama, absent from Worlds 2023 due to a foot injury and his eighth-place finish at Nationals, is making a remarkable comeback this season by medaling in every event he has entered, including a victory at the Four Continents. He aims to surpass his silver medal performance from Worlds 2022. Shoma Uno, a two-time World champion, has put his focus this season towards self-fulfillment. Despite recognizing the challenge of reclaiming his title for the third consecutive time, he is determined to excel in both the technical aspects that impact the score and the overall quality of performance itself, in this je ne sais quoi charm, which cannot always be quantified but is always palpable and leaves a lasting impression. Adam Siao Him Fa is having an exceptional season, triumphing in every competition he has participated in (excluding the Grand Prix Final). With his strong technical and artistic abilities, he is poised to be the leading European contender for a medal in Montreal.
Junhwan Cha has faced an exceptionally challenging season, yet he managed to secure the bronze medal at the Four Continents competition and assured the media that his health was improving. Although his chances of winning a medal at Worlds may be lower, hopefully, he will conclude this season on a high note. Regardless of his final placement, Jason Brown's performances are always a delight to watch, and it is a privilege to witness his continued participation in the sport.
As always, the men's competition is anticipated to be intense, with the programs showcasing an unprecedented level of complexity. This can result in either a plethora of memorable performances or a multitude of mediocre ones. We'll know the outcome in just a week's time!

As the Worlds 2023 drew to a close, it marked a satisfying outcome for the host country, Japan, securing gold medals in three of the four disciplines. Furthermore, the overall level of competition demonstrated significant improvement. For instance, in the men's event, more skaters attempted complex quads, with nearly all incorporating triple Axels into their routines. Additionally, there was an increase in the number of participants across all categories. Fans cheered loudly, regardless of the athletes' nationality or rank. When skaters performed well, the audience praised them generously. The happy faces of skaters as they looked at the excited crowd after a good performance left a lasting impression. Many athletes expressed joy from the enthusiastic audience support. The Saitama Worlds showed how figure skaters and fans can come together in an ideal way. Let's hope that Worlds in Montreal will do the same.

Back to Part I: Pairs, Women



Copyright © 2004 - 2024, Absolute Skating
All rights reserved.