The French event of the Grand Prix ISU (International Skating Union) series is traditionally considered one of the most interesting competitions of the Old World. It’s here, as opposed to the German Gelsenkirchen that the best duelists of the World figure skating cross blades. And, even though this sport sees progressively fewer bright individual, and progressively more cloned jumping beans, Paris is still worth a mass, or any other service. I guess that’s why I, having for the first time in more than two decades missed the Oberstdorf competitions, still decided to visit the “Bercy” palace, as well as all that the French have built up around it. Excluding the Eiffel tower, Place de la Concorde, Vendome column, and other such Parisian tourist attractions. I’ve already seen those.
2004 Even promised to be interesting. In men skating, “Bercy” palace saw all the strongest skaters: Brian Joubert, Emmanuel Sandhu, Johnny Weir, Ivan Dinev. Evgeny Plushenko was the one missing for a full picture, and I guess his armory just had enough armor for the deciding battles. “Ladies” list glittered with such names as Fumie Suguri, Joannie Rochette, Amber Corwin, Carolina Kostner, Julia Sebestyen. Representing Russia was the “B cast champion” Tatiana Basova, since there was no one else: Irina Slutskaya was busy in other events of the series, Elena Sokolova and Julia Soldatova were still not in shape, and the most gorgeous of Russian “singles” Victoria Volchkova chose to go to Germany for a traditional world class figure skating challenge in Gelsenkirchen.
Pair skating pedestal looked crooked from the start: People’s Republic of China commanded its two duos of the best fighters: Xue Shen/ Zhao Hongbo, and Quing Pang/ Jian Tong. Russia sent the battle worn veterans Maria Petrova with Alexei Tikhonov, and Victoria Borzenkova with Andrei Chuviliaev. Canada went all out to send Anabelle Langlois/ Patrice Archetto, while the former Leningrad World champion turned American coach Vadim Naumov brought his no-longer Junior very promising pair Kathryn Orscher/ Garrett Lucash.
In dance, ice promised to be as dangerous as a minefield. It’s here that “Trophee Eric Bompard Cashmere” could become “Trophee Eric Bompard Nightmare”. Here, for the second time this season, two teams eyed the top step of the pedestal: Russians Tatiana Navka/ Roman Kostomarov and Bulgarians Albena Denkova/ Maxim Staviski.
The competition was judged by a new judging system, accepted this summer at the ISU Congress in Hague. I must admit that the ISU’s attempt to use the new system to make figure skating more fair have so far failed. Neither the judges’ anonymity nor the presence of the so-called technical specialist and technical controller did not allow the best athletes to get to the top of the pedestal.
For example, the first three places in men single skating were pre-determined for the American Johnny Weir, Canadian Emmanuel Sandhu, and French Brian Joubert. Ultimately, that’s how it played: Weir won, Joubert came second, and Sandhu the third. Even though Sandhu, second after the short program, entirely messed up the long. Honestly, he should have been seventh or eighth. The judges though apparently shied away from offending the Canadian, who does not hide his non-traditional sexual orientation and is therefore far more feminine than should be in men skating. He was rewarded for feminine smoothness and finesse of movements with a very high second mark for “artistry”, which gave him the fifth place in free skate, and allowed Sandhu to return to Canada with a bronze. Perhaps this was a nice gesture on the part of the judges, but such behavior from the arbiters can only hurt the sport.
In pair skating, former world champions Maria Petrova and Alexei Tikhonov waged a long and stubborn battle to surpass the Chinese. They only succeeded in part, ultimately ending up second, pressed in on both sides by the pairs Xue Shen/ Hongbo Zhao and Quing Pang/ Jian Tong. Berlin skaters Nicole Noennig with Matthias Bleyer, the fourth team in German rating, could not rise above the eighth place, leaving behind only the Israelis Julia Shapiro and Vadim Akolzin. It did, though, turn out that the first German pair, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, got invited to Moscow, to the former Cup of Chicken Broth* , where the former Junior World champion will try to make a noticeable announcement about her return to the big ice** .
There were many good ladies on the ice in Bercy. The skater from Canada Joannie Rochette took early lead. Closely following Italian Carolina Kostner, second after the short program, seemed ready to overcome the North American in the free, but chocked and barely held on to the second place. European champion Julia Sebestyen from Hungary literally jumped onto the third place from the fifth. Fumie Suguri and Amber Corwin have unexpectedly weak skates. The Japanese looked as if her body couldn’t adjust the inner clock from Tokyo to Parisian time. As to Tanechka*** Basova, she skated no so much as she could but as she wanted, and ended up quite happy with her eighth place.
Finally, on to the most beautiful and least objective type of figure skating – ice dancing. As mentioned above, here for the second time this season two teams eyed the top step of the pedestal: Russians Tatiana Navka/ Roman Kostomarov, and Bulgarians Albena Denkova/ Maxim Stavisky. Bulgarians already won over the Russians in Japan, so the Russian Figure Skating Federations took all measures to avoid such embarrassment in Paris. Acting as the technical controller was no less than the chairman of the technical ice dance committee of the ISU, Olympic champion Alexander Gorshkov; a rather mediocre Polish dancer Andrzej Dostatni as brought in as a specialist, and he acted as the manager of the figure skating division of the society for Polish-Soviet friendship.
And, despite the presence in the fight of the French duo Isabelle Delobel – Olivier Schoenfelder, talented dancers who once even trained with Tatiana Tarasova, everything went as planned. From above, judges got recommendations from the aforementioned Alexander Gorshkov (who shares last name, but certainly not ties, friendship, or moral with the coach Alexei Gorshkov), whereas at the bottom, at the judging tables, the certainly not sleeping beauty Alla Shehovtseva, having just celebrated an anniversary, took thinks into her finely manicured hands. Again the Bercy palace heard the double anthem, the loud part of which is the redone “Union unbreakable”, and the quite – “We need only victory, victory at any cost”.
Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov were pronounced winners; Bulgarians, having shown the most difficult combination of dance and elements were pushed to the second; the French had to make do with the third. When I asked one of the best ice dancing specialists in the world, the authoritative Elena Anatolievna Tchaikovskaya about the judging, she said she’d put the Bulgarians fist, the French second, and her compatriots third. I fully share her opinion, as the free skate of the team Navka/ Kostomarov can only be called first class in the sense that it looks like first class, or rather first level of difficulty. Even then Roman managed to mess up at least one twizzle. Bulgarians, meanwhile, are skating at the fourth [level of difficulty].
*Galina Blanca is a maker of chicken broth
**Indeed, they came third at CoR.
***Tanechka – diminutive from Tatiana