The World FigureSkating Championships 2007 in Tokio began with 2 surprises: a nice one and an expected one. The nice one was the blossom of the Japanese cherry – Sakura – one of the Japanese national symbols. The expected – ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta admitting that without a new contract with a TV company the Worlds 2009 might be cancelled due to the lack of funding.
So far Cinquanta was talking only about moving the Worlds to another locatoion, but without the ISU money no National Federation will repeat Alexander Matrosov’s* heroism and will not defend someone’s lack of finances with their money. Obviously, Cinquanta is far from admitting that his own amateur innovations in figure skating were the main reasons for the financial failure – this Romeo is in love with itself much more than with all Juliettes.
Many journalists, specially in the US and Canada (Philip Hersh, George Rossano, Steve Keating and others) have written about the faults of the NJS and it’s effect on the Figure Skating development. They began writing worrying articles since the TV Companies reduced the payment for the ISU Championships broadcast rights from US$ 20,000 000 a year to US$ 5,000 000. The TV channels are not interested in renewing the contract ending at the end of 2008 season, for any money. Sic transit gloria mundi.
The bad news about the Russian skaters skating “close to the medals“ fort the first time in the last 45 years are known and there is no point to cry over that. Let’s try to see what were the chances of the Russian Figure Skating Federation before the competitions in Japan.
Both in pair and single skating, the chances were nil even before the final team was announced. Valentin Piseyev was leading to that direction for many years by knowingly ruining local schools and lying to the Russian Federation’s Sport officials.
Maria Petrova and Alexey Tikhonov should have realized that they won’t get any medals even if they skated their best. All their medals, as far as the judges are concerned, they already got. Their trip to the competitions resembled the fights of gladiators and probably Masha and Lesha should have howled “Ave, Ottavio! Morituri te salutant!“ I am not sure that after the short program they should have to cry ended their career in amateur sport, but respect their decision. Let’s wish Petrova and Tikhonov good luck in their future lives and that they’ll keep giving us good times on the professional scene! No doubt talented pair Maria Mukhortova and Maxim Trankov need a good coach, and not a bureaucrat from sport for whom the pair is only the means of getting to the competitions at RFSF expence. It’s a pity, that my good friend Artur Dmitriev didn’t have enough time for the pair. Concerning the really promising couple Yukiko Kawaguchi-Alexander Smirnov, their skating was quite good. Specially considering that they’ve been skating together for less than a year, part of which Yuko couldn’t skate in her “full power“ for more than 4 months because of her injury. To her homeland she came not fully recovered. I hope that next year in Gothenburg “Chio-chio-san“ and “Tarzan“ (their nicknames) will be on the podium
The men “defending the Honour of the Homeland Banners“ were represented by St. Petersburg/Leningrad school of Mishin: Andrei Lutai and Sergei Voronov (Voronov being a student of Mishin's student Urmanov). Both are very talented skaters (Voronov a bronze and a silver medalist of the recent Junior Worlds), but sending the new bees to the World Champioships is almost as smart as sending young recruits to Afghanistan and Chechnya, while they ran out of the experienced ones.
For the same reason it was doubtful the young skater Arina Martynova could hope for something high, being sent to the Worlds just a couple of weeks after the Junior Worlds. If Marina and Viktor Kudriavtsevs will be able to convince Arina that victory is worth kicking out boys and parties from her head, the young prodigy might get close to the highest medals.
Elena Sokolova performed the short program not bad, almost well. Several years ago such skating could take her to medals. But times changed, the serious competition not only was born and grew up, but even overpassed junior age and ran far away so, that it will be hard for Russians to catch up with it. If at all.
In free program, Sokolova again clearly showed that with her brain and beauty she cannot control her nerves and came fourteenth.
The only medals possible for the Russian team could be in ice dancing. Here, like in Warsaw, the good performers were the couple from the “Sverdlovsk school“ of Figure Skating, Alla Schekhovtsova and Alexei Gorshkov. In Poland’s capital this “road rollers duet“ was able to squeeze out a silver medal. However, as the custom is not to give medals to the judge and the coach, they were given to Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin. Though Oksana and Maxim should not get higher than third place, it was almost what Shekovtsova and Gorshkov hurled to the Domnina/Shabalin’s older group’s comrades, Albena Denkova and Maxim Staviyski, now twice World Champions). As well known Bulgarian coaches Natalya Linichuk and Gennadii Karponosov predicted “European bloodletting“ and tried to convince their couple to skip Warsaw trip because of sure loss. Well, the newly elected President of the Bulgarian Skating Federation, Albena Denkova, considered skipping participation in the Championships as a desertion from the battle field.
Something similar the bitter couple tried to repeat in Japan, but it happened that life did not fit into the usual frames, and at the World Championships the clocks showed a different time. After Shekhovtsova could not make it into the panel of judges, she tried by all means to push her students on the podium. As she forgot saying “the echo responds to the call”, the angle of incidence is equal to angle of a reflection. The spring set up by her and Gorshkov in Warsaw to press judges blew up and not only did not raise Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin to the top of the podium, but moved the couple from fourth place to the fifth. Though the Russians did not skate their program worse than in Warsaw, the issue remains the same.
As was correctly noted by a known choreographer Mikhail Pavlyuchenko previously working with the couple, the dancers skated without souls, without nuances, categorically refusing the beauty of choreography as the most important element of ice dancing. The sad thing is that the partners are not robots in real life. I have known them for a long time and I know for sure that Oksana, good looking young and warm-blooded lady, and Maxim after dinner in Warsaw quite emotionally explained to me that he doesn’t like my articles which he said he doesn’t read.
I am confident that Domnina and Shabalin can become at least Olympic prize-winners, provided they change coach and choreographer who completely killed their potential of creativity. It is known, that Odintsov’s couple was monitored by Tatiana Tarasova, but I think Natalya Linichuk and Gennadii Karponosov could train the couple as well or better. The second gold medal for the Bulgarians proved that Natalya’s strong personality finally let the first spot to her skill as a coach.
I liked the original dance of Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitskiy for a good technique and performance, but surprised with unmatching costumes. Tango is a ballroom dance. Partners should be wearing an evening dress and a suite, while Jana and Sergei were wearing trousers suites with embroiled silver, to which the most suitable would be sombrero and castanets. Correspondingly, the dance became a far relative to the classic tango. Though their free ”South-American“ program was charming. Their eighth place should be considered as a victory on the current stage, and I would place the couple on the seventh place, before Davis-White.
Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won over Jana and Sergei in two dances: an unclear tango and the free dance, in which Shpilband and Zueva staged a better program than Alexander Svinin and Irina Zhuk. If Alexander and Irina analyze the glitches of this season, they can become one of best five world dancers during the next season. Though even now I can declare Tessy and Scott as promising dancers and serious competitors.
Naturally, I consider Albena Denkova and Maxim Stavisky as the best dance couple of the last few years and the great merit of this is of their former coache Alexei Gorshkov and choreographer Sergei Petukhov. Their title of twice World Champions, is a deserved title for Bulgaria and coach couple Linichuk-Karponosova, who realized in time what treasure swimmed to their shore from the storm of inter-sport intriques and politics.
I fully agree with the fourth place obtained by their main competitors from Canada and USA, Champions of Europe Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder. They were ahead of Domnina and Shabalin in Warsaw as well.
Let’s share the impressions and discuss the performance of skaters from other countries – the ones shown on Eurosport and Bulgarian TV. I deliberately do not analyze the skating of the best ones, as it was already done by my colleagues from TV and newspapers.
In pair skating, it became overly difficult to bypass the great Chinese wall, and all skaters should take Bejing into consideration. Still, Aljona Savchenko and Robin Scholkowy were quite good, and Tatiana Volosozhar with Stanislav Morozov. If Tanya convinced Stas to work in full strength – how did Aljona with Robin – the question of medal distribution could be solved differently.
Leaving aside the famous and popular fighters, Brian Joubert and Stefan Lambiel, I like the Czeck competitor with my surname, Tomas Verner. And, to the extent, “new White Russian“ Sergei Davydov, but only in the short program.
In the hands of Galina Zmievska and her daughter, Nina Petrenko, the future "Tsarina Tamar", Helene Gedevanishvili became rather worse than better in technique. Her only add was in her weight, though that's not Helene's fault but the age. But soon a cute doll will become a beautiful batterfly and all the problems will be over.
Like always, the beauty from Croatia, Idora Hegel, was inconsistent. For many years she has been working with Alexandr Rozhin and his assistant, Oxana Gorbacheva. Unfortunately one of the best Soviet coaches is very ill, which was easy to spot even on the TV screens.
Not yet fully recovered but quite good was the Hungarian skater Julia Sebestien , who went back to her previous Moscow-Armenian coach, Gurgen Vardanian.
I thought that the little sister of the Olympic Champion, Emily Hughes, was cute. The 18 year "plumped", calmly showed everything she can do on the ice and left the ice with the smile of the winner. She herself graded herself with an "excellent" and was quite right. Their family already has the Olympic Gold medal , so the 9th place for the first time at worlds is more than enough.
It's hard to predict what expects the Russian skating in the next years. There are coaches, there are skaters, but there is no system of coordination or ruling, which would take care of financial and other problems, like inner competition between the coaches. I don't want to get into details, but today's situation might become even worse. Especially, if Piseyev, who will probably not be able to stay in his current position till the next Olympic Games, will be replaced by Ilya Averbukh. And he can become the new president if the Russian community and the coaches RFSK will not take fast measures. In this case, Russia would be in a deep trouble In that case the medals for the russian skaters will be obtained only by the Russian businessmen, as it was done 5 years ago by a businessman from Ekaterinburg, Anton Bakov, for Irina Slutskaya.
And the last thing. One of the competent TV viewers who had to listen to the commentary on the Russian Eurosport channel wrote me, that "Russian Eurosport is in its smartness. Apparently the new judging system was introduced to put the Russian skaters down. And they (Russian Eurosport commentators) are talking about the hooliganism in the dance judging. And, apparently, Alexei Gorshkov was not afraid to criticize someone in the ISU for what he is paying now". I am quite far from abusing of the Russian commentators, parrots seem to repeat what they were taught. Nevertheless, there are some clarifications:
1. One of the ideologists and developer of the NJS is a Russian, Alexandr Lakernik, who is a Piseyev’s "pawn" on the ISU chess-board, which Piseyev moved to the head of Figure SkatingTechnical Committee. So talking about the system's "anti Russian" is silly.
2. Arina Martynova and Sergei Voronov did their best in Junior Worlds just 2.5 weeks before the Tokio Worlds and physically they couldn't skate well nor polish their senior programs. Of these things should be known things to Alexandr Boychuk as former skater and sport master of USSR.
4. Alexei Gorshkov did not criticize anyone in the ISU. Criticism is a sort of literature, which is not taught in the suburb of Malahovka institute. Gorshkov was plain rude about technical caller Andrzhey Dostatny, blaming him for being biased against his couple. For such unproven accusations published in the newspapers in the USA, he would be taken to court. If it wasn't for the brain and tact of Elena Vaitsekhovskaya, who decided not to publish the interview with even worse accusations made by Gorshkov towards one of the known judges (who insisted on those things to be published), the coach could find himself in a trial in any western country. And Gorshkov has not yet paid for anything, the investigation which is carried out by Disciplinary Committee of the ISU is not over yet..
*Alexander Matrosov is a Soviet solder who blocked the Nazi's machine gun with his body. He died, but his comrades took over the hill. He was first awarded the highest honour – the gold medal of Hero of Soviet Union.