Monday, December 15, 2008

Koreans show their passion for skating at Grand Prix Final

The ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating final has wrapped up in Goyang City, Korea and my impressions are of a country and fans totally in love with figure skating.

Mr. David Dore, former director general of Skate Canada and current ISU vice-president for figure skating, had this to say: “The interaction of the crowds and the performers reminds me of the “glory” days of successful skating in Canada. There is good evidence of strong sponsorship and enthusiastic and involved fans, which is great for skating.”

The intensity was palpable as nervous Koreans cruised the hallways and milled around outside the building waiting for the senior ladies to skate and a chance to see Korea’s champion, teenaged phenom Yu-Na Kim. Her face is everywhere from commercials to print ads to TV interviews. That kind of pressure would feel overwhelming to the most seasoned rock star - never mind an 18 year old girl.

Though not perfect, Kim did lead after the short program before ending up second behind world champion Mao Asada of Japan. Italy’s Carolina Kostner looked confident and secure in her free program and skated her way to the bronze medal.

The men’s event belonged to relative newcomers. Jeremy Abbott of the U.S. captured the gold, and Japan's Takahiko Kozuka took the silver. Their eagerness to perform and the superb construction of their programs gave them each the safety net they needed to be able to rise to the top.

Crowd favourite Johnny Weir of the U.S. took the bronze. Canada’s Patrick Chan struggled in the short and tried to make up lost ground in the free, but it was a case of too little, too late.

Frenchman Brian Joubert withdrew just prior to the free program, citing a back injury. He was not alone.

China reveals key to pairs success

The dance event ultimately featured only four teams. The Russian team of Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski pulled out just after the original dance warm-up with Novitski suffering from “digestive intoxication,” as the media advisory so delicately put it. Americans Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto bowed out before the free dance as a result of a flare-up of a back injury for Agosto.

Defending world champions Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France prevailed, with the silver going to Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin. The American team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White pulled ahead of Italians Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali in the free dance to win the bronze.

The pairs event really showed that the key to success is finding the perfect program for a team - one that helps them to truly express themselves artistically in a way that is accessible and understandable to judges and audience alike.

The winners - China's Qing Pang and Jian Tong - have just such a program with their free. It is tango-inspired, sophisticated, challenging and totally engaging. It propelled them from third place in the short program to first - ahead of teammates Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang, who took the silver, and defending world champions Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy from Germany, who got the bronze. Savchenko and Szolkowy led after the short program, but with an error-filled skate and a weaker free skate they were no match for the Chinese.

With a number of key players absent, such as Japan’s Nobunari Oda in the men's competition and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in ice dance, what will happen as the season continues to unfold is by no means a foregone conclusion.

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