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2012 Grand Prix Preview

by Alexandra Stevenson

Senior Grand Prix Standings

Ladies

  1. Ashley Wagner, USA (30)
  2. Mao Asada, JPN (30)
  3. Kiira Korpi, FIN (26)
  4. Akiko Suzuki, JPN (26)
  5. Julia Lipnitskaia, RUS (24)
  6. Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, RUS (22)
  7. Christina Gao, USA (22)
  8. Mirai Nagasu, USA (20)
  9. Kanako Murakami, JPN (20)
  10. Agnes Zawadzki, USA (18)

Men

  1. Patrick Chan, CAN (28)
  2. Yuzuru Hanyu, JPN (28)
  3. Takahiko Kozuka, JPN (28)
  4. Tatsuki Machida, JPN (26)
  5. Daisuke Takahashi, JPN (26)
  6. Javier Fernandez, ESP (24)
  7. Jeremy Abbott, USA (20)
  8. Florent Amodio, FRA (20)
  9. Takahito Mura, JPN (18)
  10. Nobunari Oda, JPN (18)

Pairs

  1. Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov, RUS (30)
  2. Vera Bazarova & Yuri Larionov, RUS (28)
  3. Qing Pang & Jian Tong, CHN (28)
  4. Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov, RUS (28)
  5. Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford, CAN (26)
  6. Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch, CAN (22)
  7. Caydee Denney & John Coughlin, USA (22)
  8. Stephania Berton & Ondrej Hotarek, ITA (22)
  9. Ksenia Stolbova & Fedor Klimov, RUS (18)
  10. Marissa Castelli & Simon Shnapir, USA (18)

Dance

  1. Meryl Davis & Charlie White, USA (30)
  2. Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, CAN (30)
  3. Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat, FRA (30)
  4. Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev, RUS (26)
  5. Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov, RUS (26)
  6. Anna Cappollini & Luca Lanotte, ITA (26)
  7. Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje, CAN (22)
  8. Ekaterina Riazanova & Ilia Tkachenko, RUS, (22)
  9. Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani, USA (20)
  10. Victoria Sinitsina & Ruslan Zhiganshin, RUS (16)

Junior Grand Prix Final Qualifiers

Men

  1. Joshua Farris, USA (30)
  2. Maxim Kovtun, RUS (30)
  3. Jason Brown, USA (28)
  4. Boyang Jin, CHN (28)
  5. Ryuju Hino, JPN, (24)
  6. Keiji Tanaka, JPN (22)

Ladies

  1. Elena Radionova, RUS (30)
  2. Angela Wang, USA (26)
  3. Anna Pogorilaya, RUS (26)
  4. Satoko Miyahara, JPN (26)
  5. Hannah Miller, USA (26)
  6. Leah Keiser, USA (24)

Pairs

  1. Margaret Purdy & Michael Marinaro, CAN (30)
  2. Lina Fedorova & Maxim Miroshkin, RUS (28)
  3. Brittany Jones & Ian Beharry, CAN (26)
  4. Maria Vigalova & Edor Zakroev, RUS (24)
  5. Vasilisa  Davankova & Andrei Deputat, RUS (24)
  6. Xiaoyu Yu & Yang Jin, CHN (22)

Dance

  1. Alexandra Stepanova  & Ivan Bukin, RUS (30)
  2. Alexandra Aldridge & Daniel Eaton, USA (30)
  3. Gabriella Papadakis & Guizaron, FRA (30)
  4. Valeria Zenkova & Valerie Sinitsin, RUS (28)
  5. Evgenia Kosigina & Nikolai Moroshkin, RUS (26)
  6. Anna Yanovskaya & Sergey Mozgov, RUS (26)

Iceberg Skating Palace has Sight Line Issues

The "Iceberg" Skating Palace where the Olympic figure skating and short track speed skating s scheduled to take place in 2014 is a pre-fabricated  "modular" venue, making it possible to be dismantled at the end of the Games and transported for use for some other purpose. The final use, in another city, has not been fully decided and neither has the exact destination.  It appears the building may be sold to the highest bidder after the Olympics which will determine its fate.

The name of the venue is associated with the architectural shape of the building. During the Olympic Games, the Iceberg Skating palace will stage the short track and figure skating competitions.  There are three levels of entry to the seating but when you look out at the seating from the ice, there are just two levels, and the top level has a major problem.

Every row on the top level has bars interfering with spectators' viewing. This may not be a problem for the Grand Prix Final, because of the likely smaller number of spectators, but for the Olympics, it will no doubt be sold out.

The ISU has been made aware of the situation.  ISU President Cinquanta held a press conference this evening where it was revealed the Russian Federation was trying to persuade him into passing a special regulation to have more than one Russian man in the Olympics but he kept saying it wasn’t possible.

Regarding the bars in front of every row in the arena’s Upper Level, which restrict the spectators view of the ice, Cinquanta said, "I can only direct your point to the organizers. I cannot have this responsibility. It's up to the organizers. But, as I said before, the arena is properly prepared and we can only congratulate the Russian entity for their job. They should be respected. But, if this causes the problem (for spectators) this embarrassing situation should be removed."

According to the construction chief this was a safety issue and all new arenas are subject to the law.  Other Russians explained that hockey fans are very rowdy and this restrictive rule was made with them in mind but, for political reason, and it applies to all new arenas in Russia.

Miki Ando Skipping Grand Prix May Lead to Sanctions

The Japanese are making continuing to make an issue Miki Ando choosing not to do the Grand Prix series. Regarding this situation Cinquanta said, "This Final is extremely important for the ISU because it gives us a great chance not only to see the best skaters in the world competing here, but also to test and further develop the arena in light of the upcoming Olympic Games."

Cinquanta revealed that former world champion, Miki Ando, had written a "good" letter to the ISU, explaining her situation, but he did not elaborate on what she said, choosing not to confirm whether it was injury, or fatigue, or whether she had other commitments. He said, "So we will leave it to the Japanese Federation to decide (on possible sanctions) because she represents the Japanese Federation and not the ISU."

Kiira Korpi Arrives Day Late due to Stomach Flu

Kirra Korpi arrived in Sochi a day later than planned because she was recovering from stomach flu.  As a result she may not be in top shape.

Korpi, the Finnish blonde is the current European silver medalist and came into the Grand Prix as the third qualifier in the field of six.

"I liked the Megasport Arena in Moscow at the 2011 Worlds, but I like this one even more because it's new and it's so bright," she said.  (There have been some complaints from Russian skaters that it's "too bright".)  "Somehow, the ice feels a lot better, maybe because it's made just for this part of skating [and not hockey].  And it has the colors of the Finnish flag (blue and white) so I feel at home here," she added.

"The organization here is bigger and it feels like there are lots of guards everywhere so I feel like I'm in a bigger competition," she said.

"The transportation has been quite challenging," she noted without explaining why.  "In Finland, there are only five million people and skating is not so great there. In Russia there is a long tradition of figure skating history and Olympic champions. No wonder it's so popular here."

On making the FInal, she remarked, "Now is the first time that a Finnish skater has made it to the Grand Prix Final, so I feel support from friends and the press. [After the Final] I will spend Christmas at home or maybe in Lapland."

(6 December 2012) Sochi, Russia. 

NOT ON THE BEATEN TRACK: The “Iceberg” Skating Palace Opens its Doors to International Competition

Almost no one had heard of Sochi, including your (relatively well-travelled) correspondent, before the city became a bidder for the right to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. Their success surprised most people, since they had not bid before and Peongchang, South Korea, which had lost marginally to Vancouver 2012, was the favorite.

In the first round of voting for the 2012 Games, which took place in that hotbed (joke) of winter sports, Guatemala City, on July 4 2007, Peongchang did come out on top with 36 votes to Sochi’s 34, with Salzburg, Austria, eliminated after garnering only 25.

But, on the second round, Sochi won Russia’s first ever Winter Olympics with a total of 51 votes to 47. What may have tipped the balance quite possibly is that the then and current Russian President, Vladimir Putin, took 2006 Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko with him to Guatemala and arranged a small plastic rink to be laid down very close to the delegates’ hotel.

On this Plushenko performed some ad hoc exhibitions and talked to various delegates. That was so popular, when the IOC found out about the “shows”, they closed him down, deeming that Plushenko’s well-meaning efforts were “illegal politicking”.

Even the Sochi organizers admitted they were surprised they won. It really was a trial bid so they could gain government money for the aging area, get new facilities and promote their reputation as a southern summer resort city on the Eastern coast of the Black Sea, just ten miles away from the border with Georgia.  In 2011, Peongchang won the subsequent contest to host the 2018 Winter Games.

It always seemed strange to this writer that the old Soviet Union had not done much to apply for the Games. Until its communism failed at the beginning of the ’90s, the Soviet Union was admired for its endless supply of phenomenal athletes. A hoard of government staff vigorously talent-scouted and recruited youngsters, who were channelled through sports schools, with their parents having little to say about the process.

All their competitors’ expenses were completely taken care of, (which was a very sore point in the west which then had outdated and completely restrictive rules about amateurism). In the west, they was NO legal sponsorship. But, on the down side, the Soviet competitors were also vigorously weeded out if they failed to produce in competition. In some cases, the communist countries were believed to widely use drugs (but not in figure skating).

The Soviet Union was aware that western television companies - the United States in particular – were strongly opposed to the Games going behind the Iron Curtain. The Westerners thought interest and therefore their revenue would be less. The Soviets appeared to think the effort was not practical or even worthwhile.

Before Sochi’s entry, the Soviet Union had succeeded only once, hosting the Summer Games in Moscow in 1980, but a boycott by the West to protest the 1979 invasion by Russia of Afghanistan, caused many countries not to attend the Games. Sixty-five countries did not participate despite being invited.

Sochi’s bid was created by local organizers who reasoned correctly that just by going through the process, they would get good publicity for the city, plus they could channel government funds into developing this popular but aging summer resort, which is basically a 90-mile long strip of land, only a few miles wide before high mountains take over.

SOCHI IS NOT ACTUALLY IN SOCHI

An interesting geographical situation exists. The Sochi Games are not actually in the town of Sochi. Sochi is actually quite a distance away. The “cluster” of ice events are near the airport, which is in Adler.

 There was actually a man named Adler, a German who was responsible for building the airport. Adler means “eagle” in German.  A new “second” terminal has been added to cope with the massive amount of people who will descend on Sochi during the Games.

The organizers of the Games, however, have marketed everything as if the whole region is known as Sochi.

A BALMY DAY

It was balmy and sunny on Tuesday when this writer arrived on a two-and-a-half hour flight from Moscow, which had been clouded in a heavy snow storm. In contrast, the sun was shining and it was warm enough for short sleeves.

The view my from my balcony at the newly opened Radison Blu, located close to the cluster of “ice” venues, (as opposed to the “snow” venues which are in another cluster in the mountains,) was of small ships leaving an adjacent safe harbor on the Black Sea, not more than 100 yards from the hotel. The hotel is SO new Canadian columnist Rosie diManno was their very first and only guest, on the first night she arrived.

The other side of the hotel faced the mountains. At least four peaks sported considerable snow accumulation. But sea, warmth and the mountains force moisture in the clouds upwards, creating a very humid situation.

On Wednesday, after some sun in the early afternoon, an almost torrential downpour turned all the construction sites into a mass of soggy mud. The official buses made only very slow progress around the nine arenas. You would NOT want to be the construction boss of the unfinished sites in the cluster under these circumstances.

Will the venues all be ready by the Games? The answer is yes. President Putin has guaranteed it. Certainly the figure skating arena, which is also scheduled to host the Short Track racing as usual, is in perfect working condition already. The athletes all seem to love it. Those who talked to this reporter answered with practically the same words, “It’s just beautiful.”

ICE DANCE

There are two tiers of seats, most in mid-blue, with the other seats forming irregular blocks of whites, sort of like clouds in the sky. Four-time U.S. ice dance champion, Charlie White, said, as he came off his practice on Wednesday afternoon, “There’s nothing jarring. It’s very calming to look out from the ice. There aren’t any distractions.” His partner, Meryl Davis, added, “The ice is great. We had no problems.”

Davis & White said they are looking forward to the competition. They like Russian audiences and the Russians know them because of their appearances in the Russian Grand Prix event. It was also in Moscow that, in 2011, they became the first American winners of the world ice dance championship since it began in 1962.

They travelled, naturally, with their training mates, Canadian, Olympic and 2010 & 2012 world champions, Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir, finally arriving on Tuesday night. Moir revealed, “Because of the length of the journey, we came a day earlier than we would have done otherwise. It was a very tiring trip, but we’re glad to be here and raring to go.”

Both couples won their two assigned Grand Prix events. However, because Davis & White won with 176.28 in the Hilton Hhonors Skate America and with 178.47 in the NHK Grand Prix in Japan, while Virtue & Moir won Skate Canada with 173.99 and the Rostelcom Trophy in Moscow with 173.99, the Americans’ higher total score earned them the right to skate their Short Dance last in Friday’s competition. Virtue & Moir will skate next to last.

Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte, Italy, and two Russian couples, Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov, and Ekaterina Bobrova& Dmitri Soloviev will be challenging Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat of France for bronze. Pechalat & Bourzat did not skate in Wednesday’s practice.

LADIES

U.S. champion Ashley Wagner’s wins in her two Grand Prix events (at Hilton Hhonors Skate America in Kent, WA, and Trophee Bompard in Paris) earned a total of 379.00 and gave her the place of honor, to skate last in Friday’s short program. Mao Asada of Japan, twice former world champion, won in China and in her home country with a total of 367.03, although the second win was very controversial since Asada doubled some jumps and did not attempt her “trademark” triple Axel.

Wagner is trained by the ageless Briton (now a Californian American) John Nicks (born on April 22, 1929). Because of his spry stance, and very alert repartee, he looks far younger. Rumor has it he has benefited from plastic surgery.

Examining the maestro, who guided many well-known U.S. pair champions, and singles including Peggy Fleming before she went to Colorado Springs, and Sasha Cohen, I can attest that he has positively no plastic surgery scars on his face or neck. The concept of him going through such a process, he said, “was just laughable,” and willingly offered his chin as proof.

He is very sure of Wagner, even though she has a massive (12 hour difference) time change with which to cope. “She’s young (21). She can deal with it,” he said. When asked how it is that everyone feels they must refer to him as “Mr. Nicks”, although most skaters call their coaches by their first name, Nicks says he is surprised by the custom.

“You know, I have never required that I be addressed that way. I do feel very strongly that everyone should be respected. And that an ice rink should be no exception. As for the “Mr. Nicks” - It’s a situation that just came to be.”

Nicks won the world pair championship for Great Britain with his late sister, Jennifer, in 1953. Although Britons subsequently won many ice dance world championships, they have never, again, come even close to claiming the pairs title.

Nicks cringes when told there is film of their performances on You-tube, “What a fate! Jennifer was bigger than me. I could hardly get her up to shoulder height, let alone the overhead moves they do nowadays. But we smiled at the judges more. And we put up with some terrible outdoor conditions – wind, rain, snow, even slush when there was sun, which they don’t have to do now.”

Last Wednesday, Christine Gao, the fifth-ranked U.S. Lady, who is now attending Harvard, was notified that there was a possibility that, as first reserve, she would be making the trip to Sochi. On Friday that was confirmed. She explained that the timing was good. “I do have exams next week, and I have a great deal of reading to do, and can do, before then, but I won’t be missing any classes.”

Gao has replaced the Russian, Julia Lipnitskaya, who hit her chin on the ice and suffered a mild concussion in practice in Moscow.

MEN

As twice world champion, Canadian Patrick Chan is the favorite in the Men's event in which his main competitors are four Japanese men, Yuzuru Hanyu, Takahiko Kozuka, Tatsuki Machida and Daisuke Takahashi, who are the second, third, fourth and fifth qualifiers, respectively. Javier Fernandez, Spain, was the final qualifier. Chan looked vulnerable when Fernandez, who now trains in Canada, beat him in both sections to win Skate Canada. But Fernandez was only fourth in the Japanese Grand Prix, and came into this event as the sixth and final competitor.

Chan also performed poorly in Japan in the early season when he skated in a television contest and fell four times. “I think I was a little intimidated by having to compete with Evgeni Plushenko. I couldn’t believe he could do all the jumps he does at his age (30). But I’ve got back in stride now.” He won gold in his second Grand Prix, in Moscow. 

PAIRS

Missing due to her illness are the four-time world champions Aliona Savchenko & Robin Szolkowy from Germany. She became ill at Skate Canada with flu and was not able to compete in their second Grand Prix in Paris. That leaves a clear path for Russians, Tatiana Volosozhar & Maxim Trankov, who have been runners-up in the world championship for the past two years.

Russians, Vera Bazarova & Yuri Larionov, and Yuko Kavaguti & Alexander Smirnov, will be fighting the Chinese, Qing Pang & Jian Tong, along with two Canadian pairs, Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford and Kirsten Moore-Towers & Dylan Moscovitch.

SURPRISES

The most southern city ever to host a Winter Olympic Games is on the Eastern shore of the Black Sea, 10 miles from the border Georgia. In the Soviet Union, it was always spelled Sotchi, when printed in English, which reflects the more correct pronunciation of the city’s name. However, it is spelled Sochi on all official Olympic and ISU documents, causing almost every visitor to mis-pronounce the name!

For the first time in the history of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, all ice arenas will be within walking distance of one other.

Getting off a flight in a previously unvisited location is always exciting, even though unexpected and occasionally stressful shocks sometimes lie in store.

Two weeks prior to this tryout of the Olympic Figure Skating facilities, the American luge team came back from their event delighted at how different their trip had been. They arrived with all their winter gear but the first thing they did was get into their swim suits and jump into the Black Sea!

The lugers found their track VERY different, with parts which actually go up, a revolutionary concept in keeping with the goal of slowing down their breakneck speed, which resulted in a relatively inexperienced competitor losing his life in the pre-event practice in the Vancouver Games.

Interestingly, none of the top Russians turned up for that meet. They have access to it at other times, a situation which has led some competitors to charge that they will have an unfair advantage in 2014.

Figure skaters are less worried. After all, ice is ice. You can get good and bad ice at any location if the ice making machines are ill kept and the operators not skilled. That does not appear to be the case here, where the time is nine hours ahead of New York and twelve in front of the Pacific Coast.

The event will also witness competition in all four disciplines for Juniors and Seniors. 

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