For once, my Olympic predictions were not so far off but that is the nature of this discipline. In ice dance, it is the subtleties that matter and sometimes mistakes are imperceptible to the average viewer. Here is a recap of sorts of the ice dance event at the Olympics and my two cents. Hopefully this post will help balance things out amid the news reports and angry rants by sportscasters who fully admit to knowing nothing about the sport.
The Short Dance – Accusations of Vote Fixing Flare
The story of the short dance came mostly in two parts. I’ll start with the lighter topic which is Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov’s surprising third place finish after the short dance. They beat out their Russian teammates, Ekaterina Bobrova & Dmitri Soloviev who have beaten I/K consistently over the past two season as well French veterans, Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat. P/B and I/K were in a virtual tie, with I/K leading by about 1/4 of a point. I/K had a slight stumble on a non-element but kept their performance and energy well throughout. Like Carol Lane, one of the CBC commentators and ice dance coach, I’m a little confused about their choice of music – a flapper dancing to a song about the trials and tribulations of coal miners but I guess the judges had no issue with that.
A few shout-outs would be to:
- Anna Cappellini & Luca Lanotte for a joyous SD. I also love her skirt and the way it flew when she twirled. Ok, girly moment over.
- Sara Hurtado & Adria Diaz – they might not have been the fastest on the ice but I thought they conveyed the “sparkling champagne” and “light and fun” mood of the Finnstep very well.
The main story of the SD, of course, was the ongoing rivalry between Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir and Meryl Davis & Charlie White. Both skated a flawless performance but as it has been for this and the last season, Davis & White came out on top. There was outrage among the Virtue & Moir camp – they got a standing ovation from the legendary Tatiana Tarasova and they didn’t get a season’s best despite skating it better than they ever have.
Then the protocols came out, apparently, Tessa and Scott made a mistake on the third section of their first Finnstep sequence as seen by the 1FS3+kpYYN. This means that these two got a level 3 out of the maximum 4 levels for their first Finnstep sequence and in the third section of that sequence, they did not dance it correctly. (For more information on this, check out my Skating 101 post on ice dance.)
Yet, despite this result, Petri Kokko, one of the dancers whose program inspired the Finnstep, fueled the controversy and put out this tweet:
Of course, I don’t have the same expertise in the Finnstep as Kokko, though I did think that Meryl & Charlie skated it cleanly and with a crispness I haven’t quite seen in the past. This performance was a little more restrained and consequently, I thought their PCS mark should have been a little lower.
However, despite Kokko’s expertise, we need to consider this and perhaps, correct some of the media reports out there. This was Susanna Rahkamo & Petri Kokko’s original dance from 1995:
This was the program that inspired the Finnstep. For us in the skating world (or anyone who has tuned into the 2008/2009 figure skating season) we know that as a compulsory dance pattern, the Finnstep looks like this:
They look similar but they are not the same.
In other words, the Finnstep began as an original dance but was adapted into a compulsory pattern. By who? We’re not sure, it’s could have been Rahkamo & Kokko but this article from icenetwork seems to suggest that the compulsory pattern was only inspired by Rahkamo & Kokko’s 1995 quickstep dance. So media, take note, Petri Kokko is not necessarily the “inventor” of the Finnstep, he had a heavy hand in its beginnings but someone else may had a role in defining the very small details of the pattern itself. As a result, Kokko’s opinion may not hold as much weight as we once thought. If we think about the compulsory dances from the last Olympics, both Virtue & Moir and Davis & White got advice on how to interpret the Tango Romantica from the dancers who inspired the pattern and yet, they still placed lower than Oksana Domnina & Maxim Shabalin who did not have such advice in that segment of the competition.
As for Meryl & Charlie’s timing? I won’t comment on it since I don’t have formal musical training. Most of my ability to recognize the beats and times is self-taught but you in the audience can put in your two cents in the comments. In response to the rant by a very angry sportscaster who thinks that ice dance is corrupt because it has little “tangible” evidence on how one team is better than another because they don’t jump, I’ll repeat this: ice dance is about subtleties. It’s more than just seeing a girl pull her foot up to her head.
It is merely easier to spot mistakes in the other disciplines because it’s hard to miss someone crashing on the ice but according to the protocols, there was something tangible that separated the top two teams as the difference in scores mainly resulted from a mistake in the Finnstep. The problem is, to the average viewer and even die-hard figure skating fans, the problem is hard to spot because the movements of the dance itself is very minutely defined and the mistake can be as imperceptible as a wrong edge in a turn. To prove my point, I’ll link you to an incredible blog, The Ice Dance Analysts, that looks at the various step sequences in various competitions, breaking down what might have gone wrong. Just by looking at the first page, you can see that the mistake might have been something completely unnoticeable and yet difficult to correct, like the blade stayed flat rather than being on a forward outside edge. This really puts the expression, “putting a foot wrong” on a whole new level, doesn’t it?
The ISU could help quell these accusations of vote fixing if they told us precisely the mistake that they made. Although most fans barely know the nitty gritty of figure skating, it would give the public, as well as figure skating fans the tangible piece of evidence that the angry sportscaster wants. Until then, we’ll have to wait until some really devoted fan or an expert looks at the footage in slow-motion and give us the verdict.
Personally, I find Tessa and Scott’s SD more appealing hence my opinion that either their PCS should be a smidgeon higher (there’s barely any room for this score to grow anyways) and that Meryl & Charlie’s PCS mark should’ve been slightly lower since they skated with less abandon and the choreography wasn’t as easy to fall into. However, the difference between the two teams in PCS was about 0.5 and the lead mainly came down to whatever the mistake was in the Finnstep.
Two Perfect Free Dances
Again, I’ll start with the surprise from the Russian front which is the fact that the young Russians, Elena Ilinykh & Nikita Katsalapov won bronze. I’m a little surprised that somehow, overnight, they’re able to score something as big as 110.44 but home-ice advantage, especially in Russia, does give you miracles. The performance itself was solid but I feel as if I/K have skated this program better in the past since their movements didn’t look as polished or finished as before. This is probably a score that confuses me quite a bit seeing that most of it is buoyed by an unusually high PCS mark. Then again, I’d rather have this team overscored than their teammates Bobrova & Soloviev who went back to their free dance from last season. In one section of their FD, Bobrova looked like she was having an epileptic seizure on ice. My favourite comment about the program comes from this tweet by The Skating Lesson…
In any case, there were so many wonderful performances and here are my shout-outs:
- Sara Hurtado & Adria Diaz’s “Picasso” program had to be one of the most creative I’ve seen this season. It was tasteful, well choreographed and as their TES marks show, well skated. I’m really impressed by this team and I hope that they rise in the ranks as their countryman, Javier Fernandez has.
- Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat – I’ve been lukewarm about their FD for the entire season but in the end, I decided I quite like this “Petit Prince” program and the interstellar journey in it. This team showed us how creative and expressive they were and I commend them for ending their career with a good performance.
- I actually didn’t really like Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje’s FD this season until now. I used to think that their music was a little boring but I enjoy the smolder and passion now.
- Anna Cappellinni & Luca Lanotte have been getting a little flak from me for skating too much like Virtue & Moir and Davis & White but their Barber of Seville FD is refreshing and so much fun to watch.
As for the top two teams, perfection presented themselves at the Iceberg Skating Palace that night and I would not have known what to do if I were a judge. I’m a little surprised at the +1s in GOE for Tessa & Scott (I suspect that angry Virtue & Moir fans will continue to direct some ire at Shawn Rettstatt who has been suspected of lowballing the scores for this pair in the skating community) but I really could not have asked for more. Like fashion, I can’t tell you the exact reason why things go in and out of style and this year, it seems that the judges preferred Meryl & Charlie’s style. Davis & White got 10s all across the board for the “choreography” and “interpretation and timing” category in the PCS and according to the Skating Lesson, one of those judges was Canadian.
The Skating Lesson also makes a good point that goes hand in hand with the idea of “momentum” which is all about gaining a reputation for being good. Davis & White have traditionally been strong right out of the gate every season while Virtue & Moir have had a tendency to tweak their programs throughout the season. As a result, Davis & White seemed to have gotten a lot more momentum going into the individual event at the Olympics.
Overall, I think that the controversy in ice dance stems from figure skating’s greatest strength and weakness which is that it’s a sport that requires incredible athletic ability but within its goals is to make us feel something. Like machines, we will always try to be faster, higher and stronger but what differentiates us from a machine is our ability to feel, empathize while being logical enough to measure what makes us faster, higher and stronger. The Olympics is a celebration of the human body and spirit. Although figure skating has its flaws in that there will always be subjectivity, the truth is, life and being human is a subjective experience altogether. There will be some situations were things can be clear cut and easy to tell apart but we know that the best things in life are intangible, like the way we feel when we look into the eyes of someone we love, or the excitement we feel when we tell our loved ones good news or even, when two people come on an ice rink and tell us a story wordlessly with their bodies. Each of these moments and feelings are precious to us and yet, how exactly can we rank them objectively?
Perhaps in the overall scheme of things, this is the way things should be – two teams, very different but brilliant in their own right, each with an Olympic gold and silver medal, solidified in history as two of the best ice dance teams the world has ever seen.
What are your thoughts on the ice dance event? Let me know in the comments below!
~The Rinkside Cafe