Wednesday, April 20, 2011

2011 World Figure Skating Championships: Ice Dance Preview

As the 2011 World Championships kick off next week, the biggest story in ice dance will be the battle of the training mates: Davis & White vs. Virtue & Moir. With the recent retirement of top contenders Faiella & Scali and Kerr & Kerr, the rest of the top five seems to be up for grabs.

The Top Contenders
Virtue & Moir are my team to watch at Worlds next week. In my opinion, they hold all of the cards because if they perform at their best, I think they'll win another World gold. They well may have beaten Davis & White at Four Continents this season if they had not had to withdraw midway through the free skate due to injury. As much as I'd love to see Davis & White win, I think they lack the spark and heat that that their Canadian training mates have. Even if Virtue & Moir don't give their best performance, they should still place no lower than second.
Davis & White really do deserve the World title this year. They've gone undefeated all season and they've never stopped working to improve on their programs. However, I fear that they've become so good that they are almost robotic in their performance quality. They are so well trained that their presentation looks manufactured whereas that of Virtue & Moir is natural and effortless. I predict that Davis & White will take the top technical marks but Virtue & Moir will outscore them in components and the winner will be decided by the slightest of margins.
If Davis/White & Virtue/Moir are favorites for gold and silver, then the French team of Pechalat & Bourzat are favorites for bronze. They've been solid all season and have phenomenal programs, including a fiery short dance and a theatrical Charlie Chaplin free dance. I find them to be the most interesting to watch, in terms of sheer artistry and performance, of any of the world's top ice dance teams. I love their signature European quality. The are in a league of their own in the world in that they aren't quite up to the level of the Americans or Canadians, but they are well above the level of the next tier of ice dancers. I'll be floored if they do not make the podium in Moscow next week.

Though Ice Dance has become more objective in the past years, it is still one of the easiest disciplines to predict and I feel very confident that Bobrova & Soloviev will finish solidly in the top five next week. Home ice advantage will give them a boost, but they've been steadily improving all season and most importantly, they've scrapped that god awful "Delilah" short dance. Expect two very solid programs from them next week.
Although I hate to say it, Canada's Crone & Poirier very well may round out the top 5 next week in Moscow. For reasons I cannot understand, their free skate has been a favorite of the judges all season and even with their subpar short dance, they seem to always sneak back toward to top of the rankings after the free dance. However, they were beaten in a surprise by the young American Shibutani siblings and they also have great momentum going into Worlds so they too good complete the top 5. I have tried all season to enjoy this team but they really do nothing for me. Paul always looks very young and frail and Vanessa struggles to connect with him in a passionate or emotional way. She also has an odd way of moving her limbs, but then who am I to judge.

In The Hunt
As mentioned above, Maia & Alex Shibutani have been climbing all season and surprised the world with a silver medal at this year's Four Continents Championships. In only their first senior season, they've collected two Grand Prix bronze medals and a US silver medal in addition to their Four Continents silver. They are known for their speed and technique, with some of the best twizzles in the world, but they've really shown that they are performers as well. Their coaches Zoueva and Shpilband have given them two phenomenal programs that suit them perfectly and I wouldn't be surprised in the least to see them in the top 5 next week in Moscow.
Weaver & Poje of Canada have been one of my favorite teams all season and have what I consider to be the best short dance of the entire season. They've struggled in the free dance with silly mistakes that have taken them off the podium when they were in medal contention. If they can set themselves up with a strong short dance and get the level fours they got at Four Continents, and then follow it up with a clean free skate, they have top five potential.
Ilinykh & Katsalapov entered the senior ranks this year along with the Shibutani siblings but their debut was not quite as strong, though they did climb steadily. The placed fourth at NHK trophy and took the bronze at Cup of Russia after several withdrawals. They placed a very respectable fourth at the European Championships and they'll have the crowd behind them next week in Moscow. I find them to be extremely passionate and elegant and they too could move into the top five or six depending how other teams perform.
Chock & Zuerlein of the US are my favorite team and I am obsessed with their Cabaret free skate. They are such amazing performers but it seems they don't have the difficulty in lifts that the other American teams have. Their short dance is also a little weaker and they don't score as many level fours as the other top teams. Though I'd love them to place in the top group, I am forcing myself to be realistic and anywhere in the top eight would be an amazing finish for them.
Hoffman & Zavozin were the surprise qualifiers for the Grand Prix Final this season, though they did so because of a second place finish at Cup of Russia when the favorites withdrew due to injury. They are a nice enough team, though they don't do much for me personally. They finished a disappointing 8th at the European Championships and their highest total score of the season is just below that of Chock & Zuerlein.
Capellini & Lanotte of Italy have been thrust into the spotlight at their country's best hope in Ice Dance after the sudden retirement of Faiella & Scali. They placed 5th at NHK trophy this season, 2nd at the Nebelhorn Trophy and 1st at the Mont Blanc Trophy. They are big wild cards and could finish anywhere on the board depending on their performance.
The Rest of the Field
Obrien & Merriman (AUS): 9th at 2011 Four Continents Championships; 15th at 2010 Nebelhorn Trophy; 10th at 2010 O Nepala Trophy
Geil & Eisenbauer (AUT): 8th at 2010 Ice Challenge Graz; 4th at 2010 Int Trophy of Lyon; 4th at 2011 Bavarian Open
Valadzenkava & Vakunkov (BLF): 5th at 2010 P. Roman Memorial; 10th at 2011 Winter Universiade
Tremasova & Lichev (BUL): 24th at 2011 Junior Worlds; 13th at 2010 JGP Great Britain; 16th at JGP Czech; 7th at 2010 Int Trophy Lyon
Huang & Zheng (CHN): 19th at 2010 Olympics; 5th at 2010 Cup of China; 5th at 2010 Grand Prix Paris; 6th at 2011 Four Continents; 1st at 2011 Asian Winter Games
Mysliveckova & Novak (CZE): 16th at 2010 Worlds; 8th at 2010 Mont Blanc Trophy; 7th at 2010 Nebelhorn Trophy; 2nd at 2010 O Nepala Memorial; 6th at 2010 NHK Trophy; 5th at 2010 Cup of Russia; 1st at 2010 Golden Spin; 10th at 2011 Europeans
Good & Sorensen (DEN): 24th at 2010 Worlds; 14th at 2010 Nebelhorn Trophy; 9th at 2010 Finlandia Trophy
Carron & Jones (FRA): 12th at 2010 Worlds; 1st at 2010 Mont Blanc Trophy; 1st at 2010 Coup de Nice; 5th at 2010 Skate Canada; 1st at 2010 Coup de Nice; 4th at 2010 Grand Prix Paris; 9th at 2011 Worlds
Reed & Japaridze (GEO): 22nd at 2010 Olympics, 21st at 2010 Worlds; 2nd at 2010 Ice Challenge Graz; 4th at 2010 Golden Spin; 17th at 2011 Europeans
Zhiganshina & Gazsi (GER): 6th at 2010 Mont Blanc; 4th at 2010 Nebelhorn Trophy; 3rd at 2010 O Nepala Trophy; 2nd at 2010 NRW Trophy Ice Dance; 1st at 2010 R Roman Memorial; 1st at 2011 Bavarian Open; 7th at 2011 Europeans
Coomes & Buckland (GBR): 20th at 2010 Olympics; 4th at 2010 O Nepala Memorial; 3rd at 2010 Coup de Nice; 8th at 2010 NHK Trophy; 8th at 2010 Skate America; 14th at 2011 Europeans
Walden & Edwards (GBR): 12th at 2010 Nebelhorn Trophy; 8th at 2010 O Nepala Trophy; 5th at 2010 Coup de Nice; 6th at 2010 NRW Ice Dance Trophy; 1st at 2010 Ice Challenge Graz; 1st at 2010 Int Trophy Lyon; 5th at 2011 Winter Universiade
Nagy & Fejes (HUN): 7th at 2010 O Nepala Trophy; 8th at 2010 Finlandia Trophy; 5th at 2010 Ice Challenge Graz; 3rd at 2010 P Roman Memorial
Frieling & Rumi (ISR): 13th at 2010 Nebelhorn Trophy; 9th at 2010 O Nepala Trophy; 9th at 2010 Ice Challenge Graz; 12th at 2010 Golden Spin; 6th at 2011 Mont Blanc Trophy; 20th at 2011 Europeans
Guignard & Fabbri (ITA): 4th at 2010 NRW Ice Dance Trophy; 3rd at 2010 Golden Spin; 3rd at 2011 Mont Blanc Trophy
Reed & Reed (JPN): 17th at 2010 Olympics; 15th at 2010 Worlds; 7th at 2010 NHK Trophy; 7th at 2010 Skate America; 2nd at 2011 Asian Winter Games
Tobias & Stagniunas (LTU): 11th at 2010 Nebelhorn Trophy; 3rd at 2010 NRW Ice Dance Trophy; 12th at 2011 Europeans
Bruhns & Westenberger (MEX): 10th at 2010 Coup de Nice; 6th at 2010 Int Trophy Lyon; 10th at 2011 Four Continents
Hurtado & Diaz (ESP): 10th at JGP Great Britain; 5th at JGP Germany; 8th Junior at NRW Trophy Ice Dance; 11th at 2010 Golden Spin; 4th at 2011 Winter Universiade; 3rd at 2011 Bavarian Open; 15th at 2011 Europeans
Elsener & Roost (SUI): 25th at 2010 Europeans; 12th at 2010 Mont Blanc Trophy; 7th at 2010 JGP Austria; 13th at 2010 JGP Germany; 10th at 2010 Ice Challenge Graz; 5th at 2011 Bavarian Open; 19th at 2011 Europeans
Heekin-Crane & Shakalov (UKR): 5th at 2010 Mont Blanc; 10th at 2010 Nebelhorn Trophy; 6th at 2010 Finlandia Trophy; 4th at 2010 Coup de Nice; 3rd at Int Trophy Lyon; 4th at 2011 Mont Blanc Trophy; 11th at 2011 Europeans

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