Figure Skating: From the Boards

Taking on the World: Ice Dance April 20, 2011

If you think about it, the resurgence of the popularity of Ice Dance is quite remarkable. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always viewed the discipline through the eyes of an American figure skating fan as opposed to the more…cultured eyes of European fans. But there’s no doubt the popularity of the discipline has increased, perhaps thanks to the world-wide dance craze in general.

I’ve loved watching the discipline gain back some credibility, as well as watching the athletes take the challenges of the Code of Points system to heart. We’ve seen some truly remarkable dance teams in the last two Olympic cycles and there’s no room to take it easy — if the reigning champs aren’t willing to push the limits, there is always a young team nipping at their heals, ready to take the lead.

This year has proven itself to have some utter predictability mixed with some genuine surprises, and that’s a combination that makes the ice dance event a prime time show.

It’s no secret that Americans Davis and White are the team to beat. The expected free dance showdown with the Olympic Champions at 4 Continents didn’t happen, due to Tessa’s minor injury. Thus, Davis/White remain the hands down favorite, based on the proof they’ve offered this season — namely, the fact that they’re undefeated, and that by a large margin. They have also continued to improve as they go, which should have them in good position to peak at Worlds. Their international-leading score of 172.03 at 4CC has them nearly six points above the nearest competitors from France — Pechalat and Bourzat.

The French team has one of the best free dances of the season. Davis/White push the limits technically, for sure, but

Nathalie and Fabian's Charlie Chaplin inspired free dance earned them gold at the European Championships, setting them up for a podium run at Worlds.

Pechalat/Bourzat create something so special with the character of this dance. It’s charming and challenging, and it engages the audience (and, thereby, the judges) from beginning to end. Plus, they have challenged themselves to take Davis/White head on. They want to be considered gold medal contenders, and they’ve done well to prove it.

As we’ve seen in other disciplines, the push to Sochi in 2014 is evident in the serious resurgence from the Russian skaters. Ice dance, once upon a time completely dominated by Russian teams, is no different. Pulling in the 3rd highest scores of the season, Bobrova/Soloviev would love to turn their European silver medal into a spot on the podium, especially now skating at home in Russia. They’ve got some work to do if they want to overtake Davis/White or Virtue/Moir, but watch out for this team. They’re on their way.

Unfortunately, a team with a real shot at the podium has had their season cut short. The brother-sister team from Britan Sinead and John Kerr have officially withdrawn from the championships. Sinead suffered a shoulder injury early in the season, and there were rumors they had withdrawn prior to the tsunami in Japan. Those reports were never confirmed, however, and it became known that when it was evident the event would be postponed, the Kerrs chose to wait it out and see if Sinead’s injury would be better in time. Sadly, that is not the case. These two are always crowd favorites, so they will certainly be missed in Moscow.

One of the most pleasant surprises of the season is the successful senior debut of another brother sister team, Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani. If you follow my blog or my twitter feed, you’ve probably figured out that I love this team, so I’ll try not to turn into a gushy fan girl and maintain my journalistic credibility here! But this team brings a level of maturity in both their technique and their expression that is well beyond their years. Their carriage over the ice is stunning aesthetically, and their commitment to musicality is refreshing. They have plenty of room to grow, both technically and artistically, but judging by the rapid progress of their training mates Davis/White and Virtue/Moir, I’d say they’re in the perfect situation to do just that. This year will be great exposure for them and while a podium finish is unlikely, a top 5 finish isn’t entirely out of the question.

The Canadian teams have held their own yet again this season, producing perhaps more national competition than any other country. They send a world team lead by Crone and Poirier — a team with a free dance with Christopher Dean choreography that would challenge the best in the world. They’ve struggled to maintain consistency, but they want to be given credibility among the world’s best, and they’ve made good headway towards that this season.

They’ll be joined by Weaver and Poje who finished first in China and just behind Crone/Poirier in 4th at 4 Continents. This is a team that always seems to set themselves up brilliantly in their Short Dance, but their FD just doesn’t bring in the scores the other top teams are getting. That will likely hurt them here, as they have no room to slide in either portion of the event.

Of course, not to be left out of the Canadian ice dance discussion are reigning Olympic Champs, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Out all of the season thus far because of surgery on both of Virtue’s legs, they’re coming in expected to rival Davis/White once again for gold. Those who’ve seen the free dance in progress say it is perhaps the best free dance the sport has ever seen. The bit we saw at 4CC looks pretty strong, and very different. Their coaches have said that Tessa is the only female skater that could pull off the character and movement required by their sassy samba dance. Those are strong praises for a program that has yet to be completed in competition. But if there is a team that can debut at Worlds and rain on the Davis/White parade, I wouldn’t be afraid to put my money on this one.

Rounding out my list of the potential top ten are Americans Chock/Zuerlein, Hungarians Hoffmann/Zavozin, and the French Carron/Jones. All have had their moments of success this season, and have the potential to be major players in the run towards Sochi.

Some have wondered what the extra time before Worlds would do to impact performances. My thought is, those who were working on a “come back” from injury or lack of competition may benefit (i.e. Virtue/Moir in dance, Yuna Kim in ladies). Those who were ready to peak may have a bigger challenge as they try to come down from that, only to peak again in a months time (i.e. Davis/White in dance, Chan or Oda in mens).

Regardless, as Meryl Davis said last week, they are athletes. They train to work under challenging situations. This is simply another such situation.

So let the games begin.



One Response to “Taking on the World: Ice Dance”

  1. CarleyB Says:

    I am delighted with the beauty and romance I see conveyed in ice dance. Even my husband agrees. At one time it wasn’t as pleasant to watch, but rather boring. I think the CoP has really added a dimension to ice dancing that was lacking.

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