The event in Beijing signaled either the return, or the season debut, of some key players in all four disciplines in the world of figure skating.
The most significant was the triumphant return to competition of China’s Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao, whose commanding presence earned them the title here and the season’s highest overall score in pairs.
The two-time Olympic bronze medalists and three time world champions were able to quiet any doubts about being too old to compete, and establish themselves as one of the favourites for the Olympic gold.
Teammates, Dan Zhang and Hao Zhang continue to suffer from inconsistencies and faltered in their short program to sit in fourth place. But they were able to redeem themselves in their free program to take the silver medal.
The bronze went to the Ukrainian team of Tatiana Volosozhar and Stanislav Morozov, who are proficient enough technically to have finished in sixth place in the world in 2009, but whose “my mother’s making me” expression on Stanislav’s face throughout the piece tends to take the “bloom off “ their “performance rose.”
Although American ice dancers Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto prevailed through all three segments of the competition to take the title in their season debut, I would love to give them the gift of a mirror.
Where are the delightful and charming Belbin and Agosto who used to dazzle with their footwork, dancy-ness and on ice personality?
Politics aside, this whole dramatic over the top silliness in their Ave Maria freedance is not suited to these all-Americans, coupled with a points total that has them five points behind the Grand Prix leaders means they are taking a risk.
The current European champions, Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski of Russia showed lots of improvement in terms of speed and unison and cut their IQ (indelicate quotient) by at least half to take the silver. The European silver medalists from Italy, Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali, were clear in their concept, costume and choreography for their Nino Rota selections free dance to take the bronze.
Defending world champion Evan Lysacek of the United States has a problem: Nobunari Oda of Japan. Oda adds the Grand Prix of China gold medal to his win in France and goes from being a possible contender at the Olympics to a probable one. In addition to serving notice to the other men in the field, Oda becomes the first man to qualify for the ISU Grand Prix of figure skating final taking place in Tokyo next month.
Lysacek took the silver in his season debut with a free program that isn’t yet perfect, but it is well on the way to becoming a tour de force. He is a classy competitor with a beautiful program to Sheherezade whose presence was diminished somewhat by the inclusion of wispy baby bird feathers on the shoulders of his costume which screamed “fashion” rater than “sport” in the most distracting way. Sergei Voronov of Russia was competent in his free program and added a bronze medal to his sixth place finish from the Grand Prix of France.
Canada’s five-time national champion and defending world silver medallist, Joannie Rochette and her seventh place finish in the short program proved once again that although you can’t win an event based on the short program, you sure can lose one! The route to the Olympic podium has to be marked with solid and consistent performances at every competitive opportunity. Fortunately, with Rochette’s second place in her free, she was able to hoist herself into a bronze-medal finish overall with room still to grow in her exquisite Samson and Delilah program.
Winning her first Grand Prix medal, a silver, was Kiira Korpi of Finland who was able to keep hold of her nerves despite a shaky start to her free program. The surprise winner was Akiko Suzuki of Japan who poured it on in the free program to propel her from fourth to the top podium spot.
Not only did she skate clean but she achieved a new personal best score to boot – 117.14 in the free. Looking ahead, Suzuki and Rochette will get a rematch at Homesense Skate Canada, the final event in the Grand Prix Series taking place later this month, where the remaining qualifiers for the Grand Prix Final will be determined.
CBC Sports’s Grand Prix coverage continues next weekend with the NHK Trophy Grand Prix of Japan in Tokyo.
Do you have improvements to suggest for this page?