Helsinki, Finland, played host recently to the world synchronized skating championships. The competition was intense and the ensuing result was the same as last year with Finland taking gold and silver and USA 1, otherwise known as the Haydenettes from Massachusetts, taking their second consecutive bronze medal.
This bronze medal was particularly sweet for the Americans as their coach, Saga Krantz, is from Finland and competed for Finland 1, also known as the Rockettes. The Rockettes, who earned their second consecutive title, dominated the competition.
Canada 1 (national champions Nexxice) and Canada 2 (national silver medallists Les Supremes) finished a respectable fifth and sixth overall. The top five finishing countries - of which Canada is one - all qualified two teams to compete at next year's worlds, which will take place in Gothenburg, Sweden.
The truth of the matter is Canada has been a trailblazer in the sport of synchronized skating, leading the way in the use of skating skills and inventive choreography. Without the financial support provided by some of the other countries to their elite teams, it is a real show of strength and determination that Canada is able to compete consistently as well as it does.
International Skating Union vice-president David Dore told me in conversation that he attended a coaches' meeting presented by the Finnish Federation the night before the competition started and shared with me the following key points:
This kind of national backing means that the talent pool has a chance to grow and runs really deep which is then reflected in the results.
Canada's two teams both had a large number of retirements from last season and, as a result, arrived in Helsinki with relatively young squads for whom these worlds would be their first experience.
"It has been a lot of work to get here and I am so proud of the girls," Les Supremes coach Lyne Forget commented. "I see this as a life experience and I want the girls to enjoy every minute."
The one thread that connects all of the teams, regardless of where they sit on the synchro landscape, is a passion for their sport. It is reflected in the dedication to continued improvement in their skating skills. It is also reflected in the noisy and enthusiastic reception from the fans.
In Helsinki, on the night of the free skate, it was a packed house with over 7,000 spectators on hand.
The short programs showed that it would have to come down to the free programs to determine the winner. With only a 3.04-point spread between the Rockettes in first place and Nexxice in fourth after the short, the teams would have to leave nothing to chance in the free.
Nexxice coach Shelley Barnett knows a thing or two about laying down great programs as coach of the team that became world champions in 2009. Nexxice is still the only team outside of Sweden or Finland to win the world title. Barnett is experienced enough to know that you have to take the season one event at a time.
"Winning the national title was a surprise to us this year because, between one thing and another, we didn't get the whole team on the ice until relatively late," she said. "To come to worlds, in itself, is a huge accomplishment and our goal is to skate two good programs and to aim for a Top 5 finish."
When it was all said and done, both the Rockettes and their country's other representatives, Marigold Ice Unity, were at the top of their games and finished in the same order as last year in first and second.
The Haydenettes achieved their second goal of the season of a world medal, their first goal being a 19th national title.
Sweden's Team Surprise, on the comeback trail after a large turnover in skaters two years ago, edged out Nexxice for fourth overall.
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