The scene was the ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships this past weekend in Boston.
Everywhere I looked, there were flags and people cheering. A huge contingent from Canada was separated like bookends at either end of Boston University's Agganis Arena, with huge Canadian flags and screaming fans. Marion Dyke, chair of Skate Canada's Central Ontario section, pointed out a section on the other side of the rink with Canadians decked out in matching red sweatshirts. Marion is a judge and a former synchro parent and, with a chuckle, told me that the fans in this section were unofficially known as Team Canada 3, comprised of current and former skaters, synchro judges and officials as well as fans, and all in Boston to support the two Canadian teams slated to compete.
If you have never been to a synchro skating event, aside from the terrific skating, one of the things that defines it is the party atmosphere complete with deafening noise from all the cheering. I love the generous support from the fans for all of the competing teams.
Marion explained it this way: "Synchronized skating has come of age. It began as an activity designed to keep skaters active for life and has grown into a spectacular sport where skaters live to push the boundaries of athleticism and technique in order to be the best in the world at a sport they love. Every team brings something powerful, exquisite and magic to the ice."
As exciting as the competition was, it turned out to be a heartbreaker for Team Canada 1, otherwise known as Nexxice, from Burlington, Ont., which took home the silver medal for the second year in a row.
For the first time ever since the inaugural synchro worlds in 2000, Canada took the lead after the short program. It seemed as if Nexxice was poised to regain the world title earned in 2009, but it wasn't to be.
During the first 13 years of the synchro worlds, Nexxice was the only non-Scandinavian team ever to take the title. The other dozen titles were divided evenly between Finland and Sweden, with 6 titles each. By the end of the free program in this, the 14th edition of synchro worlds, Finland 1's Team Unique finished with a seventh title as Nexxice slipped to second overall.
It seemed as if there was more at stake at these worlds than usual. For one thing, this was the third time that worlds was being held in the United States, but this time it was in the backyard of Team USA 1 -- the Haydenettes from nearby Lexington, Mass. The Haydenettes, winner of the bronze medal the last three years, were looking to move higher on the podium in front of a hometown crowd.
What jumped out at me when the teams took the ice for the short programs was the improved level of skating overall. There was a time not so long ago when the top teams were head and shoulders above the rest of the field. That gap is narrowing.
No room for error
Team Canada 2 -- Les Supremes of Saint-Leonard, Que. -- got off on the right foot with a tribute to Marilyn Monroe-inspired short program. It was light, lovely and beautifully skated. Their goal was to improve on last year's seventh-place finish. Mission accomplished as Les Supremes moved up from seventh to sixth-place overall after the free skate.
Nexxice took the ice for the short program and was flawless -- the only team for which all of the elements were called at the highest level, which gave it the lead. With less than a one-point lead ahead of Team USA 1 and only a little over four points separating the Top 5 teams, it meant no room for error in the free program.
I have to say that, for me, both Canadian teams did themselves proud in the free program. When it was Nexxice's turn, the skaters did so with confidence, with a high degree of technical wizardry and with speed, all to the classical Die Fledermaus. They stayed ahead of the Haydenettes, who skated after them. Once the final team took the ice, it seemed like Canada might lock up the gold.
What happened next is so typical of figure skating across the board -- the event isn't over until the last skaters take their final pose.
Finland is perennial powerhouse
Finland, on balance, has been a synchro skating powerhouse over the years, but this season in particular, the Finnish teams have been on fire. Just prior to these championships, the inaugural ISU Junior World Synchronized Championships were held in Helsinki, where Finland took the gold and silver.
The fight to get out of Finland to represent at worlds is almost as intense as the competition at worlds. Team Finland 1's Team Unique didn't even qualify to represent Finland at last year's worlds, but was back this year in Boston with a vengeance. Team Unique was in fourth place after the short program, as a result of some errors.
Team Unique had an outstanding free skate and was able to make up the four-point lead that Nexxice held. Team Unique's program capitalized on a number of elements that were evaluated to be stronger than the Canadians. It was a question of a slightly better scores spread over a number of elements that gave them the .52 edge for the win. The only other time that Team Unique stood on the world podium, it won a silver medal behind Nexxice in 2009.
This was the first gold for Team Unique at worlds and seventh for Finland. Nexxice took the silver, while the Haydenettes took a fourth consecutive bronze.
Follow Pj Kwong on Twitter @skatingpj
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