Sonia Bianchetti Garbato’s Cracked Ice: What Can We Learn?

Sonia Bianchetti Garbato
Sonia Bianchetti Garbato

In April, Sonia Bianchetti Garbato of Italy was elected to the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame. Sonia was a figure skater in her youth; she competed in Dick Button’s era. However, Sonia was elected to the Hall of Fame not for skating achievements, but for her off-ice contributions to the sport as a longtime ISU leader.

Cracked Ice: Figure Skating’s Inner World is Sonia’s account of her life in figure skating. Like many skating fans, I knew Sonia’s name but had never read her book or learned details of her career until I obtained a copy of her book recently.

Cracked Ice was published in 2004, at a time of unrest in the skating world. The dust from the 2002 Salt Lake City judging scandal was still settling. A proposal to replace the ISU with a new World Skating Federation failed. Meanwhile, Ottavio Cinquanta had just introduced IJS and anonymous judging.

The initial reception of Cracked Ice was somewhat affected by the turmoil of the time. And because the book was not widely available in stores, it wasn’t easy for skating fans to just pick up a copy. The result is that I’m not sure Sonia’s book was widely read by skating fans. This is a shame, because the book contains a great deal of important information about the history and development of figure skating.

Now that over a decade has passed since the tumultuous time of its publication, it seems a good moment to take a fresh look at Sonia’s book and what we can learn from it.

The First 30 Years: 1958-1988

Sonia Bianchetti Garbato was born in Italy in 1934. She started skating in 1940, at six. But World War II interrupted her lessons, and, like so many skaters of her time, she lost precious years of training during the war. She returned to the sport from 1948-1955, training and competing. At 21 she retired, then married and had two sons.

Sonia skating a compulsory figure in 1952
Sonia skating a compulsory figure in 1952

But she couldn’t stay away from skating. In 1958, at age 24, Sonia became a judge for the Italian federation. Her true career had now begun.

During 1958-1988, Sonia broke into the traditionally male-dominated leadership ranks of the ISU and built a career as a judge and leader.

Sonia was the first woman to be:

  • Appointed referee at an ISU championship
  • Elected to the ISU Figure Skating Technical Committee (1967)
  • Elected chairperson of the ISU Figure Skating Technical Committee (1973)
  • Elected to the ISU Council (1988)

Sonia wanted more, though, than just a role in the ISU. Her goal, from the start of her leadership career, was nothing less than the reform and modernization of the sport. Sonia pressed for change in the sport starting at her very first ISU Congress meeting in 1963.

In Cracked Ice, Sonia details how she supported and/or personally proposed the following reforms during her early years in the ISU:

Judging-reform

However, the reform that Sonia is most closely associated with is the end of school figures.

Figures

“From the day I was elected to the ISU Figure Skating Technical Committee in 1967, I set myself a goal: the elimination of the compulsory figures,” Sonia says in Cracked Ice. She pursued her goal steadily for 20 years, eventually gaining enough support to win elimination of figures in 1990.

David Liu skates the last compulsory figure in the men's event at 1990 Worlds
David Liu skates the last compulsory figure in the men’s event at 1990 Worlds

Sonia’s quest to get rid of figures was interesting because her own strength as a competitor was, ironically, school figures. “Curiously, as a skater, I was very weak in the free skating,” admits Sonia, “while my figures were of an acceptable standard. It was only thanks to them that I obtained some good placements.”

Yet Sonia fought for the elimination of figures because she felt they had too much influence in the sport. In Sonia’s competitive days in the early 1950s, figures were worth more than 50% of the final score. She describes her shock at the 1951 Worlds ladies’ event: Jeannette Altwegg won gold (1st figures/6th free skate), and was whistled at on the podium because the audience didn’t understand why she had won. This incident planted the seed in Sonia’s mind that figures had too much weight on the result.

Let’s take a look at how much weight school figures actually carried through the years:

Figures-in-competition-2

Originally, then, figures were the sport of figure skating. Now they no longer exist.

The elimination of figures has been a highly controversial issue, both in Sonia’s time and today. Sonia cites several reasons for cutting out figures, including problems with the judging. In the 1950s/60s, figures were rarely televised, the judging received little scrutiny, and it was not uncommon for judges to manipulate skaters’ placements in the figures portion. Skaters with good figures were often overscored in the free skate. By the 1980s, the pendulum swung the other way, according to Sonia. “Judges started to overmark the figures of the good free skaters,” says Sonia. “It was just the opposite of what happened before.” Sonia argues that pairs skaters and ice dancers did not have to perform figures, yet often still had great skating skills. Others felt that figure skating would develop faster in new regions globally if skaters didn’t need to make such a large investment of time/money to learn and practice figures.

Although Sonia is generally acknowledged as the driving force behind the elimination of figures, many supported her cause, including former ISU President Jacques Favart. When the final vote came in 1988, approval was nearly unanimous. Only 4 countries voted against dropping figures: USA, Canada, Great Britain, New Zealand.

It’s been 25 years now since the last figure was skated in competition at 1990 Worlds. And although Sonia views the end of figures as a necessary and inevitable step in the development of the sport, others are less certain. Some former skaters and coaches continue to rue the loss of figures, arguing that they helped skaters learn good basic skating skills. And as many junior skaters emerge with lots of triples but a lack of good, deep edges in transitions, you do have to wonder a bit.

The still-significant support for school figures culminated last month in the debut of a new figures-only competition, the World Figures Championship in Lake Placid, NY. This event gives school figures their own specialized forum for competition.

What is the right place for figures in figure skating? Sonia felt there was no right place, that figures—and the judging of figures—influenced the outcome too much, even when figures were worth only 20% of the score. For Sonia, free skating was and is the true soul and future of the sport. Figures were extraneous. “Without music, there could be no figure skating,” Sonia writes. “What was and is really important for me in skating is that each movement is used to express a beat of the music.”

Whether you agree or not, it’s indisputable that Sonia had a vision of the future of skating and pushed until she made it reality. In the process, she changed the course of skating history.

Judging

Sonia’s other great mission during the early years of her career was to reform and improve the standards of figure skating judging.

Prior to the 1970s, “the education of the judges was left totally in the hands of the national federations,” explains Sonia. There were really no standards or requirements to become an international skating judge; the criterion was being nominated by your federation. This lack of standards also meant that “there was no uniformity of views among the judges,” Sonia explains. “This was particularly true in compulsory figures where for some judges, like the British, a wrong change of edge in a turn was a drama, while for others, like the Americans and Canadians, more importance was attached to the flow, the speed, and the shape of the circles.”

Sonia sought to change this situation. In her book, she explains how she supported an education program for ISU judges and practical/written examinations. In 1971, she wrote the curriculum for a judges’ seminar in Finland, including lectures and practical demonstrations/simulated judging. The curriculum and lectures that Sonia created for this course became the basis for the ISU’s judging seminars for years to come. Attendance at ISU judging seminars was eventually made mandatory for judges.

Sonia also had a strong focus on judges’ conduct. Corruption in judging is a controversial and, at times, taboo topic among skating fans. It’s like everyone suspects it exists but doesn’t really want to admit it, because it calls into doubt the legitimacy of the sport. If there’s one thing Sonia makes clear in her book, it’s that corrupt judging has existed for a long time. She provides example after example.

Sonia herself was approached during her very first assignment as an ISU championship judge and told to predetermine her marks. She recounts the story:

In 1964 I judged my first ISU championship, the Europeans in Grenoble. I was drawn to judge the men’s event. The day before the event started, I was approached by Ernst Labin, who was [an ISU] Council member … Labin, who was Austrian, plainly and openly told me that I had to place his country’s skater, Emmerich Danzer, ahead of Czechoslovakia’s Karol Divin in compulsory figures because Danzer had to be on the podium. … I was shocked and did not know what to think and what to do … I could not sleep that night, but when I went on the ice I was absolutely determined that I would ignore any pressure and would judge only what I saw during the competition.

A shocking incident, but not an isolated one. Judges in those years were not only subject to pressure from ISU officials or federations, but also haplessly implicated in the Cold War politics of the era. There was often strong pressure to conform with bloc judging, especially for judges from the Soviet Union, West Germany, and other Warsaw Pact countries. “The judges of those countries were supposed to support [their skaters] and award them marks and placements reflecting the orders received,” asserts Sonia. Judges from Eastern and Western countries were often on opposite sides.

The judging in the 1970s was a real concern for the [ISU] Technical Committee. In the years 1970-1978, 38 judges were suspended … 9 from the Soviet Union, 7 from Great Britain, 6 from France, 3 from Canada, 3 from the U.S. … While the British judges were criticized more for errors and incompetence, those from France and the Soviet Union had shown a definite tendency to national bias.

Sonia felt the judging problems were hurting the sport and had to be cleaned up. At the 1977 ISU Congress, she proposed the Soviet federation be sanctioned for the 1978 season and not allowed to nominate judges for ISU championships “due to repeated national bias.” The sanction was approved. Subsequently, judging suspensions dropped from 42 overall in the 1970s to just 12 during the 1980s. Sonia felt that progress was being made, but the struggle was by no means over, as later judging scandals would prove.

The ISU Council Years: 1988-1992

After Sonia achieved her longtime goal of eliminating figures, she felt her time on the ISU Technical Committee was done. The next step was to run for the ISU Council. Sonia was elected to the Council in 1988. The following 5 years were the most difficult of her career.

The ISU Council is the highest elected governing body in the sport. It consists of 11 members:

ISU President

ISU Vice President, Figure skating ISU Vice President, Speed skating
4 Council members, Figure skating 4 Council members, Speed skating

Each country can have only 1 member on the council– either from figure skating or speed skating, but not both. The Council is composed equally of members from figure skating and speed skating. The ISU President, in theory, holds the swing vote.

In the Council, Sonia quickly found herself in conflict with then-ISU President Olaf Poulsen. Most skating fans know that speed skater Ottavio Cinquanta has held grip on the ISU for over 20 years now as ISU President. However, many probably don’t know, or have forgotten, that before Cinquanta’s 21-year reign came the 14-year presidency of Olaf Poulsen, also a speed skater. (Yes, it’s been 35 years since a figure skater actually ran the sport of figure skating.)

According to Sonia, Olaf Poulsen shared many of his successor’s traits. Like Cinquanta, he wanted to run the ISU as he saw fit; opposition and debate were not encouraged. Like Cinquanta, he was an expert at bending the rules and politik.

Poulsen represented the status quo. Sonia was, again, the voice of reform and modernization.

Sonia during her ISU years
Sonia during her ISU years

As a Council member, Sonia hoped to:

  • Change eligibility rules to allow skaters to earn money through shows, sponsorships, and open competitions
  • Modernize the secretariat structure of the ISU
  • Hire lawyers, TV consultants, press agents, etc., to help the ISU conduct business
  • Fix a retirement age limit for Council members (to ensure rotation of members)
  • Introduce a development program to help ISU member nations

When Sonia joined the Council in 1988, the ISU was being run in a shockingly unprofessional manner. She says that the ISU:

  • Did not have a treasurer or financial officer.
  • Did not retain a legal team. Contracts worth millions of dollars were signed without legal review.
  • Did not employ technical organizers to mount important events such as Worlds.
  • Did not solicit new bids for advertising contracts on a regular basis but instead retained the same advertising firm, Gloria International, for 16 years and was eventually implicated and sued in a scandal due to that firm’s financial problems
  • Retained a General Secretary whose powers and responsibilities were not defined
  • Engaged in questionable financial practices such as providing a zero-interest personal “loan” to the General Secretary and accepting free cars for ISU officials in exchange for advertisements

According to Sonia, her efforts to modernize ISU management were resisted at every turn by Poulsen and his chief supporter, General Secretary Beat Hasler.

In 1990, Poulsen and Hasler opposed Sonia’s proposal to allow skaters to earn money through shows, sponsorships, ISU prize money, and pro-am competitions. Sonia’s goal was not just to help skaters, but also protect the ISU. If skaters could not earn money, more might turn professional, and they could theoretically organize themselves into an international professional skaters’ federation. In Sonia’s view, a rival professional federation could damage the ISU’s prestige and ability to negotiate TV contracts (the ISU’s primary source of revenue). Sonia was acting in the long-term interest of the ISU, as well as the skaters. However, Poulsen and Hasler did not see it that way. Needless to say, the entire substance of Sonia’s proposal was later accepted by the ISU.

This was, in fact, the outcome of most of the reforms Sonia supported. She says that all were actively resisted by Poulsen; however, most were later accepted and implemented by the ISU. “I do not regret anything I did,” says Sonia, noting the ultimate success of her ideas. However, Sonia paid a steep personal price in her quest for reform.

“What is certain is that I clashed with Poulsen from the very first moment,” writes Sonia. By 1990, she says, Poulsen was determined to oust her from the Council. His tool to do so? None other than our good friend Ottavio Cinquanta.

Poulsen’s plan was simple. It was suggested to the Italian federation that Ottavio Cinquanta run for ISU Council in 1992. If Cinquanta were elected to the Council, Sonia would be automatically out, due to the 1-member-per-country rule.

Eventually, the plan worked. Sonia asserts that Poulsen’s allies used various ploys to smear her name, throw her off balance, and isolate her from other Council members. Sonia describes the back-door campaign against her in depressing detail; many of the relevant events occurred in private conversations in and around ISU meetings. The upshot: The Italian federation eventually threw their support to Cinquanta, and he was elected ISU Vice President of Speed Skating in 1992.

After 25 years, Sonia’s career in the ISU was effectively over.

The Post-ISU Years: 1992 to Now

The bitter end to her career in the ISU left Sonia devastated. The experience “taught me a hard lesson,” she recalls. “I learned that once you lose the favor of those in power, you are alone. … There were no more seats available for me around the tables with my ‘friends’ for lunch or dinner, or on the buses, or in the ice rink …. All of this had a profound impact on my vision of life. I tried to find the balance between what I had achieved and where I had failed. Surely the balance was positive for all that was inherent to the sport itself.”

Sonia had been a crusader–pushing hard for the things she believed in–instead of a player, who knew how to follow the rules of politik. She reflected on her lack of political savvy and naivete and what it had cost her. “I realized that my colleagues in the Council had used me on many occasions,” she asserts. “They found it very convenient to push me to take a stand, while they held back and waited to see how the president reacted before opening their mouths.” The reformer may get recognition, but not always appreciation from those who feel threatened by change.

In time, Sonia was able to reconcile herself to what had happened. In the late 1990s, she began to rebuild some of her old friendships in the skating world. In 1998, she went to Worlds for the first time since leaving the Council. She attended the next few World Championships as well.

Meanwhile, judging scandals grew more serious in the 1994-2002 period under Cinquanta’s rule. An interesting feature of these scandals was that the whistleblowers tended to be punished almost as heavily as the offending judges. Here is a look at some of the scandals from this era and their outcomes:

Judging-scandal

After Salt Lake, Cinquanta announced the ISU would implement a completely new judging system (IJS). The new system was created by a few officials behind the scenes; the ISU Figure Skating Technical Committee was not involved.

In Cracked Ice, Sonia outlines the maneuverings Cinquanta used to get the new system adopted. Cinquanta proposed the system at the 2002 ISU Congress and stated prior to the vote: “You are not voting for the proposal word by word. You are voting in favor of the concept, let’s say, of the criteria, of the project. This I said many times. It is not a rule. This is not a rule, is a project, is an itinerary.” Yet in October 2002, the “project” was suddenly announced as a new paragraph of Rule 121 in the ISU General Regulations. The original proposal had not specified anonymity of all judges/marks throughout and after the event. But in August and December 2002, the ISU announced that all judges names’ and marks would remain completely anonymous, even after the event was concluded. No one, not even the event referee, would know who entered which marks.

Sonia opposed the new judging system. She felt that IJS, with its emphasis on numeric element scoring, did not allow sufficient scope for the appreciation and assessment of artistry. She also felt the system did not address the root cause of judging scandals:

The new judging system was presented as the solution to all figure skating judging problems. However, this is far from being true … The problem was cheating, not the scoring system. The ISU should have been fighting this problem …. by adopting lifetime bans for judges caught trying to fix competition results, strengthening the accountability and the assessment of judges, and taking over the right to nominate the judges for ISU championships … Instead, the ISU has merely been trying to adopt policies aimed at making judging completely anonymous. Every single judge could be cheating now and the public will never know it.

In the years since IJS was introduced, Sonia has remained an active observer of the sport and frequent critic of the ISU. She has published essays, open letters, and event reviews on her web site (http://www.soniabianchetti.com/), maintains a wide network of contacts in the skating world, and is active in the skating community on Facebook. Sonia keeps current by watching events online, on TV, and also attending as many competitions as she can. It’s a joy to see her comment on Facebook even about smaller events such as Junior Grand Prix competitions!

Sonia with two skaters she admired: Brian Boitano and Brian Orser
Sonia with two skaters she admired: Brian Boitano and Brian Orser

What stands out most in Cracked Ice is how much Sonia Bianchetti Garbato loves figure skating. With all her many roles in the sport—skater, judge, referee, leader, dissenting critic—Sonia is, above all else, a true fan and lover of figure skating. She jokingly refers to passing on the “virus of figure skating” to her son, Fabio. Those who love skating understand what she means. Once the virus (or passion) grabs hold, in many cases it just doesn’t let go. For Sonia, it hasn’t. “Despite all the problems … figure skating has progressed, year after year, in technique and beauty,” she declares in the final chapter of her book. “Figure skating is and must be the perfect blend of technical prowess and art.”

Cracked Ice is the testament of a woman who gave her life to the sport and probably influenced it as much as anyone else in the past century. This is a book that really shouldn’t be missed by any serious fan of skating.

Note: You can order Cracked Ice at Sonia’s web site: http://www.soniabianchetti.com/cracked_ice/cracked_ice_order.html.

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At the Starting Line

Tomorrow, the senior fall season officially starts with the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. Yay!!! It’s been such a long wait, but finally the new season is here. 🙂 I thought I’d do a quick roundup article to summarize what’s been going on with pairs in the offseason and what to look for as the season starts.

In this recap, I’ll just cover pairs who are competing on the GP. One note: Many of the new program listings below are links to videos of the programs. Just click to see the program. (Hope I got most of them right! :-))

The Russians

Last week, the Russian pairs participated in open test skates in Sochi, which was a great opportunity to see all their new programs. Some of the programs had been presented earlier, but many were new.

Volosozhar/Trankov

SP: Bollywood (“Nagada Sang Dahl” from Ram-leela)

LP: Dracula/Van Helsing

CS events: Nebelhorn

GP events: TEB, NHK

Tatiana and Max's wedding!
Tatiana and Max’s wedding!

The Olympic champions have certainly been busy this offseason! Not only did they perform in shows around the world, they traveled to New York to work on choreography, did a training camp in Italy, and, most importantly, got married in Moscow on August 18. Congratulations to Tatiana/Maxim on their wedding! 🙂 With all the travel and wedding excitement, you have to wonder how much serious training time V/T have really had this summer. Nonetheless, their showing at the Russian test skates was fairly good. The elements were there, including the new throw 3F. They still need to improve their speed and precision to get back into competitive form, though. Tatiana/Max are scheduled to start their season one week from now at Nebelhorn (Sept. 24-26). It’ll be fascinating seeing them back in competition. Nebelhorn will be a warmup event for them, I think. The truer test will come at TEB (Nov. 13-15), where they’ll want to be fully back in competitive shape.

Stolbova/Klimov

SP: “I’ll Put a Spell on You”

LP: The Unknown Known

CS events: Ondrej Nepela

GP events: SA, RC

Is this a “comeback” season for Stolbova/Klimov, after their decision to skip Worlds last spring? I feel like it is. For the last 6 months, the talk has been mostly of Duhamel/Radford, Sui/Han, and Volosozhar/Trankov’s return. Where do Ksenia/Fedor fit in? We’ll see. They didn’t make quite the opening statement at the Russian test skates that I was expecting. Although they looked in good shape, there were double twists, flubbed jumps, scratchy landings, and a general lack of spark. Early reaction to the programs was subdued, with the SP getting more positive comments than the LP. Stolbova/Klimov need to kick things into gear soon. Their season starts in 2 weeks at Ondrej Nepela (Oct. 1-3). Then it’s only 2 more weeks until they appear at Skate America (Oct. 23-25). They’re facing strong fields at both events, so they’re going to need their A game–especially at Skate America, if they hope to make the GP Final. They’ve been dealing with a minor injury to Ksenia this summer, so hopefully that doesn’t affect them too much.

Tarasova/Morozov

SP: “Lord of the Dance”/ “Warriors” by Ronan Hardiman

LP: Chopin no. 2

CS events: Ondrej Nepela

GP events: SC, TEB

Tarasova/Morozov are like the quiet younger brother and sister in the Russian pairs family. We didn’t hear much about them during the offseason. It seems they train quietly in the background, while their teammates get most of the attention. Nonetheless, Evgenia/Vladimir were the best-prepared, best-trained, and most consistent team at the Russian test skates. Their programs were cleanly skated with excellent elements, and they looked fit and competition-ready. Response to their programs was rather muted. However, if they continue to put out elements like they did at the test skates and improve through the season, they should score extremely well. I expect strong performances from them at Ondrej Nepela and Skate Canada. In fact, I would pick them to win Nepela over Stolbova/Klimov.

Kavaguti/Smirnov

SP: “I Finally Found Someone” by Barbra Streisand/Ryan Adams

LP: Manfred Symphony

CS events: None yet

GP events: CoC, RC

More Manfred (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)
More Manfred (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America)

Yuko/Sasha are starting this season in somewhat tentative fashion. Their new SP is still developing, and Sasha said at the test skates that they may change it. They considered new LP music this summer but didn’t find anything they liked, so are keeping their Manfred Symphony LP. They plan to add a throw quad loop to their LP, but have yet to land it cleanly either in shows or at the test skates. They are not announced for a CS or Senior B event yet (although they could do Mordovian Ornament in Russia, Oct. 15-18). In performances this summer, they’ve shown their usual polish and refinement, but have also looked a bit slow and undertrained. They still have almost 2 months to go until Cup of China (Nov. 6-8), though, so there’s time yet to get back in top form.

Astakhova/Rogonov

SP: The Artist

LP: A puppet master brings his puppet to life (different music selections)

CS events: Ondrej Nepela

GP events: SA, CoC

Kristina/Andrei got a good, early start in the offseason, debuting their new SP not long after Worlds. Coach Artur Dmitriev said that, for them, this season is about becoming consistent and developing as a team. Their triple twist and lifts both look improved, and their new programs showed nice artistic growth between their initial debuts and the Russian test skates. So, all that is good. However, they had a lot of jump mistakes at the test skates and in other summer performances. This makes me nervous, as much of their success last season was due to solid jump elements. Hopefully that improves once regular competition begins. Kristina/Andrei start their season on the same schedule as Stolbova/Klimov: Ondrej Nepela, then Skate America.

Bazarova/Deputat

SP: Chopin no. 2

LP: Beatles medley (Abbey Road/White Album)

CS events: None yet

GP events: SC, NHK

Vera/Andrei showed very nice programs at the Russian test skates; the Chopin SP, in particular, looks like a winner. However, technically, there are still many question marks. Their throw triple loop looked good, and the lifts were better as well. However, the twist and individual jumps were quite shaky. Right now Vera/Andrei do not have any CS events, but I expect we may see them at Mordovian Ornament (Oct. 15-18). That would be a good warm-up for their first GP event, Skate Canada (Oct. 30-Nov.1).

Zabijako/Enbert

SP: “Juno and Avos” by Alexei Rybnikov

LP: Thunder and Heaven by George Garvarents

CS events: None yet

GP events: RC

This pair just formed this summer, but have not competed or shown their programs yet because Zabijako suffered a heel injury. They were assigned the last host spot at Rostelecom Cup.

The Canadians

Duhamel/Radford

SP: “Your Song” from Moulin Rouge (there’s a link to this on The Divine Sport Facebook page–you’ll need to scroll down toward the bottom though)

LP: “Hometown Glory” by Adele

Senior B events: Skate Canada Autumn Classic (reported)

GP events: SC, NHK

A photo of Meagan's wedding, tweeted by Eric Radford
A photo of Meagan’s wedding, tweeted by Eric Radford

Like Volosozhar/Trankov, Meagan/Eric have been very busy this offseason, traveling the world for shows and also for Meagan’s June wedding in Bermuda! (Congratulations to Meagan and Bruno! :-)) However, they are now back to training full-time. And if TSL’s excellent new feature on D/R is any indication, they look to be in good shape and well prepared. They’re excited about their new programs and are adding a throw quad Lutz to their LP. Once again, they are upping the technical ante, and it will be very interesting to see them battle V/T, S/H, and the rest of the field to stay on top. I fully expect to see dominant performances from them at Autumn Classic and Skate Canada. Then comes the showdown with V/T at NHK!!

Iliushechkina/Moscovitch

SP: “Since I’ve Been Loving You” by Led Zeppelin

LP: Rachmaninov no. 2

CS events: Ondrej Nepela

GP events: CoC, NHK

Dylan suffered a finger injury during the early offseason, which hampered the team’s preparations for Skate Detroit. Nonetheless, they won that event, and reaction to their programs was positive. Since then, we haven’t heard much from them. Luba/Dylan open their season at Ondrej Nepela against a very tough field—three top Russian pairs, plus Marchei/Hotarek. They’ll need to be in good form, so let’s hope training has been going well. Afterward, they have a month to train until their GP debut at CoC (Nov. 6-8).

Seguin/Bilodeau

SP: “Monde Inverse” by Cirque du Soleil

LP: “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Procol Harum/piano piece by Karl Hugo

CS events: Nebelhorn

GP events: SA, TEB

Julianne/Charlie won the Quebec Summer Championships in August with two good performances. Their programs this year are original and interesting; early comments were very positive. Their twist looked improved in Quebec, but lift positions still need work. Julianne/Charlie start their season a week from now at Nebelhorn, followed by Skate America a month later. This team looks set for a good season.

Moore-Towers/Marinaro

SP: “If I Can’t Have You” by Etta James

LP: Romeo & Juliet

CS events: None yet  U.S. International Classic

GP events: SC, RC

Kirsten/Mike switched coaches this summer to Gauthier/Marcotte in Montreal. They seem to be enjoying their new training environment. They competed their SP at the Quebec Summer Championships and placed second. They are not entered yet for any CS events, Oops! I missed seeing them on the U.S. International Classic entry list. They are competing this week in Salt Lake.

Bell/Swiegers

SP:

LP:

CS events: None yet

GP events: RC

This pair just formed this summer and received a GP assignment as a returning/split team. They were scheduled to compete at the Thornhill summer competition but had to withdraw due to injury. As with MT/M, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them at Autumn Classic. Getting at least some competitive experience before their GP would certainly be helpful.

The Chinese

Sui/Han

SP: “Spanish Romance”/ “Farrucas”

LP: Samson & Delilah

CS events: Nonetheless

GP events: SA, CoC

Sui/han's new SP
Sui/han’s new SP

Sui/Han looked really strong at the recent Chinese test skates. They’re adding a throw quad Salchow to their LP, and although it’s not consistent yet, it seems like this could become a standout element for them. The quad throws S/H did at the test skates had really nice distance and flow–qualities we haven’t seen before in quad throws. There is a lot of excitement right now around this team, and their new programs have been well received. I can’t wait to see them at Skate America. Like many, I expect a big season from them.

Peng/Zhang

SP: “Come Together” by The Beatles (tango version)

LP: The Pearl Fishers by Bizet

CS events: None

GP events: TEB, RC

Cheng Peng is reportedly recovering from an injury (a skate blade slashed her leg). As a result, she and partner Hao Zhang looked good at the Chinese test skates, but not in their best condition yet. Like Sui/Han, they’ve been practicing the throw quad Salchow this summer, although we don’t know if they’ve landed the jump yet. Their programs by Lori Nichol again look very intriguing. Let’s hope that Cheng is fully recovered for TEB (Nov. 13-15).

Yu/Jin

SP:

LP:

CS events: None

GP events: CoC, NHK

Yu/Jin: No new programs?
Yu/Jin: No new programs?

After making the GP Final and winning Junior Worlds last year, you’d think the Chinese federation would be pretty happy with Yu/Jin. However, they were not named to the first-tier Chinese national team. And (unofficial) word is that they didn’t get new programs this season. I don’t understand why the Chinese federation is not providing more support for this talented team. Yu/Jin are facing tough fields in their GP events, and they could have used new programs to help build excitement and interest for their season. Granted, if they execute as well as they did last year, they should still place well. But I’m scratching my head over the lack of new programs. Like S/H and P/Z, Yu/Jin have been working on the throw quad Salchow this summer.

Wang/Wang

SP:

LP:

CS events: None

GP events: SA, CoC

Like Yu/Jin, Wang/Wang also were not named to the first-tier Chinese team and also were apparently not given new programs. Another mystery, considering how successful this team was on last year’s GP circuit (2 medals). Wang/Wang have not competed internationally for 10 months now; I hope the judges at Skate America remember who they are. (Even a lot of skating fans don’t.) I feel this team could really have benefited from a CS or senior B assignment, just for the exposure.

The Americans

Scimeca/Knierim

SP: “Nothing Else Matters” by Metallica

LP: Elizabeth: The Golden Age

CS events: Nebelhorn

GP events: SA, NHK

Alexa/Chris: Ready for a big year
Alexa/Chris: Ready for a big year

Alexa/Chris only competed once this summer at Skate Milwaukee, a small club competition. But they’ve stayed in the spotlight via a terrific TSL feature on them. They also won the SKATING magazine Readers’ Choice award. And in an IceNetwork predictions article, several IN writers picked S/K to win a medal at Worlds this year! Clearly, there is a lot of buzz around this team. So what can we expect from Alexa/Chris? We know they’ve been working on 1) raising the level of their quad twist, 2) improving their overall unison and presentation, and 3) getting a 3T or 3T/3T sequence. Early clips of their Golden Age program look promising. Alexa/Chris start their season next week in Nebelhorn. I’d love to see them have a strong event, win silver, and take that momentum into Skate America next month. They’re facing tough competition at Skate America, but I truly believe they can medal there with two good performances.

Kayne/O’Shea

SP: “Espana Cani”

LP: “Music of the Night” from Phantom of the Opera

CS events: U.S. International Classic

GP events: SA, RC

Kayne/O'Shea: Working on a throw quad Salchow (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)
Kayne/O’Shea: Working on a throw quad Salchow (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images North America)

Tarah/Danny were scheduled to compete at Skate Detroit this summer, but had to withdraw due to a minor injury. They announced recently that they’ve been working on a throw quad Salchow, although it’s unclear exactly when and if we’ll see it in their LP. They will debut their new programs this weekend at U.S. International Classic. Next comes Skate America.

Castelli/Tran

SP: “Summertime”

LP: Journey medley

CS events: U.S. Internat’l Classic

GP events: SC, TEB

Marissa/Mervin have had quite an interesting offseason. IceNetwork devoted a whole series of articles to the development of their new Journey LP; they also did a popular TSL interview. This exposure has helped broaden their fanbase and build excitement for their season. The actual skating, though, has been a little problematic. Marissa/Mervin competed at Skate Detroit and won the SP handily. However, they had major problems in the LP, so unfortunately the much-anticipated debut of their Journey LP fell a bit flat. Initial reaction to the program was mostly negative. Marissa/Mervin then competed their SP at the Quebec Summer Championships and won that segment, but again had a few errors. With the regular season arriving, it’s time for Marissa/Mervin to shake off those nerves and start to put together some solid competitive programs. They start their season today at U.S. Classic, where they’ll compete against two of their U.S. rivals. I’m hoping to see a good LP with a solid throw triple flip (an element I don’t think they’ve landed yet in competition). Their first GP event is Skate Canada (Oct. 30-Nov. 1).

Donlan/Bartholomay

SP: “All That Jazz” from Chicago

LP: Frank Sinatra medley

CS events: U.S. International Classic, Ondrej Nepela

GP events: SA

Gretchen/Nate had an unexpectedly strong showing at Skate Detroit, where they finished second in both segments. Their sultry Chicago SP was a hit, their lifts were lovely, and they seemed well prepared. Following that success, Donlan/Bartholomay were assigned to U.S. International Classic and got the final host spot at Skate America. In a surprise, they have changed LPs since Skate Detroit, switching from Rachmaninov no. 2 to a Frank Sinatra medley. It will be interesting to see the new LP at U.S. Classic. They’ll be looking to make a strong impression, building toward Skate America.

Aaron/Settlage

SP: “Hymne a l’Amour” by Edith Piaf

LP: La Boheme by Puccini

CS events: None (withdrew from Nebelhorn)

GP events: CoC

Maddie/Max were slated to compete at Nebelhorn, but withdrew this week for reasons not yet announced. So far they only have 1 GP event this year, so the season is not getting off to a great start for them. Hopefully they can regroup before CoC (Nov. 6-8).

Calalang/Sidhu

SP:

LP:

CS events: None yet

GP events: NHK

Jessica Noelle/Zack have not announced new programs yet. Zack is returning from hip labrum surgery after Nationals. Reportedly he is back on the ice, but we haven’t heard much else. Hopefully they’ll be able to compete at NHK; it’s still over 2 months away, so that should help.

The Italians

Marchei/Hotarek

SP:

LP:

CS/Senior B events: Lombardia Trophy, Ondrej Nepala

GP events: SC, RC

Valentina/Ondrej will debut their new programs this weekend at Lombardia Trophy. In their TSL interview earlier this summer, Valentina hinted their LP would be different and perhaps a bit unusual; I can’t wait to find out more about it. They’ve been working on the split triple twist this summer; hopefully they’ll be able to upgrade that element in their programs. After Lombardia, they will do Ondrej Nepela, followed by Skate Canada. This team was exciting last year, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of them.

Della Monica/Guarise

SP: Romeo & Juliet by Abel Korzeniowski

LP: Magnificat, vocals by Mina

CS/senior B events: None yet

GP events: TEB

Nicole/Matteo trained with Nina Mozer’s group in Italy for a few weeks this summer. They will be looking to rebound this season after disappointing performances at Worlds last year. As of right now, their only scheduled competition is TEB (Nov. 13-15).

The French & Austrians

James/Cipres

SP:

LP: Romeo & Juliet (reportedly)

CS/senior B events: Nebelhorn

GP events: TEB, NHK

We haven’t heard much from James/Cipres over the summer. They begin their season next week at Nebelhorn. Afterward, they’ll have a month and a half to prepare for TEB. They too will be looking to come back from an up-and-down season last year.

Ziegler/Kiefer

SP:

LP:

CS/senior B events: Ondrej Nepela

GP events: SC

The young Austrians will start their season at Ondrej Nepela, where they’ll debut 2 new programs choreographed by Mark Pillay. Then a month later, they make their sole GP appearance at Skate Canada.

Wrap-up

So that’s where things stand with the pairs at the start of the season. Like last year, I’ll try to do reviews of all the Grand Prix events this fall. It should be a great season!