Article & Photos by Matteo Morelli | Medal Ceremony photo by Robin Ritoss
Ten years after hosting the World Championships in Nice, France welcomed back the top skaters in the world to mark the end of this Olympic season. 31 Teams representing 25 countries took to the ice in the rhythm dance, with the exception of Russian skaters, not allowed to compete due to the ban on Russians representatives as a consequence of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The world championships following the Olympic Games are always a bit unusual, with skaters coming to the competition feeling the weight of a long season on their shoulders. Despite of that, the event proved to show a very high quality skating and remarkable performances, that alongside the unicity of the current situation will certainly mark the competition as one to remember.
At their first world championship, former singles skater turned ice dancer Daisuke Takahashi and his partner Kana Muramoto skated on their catchy rhythm dance. Daisuke admitted that his mistake on the second twizzle was something that he could only blame on himself, as the element was always concerning him.
“It has been some time since I have been at Worlds, but it is the first time as an ice dancer, so it feels funny because it is something I am familiar with but something completely new”, Takahashi said.
“In the warm up, when our name was called and when the audience heard the name Daisuke Takahashi I really felt that I am skating with a legendary skater,” Muramoto added.
The highlight of the rhythm dance was the programme of Oleksandra Nazarova and Maksym Nikitin. The Ukrainian pair left the Olympic Games in Beijing to go back to their country being invaded by Russia. Oleksandra was the first one of the two to be able to flee to Poland, although she had to leave her skates back home. Maksym, originally from Kharkiv (one of the heaviest hit towns in the country), left the country later, and managed to take Oleksandra skates with him. At the time of the competition, their families were still in Ukraine. Their music choice, 1944 by Ukrainian pop icon and Eurovision winner Jamala, sent a strong message to the world via the lyrics of the song:
When strangers are coming
They come to your house
They kill you all
We’re not guilty
Where is your mind?
You think you are gods
But everyone dies
Don’t swallow my soul
Both Oleksandra and Maksym skated in their national team uniform, as their programme costumes were still in Ukraine. They produced a heartfelt performance, filled with a lot of emotions that they carried with them from their country.
“For us it is important to tell the entire world what is happening in Ukraine,” said Nazarova.
“I hope this will help people in Ukraine who are not safe: they are in danger, have lost their houses,” Nikitin added. “We saw what the Russian army are doing. We chose Jamala’s music because it represents a call for the world, a warning”.
The response from the audience was incredible. At the end of their dance, both skaters approached each of the four sides of the rink to thank the public, rather than doing it from the centre as usual, as they felt it was important to keep that strong connection they established during their dance.
“It was not easy to skate after a great performance of the Ukrainian team,” Canada’s Marjorie Lajoie admitted. With partner Zachary Lagha, they felt that they delivered a good programme, but the levels they were expecting were not met.
Juulia Turkkila and Matthias Versluis from Finland capitalised from their first Olympic games, achieving their seasons best. “We were very happy with our skate today. We are still feeling the energy from the Olympic Games, it was a dream that came true for us,” they told us.
At their fourth world championships, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker from the USA were pleased with their RD.
“From Beijing until now we improved upon our levels in multiple areas,” Hawayek said. “The performance was really fun and the crowd really helped.”
Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri skated on their Michael Jackson themed programme.
“Having participated at the Olympic Games Gala, we didn’t have a lot of time to rest when we returned home,” Fabbri said. “We knew we had to work a lot to be 100% for these World Championships.”
Fabbri also confirmed that they will compete next season and take it step by step with the next winter Olympic Games planned in their home city, Milan.
The top three after the rhythm dance saw USA’s couples Madison Chock and Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue respectively in third and second, and Olympic Champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron marking another world record of 92.73 points in front of their home crowd.
“We were a little more relaxed than at the Olympic Games, so I think it appeared in our skating”, Cizeron said.
RD PRESS CONFERENCE
Papadakis and Cizeron were happy to perform in their home country, where they achieved a new world record which included 24 tens (out of 50) in their program components.
“It was great for us to do this performance in France, it pushed us. The public was amazing”, Papadakis shared. “This is a special event for us, it is in France and after the Olympic Games, and we have our friends around us”.
When asked about their rhythm dance and its choreography, Cizeron explained that coming back from the Olympic Games they added more detail to their program, and the process was easy as they found that waacking and skating really communicate, giving them pleasure to work on refining it.
“We train with pleasure and energy, and when we have lows it is easy to remember what we train for. However, it is hard to arrive here knowing it is the end of a chapter and the end of the career for some of us”.
Hubbell seconded that. “The goal for us during the free dance will be not to cry before or after our skate,” Hubbell said.
The team announced early in the season that this year will be the last of their competitive career.
“Coming back from the Olympic Games and starting to train again was challenging, but we have a fantastic group of coaches that gave us all we needed.” Hubbell added. “Also, the fact that we have 13 teams from our school here really helped to keep the focus”.
Chock and Bates had a lot of fun performing for the audience in this end of the season competition in Montpellier.
“This week has been one of the most enjoyable weeks of our career”, Bates said. “There is a sentimental component for us, knowing that some of us are going to leave. We will also try not to cry before and during the competition, but I can’t promise we won’t cry after”.
The last major ice dance final of the year started with the announcement that Ukraine’s Oleksandra Nazarova and Maksym Nikitin had withdrawn from the free dance, with the audience reacting with a warm clapping of hands.
Kana Muramoto and Daisuke Takahashi presented their free dance with a change on their rotational lift, however the twizzles were once again not on their side.
“We are happy with what we achieved in just two years,” Muramoto said. “We are not satisfied with what we did, but we are happy to have finally been able to compete with the top ice dance teams and we learned a lot.”
Their future plans are still to be decided, but to be announced soon.
Lajoie and Lagha gained three positions with their captivating Rio soundtrack programme. They were both happy to show what they are capable of.
“We have to improve our patience, to ride every edge, to finish every movement,” Lagha said. “This will give u a lot of maturity and we really need this if we want to get in the top level and compete with the best.”
Lithuania’s Allison Reed and Saulius Ambrulevičius ended in tenth place.
“We put everything out there,” Reed said. “Physically and mentally there are a lot of hurdles, we are just proud that we put out our skate.”
“It was overall a very good season, we got a lot from it,” Ambrulevičius added.
Great Britain’s Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson received a standing ovation from the audience after delivering their best free dance of this season. They ended in sixth place, their highest Worlds finish to date.
“This was the performance that we have been craving and working towards all season long, having that vision of what we believe this Lion King program could be and how we could grow as athletes”, Fear said.
Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz from Spain arrived on the ice with a big welcome from the audience. Their Zorro programme was one of the most popular this season, however this time the delivery did not meet the same level of the previous ones. They still achieved a seventh place finish, the highest ever by a Spanish team.
“It wasn’t the skate of our career, but we have had a lot of those this season so we can’t ask for more,” Smart said. “We finished in the top ten, which has two spots for Spain and that is what we have been trying for five years”.
The team has not yet made any plans for their future, and will take their time to think about it.
Canada’s Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier confirmed their fifth place.
“I don’t think the results in the second half of the season were exactly how we wanted them to be, but we were so proud of our performance today and we had a blast just sharing it with everyone,” Poirier said. ”We are so lucky to have the artists of the track (“The Long and Winding Road”) Govardo here watching us today, so we are happy to be able to perform the program for them live.”
Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri finished a step away from the podium, skating on their Atonement free dance.
“When you get the highest score at the end of the season, it means you really worked well throughout the entire season,” Fabbri said. “It was very rewarding for us to get our personal best overall at the World Championship after the Olympic Games.”
Very emotional free dance for Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, which ended their careers as competitive skaters recording a new personal best and leaving a world silver medal. Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ original alien dance allowed them to secure their third place and a bronze medal. Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron win the championships, adding a firth world title to their already extensive list of achievements, and confirming another world record with 137.09 points for their free and 229.82 combined total.
FREE DANCE PRESS CONFERENCE
Papadakis and Cizeron were extremely pleased with winning a world title on home ice.
“We don’t have many opportunities to skate at home,” Papadakis said. “We have been really lucky to experience this moment here.”
The French couple were awarded an overall 35 tens out of 45, breaking all records ever made before. As a comparison, Hubbell and Donohue in second place obtained a total of 8 tens.
“We usually don’t even look at the scores,” Cizeron said.
Following their recent Olympic gold medal, and the series of wins they accumulated throughout the years, the French duo is now enjoying their popularity in France.
“We could see our faces on tramways, trash cans (we take that as a compliment!), hand sanitisers, bottles,” Cizeron said. “Marie France (Dubreuil, their coach) told us that you know you made it when your face is on a bottle of water. We made it!”
The almost 9,000 people in the audience confirmed that they love their Olympic champions.
“In Beijing we wanted to go there and get the gold, while here it was more a celebration of our journey, our school, our goals,” Cizeron. said “It was much better than what we could imagine. Hearing all those people screaming for you was super, it was hard to hold back the tears before the programme”.
“This competition has been quite weird with what is going on in the world”, Papadakis added. “Sport is a great way to promote peace and solidarity. It was admirable what Oleksandra, Maksym and all the other skaters did”.
Papadakis skated with the Ukrainian flag colours painted on her nails.
All winners feel a strong connection with their school, the Ice Academy of Montreal. This is the first time since 2011 that all teams from the same training center make up the podium.
“Our coaches changes the way sport people interact with each other”, explained Hubbell. “They created a true family, and it shows”. “We are part of a team before we are competitors. I feel so lucky to have all athletes that share this with me”, said Papadakis.
They all feel they have learned a lot from their coaching team.
“The relations that have been built are absolutely magic,” Cizeron said. “To share this with a team of coaches that we adore is the best we can hope for.”
“There are many lessons we each take. For me they have led by example, and have made me realise that it is important to be surrounded by people that love you and appreciate you,” Hubbell added.
“The way they treat their work, the way they treat each other, the way they pull the best from people by leading by compassion and empathy. All you are seeing here is authentic, they gave it to us,” Bates said.
Chock and Bates feel like they have grown a lot since joining the Academy.
“Taking creative risks was encouraged by the Montreal team, they let us realise what our strengths are,” Bates said. “Over the last few years we have really solidified that creative approach we started.”
This was their first time back on the world podium since 2016.
”Over the years Evan and I have proved we have a lot of determination,” Chock said. “It has not been an easy path to get back to the world podium, but the journey was worth it. We have grown in ways I would have never thought would be possible before.”
For Hubbell and Donohue, this was their last appearance on the ice as competitive skaters.
“This morning at practice I was crying all the time”, Hubbell said. “My coaches reminded me of the job I had to do. I wanted to come as strong and as confident as I could be. I wanted to celebrate what I have been able to become over the last 22 years, and I couldn’t be happier with what I did on the ice”.
“As I am sitting here looking at all of my friends, and teammates, all of you my coaches, it really sinks in just the things you are going to miss not being on the competitive aspect,” Donohue added. “I am very grateful for all of the people in my life that have shaped who I am as a man, as a person, as an athlete, as a dancer – my incredible partner, these amazing teammates this coaching staff”.
These world championships were definitely unusual, however the remarkable sportsmanship that was showed won’t be forgotten. At the end of the free dance, Nazarova and Nikitin joined the skaters during the podium ceremony, receiving hugs from nearly everyone there. This spirit of solidarity and love will remain in everyone’s memories for a very long time.