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Figure Skating - Athletes


Irina Slutskaya
Photo© Alexander Wilf
Moscow. Irina Slutskaya

The Worlds ended with the Russian triumph as on Saturday, Irina Slutskaya regained her title of the best skater in the World in did it in such style that left no doubts in her victory.

Sometime ago, the famous coach Valentin Nikolaev called the locker room atmosphere during the biggest competition «a purple air of hatred». He added, «That subconscious animosity between rivals becomes so concentrated that just in several minutes, it can completely suck the energy out of any skater. No wonder even Elvis Stojko, a skater with unusually strong nerves, never staid in the locker room after the warm-up. He would take his things and wait somewhere else. That's why it so hard to be the last one to skate».

What Slutskaya did in Luzhniki was the act of heroism! She was last to skate in the final group, and had to do it after Sasha Cohen, the main contender, got very high marks for the free program. The American gave Slutskaya one chance to win – only the perfect skate could've guaranteed the gold for the Russia . The competition went on, and it was less and les believable that Slutskaya will reach her goal. By the time she came on ice, the purple air of hatred crawled out of the locker room and was almost visible above the ice.

Such a heated rivalry is rare for ladies skating. It's more of the male privilege to make the arena tense from the first to the last minute when the best ones skate. Turned out, it was the «weaker half» that took it upon itself to have a battle without compromises. Every lady had her own story.


Kwan didn't have much of a chance to win and become the World champion for the sixth time. She could only hope for the others to make big mistakes, but can you seriously hope for that with so many rivals?

It's always sad to see the beginning of the mega star's fall. We could only wish for every lady who medalled in Moscow to do as much in sport as Kwan did. The fact is still there – Michelle looked the least competitive among the top six.

Fall on the triple salchow and two footing the lutz didn't diminish her greatness. Anyway, Luzhniki arena was witnessing the greatness of the five-time World champion going into the past – the 25-year-old skater wasn't up to the level of the final.

True, again, she was the fighter to the end. She did three combos, one of them triple flip-double toe – double loop. She desperately fought for the difficulty in spins and steps, but the spins wasn't as fast as they used to be. Kwan was third in the free program, it wasn't her skating that put her ahead of at least two skaters – Carolina Kostner and Fumie Suguri. Her reputation saved her.


At 16th, Carolina Kostner was 4th at Europeans in Malmo, and then won the bronze at Jr. Worlds. In Italy, she was immediately called the biggest discovery of the year in ladies skating. It wasn't hard to understand – the last time the Italian lady stood on the podium was in 1980. Also, the reporters got a good start for the future stories when they found out that famous skier Isolda Kostner is young Carolina's cousin and godmother as well.

The Italian surprised again at November Grand Prix event in Moscow – she was the only lady to do the most difficult triple-triple combo in the short program. On top of that, Carolina set a personal record adding 5 points in that part of the program.

She said in her interview in November, “It's not hard for me to jump. The jumps require being extra focused. I'm often asked what is my favorite jump and every time I'm lost looking for the answer. To think about it, I don't like the axel. Toe loop is my most confident jump. This is a great feeling to push away from ice going into the jump and realizing, «Yes, I will do it». When I'm in shape, that feeling is the norm, no matter which jump I'm doing.

The 18-year-old was excited by the new rules that created enough problems for the older skaters.

She said, «Main thing – the system works. It's important not simply feel how the jump, the spiral, or the footwork went, but to see the proof that the judges noticed it and appreciated it. Before, it often happened that the marks didn't match my inner feelings after the skate. It's like you've done everything, and it's better not to watch the result board. Only this fact is enough for liking the new system better.

I can't say it was easy for me to move to the senior level. Senior level skating is a job first of all. Junior skating is joy and freedom when you don't have to set any serious goals. You just come and skate the way you can and enjoy it. With the age, I started to think about what's important in my life. I realized that I have to prepare for the practices as well and say no to some things I enjoy. Plus, I had to treat criticism differently. Before, I had the same reaction to anything being said, like put the skates on and try to do it, and I'll what how you'll manage. Now I try to understand what's behind the criticism. Many things look differently from the outside. I started to fell differently as well, more prepared…».

2005 Worlds become the first competition for Kostner where she managed to break the stereotype – the young Italian is only strong enough to skate one clean program, short as a rule. True, she couldn't completely escape the mistakes in the final. Kostner doubled the planned triple loop, rotated on the landing foot, and she had to forget about adding a jump to make it a combo. Even that didn't prevent the first sensation –overall, Kostner defeated Kwan by .37, and set her own personal record in LP – 113.29.


Саша Коэн
Photo© Alexander Wilf
Moscow. Sasha Cohen

The return to her old coach John Nicks clearly benefited Sasha Cohen. The American wasn't stable during her work with Tatiana Tarasova and even more when she worked with Robin Wagner. My friend from the USA, big fan of Cohen since the times she appeared at the senior scene, said once, «Sometimes after listening and reading Sasha's endless interviews about her many problems, I just want to say, «Shut up and skate!».

Nicks, who taught Cohen skating since she was little, was probably the only person left in America who could say something like that to his student without facing the consequences. Nicks agreed to return to skating because of Cohen, and at the end, it was him who did her a favor, not the other way around. Sasha clearly came to her senses. However, there was nothing new in her skating a year after the Dortmund . She has great artistry, fantastic beautiful spirals, soft jumps, but the World had already seen that.

Two mistakes on the triple flip and combo that followed didn't prevent the judges from giving her the best marks of the evening. The American was ahead of Kostner by more than 11 points in LP. It wasn't the records for her – two years ago at Skate America, Sasha got 130.89. No lady haven't beaten that record yet.


2004 World champion came to Moscow far from being in her best shape. She had time to recover from injuries, but there was no talking about getting in shape. The forced training almost never turns into consistence while performing. She only had enough strength for the first two minutes, but she skated like a goddess! She didn't do anything extra natural under the new requirements. The triple loop that Arakawa performed cleanly and powerfully for so many times, was counted as a double in the combo, but the expressiveness of her moves, clean elements, edging was beyond any criticism.

And then the strength left her causing three double jumps in a row, and crashing her hopes to stay on top.


Arakawa's compatriot Miki Ando had just one thing going for her – the planed quad salchow. The skater made a name for herself because her quad wasn't a bluff. It really existed in practice but she couldn't put up anything against the competition except the difficulty. Even Kwan, who is shorter than other medal contenders, looked statuesque comparing to Ando.

When the quad didn't happen and Miki messed the triple flip, it became clear that this skater would place last in the final flight. In the free program, Fumie Suguri and Susanna Poykio got ahead of her as well.


Slutskaya needed to have no holds barred to defeat Cohen. First of all it had to do with the starting combo, the same lutz-loop combo in which Irina didn't risk to make the second jump a triple at Salt Lake City game and the realistic gold went to Sarah Hughes.

This time, the combo was all right. Then, Irina did triple salchow-double loop – double toe, then a great triple loop, a spin, and started to set for the next jump.

According to the new rules, the skater has to follow the announced jumps, and next one on Slutskaya's list was the triple lutz. Even those who aren't «in the know» would find it hard to mix it with another jump since the entrance for this jump is very specific. The entrance for the loop is specific as well. Irina still had about 20 meters ahead of her, but it was clear she was going to do the loop.

I don't think I can find words to describe what was going on in Zhanna Gromova's head. The new rules don't allow for the same jump to be done three times, in combo or not. That was exactly what happened. Irina did a great combo, adding a double jump, but instead of 6.5, only 1.5 point was added to her score.

This incident was similar to what happened at 2003 Grand Prix Final. Evgeni Plushenko lost his guard in the competitive courage and made an extra combo – more than the rules required. He lost to Emmanuel Sandhu, but really all that Plushenko lost was the money. Slutskaya risked loosing the title that she probably saw as the most important in her life in sport not only because the competition was held at home. A less than a year is left before the Olympics and you can't stop dreaming of leaving this year as the officially crowned star.

She kept skating and she was fantastic!

«I'm very proud that I was able to show the best performance at the moment I needed it most», - she would say after the award ceremony. With every landed jump, with every step, every move, every look, Slutskaya was hammering the new nails in the virtual coffin where her contenders' hopes laid. Watching that, everyone realized that this performance can be given marks that are off the scale and they won't look too high.

What can we add? The sport doesn't allow for «what if», but it's hard to resist. If not for the loop, Irina would add the unofficial record to her second World gold. Her overall score was 197.60. Cohen showed this result at Grand Prix event where it's possible to allow yourself to enjoy the performance since the tension is less. Many skaters who become World champions love to say, «This is not the competition where you can show the maximum result».

Slutskaya did just that.




© Елена Вайцеховская, 2003
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