Here’s the Latest From the 2023 World Figure Skating Championships

Wednesday night’s pairs program was the anticipated showdown between current US gold medalists and reigning world champions, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, and current Japanese champions and reigning world silver medalists, Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara (who defeated Knierim and Frazier last fall at the Grand Prix final). Uncharacteristic mistakes by Miura propelled the team to second place in the free skate, but a fall by Frazier in the short program had put the Americans second overall and given the Japanese enough cushion to win the title by more than four points. Sara Conti and Niccolo Macii of Italy won bronze ahead of Canada’s Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps – and a second American pair, US silver medalists Emily Chan and Spencer Akira Howe, completed the top five.

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Two Americans are in the top six when they compete in the men’s free program on Saturday. Even without the quad, Jason Brown has made another classic of this season’s short program, “Melancholy” by his longtime choreographer Rohene Ward (from last season’s viral “Sinnerman” and Kaori Sakamoto’s short program Janet Jackson this year). Sixth places Brown ahead of all medalists from this year’s European Championships and all Japanese competitors except Shoma Uno. US Champion Ilia Malinin also failed to finish ahead of Uno, although his steadily improving short program on “I Put a Spell on You” earned him just over 100 points. Uno has always had exceptionally weak knees and cat-like reflexes – no matter how tricky his starts look, he always lands on his feet (though not necessarily on one foot). In recent years, especially since Stéphane Lambiel, himself world champion, Olympic medalist and a beautiful dancer who became his coach, Uno has refined his technique and deepened his musicality. He doesn’t have a quad axel, but this season’s routine to Bach’s “Air on the G String” and Johann Adolph Hasse’s “Mea tormenta,properate” includes five more quads—and Uno will have a cushion of almost five points.

Reigning Japanese and World Champion Kaori Sakamoto went first in the free skate, almost six points ahead of Korea’s Haein Lee, the current Four Continents Champion. Breaks on points separated Lee (73.62) from Japan’s Mai Mihara (73.46) and US Champion Isabeau Levito (73.03); The other American women, Bradie Tennell and Amber Glenn, were eighth and tenth after the short program, and Loena Hendrickx, the 2022 World silver medalist, seemed shocked to find herself in fifth place. In the freestyle, these factions scrambled, with Hendrickx on the podium as the bronze medalist. With Glenn moving up to 12th place and Tennell moving up to 15th, Levito didn’t need to finish worse than third to guarantee three places for the US women at next year’s World Championships, but a fall on her opening jump slowed her down the fourth place. Mihara also made mistakes that pushed her down to fifth place. But Haein Lee held onto second place, becoming the first Korean to win a medal at world championships since Yuna Kim in 2013. (Her impressive young teammate Chaeyeon Kim moved up from 12th to 6th.)

Levito, Mihara and even Lee are small, delicate skaters. Kaori Sakamoto is more robust and athletic, with intense speed and a fearless double axel. Her jumps have great ice coverage. All of that was enough to keep her in first place ahead of her rivals (and her sobs afterwards showed just how stressed she was going through to win).

The dominant coaches and choreographers in ice dance are Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, who along with colleague Romain Haguenauer have trained many of the world’s best ice dancers at the Gadbois Center in Montreal. Not all of them were at Saitama (last year’s World and Olympic champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron; Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, whose injuries caused them to resign in favor of Gadbois skaters Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko). Some of them have retired and now train with Gadbois (US champion and Olympic bronze medalist Madison Hubbell; her fiancé, former Spanish champion Adrian Díaz; two-time Olympic champion Scott Moir). Eight teams from Dubreuil and Lauzon competed in Saitama. (Dubreuil also choreographed Sakamoto’s routine to Sia’s “Elastic Heart.”)

Three of the Gadbois teams made the top five after the rhythm dance, which had a Latin American theme this season. Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Soerensen played for his native Denmark for six years but moved to Canada in 2018. After injuries and the pandemic, they’ve made progress this season, winning silver at Four Continents. They are currently in fifth place. Lilah Fear and Lewis Gibson, once known as “The Disco Brits,” are energetic entertainers whose routines often look like exhibition programs; You are now in fourth place. But Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the US champions, gave David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” an imaginative performance with a Latin twist – and finished in first place with a season-best result. (Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy are in second place; Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Canada are in third place and don’t seem at all hampered by Gilles’ recovery from appendicitis.) We’ll be watching the action throughout the weekend.


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