Boston might have withdrawn its Olympic bid, but this week we have a chance to see the elite of world’s figure skating here for World Figure Skating Championships 2016. The world’s biggest annual skating competition is coming to Boston’s TD Garden on March 28 – April 3. Close to 200 athletes representing 38 countries are expected to compete for the title of World Champion in four events: ladies’, men’s, pairs’ and ice dance (in addition, “small” medals will be awarded in both short and free programs which comprise each event).
No figure skating fans should miss the opportunity to see the world’s biggest annual competition for the first time ever coming to their home town (I had bought my all-event tickets the week they went on sale 18 months ago. A limited number of tickets may still be available on the event’s website.
I grew up in the former Soviet Union where figure skating was a national sport and everyone knew the names of the champions. Having lived in Boston for more than 20 years now, I have strong allegiance to the teams of both countries. Russian and American figure skaters are among the strongest in the world with Japan, Canada, China and France supplying their own share of podium contenders.
My six-year-old daughter Vi takes her skating lessons at the Skating Academy of the Skating Club of Boston, one of official organizers of Worlds-2016 (together with the US Figure Skating and International Skating Union (ISU).
The first figure skating nationals I attended was in 1981 for the former Soviet Union’s nationals held in Odessa (about an hour’s drive from my then hometown in Moldova). I was 10 but still remember that Natalia Linichuk/Gennadi Karponosov (fresh after winning the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics) won the dance competition. Natalia Bestemianova/Andrei Bukin were third to go on to win in 1988 Calgary Olympics. In fact, Andrei Bukin’s son, Ivan Bukin, will be competing in ice dance competition for Russia in Boston with Alexandra Stepanova.
My second figure skating nationals were the 2014 US Nationals in Boston (where the Sochi Olympics team was announced). At that time, a fourth place finisher Ashley Wagner was chosen to represent USA over Mirai Nagasu who finished third (although no official rules were violated, the decision was not popular with the fans). We will see both skaters competing this week in Boston (see my list of skaters to watch below).
A lot has changed in figure skating in recent years. Accomplished athletes from more countries are now competing for the medals, and Russia is currently not the ice dancing super power it once was (although Russian ice dancing coaches are working with almost all current ice dance medal contenders).
The old 6.0s judging system was replaced in 2004 in response to several high-profile judging controversies. In the new system a Technical Panel identifies each skating element in the program (e.g. jumps, spins, jump combinations and step sequences in singles events) which is then given a grade of execution by the Judging Panel to be added or deducted from the base value of the element. The technical score is then combined with a separate score for “artistic components”.
Under the new system, the judges’ marks are anonymous and the scores are less transparent for the audience, but each technical element is accounted for. I believe that the new system has made the competition results less predictable and the competitions more dramatic. Several contenders in each discipline may win if they perform their best!
The everlasting battle between the technical advancement and the artistry is very “alive” today with men skaters landing four quadruple jumps in a program and several leading pairs skaters performing quadruple throws and twists. When artistry is not sacrificed in the technically accomplished program, we get to witness a pure figure skating magic – the kind that brings goose bumps and tears of joy, like the score record-breaking free skate of Yuzuru Hanyu (of Japan) at the 2015-2016 Grand Prix, or performances of leading Russian ladies Yevgeniya Medvedeva and Elena Radionova this season.
There are many skaters capable of magic in Boston this week, but I will be especially watching for the following skaters:
Yevgeniya Medvedeva, Russia (2016 European Champion)
Elena Radionova, Russia (2016 European Silver Medalist)
Gracie Gold, USA (Two-time US Champion)
Ashley Wagner, USA (Three-time US Champion)
Mao Asada, Japan (3-time World Champion)
Satoko Miyahara, Japan (2016 Four Continents Winner)
Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan (2014 Olympic Champion, 2015-2016 Grand Prix Winner)
Javier Fernandez, Spain (2016 European Champion)
Patrick Chan, Canada (3-Time World Champion)
Boyang Jin, China (2016 Four Continents Silver Medalist)
Denis Tan, Kazakhstan (2014 Olympic Bronze Medalist)
Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, Russia (2014 Olympic Champions and 2016 European Champions)
Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov, Russia (2015-2016 Grand Prix Winners, 2014 Olympic Silver Medalists)
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, Canada (2015 World Champions)
Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, China (2016 Four Continents Winners)
Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, Germany (2016 European Silver Medalists)
Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim, USA (2016 Four Continents Silver Medalists)
Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, France (2015 World and 2016 European Champions)
Alex and Maia Shibutani, USA (2016 Four Continents Winners and US Champions)
Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, Italy (2014 World Champions, 2016 European Silver Medalists)
Madison Chock and Evan Bates, USA (2015 World Silver Medalists)
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, Canada (2015-2016 Grand Prix Winners)
Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, Russia (Skate America 2015 Silver Medalists)
For additional event information or to purchase tickets, visit www.worlds2016.com.
For the fans not coming to Boston, here is a link with TV coverage information.