by Michelle Wojdyla

The original dance portion of the 2008 World Figure Skating Championships marked the final time the folk/country theme would be used this season. For some, they will miss the variety of style and music, the costumes and the props.

For others, they will be very, very happy not to hear another “Kalinka” or Russian/Gypsy dance this season. Although the ISU suggested that ice dancers choose music reflective of their heritage, this was frequently not the case. And frequently those cases? They chose Kalinka/Russian/Gypsy.

Leaders after the compulsory dance, Isabelle Delobel & Olivier Schoenfelder chose to skate a Breton Gavotte, a French Country Dance. The duo seemed a bit flatter than in other competitions this season, but managed to receive all level 4s and the highest program component scores of the event. Their GOEs were very high, all +1 to +3, save a lone base 0. Although they did not receive the highest TES marks, Delobel & Schoenfelder received a personal best score of 67.25, giving them 107.98 heading into the free dance.

“Among our international competitions, it was one of our best performances indeed,” Delobel said. “We are happy that we skated well and that we have finished for today.”

That top technical score went to Russians Jana Khokhlova & Sergei Novitski, who earned a 35.67 over the French’s 35.30. Their “Two Guitars” Russian Gypsy dance also received only one GOE of 0 and 12 +3s, like Delobel & Schoenfelder, but the Russians won the battle for +2s: 47 to 43. That, combined with the random selection of secret judges, was enough to place them in second for the OD (65.99) and move them up to second overall with a score of 103.97.

“We did all we could do at the moment, and we think we did good, as you can see on the [results],” Khokhlova said. “It felt very good, and we are very excited and happy. We felt a lot of responsibility and were very focused. When you look at the scores, we apparently did all elements clean and showed the character of the dance.”

“We are very pleased as we significantly improved our personal best,” Novitski said. “We are also pleased with how we skated. It was probably one of our best performances.”

Placing third in the OD (64.81) and dropping to third overall (103.52) were Canadians Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir.

Virtue & Moir also received no negative GOEs. Like the other two teams, they received a dozen +3s. The remainder of their scores were “only” 40 +2s, 18 +1s, and two 0s. A slightly botched twizzle by Virtue (she did one less revolution, dropping it to a level 3) still earned all +1s and +2s. Their interpretation of “Dark Eyes,” another Russian Gypsy dance, was rated fourth best in program component scores.

“It was a good skate, and we are happy with it,” Moir said. “We tried to go out there and feel the program and really go after it. We did that, so we are happy and looking forward to tomorrow.”

Although they were fifth in the original dance, Italy’s Federica Faiella & Massimo Scali are in fourth overall with 100.70. Skating to a traditional Italian Pizzicata, they earned level 4 on all elements, no negative GOEs, and placed fifth in both the TES and PCS, earning them their best OD score.

“That is five points more than in the European Championships, and we are so happy,” Scali said. “We felt really confident and comfortable on the ice. We came to the Worlds to fight and to enjoy our experience, and we like to perform on the ice. We do not like to think on the marks or our position. We do not really care. We just want to enjoy ourselves and have a good time. We were kind of reborn after our previous bad season, so for us, it is important to enjoy our experience.”

U.S. champions Tanith Belbin & Ben Agosto were unable to break the 100-point mark despite placing fourth in the OD. Skating to hoedown music, the Americans also received a sweep of level 4s. They received only four +3s and lower GOEs than the teams ahead of them, leaving them fourth in TES at 34.23. Belbin & Agosto did earn the second-highest program component scores (30.46 versus Delobel & Schoenfelder’s 31.95), but lead of the French increased to more than eight points over the Americans.

“I just lost a little bit of confidence in myself from the compulsory dance,” Belbin said, “so I was very happy that this one was without flaws so that I can reassure myself that I’m trained and I’m ready to do this competition. Thankfully we have very wise coaches who were able to talk to us and let us know that we are only human and we make mistakes, and in sports that is even more so what it is all about. You have good days and you have bad days, and it’s from those experiences that you gain what you need to become a champion, whether it be here or the next time. It doesn’t matter. We need these experiences.”

While some judges seemed to enjoy the fast-paced dance to “Cotton-Eyed Joe,” giving +2s and +3s with PCS in the upper 8-9 range, others saw it as a 0 and +1 with PCS marks in the 7s.

“It’s a dance that we love to do,” Agosto said. “It’s so fun to perform, and the crowd here was incredible. They really had a lot of energy.”

Sitting in sixth overall (95.49) after a sixth-place OD (60.67), France’s Nathalie Pechalat & Fabian Bourzat skated a dramatic flamenco program that made excellent use of a red fan.

“[Working with the fan] was really difficult in the beginning,” Pechalat said, “and it took much hard work.”

“People do not understand how much work it took to make it look that easy,” Bourzat added. “We must succeed to make really difficult things look easy, and it requires a lot of coordination. But we are glad to be able to use it properly. Not that many couples are using accessories yet, so that is fun.”

With GOEs primarily split between +1 and +2 and program component scores from 6.5 to 8.25, the three-time French national silver medalists earned a personal best. Although they had to skip this season’s nationals while Bourzat recovered from meniscus surgery, they did not look like they missed a step.

“We have worked a lot and knew that we could make improvements artistically,” Pechalat said. “We have worked hard with our choreographer, and I think that hard work paid off today. We are really happy.”

U.S. national silver medalists Meryl Davis & Charlie White placed seventh in both the OD (60.36) and overall (95.16). The luck of the draw may have hurt the Americans. They skated last of the 30 teams, a position not normally bad. But Davis & White chose “Kalinka” for their music, and after four and a half hours of ODs, some of the judges may have been all Kalinka-ed-out. Their range of marks was very similar to Pechalat & Bourzat’s, and their TES scores were only .02 apart. They tied on both Skating Skills and Linking Footwork/Movement, and the French took a slight lead on the other three components.

“Before we skated, we wanted to leave everything on the ice,” White said, “and I think that’s what we did. I think we can be really happy with that.”

Perhaps the performance of the event belongs to Britain’s Sinead & John Kerr. Skating in kilts to Scottish bagpipe music, the siblings brought the crowd to its feet in the biggest ovation of the day. They snagged all level 4s and the majority of their PCS marks were in the 7s, placing eighth in both the OD (59.86) and overall (93.34).

“We really felt the crowd,” Sinead said. “The last tune is very fast, and the crowd clapping along with it really brought us to life.”

The saga of the missing luggage came to a satisfying conclusion for Americans Kim Navarro & Brent Bommentre. The night before they were to skate the original dance, Bommentre’s luggage was recovered. As Navarro wrote in her online blog:

“Although he has his old skates back in custody, Brent is sticking with the new skates for now. The blade lengths of the new and old blades are different, so it seems even more complicated to get used to the old again. Now we have two African outfits, one for practice and one for competition. We just went from being the least prepared team, with no outfits or skates, to the most, with two of everything!”

Navarro & Bommentre’s OD had a few minor glitches, and their rotational lift, which was rated only a level 2, looked a little out of control. Their 52.10 in the original dance was 13th and they remained in 12th with 83.58.

The competition concludes Friday with the free dance.