Cappellini, Lanotte lead wide-open dance raceTop five separated by less than four points; Chock, Bates step into fourth
With the absence of the world's two leading teams, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the ice dance competition at the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships is much more open, with several teams having a chance to win medals.
The standings after the short dance confirm this: Only four points separate first and fifth place, and none of the three medal favorites is in the top two going into Friday's free.
Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte from Italy, the European champions and sixth-place finishers at the Olympic Games in Sochi, took a surprise lead with 69.70 points. Skating to music from 42nd Street, they started with an excellent Level 4 twizzle sequence, which gained three +3 and six +2 grades of execution (GOEs).
The two Finnstep sequences earned Levels 4 and 2, the non-touch step sequence was very good, and the closing rotational lift was outstanding.
"The audience was really, really amazing, so kind and supportive toward our performance," Lanotte said. "They pushed us."
"We were able to pull out the best performance of the year, also score-wise," Cappellini said. "It couldn't have happened at a better time. We love this dance very much.
"We will try to remain in first position in the free dance," she added with a laugh.
Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje sit second with 69.20 points. They, too, performed to music from 42nd Street, showing a lot of expression and gaining two Level 4 and three Level 3 elements.
"I feel we have worked so hard this season," Weaver said. "Obviously, it is showing in the results today. It was not easy to motivate ourselves after the Olympics, but it worked."
Medal favorites Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat are third with 68.20 points. Their twizzle sequence was not in perfect harmony, gaining just Level 3 and mostly +1 GOEs from the judges, and they had a small slip in the middle of the Finnstep. Their other three elements were very good, and their components averaged 9.1.
"We are not 100 percent happy with this performance," Péchalat said. "We skated much better than at the Olympics, but we had two little mistakes, which were costly. Hopefully, we will skate stronger tomorrow."
"We thought ending our career in Japan would be a good idea because we want to get a beautiful medal before leaving, and we did not get a medal in Sochi," she added.
Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who train in Novi, Mich., under Igor Shpilband, are fourth with 67.71 points. They met all six key points of the two Finnstep sections and had excellent levels otherwise. Their highlight was the rapid rotational lift at the end.
"We had the most fun today that we have all season performing it," Bates said. "Our goal was to pay tribute to the program and skate it well. It's been a great program for us."
Chock mentioned the absence of Olympic champions Davis and White.
"We miss them, and it's going to be a long time before [another team] racks up those titles like they did," she said. "We hope we will be the next ones. I think this is a good opportunity to keep progressing like we have."
Russians Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, the bronze medalists in Sochi and top favorites here, sit only in fifth place, earning 65.67 points.
Four of their five elements were excellent and were mainly rewarded with +2 GOEs, but there was a big mistake: Ilinykh came too close to Katsalapov during the foot change after the first part of the twizzle sequence. She grazed his leg, and he had to stop to prevent himself from falling. Therefore, the element gained zero points instead of about seven.
"We skated with a lot of energy. ... We will fight tomorrow, and we have a winning free dance," Katsalapov said.
Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who train in Canton, Mich., are sixth with 63.55 points. The highlight of the brother-and-sister team's Michael Bublé short dance was the extremely quick twizzle sequence, and the lift and the step sequence were very good as well.
"We were so excited that our last short dance of the season was going to be in Japan," Maia said. "It's been a great season for us so far. We were proud of the short dance we put out at the Olympics, but it feels like, performance-wise, we even topped that here."
The third American couple, Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton of the Detroit Skating Club, arrived in Japan as second alternates. Davis and White decided not to come, and first alternates Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue could not compete because Hubbell needed hip surgery.
"We finished Four Continents and had a great showing there (winning the bronze), and were ready to start [working on] new programs," he said. "Then we got a call that was 'Get ready, you're going to worlds.' We picked up the [current] programs where we left off, did three weeks of training, and now we're here. I didn't imagine that it was going to happen."
"If I could thank Meryl and Charlie, I would," Eaton continued. "I'm not sure it's appropriate to thank them for not coming, but what a dream. It's awesome."
Aldridge and Eaton are 18th with 53.34 points after a program mainly to music from The Mask. Their twizzle sequence was very good, but their lift was a bit shaky.
"You get those flukes in figure skating, and you can't do anything about it," Eaton said. "You train every day; it goes well in training, it goes bad in training. We had the mistake, and it cost us. But we went out there and had fun, and I'm happy."
Russian champions Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, fifth in Sochi and certain medal candidates in Saitama, withdrew. Soloviev tore a muscle in his groin during a lift in the morning practice just hours before the short dance.