Ice Network

Russians win second Finlandia title in three years

Stepanova, Bukin outduel Hubbell, Donohue to claim gold in Espoo
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Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin credited choreographer Peter Tchernyshev for bringing out a new side of them in their tango free dance. -Getty Images

Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin captured their second Finlandia Trophy title in three years on Sunday. Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue took second place, and Russians Tiffany Zahorski and Jonathan Guerreiro finished third.

Hubbell and Donohue, who came up seven points short of the Russians (172.83 to 165.76), said they had several forces working against them this week.

"Zachary wasn't feeling well as of last evening, so it was a bit challenging to skate under adverse conditions," Donohue said. "We have also had some really picky panels at both of our competitions this season, but now we know exactly what we have to work on to make sure we are not losing any points."

The Americans' free dance to a selection of love songs was soft and delicate, matching the same style of program Marie-France Dubreuil is known for creating for her teams.

Two other teams who train under Dubreuil and her team of caoches in Montreal also competed in Espoo: Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sørensen, who placed fourth (149.69 points), and Olivia Smart and Adria Diaz, who came in sixth.

With these teams, there is no "selling it" to the audience. The skaters seem to use very little energy to pull off the difficult elements, which is, of course, an illusion -- they're actually working very hard.

In contrast, the Russian school produces explosive and overtly dramatic programs, where the skaters "let it all out" and no energy is saved. What you often feel watching the Russians is that they try to please the crowd as hard as they can, demanding everyone's attention.

The result can be very impressive, as in Stepanova and Bukin's case. Their tango free dance, choreographed by Peter Tchernyshev, is, in fact, the very first tango that the team has done during their 10 years skating togeher.

"Our choreographer really brought across the feeling of the tango for us," Bukin said. "Peter showed us how he sees this program, and we tried to imitate him. It was a lot of work to get that feeling and the contact between the two of us, and it's still a work in progress."

Zahorski and Guerreiro also presented a powerful free dance, to "Bohemian Rhapsody." It is actually their program from last season, but they were not able to show it in international competition because of citizenship issues.

Fournier Beaudry and Sørensen placed third in the free dance but settled for fourth overall.

"It's especially important for us to keep the eye on the ball, where we want to be in the long term," Sørensen said. "You are going to hit some speed bumps to get where you want to go, and it's how you get back on the road as quickly as possible (that's important)."

Coach Patrice Lauzon, who accompanied the three Montreal-based teams in Espoo, said that while he and his coaching partners (which, in addition to wife Dubreuil, also include Romain Haguenauer) have a certain way of teaching at their school, having a diversity of styles in ice dance is good for the sport.

"In skating technique, we like it with no noise, and very soft and controlled edges. And in the choreography, we like programs that are intimate between the couples and every movement clings from one to the other, and it's always a story between two people," he said. "But I like watching all the styles. I do what I like, and other people do what they like. It would be boring if everyone looked the same.

"I wouldn't want everyone to do the same thing that we do. I want everyone to be different and do what they can do best," Lauzon said. "I like that we are all different and we are trying different things."