Figure skaters find silver lining

12 March 2013

FIGURE SKATING: As the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships get underway in London, Ontario in Canada, Australian Ice Dance champions, Danielle O’Brien and Greg Merriman can only watch on from their training base in Detroit, just a 90-minute drive away.

The ice dance team have made rapid progress up the world and season’s rankings with an international bronze medal, two fourth places and 8th in the Four Continents Championship, but have been held out of the 2013 World Championships after failing to record a minimum technical score in the Short Dance.

Last month the International Skating Union Council, lowered minimum scores for singles and pair skating but made a harsh decision to not lower the score for Ice Dance, despite pleas from the Australian and Swiss federations for a small adjustment.

A minimum technical score for World Championship entry was introduced mid last year to reduce the number of competitors in response to an ISU Congress decision to eliminate preliminary qualifying rounds but allowed scores achieved in international competition from 2011.

With Winter Olympic quota places for Sochi 2014 on the line at this year’s World Championships, the stakes are high for the lower ranked teams in their effort to secure an entry for their countries.

19 Olympic ice dance places will be decided in London, Ontario this week, but the only avenue to Sochi for O’Brien and Merriman now will be the Olympic Qualification competition in Germany in September for one of the remaining five spots.

For O’Brien and Merriman it’s been a tough pill to swallow having placed ahead of nine qualified dance teams this season, some up to four times, but now all they can do is watch.

Speaking from Detroit, Danielle O’Brien said they had already moved on.

“Although we are disappointed and now Worlds is out of reach, we have moved on. We are happy to have the head start on next season and have made pretty good progress so far,” Danielle said.

“We have broken down the Finnstep Short Dance for the next season and doing a lot of exercises in order to have every edge in the dance correct before they [the ISU] even release the key points.”

“I must say it's going pretty well and I'm surprised it’s moving so quickly. We can already skate a fairly good, full pattern,” Danielle said.

“Our goals have been readjusted without worlds in the equation and will skate our own ‘mini-worlds’ here in Detroit, aiming to skate a clean Finnstep to the music. We’ve been close to achieving that before Worlds even starts.”

The determined Olympic Winter Institute Of Australia scholarship holders moved to Detroit 18 months ago in their quest to represent Australia at the Olympics and see this setback as a flying start on the coming season.

“We have also been finalising music and working on new lift ideas, new twizzles, a reinvented spin and step sequence options so that we can be prepared for when choreography begins,” she said.

“All in all - it’s going well. We are definitely treating 'no worlds' as a head start on all the teams who will be four weeks behind us in preparation for Oberstdorf [Olympic Qualifying event].”

Australia’s lone entrant at the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships is 17-year-old Brooklee Han, who recently placed a solid 15th place at the Junior World Championships.

Belinda Noonan