I'll get around to highlighting the National Championships coming up the next few weekends in Canada and the United States as well as the European Championships, but for now, I thought it would be fun to look back at the 1998 World Championships and some of the stand-out performances for me.
It's cruel how the world works sometimes. We have Eltsova and Bushkov, who were the 1996 World Champions and silver medalists a year later, having fallen down the rankings very quickly in the 1998 season. Prior to the '98 season, they skated to the typical Elena Tchaikovskaya (of Butyrskaya, Soldatova fame) greatest hits of tinkly piano and they quite honestly were at the top of the sport in one of the weakest periods in pairs skating history. Scratch all of that here. They tried a completely different style, skating to Lord of the Dance, and had some really nice highlight moves and excitement. The speed could have matched the music towards the end, but I liked this infinitely better than anything else they had ever done. The cruel part? The judges didn't.
This may be one of my favorite Shen and Zhao programs. Shocking, right?! For all of the talk about how they had no refinement or second-mark abilities, I thought the choreography and pacing matched the music extremely well here, and she shows that she was expressive even back in 1998. Note the ooh's and ah's from the audience on the throw jumps. We see pairs getting that kind of height and distance all the time these days. Back then, it was pretty unique. In any event, I don't think their presentation scores should have went down, but the judges apparently needed a reason to still hold them back and it wasn't going to happen technically.
This Schwarz and Muller program to Taj Mahal, as basic and not IJS-friendly as it is, has stuck out in my mind throughout the years. There's just something about it. The music is beautiful, and the minute of choreography starting around the 3:00-mark is really great. They were probably held up here against the Chinese and maybe even Eltsova and Bushkov, but in the end I am glad they earned a World medal. He also made the bleached-blond hair craze of the late 90's/early 2000's look good somehow, and for that I am jealous.
People that read my blog know I generally tend to stay pretty positive about the skaters and leave the negativity for the judges or Cinquanta. However, as nice of people as they seem, I cannot understand how Zagorska and Siudek were ever among the top pairs in the World at one time. To their credit, they did tremendously improve once they moved to Richard Gauthier in Canada late in their careers, but look at their basic skating (and his sit positions) here-- speaks for itself. Amazing lifts aside, I just don't know why they weren't fighting for about 10th place during this time, but they even ended up getting a bronze at the very next Worlds. Check out the first 30 seconds of the video and watch her face go right into the boards following a fall on a throw double Axel during warm-up.
I love Andrejs Vlascenko. Check out the height on his flying sit spin in the short program as well as the cool steps and kick right into his double Axel. His free skate, in a much different style from Blues for Klook, was also skated very well. The top five men here all really skated so well. By the way, if you didn't know, Terry Gannon will remind you at the beginning of both videos that the reason he was unable to compete at the 1998 Olympics is because he didn't get German citizenship in time, 'in part due to a drunk driving incident.'
Take what I said about Vlascenko and also apply to it Vyacheslav Zagorodniuk. Brian Boitano reminds us of his history and how many felt he was going to be the next big champion following Viktor Petrenko in 1992, but it never quite happened. For what it's worth, Vyacheslav, I would have had you winning the bronze medal here over Evgeny Plushenko.
What, Evgeny Plushenko was already at the 1998 Worlds?! He sure was, and he was just 15. He makes Dick Button go into a tizzy about changing program elements and how it usually doesn't work well after he falls on two quadruple toe loops, but his star quality was obviously already there. He ended up with the bronze medal in his first attempt at Worlds, but as I said above, I'd have given it to Zagorodniuk and probably even had Vlascenko a comfortable 4th overall. Button calls his choreography 'highly intricate but it's not as meaningful as it could be.' I wouldn't quite go for intricate, but to his credit (and this is a HUGE plus), we see younger men in Russia trying to emulate this confident and borderline cocky approach, all while their faces either look terrified or completely bored. Plushenko was totally able (and still is able) to pull it off.
Here's a young Takeshi Honda showing a lot of potential even with the flutz problem. It still depresses me when I think about his Concierto de Aranjuez and what a masterpiece it was at the 2002 Olympics, only to go to Nikolai Morozov for the next few seasons and have all of his best qualities completely wiped out. Some things never change, and Morozov making skaters boring or listless has been going on a decade now.
Szabolcs Vidrai showed skating skills comparable to the aforementioned Zagorska and Siudek, but this clean skate (check out the second triple Axel!) got him up into the top 10. It's another one of those performances that has stuck out to me throughout the years.
Michael Weiss skated a great short program here and set himself up for a chance to possibly even win the title. It wasn't to be after a disappointing free skate, but his quality of skating is amazing. He competed in the earlier days of IJS when judges didn't know what to do and were afraid to give anything over a 7.00 in components, but I think he would have fared extremely well with the system during his peak years.
Just watch Laurent Tobel here if you aren't familiar with him or if you haven't seen this particular short program. You'll either love it or feel like you wasted three minutes of your life. I'll go for the former. :)