Rockettes earn first world synchro championship

Finnish champs propel to win with superb free skate

The Rockettes hold the pose in synch during their 137.93-point free skate.
The Rockettes hold the pose in synch during their 137.93-point free skate. (Mary Jane Hanlon-Rogers)


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By Kelly Hodge, special to
(03/29/2008) - One year ago, the Rockettes were sitting at home while two other teams competed at the 2007 World Synchronized Skating Championships on behalf of Finland. This year, they are sitting on top of the world. The team pulled ahead of Team Surprise to win its first world championship, garnering 137.93 points in the free skate for a gold medal-winning overall total of 210.48 at the 2008 ISU World Synchronized Skating Championships.

"The feeling is just overwhelming," said team captain Taija Romppznen. "It is hard to believe, and it doesn't quite feel real yet. Four weeks ago, when we won the Finnish national championship, I thought I was living a dream, and this is so much bigger.

"Last year, it was such a disappointment when we didn't qualify for worlds, but we got to work. We worked really hard, and we believed in ourselves, and now we're standing here with a gold medal. I am so proud of our team for bouncing back and for this accomplishment."

The team chose to skate to a casino theme, with music from the Casino soundtrack, mixed with Pink Floyd. The team performed as well as it could, showcasing its signature unison, flow, extension and high-quality skating. It also excelled in the technical elements, earning level 4s for all five step sequences in the program.

"The whole program felt good," said Romppznen. "Everything was done well, but tonight I felt like the circle was the best element."

The technical panel agreed with Romppznen that that element was a highlight of the program, earning a level 4 for the step sequence and a +2 Grade of Execution (GOE) from nearly every judge.

The title was the highlight of an incredibly successful year for coach Kaisa Nieminen. Nieminen, who has been with this club for eleven years, is also the coach of Team Fintastic, which won a decisive victory at the junior level at the World Challenge Cup for Juniors three weeks ago.

"I have a great club to work with in all levels," said Nieminen, "I have great skaters at the novice, junior and senior level, and I love that I can work with all of them for many years. What the senior team's 'little sisters' did at junior worlds a few weeks ago really inspired them, and that helped them here. There is definitely a synergy between all of the teams."

Team Surprise was not quite as thrilled with its placement. After last night's victory in the short program, its members seemed almost certain that they would walk away with their second straight title.

The team skated a relatively strong program to a mix of Bonnie Tyler music, finishing with "Holding out for a Hero," which really matched their aggressive, strong and exciting skating style that seemed to build throughout the program. The team received positive GOE's for every element in the program.

However, several technical errors and element deductions, including a level 4 step sequence in their block being downgraded all the way to level 1, earned them a technical elements score of just 62.20, only the fifth-highest of the evening. But their program components score of 68.79 held them solidly in second place.

"Yes, of course, we are disappointed," said team captain Magdalena Sivertsson. "But we felt really happy with our performance and with the audience reaction. We just didn't get all the levels we were going for. But we really enjoyed being here, and we love skating, and we love our team. We are happy together, and we struggle together. Being around each other makes the sport."

Coach Andrea Dohany was obviously disappointed with her team's result. "We lost so many levels; it just can't be correct. I haven't watched the video yet to review it, but I cannot see how it is correct."

While the silver medalists were dealing with their disappointment, the bronze medalists were thrilled with how the results turned out. Despite finishing fourth in both the short program and the free skate, Nexxice of Canada earned enough points to take home their second consecutive bronze medal.

"We are just really thrilled to be in third place," said the team's captain. "All you can control in a competition is your own performance, and we did it as best we could. We tried hard to work within the rules, and we relied on developing our skating skills within the rules, and it worked for us."

She continued, "It is just a great feeling to have this experience with your teammates. It is what every little skater dreams about."

It turned out to be a good night for Team USA as well. While the Haydenettes didn't win that coveted world medal, they came very close and got a small taste of it. After a sixth-place finish in the short program, they needed a really great skate to pull up. They did just that, and with the exception of one fall in the line, the team pulled out everything they had and achieved a perfect base mark in the technical elements score -- 58.50. With their sheet of positive GOE's added in, they earned a total technical score of 69.43, the second-highest of the evening.

The team finished third in the free skate, but it wasn't enough for the podium, and they would settle for fifth overall. Still, it was a victory, and the "small medal" that they earned was enough to show they are on the right path, that they will be a force to be reckoned with.

"The free skate was very nice," said coach Saga Krantz. "They had nice flow, and even with the fall, it was everything I would like it to be. I loved the slow section. We have worked really hard on the line and the beautiful moves-in-the-field section. They did that part really well, as well as the circle."

"For us, winning the 'small medal' in the free skate was really big! It was a small achievement, but it is just a step to something bigger, and it was something real and tangible for us."

Miami University did not fare as well, and their technical element score suffered. The Redhawks received downgrades on six elements, including four of their five step sequences. They finished in ninth place overall.